One Year Ago

One Year Ago

We had just finished a very important call with a government official early this morning when I gazed out my office window to see an exceptional sunrise. Indeed, the beautiful morning horizon shines much brighter this March 16th compared to last year. On the same date in 2020, we shut our offices and asked our team members to stay safe and work from home.

The drumbeats of the impeding magnitude of COVID-19 were just beginning to reach a crescendo. The media was reporting on the growth of the deadly virus, and our firm had a unique perch because of our work with Holy Name Medical Center, which had unfortunately become ground zero in the fight against the pandemic. Days before, I had media coached one of its leading infectious disease specialists who had been prepping for a CBS News segment he would be doing, learning how deadly this pandemic could be.

Our finance and operations team had been planning for a potential lockdown for several weeks. There was ample discussion of impending government action in this area, and under the tremendous stewardship of our head of finance and operations, we stress-tested our technology, re-wrote several of our policies, and made sure that organizationally, we were ready, should the day come when our folks would have to work from home. On Sunday, March 15th, we convened an afternoon senior staff meeting where the decision was shared to shutter offices and have employees work from home. At the time, we thought this would be a temporary measure of maybe a few weeks, never thinking it would drag on for months.

We also knew that in making this decision, we would need to recreate the sense of camaraderie and team that only an office environment could foster. We started twice daily virtual team meetings to make sure we would be in contact with our people regularly. We wanted to equally assure their emotional and physical health during this time, as well as pitching in on client matters. We also started a Thursday lunch and learn program, where we alternated some professional development with fun activities like games, a yoga session, cooking/recipe program and other activities. We turned to our staff members to help lead these activities.

On the business side, the early weeks of the pandemic were tumultuous. There were clients in distress, either financially or suffering from illness in their facilities. Some of our clients within days switched from in-person to virtual programming and services. More broadly, the economy ground to a halt. It seemed as though most companies were focusing on cash preservation, not knowing what would be on the horizon.

Thankfully, we entered the pandemic period in a financial position which helped us to withstand the rocky financial times of those first few weeks. We did not layoff anyone, nor did we make any changes in salary or benefits during this period. We knew that the most important thing we could do as an employer was to provide our people with financial stability in a time of tremendous uncertainty.

Thank goodness that within a few weeks, federal programs injected funds into the economy that relieved much of the economic anxiety and enabled most of our clients to regain their financial confidence. We also worked closely with our clients to pivot our programs to better serve their needs in the pandemic economy. In some cases we changed trade programs to consumer, we pivoted brick-and-mortar strategies to direct-to-consumer. We helped clients go from in-person to virtual programming.

The first real light on the horizon came in May, as many of our clients did experience a V-shaped recovery. Retail opened, and our home furnishings clients in particular, started shipping in earnest again. By June, we were able to retrofit our offices to bring employees back to the office, first voluntarily, then systemwide.

Today, we are continuing our commitment to our staff by encouraging them to get vaccinated.

None of what we have accomplished as an organization could have been accomplished without our wonderful staff. Their commitment and dedication to our clients and firm, even under the grueling challenges of the pandemic, was exemplary and appreciated. Our senior leaders only were thrust into new roles, not only serving as business unit captains, but in many cases serving as personal counsellors to employees who were dealing with personal challenges they have never faced. Our senior team was there every step of the way in working closely with their clients and their colleagues to get through this tumultuous time.

I took another look at that beautiful sunrise…and maybe suggest each of you do so, pausing for a moment to reflect on the events of the past year and focusing on what you experienced, and possibly more importantly, what we have learned from the experience that will make us better people.