Crisis Management Amid a Global Pandemic
Author: Angela Cardwell, Executive Vice President Joeris General Contractors, Ltd
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Background and Introduction
March 9, 2020. That was our day. Do you remember yours? The day COVD-19 forced your company and its leadership to take notice?
On that day, our Executive Team and several other company leaders were informed by our Director of Risk Management we had a potential “patient zero” – someone who had been exposed to a positive case of this virus and was our first known instance.
Not going to lie; as a leadership team, we were scrambling…for about an hour. Then, we went into aggressive action. The quick action and aggressive response produced an organized and sustained effort, resulting in numerous positive outcomes. These included:
- Formation of a Crisis Management Team
- Development of a Corporate Crisis Management Plan for any crisis
- Capturing of Lessons Learned in a crisis
- New and improved communication channels within our firm
- Development of innovations for capturing virus-related data
- Implementation of new and improved safety measures
- Development and implementation of work from home protocols
- Implementation of technology and related security to support the changing work environment
We share our successes and challenges, hoping that your firm might find a nugget or two to help your team prepare for future business interruptions, whatever they might be.
1. Formation of a Crisis Management Team
At Joeris, this was our first step out of necessity. We were reacting to an immediate need since we had a potential issue with exposure at our corporate headquarters. Ideally, the formation of this team would be a step within an overall Crisis Management Plan. In either case, this team is crucial to the success of your firm’s crisis management process. The team will be responsible for ensuring all plan elements are implemented, communicated and monitored. There are several key factors to consider when forming this team.
- What positions/departments within your company should be represented on the team? The answer to this question should be driven by the team’s objectives and the person’s responsible for achieving them. Things like risk management, Human Resources, legal, safety, communications, and of course, executive leadership should be considered.
- How many people should be part of the team?
- How often and in what format will this team meet?
- Who will facilitate the meetings?
- Who will communicate for the team to what audiences?
- Should any outside resources be consulted or brought into the team?
- What is the team’s limit of authority for decision-making?
- Who is the team leader/overall authority?
These questions are relevant to the team’s ability to implement a Crisis Management Plan successfully.
2. Development of a Corporate Crisis Management Plan
This may sound daunting, especially if you are a small firm. But it doesn’t have to be. Your plan may be relatively simple. Truthfully, it’s as simple as searching on the internet for sample plans and seeing what works for your company.
Having a plan is critical. I know we certainly had never thought of a pandemic as something we needed a plan for, but here we are. While our team did a good job of putting together a coordinated response, it certainly would have been a whole lot less anxiety-producing if we had had a plan or a guide. Now we do. The next team will have something to fall back on, easing their burden and possibly saving our company from an even bigger crisis – the inability to respond timely and appropriately.
One important recommendation here is to make certain your firm has a Crisis Communication Plan in place. Even if you start with this small element, you will be ahead of the game. You never know when your firm could be the subject of a news event. How that event is handled has the potential to make or break your company. I highly recommend hiring an expert on a retainer basis for crisis communication management – one that has good relationships with the local media in your area and an understanding of crisis communication. Because, in the end, your company’s reputation is all you have.
Often, the Crisis Communication Plan is an essential part of the overall Crisis Management Plan.
3. Capturing Lessons Learned
This really is as simple as it sounds. Assign this task to someone on the Crisis Management Team. As your firm walks through the crisis, they can document responses, what works, what doesn’t and anything else relevant.
This becomes a Lessons Learned appendix to your Crisis Management Plan and an invaluable reference for the next instance. You might be thinking, well, when is the next time we will need to respond to a pandemic? With everything happening today, I’m not even going to answer that. I’m personally not ready for another round of Jumanji. But it’s not about the specific type of crisis. Lessons Learned could potentially apply in any number of situations. Documenting them is just about not having to relearn the same lessons the next time around or having a team of all new people not having the advantage of lessons your team has already undergone. We used a simple spreadsheet format and attached it as an appendix to our Crisis Management Plan for future reference.
4. New and Improved Communication Channels
Um, you’re on mute. Yep, the most uttered phrase of 2020. We all became Zoom and Teams experts. Who knew you could conduct icebreakers virtually with more than 50 people?
