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Company leaders must act quickly to protect employees, save business

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HumannThe coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is having an unparalleled impact on people and organizations around the world. The large scale of this outbreak and its unpredictability has made responding as an executive extraordinarily challenging and complicated. Critical decision-making that balances the health, safety and financial welfare of our individual employees with the welfare for our business will directly affect how strong (or weak) we will be during and after this crisis.

Companies amidst a crisis are faced with a myriad of challenges, and proactively establishing key focus areas early is vital in managing your way through. The priority for H2M architects + engineers is our employees’ welfare (both mentally and physically) and their economiec wellbeing. How do we as executives protect our employees’ welfare without overly impacting our business? We have hundreds of families that are relying on us to make the right decisions and strike the right balance to mitigate casualties of the crisis.

As business leaders, we have already learned many lessons from this unprecedented pandemic. We have found that we must be nimble, open-minded, and aware, as information relative to this pandemic is ever changing, and employees are inundated with information and misinformation. At H2M, we recognized the Coronavirus as a threat to our employees and our business in late February. Our first step was to establish a centralized point of contact on our leadership team, which for me was our CHRO (our COVID-19 Czar – as I called her), Liz Uzzo. This critical role would be extremely challenging, and I needed to know she was all in (which she was). Constant research and monitoring of the disease and response guidance (WHO, CDC, DOH) was vital, as external information evolved and employee concerns grew. Liz and I have remained connected essentially 24/7, sharing insights and thoughts, which created foundation for our business decision making.

We “stress tested” our internal network systems. As employee remote work was becoming reality, we had to verify whether remote access bandwidth for 460-plus employees in eight office locations was sustainable. Early on, we were able to make proactive enhancements to be as productive as possible during this crisis. As a result, we are effective in executing work and addressing our clients’ needs.

In a time of crises, not only is how and when you communicate critical, but so is your messaging (sincere, open, and honest). Employees need regular communication in times of uncertainty, especially as they are becoming physically disconnected from their teams and company. We created an internal e-mail address for employees to send COVID-19 concerns for daily review and response. I have been recording and sending out daily video messages to the entire work force to maintain connection and address concerns. These video messages allow me to communicate directly and transparently, providing employees with that sense of connection and consistency.

Ensuring our leadership team is aligned is paramount. We hold video conferences every other day with our management team for company-wide updates. Employee issues and consistency in messaging are reinforced. Topics such as workflow, resource management, schedules and client expectations are discussed, endeavoring for continued client confidence and “business as usual”.

We developed a strategic external communications plan (via email and company website) to all clients mapping out the steps H2M was taking for our employees while reassuring our clients that the highest standard of service will be maintained. Regular progress meetings, phone calls, and video conferencing with clients have bene invaluable.

This time of tremendous disruption also has the potential for great opportunity. While remote work does not replace the benefits of face-to-face work or social interaction, we are seeing that this pandemic is displaying that digital connectivity is an invaluable tool that can make businesses stronger and more resilient. The flexibility that a business can create for employees in performing their work will further enhance the engagement of staff.

As horrific as this pandemic is, and as focused as we all must be on short-term survival, we must still as business leaders have an eye towards the future. We can embrace the opportunity presented during this crisis to redefine how we operate and conduct our business, so we can all come out of this as a stronger business community.

Rich Humann is president and CEO of H2M Architects+Engineers in Melville, New York.

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