As museums across the world begin reopening their doors to the public, it still feels that the notion of museums in the UK reopening remains distant. But when museums in the UK do open their doors to the public, we will have had an opportunity to learn from museums from around the globe and from the service industry in the UK. The experience of front facing workers home and abroad during this unprecedented time will be invaluable to ensuring museums of all sizes can reopen successfully.
Museums are Reopening
Even as museums in the UK were only starting to close, museums across China, Japan and Korea were making steps to reopen. As the UK embarked on a further three weeks of the country in lock museums in the German state of Brandenburg began to reopen, with the Arts Newspaper reporting that museums in the German states of Thuringia and Saxon and Berlin were due to begin to reopen museums on the 28th April and 4th May respectively. As the UK faces further time in lockdown, with no clear end in sight, more countries in Europe look to reopen their doors, with new measures in place. Countries including France, Belgium and Italy all are looking to reopen museums and other cultural institutions from the middle of May. Meanwhile on the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art released a 20-point article on the “Precautions for Museums during Covid-19 Pandemic”.
Across the UK, businesses have adapted and changed procedures to ensure social distancing, minimising risk to the most vulnerable and responding to changes in demands. We have all experienced queuing to enter supermarkets and following one-way systems around shops. The shopping experience has changed for the foreseeable future. As we carry on, we are seeing more changes, businesses are putting in place new measures to allow them to reopen. There is much for museums to learn from.
Museums in the UK will be planning how they will reopen, we have a rapidly expanding bank of information at hand to prepare our museums to reopen. We are at the opportune time to learn from museums and other sectors, in particular from essential shops, where measures to ensure staff and shopper safety had to be applied quickly and effectively.
Learning from Experience, Listening to FoH
Examples are coming in from across the world of museums implementing measures to safely reopen. We are going into a world which operated differently to the one we left behind in March. Museums are installing Perspex barriers to protect staff, creating new one way systems, dramatically cutting overall and gallery capacity to ensure social distancing and controlling they ways people can purchase tickets. Many are moving to pre-booking only. For example the Shanghai’s Power Station of Art is only booking tickets through the social media app WeChat.
There are new expectations on the museum visitor, requirements of masks, temperature checking and compliance with national covid-19 tracking apps are amongst the new requirements for visitors to enter museums.
Front of house will change, we have seen in the UK 30,000 new frontline staff hired to respond to the initial demand from shoppers and the subsequent changes in how our essential shops operate, from queuing to enter, to one way systems and social distancing the new shopping experience requires more workers. These are the same challenges museums will face, as we cut visitor capacity, it is arguably the time we are going to need more FoH in the public eye and behind the scenes also, ensuring the new way museums will have to operate, actually works. FoH are not just going back to work, they are going to be implementing new visitor routes, ensuring social distancing, working to rebuild an organisations income streams and conducting enhanced cleaning routines. FoH are going to be more important than ever before.
FoH are going back into the unknown. There will be a lot of fear in returning (we will cover protecting FoH in a future post) and in many cases FoH were the first to be furloughed. FoH need to fill confident when they return, feel their organisation is supporting them and values their safety. We have the opportunity now to learn from FoH, experts in their profession. To effectively learn and prepare, FoH need to be unfurloughed. This needs to be a relatively significant amount of time before any public reopening, preparing for changes and making contributions to their museums reopening plan. Who else knows your museum better than your FoH team? There knowledge of bottlenecks, visitor control and swift responses in public spaces is going to vital. Bringing your FoH team onboard as early as possible is likely to make your transition back to the new normal easier.
The New Normal
When museums reopen, they will be different, it will not be the same as before. We have the chance to learn now about how the visitor experience is changing and begin to plan, we will see what works and what doesn’t. It is increasingly clear however, that from museums which are reopening and from essential shops front of house will be incredibly important. FoH were already important but they are going to be more important than ever before.