At Joeris, Zoom became our meeting room of choice. We all experimented with backgrounds (Our I.T.Director – Tom Crews, yes, that’s his real name, was my hands-down winner for best backgrounds. Of course, they were always from Top Gun or Mission Impossible!)
But while Zoom was used most often, the pandemic allowed us to dive deep into Microsoft Teams, as well. We accelerated our implementation of the software’s features and improved our ability to work as teams across Texas.
Also, our Crisis Management Team set an objective at the outset of complete transparency with our team members, our clients and our partners. This allowed us to be more open-minded about how we were going to communicate, what we were going to communicate and how often.
Joeris has experienced tremendous growth over the years, often in large spurts. Having started as a small, one-office firm in San Antonio and now working throughout Texas with four offices, communication had suffered over the years. It took a global pandemic to get us back on the right track, but we did it! We implemented multiple communication modes, covering all stakeholders, and adjusted messaging and frequency to ensure we were communicating all of the latest updates as timely as possible. Our communication program included the following:
Internal Stakeholder Communications:
- Daily PSA’s
- Weekly COVID protocol and status updates
- Monthly Town Hall Meetings via Zoom (open to questions from all employees)
- COVID-specific signage for jobsites, conference rooms, office spaces
External Stakeholder Communications:
- Weekly COVID protocol bulletins
- Social Media COVID protocol posts
- COVID protocol discussions at all projects and with all trade partners
These methods were adjusted as needed, and as the pandemic wore on, frequency changed, some were discontinued, etc. The most important lesson regarding communication was that it needed to be transparent, comprehensive, frequent, and on multiple platforms to reach all stakeholders.
5. Development of Innovations for Capturing Virus Related Data
As governmental entities issued various business regulations, the need to comply with these ever-changing standards became challenging. It became crucial to have a point person responsible for keeping up with the latest mandates. Also, it became necessary to document compliance.
Our IT team developed a digital form for capturing our employee screening data. That was the first step. But since this form resided within our in-house systems, it wasn’t directly available to our trade partners and other jobsite visitors. As a construction firm with projects across the state of Texas, documenting the screening of all persons accessing our projects seemed daunting. How could we efficiently capture data about every person entering a project site?
While there are many systems in the marketplace to do this, our firm didn’t have any of these in place, and we didn’t feel comfortable investing significant time and money in such an uncertain environment. It didn’t take long for one of our project teams to develop an innovative solution that made their lives easier.
They then shared this method across our firm, making data collection quick, easy and compliant. The simple solution was to produce large signage at the jobsite entrances that contained a barcode. The code took the site visitor to a project-specific form where they could enter all required data. This allowed each project to capture, access and store their specific data, making it easier to track and contact persons when potential COVID exposures occurred. Simple but effective and low cost, too! You never know where the best ideas will come from and when. Don’t be afraid to discuss your firm’s issues and challenge your team members to develop solutions.
6. Implementation of New and Improved Safety Measures
Safety is our number one Core Value at Joeris, as it should be. We work in a dangerous field that requires vigilance, preparation, and knowledge to allow each of our team members and partners to go home safely each night. But there is always room for new ideas and improvements.
COVID-19 motivated our already top-notch safety staff to up their game. They became even more vigilant and encouraging to each of our project teams. We installed even more handwash stations at each site, sometimes building them ourselves. Our safety staff provided masks and gloves to every employee. We then distributed branded gaiters to all team members.
In partnership with marketing, safety team members developed new and eye-catching Covid-related signage for our project sites and offices. We increased jobsite visits by safety staff, and team members were always being reminded to wear their masks. Safety meetings were held outside on project sites. The safety staff increased communication with trade partner representatives to encourage their teams to comply with new requirements and to make sure they had all of the latest information.
Our safety and risk management teams also assisted trade partner management by providing copies of our protocols for handling positive cases on site and suggestions for how to screen, quarantine, etc. We also made widespread efforts to procure items that were in short supply and make them available across our sites for our team members and trade partners: these included toilet paper and hand sanitizer – items critical for jobsite cleanliness.
While your company may not be in the construction field and may not have its own safety staff, the lesson here is that it’s critical to become vigilant with whatever protocols are needed and to do so early in the crisis. A person or persons responsible for overseeing protocol implementation and encouraging continued use of new procedures is crucial to compliance. No one likes change, but it is there and has to be faced in times of crisis. Change management during a crisis can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.
