Cleaning Out the Closet:  Getting Operations in Order During a Crisis

Much as it did for many of us at the personal level, the Coronavirus pandemic has also prompted professional “Spring Cleaning” that goes well beyond a purge of our guest rooms, to make room for a work-from-home workstation.  For many , that momentum extended to a culling of our master closets, the garage, the basement, and that corner cabinet in the kitchen where all of our best Tupperware has been lost.  For the business leader who embodies a vision beyond the immediacy of shelter-in-place, the pandemic also provided a catalyst to think critically about every aspect of business operations, including technology capabilities and policies & procedures.

While it will likely take several quarters past the point at which we reach herd immunity and return to some semblance of pre-Coronavirus operations to truly assess the impacts of the Coronavirus, according to the Harvard Business Review, only 14% of companies find a way to increase revenue AND profitability during a major market downturn.  While many of the measures taken by these successful companies involved the short-term mitigation of downturn impacts, the most substantial common thread among them is their ability to identify sustainable, operational improvements that served both short-term, as well as long-term.

Technology

The first hurdle that Brindley Engineering faced in March of 2020 was how to efficiently transition staff to a hybrid, work-from-home environment.  Beyond the logistics of this effort were the myriad technology challenges. Brindley Engineering’s IT Department quickly mobilized a plan that would address each individual technology hurdle, increasing operational flexibility without a loss of data security.

Plan 1: Virtual Communication 

Our suite of office apps only scratched the surface of full capability prior to Coronavirus, serving mostly as an instant messaging platform.  We quickly learned that we needed our office suite to be more versatile for us. The first step was to fill gaps where select user hardware lacked the capability for Video/Audio conferencing from their mobile devices.  Virtual and video recorded training was deployed to instruct users how to effectively use internet-based video and audio conferencing as a surrogate for face-to-face meetings.  Issues such as meeting scheduling, multi-user conferencing, and session recording were addressed so that the workforce could quickly become proficient in a remote environment.

Plan 2: Team Collaboration

During the first weekend of the shelter-in-place, the Brindley Engineering’s IT Department deployed a Coronavirus Preparedness Portal that would provide employees with Company updates and direction, that would also serve as an employee resource for external Coronavirus information from Government organizations, and would act as a conduit for entering confidential updates on their own personal and family COVID-19 exposures to the virus so that Brindley Engineering could minimize the potential for exposure to the remaining staff.

Within our suite of office apps, Brindley Engineering set up collaboration spaces that would allow project teams to communicate effectively within targeted project groups.  Similarly, Departmental collaboration spaces were set up to provide a forum for discipline-specific topics and learnings, whether Coronavirus-related, or relevant to the core business.

Plan 3: Content Sharing

Given Brindley Engineering’s core involvement and physical presence in the field for many clients, we had already maintained a decentralized file storage model.  This capability proved vital in the seamless transition of our project teams to a hybrid work-from-home/essential work site model.  Security, file availability and data redundancy were already issues that had been addressed in the core Brindley Engineering business model, although now essential to every employee in the organization, whether in the front office or the back office.

Policies & Procedures

The field-forward agility at the core of the Brindley value proposition to its clients has always required a strong degree of flexibility in its operating culture.  With adaptable Policies & Procedures, Brindley has created a culture that respects not only the benefits, but the fragility of a flexible work environment.  The navigation of those boundaries became even more critical as the entire organization moved to a hybrid work-from-home/essential work site model.

Plan 1: Core Work Hours and Expectations of Accessibility

Brindley has always and continues to maintain core work hours for its employees.  Whether an individual employee’s workday is skewed towards the early or late hours of the workday, responsiveness to the client’s and teammate needs has always been the overriding driver.  While a work-from-home scenario at times challenged this construct slightly, with simple augmentation, the policy held strong.

Following the stay-at-home order, sub-groups within the organization began meeting virtually daily, weekly and bi-weekly to ensure that critical communication was maintained.  Leadership team meetings, departmental meetings, project meetings, and one-on-one meetings continued virtually, leveraging the technology platform that had been provided them.  Company-wide meetings occurred bi-weekly, providing a forum to provide live updates to Brindley’s Coronavirus response and the impact of market events on the business.  Impromptu team social events after the close of busines further leveraged the technology infrastructure, mitigating the effects of lost personal interaction in the culture.

Plan 2: Flexibility and Availability for Physical Meetings

While virtual communications proved highly effective, select requirements for live interaction persisted.  Consistent with State mandates, Brindley prepared its home office in Lisle, IL for socially distant interactions where absolutely necessary.  Select seating workstations were identified, displaying green light placards, office flow patterns were identified and posted, non-essential common areas were closed, and a sanitization protocol was established for the entire office.

Plan 3: Creativity in Addressing Logistical Hurdles

Despite the power of technology in creating a virtual forum for interaction, physical and logistical hurdles were not uncommon.  The transportation of physical bank checks, critical sanitization supplies, and stopgap technology items such as secondary monitors and webcams required numerous socially distant rendezvous amongst the staff.  While the execution of these tasks would have been difficult to foresee, the resilience and spirit of the organization reduced nearly every hurdle to trivialities.

In addition to Technology and Policies & Procedures, Brindley Engineering placed a significant emphasis on Finance & Capital, Human Resources, Intellectual Property and quality Project Management tools to navigate the change that Coronavirus caused in our ‘normal’ operations.

The Coronavirus Pandemic has certainly been a jog in the road that no one could have foreseen.  Businesses were observed to formulate a broad spectrum of responses to the crisis.  They ranged from passive responses that involved layoffs and retractions, to immediate, short-term actions designed to mitigate the near-term impact of the crisis.  Brindley Engineering chose an aggressive, strategic response that targeted both short-term crisis mitigation and took the opportunity to explore long-term operational optimizations that would benefit the organization in the short-term and long after the pandemic subsided, benefiting both its clients and employees.

— Rick Knoll, CFO, Brindley Engineering