Media companies always seem to have an enviable buzz about them.
Mary Authier, Senior Vice President of Operations at MSP Communications, remembers the pre-COVID atmosphere of the agency’s former 33,000 square foot Minneapolis office space. It was humming daily with energy and creativity. “Creativity is the lifeblood of our business,” she adds. “Collaboration is key. Our culture is very important to us. There’s a buzz to MSP that makes our culture fun and unique.”
Hours away from signing a new lease at a similarly sized, but more culturally aligned downtown space in March 2020, the COVID-19 lockdown hit. And there went their plans. They didn’t sign the lease.
No business was left untouched by the coronavirus pandemic. And like many organizations, Authier says they realized very quickly how the pandemic was turning their employees’ worlds upside down. They needed to act swiftly, decisively and with compassion to navigate these new challenges and keep their employees safe.
"For organizations in all industries, traversing the steep level of changes needed to re-work their work environments for COVID-19, has been a testament to people’s determination, perseverance and creativity,” says Dr. Paul Anderson, Regional Medical Director for Occupational Health at HealthPartners. Dr. Anderson supports employers during the pandemic through HealthPartners’ Back to Business solution.
“When MSP Communications came to us for help, I was really impressed with the preparedness plan they put together. It was pretty complete. We helped them identify a few key gaps based on controlling workspace exposures and provided tools to support their employees’ well-being,” he explained.
Hoping to help employers facing similar challenges, Authier shared in a recent HealthPartners webinar the lessons she learned throughout this process:
1. Consider downsizing your office space if most work can be done effectively remotely.
The biggest challenge was the decision to close our downtown office at the beginning of the pandemic. It was a big disappointment after all our high expectations for the new space we were contemplating. The sudden transition to begin working from home was not easy for many of our staff. But with time and some adaptations, we realized we could be productive and successful as a virtual company.
We now lease a smaller workspace that we call our base camp for times when we want to collaborate in-person. The space is 70-percent smaller than we occupied pre-COVID. It meets COVID safety guidelines, which HealthPartners helped us create, and features open workstations and conference room spaces. The change has produced considerable savings for our organization.
2. Don’t be afraid to bring in the experts.
Although we’d relocated before, we recognized that this time was very different. We were sure also that it wasn’t time for a DYI move, especially during a global pandemic. We contacted HealthPartners to help us make sure we were doing everything we could to keep our employees healthy and safe.
We created our own preparedness plan using Centers for Disease Control and Minnesota Department of Health guidelines. HealthPartners identified gaps in our plan such as HVAC protocols and sanitization procedures. And we also realized the need to explicitly work to protect the culture of our workforce.
3. Find new ways to connect to protect your culture.
Our new smaller, collaborative workspace and our virtual operations have made it harder to keep our connected, buzzing culture going. We’re making progress and it’s working, but it’s taking more effort than we ever imagined it would.
Employees miss the office environment and seeing each other, whether it be going to lunch in the skyways or stepping out for happy hour after work. And brainstorming just doesn’t work as well on Zoom.
So, we started to meet up at parks or in somebody’s backyard. All meetings were held at safe distances following protocols. When we opened our base camp, we followed the instructions for in-person meetings, and began to collaborate there at a safe distance.
Sadly, hosting holiday parties in this space is still out of the question. So, this year we’re doing a virtual ugly sweater holiday party via Zoom!
4. Discover new ways to communicate with your staff.
We’ve found many of HealthPartners’ mental health resources, tips and tools useful in helping us navigate the stressful situation we’re all going through.
Our President, Gary Johnson, has taken the time to write personal messages to each of our employees on a couple of different occasions to check in on their emotional health. Our Senior Vice Presidents have also reached out to employees, just to have one-on-one conversations and to touch base and see how people are doing. They ask about what each employee’s life is like at home, because we have a lot of young employees, some of whom are working from their parents’ homes.
There are many unknowns that we still face and will continue to face, over the next couple of months. We’ve never had to work harder at our business. We’ve never been smarter or more creative with our efforts to generate more revenue. And thankfully, our employees have stayed safe, healthy, and highly productive.
In dealing with this, don’t think you can do it yourself. Know your limitations. Know that there are partners out there that can help.