7. Development and Implementation of Work from Home Protocols
If ‘you’re on mute’ was the most uttered phrase of 2020, ‘work from home’ had to be in the top ten, didn’t it? While the concept certainly isn’t new, working from home wasn’t on many firms’ radar until the pandemic. Then, it was work from home or don’t work at all. As a construction company, the whole idea seems ridiculous. But guess what? It works! From home!
While buildings certainly can’t be built remotely, much of our firm’s other work can be conducted from just about anywhere. Before 2020, we had not really even considered this. Once COVID-19 became vividly real to Joeris, we knew we had to pivot. Luckily, our IT team was ready (more about this below in #8).
So, our Crisis Management Team put together a protocol for working from home with a focus primarily on worker safety and accommodating team members with Covid-related scenarios, such as kids who could no longer attend daycare or school in-person or those who needed to care for an elderly parent. Our project teams worked collaboratively to create alternating schedules that allowed team members to take care of their personal needs while still contributing to their role on the team.
Just like many of our other pandemic processes and procedures, our work from home policy had to bend and flex as we worked through the pandemic and the changes in regulations that came with it. The outcome, though, is that we now have an awareness of what’s possible and a willingness to be flexible as needed. While we don’t anticipate ever being a company with all of our office staff working from home, having protocols in place and procedures that ensure the work gets done effectively makes us prepared and agile enough to pivot to a work from home environment.
8. Implementation of Technology and Related Security to Support the Changing Work Environment
As businesses, if we didn’t truly value technology and its full impact on our firms before COVID-19, there should be no doubt we do now!
Methods for remote work, collaboration, data capture and the like are all fully almost 100% dependent on a strong technology structure. At Joeris, we were fortunate. Our IT staff are rock stars and had already put in place our company’s means to do all of the above. It was almost as simple as ‘flipping a switch’, or so it seemed to the rest of us.
We were able to ZOOM, TEAM, and capture all types of data for screening purposes. Also, our IT team was ahead of the game on security, as well. When ZOOM bombs became a thing, we didn’t have to worry. Our ZOOM meetings were secure and we have all measures in place to control access and participation, whether in a single meeting or a full-blown webinar with hundreds of participants.
The pandemic also seemed to bring out the cons and tricksters in droves. We saw an influx of phishing, but again, our IT systems protected us from these potentially malicious attacks.The lesson learned here is that our IT staff’s planning and our company investing in our IT infrastructure was worth the effort and expense.
We were prepared in a way we could never have thought possible, and it paid off. Our transition was seamless, and our company and every construction project moved forward without any hitch, at least not any related to IT. So, if your firm struggled, we challenge you not to take it for granted that everything IT-related is now fixed. Put together a comprehensive technology strategy that anticipates your company’s growth and potential crises. Now is the time, so just do it!
While 2020 was certainly a year not worth repeating or even revisiting, for Joeris there were lessons learned and things to be celebrated.
A global pandemic was surely not on anyone’s radar…at least I hope not, or it should have been stopped! But, having said that, the crisis taught all of us a thing or two.
One, don’t take human connection for granted. Visit your parents or grandparents and hug them (when it’s safe to do so). Find joy in having dinner with family at your favorite restaurant when it’s open again. Support local businesses!
Two, recognize that time on this planet is limited, so enjoy what time you have.
Three, don’t worry about everything but be prepared as much as you can. And for your company, this might mean doing these simple things today:
- Have a Crisis Management Plan.
- Define a Crisis Management Team and a Point Person whose job is to hold you accountable for completing #1.
- Develop a plan/process in advance for capturing lessons learned when the crisis occurs.
- Make sure the plan has a communications process with identified mediums and consider retaining a person/firm to handle your crisis communication.
- Consider your business continuity issues, such as the need to work from home and plan for those now.
- Review your technology stack and infrastructure, taking into consideration ‘what if’ scenarios like #5.
At Joeris, our mission is to Transform People and Places, and that includes you and your business. If we can help in any way, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We hope you have found your own path to thriving during this pandemic, and we wish you all the best.