By Lorie Hailey
(Editor’s note: This is part six in our series about how Kentucky businesses are responding to the challenges presented by COVID-19. See the full report.)
Businesses and organizations often develop plans for dealing with disasters — tornadoes or fires, perhaps a recession — but a global pandemic that shuts down much of the economy was on no one’s radar.
The challenges presented by COVID-19 required quick action, but also thoughtful planning for the future. For Greater Louisville Inc., the metro area’s chamber of commerce, that meant finding new ways to help its members through the crisis while preserving its overarching mission: growing the regional economy. GLI had to decide how to modify its work to provide the support the business community needed, said Sarah Davasher-Wisdom, GLI’s president and CEO.
Because the nation has never faced a situation comparable to this pandemic, there was no guide for how to do that, she said.
“First and foremost, as the voice of the business community, we knew we needed to provide the necessary resources to help our businesses weather the storm. We’ve worked diligently to pivot and develop content and programming focused solely on what businesses need to know now, through virtual roundtables and webinars with business leaders providing content around legislation and resources available to employers, small businesses and individuals,” Davasher-Wisdom said.
Since it became clear drastic action would be required to slow the spread of COVID-19, GLI has been providing resources for its members and the community at-large. The organization has prioritized communication, taking the lead in presenting important information about how to navigate unknown territory.
Early on, GLI also took steps to protect its staff from coronavirus and promote the healthy-at-home initiative.
Davasher-Wisdom shared with us the details of how GLI has been “making it work” while helping others to do the same.
The Lane Report: When this situation arose, what steps did GLI take to respond and how quickly did you implement a plan?
Sarah Davasher-Wisdom: GLI developed a disaster plan in 2016, which has gone through multiple updates, so we had already developed best practices and a tentative plan that became the backbone for how we began to assess this particular situation. We first issued a voluntary remote work plan (to our staff) and encouraged every individual to work from home or connect with our IT department to get prepared to work from home if it became necessary. Later that same week, we mandated that all employees should work from home.
TLR: When did employees begin working from home and what were the challenges in getting that set up?
Davasher-Wisdom: We implemented full telework on March 12, and we have not faced many challenges. We are looking forward to putting this behind us because our work is very relational, and deeper connections are formed in person. Just as we’ve seen our business community step up, GLI employees have as well. Flexibility is one of our core company values, and our employees have delivered on just that – everyone has been flexible with their roles, picking up new work and generating new ideas that will help support our investors through this crisis. We have an extremely passionate and hard-working team.
TLR: What was required to get your staff converted to telework? Did you have to purchase new equipment or conduct special training for employees?
Davasher-Wisdom: While we did have to purchase some new equipment for everyone to telework, we were fortunate to only need to make minimal changes to accommodate the new normal. The larger question is how the body of our work will change amid the crisis. Our work in economic development, talent attraction, workforce and advocacy will likely look different once normalization is achieved. We will still do advocacy, for instance, but the issues we take positions on may be more focused on the immediate needs of our business community.
TLR: What is a typical workday like now with your telecommuting workforce? Do you have video meetings or conference calls? Do you a do a daily check-in? Do you use any special messaging software to communicate?
Davasher-Wisdom: Fortunately, we have an extremely close staff. We have an all-staff meeting weekly via video chat, and each team manager regularly meets with their team throughout the week. Our leadership team meets daily. We use Microsoft Teams, so we all have instant message, screen sharing, video and phone calls at our fingertips. For our investor events, we use Zoom to accommodate the large crowds that participate.
TLR: What has been your staff’s reaction?
Davasher-Wisdom: Well, of course many people are concerned for their safety and that of their friends and family, and we’re all concerned about how COVID-19 will impact Greater Louisville, but, I will say that our staff has been a constant source of positivity through this crisis. Everyone has jumped in to help, no matter what the project or what is needed. As the new president and CEO, taking the role just two months ago, it has been a blessing to have such a passionate and hard-working staff.
TLR: How else has COVID-19 affected GLI?
Davasher-Wisdom: There is not one business or even one individual that hasn’t been impacted in some way by COVID-19. At GLI, one of the most surprising things we’ve found is the strength and support that exists within our business community. Many businesses are banding together, supporting one another through hiring transfer or modification of manufacturing to support hospitals and the community. It’s been humbling. At the same time, this crisis has also affected us as an organization. We are having to make some tough choices and determine what our own organization will look like as we shift to support our members in a different way.
TLR: What are the best resources for businesses who are struggling financially or struggling with being able to implement best practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
Davasher-Wisdom: This is where we have tried to create value for our investors and our business community. Within days of the beginning of the pandemic we developed a COVID-19 Resources page that is a repository for legislation, community and educational resources, small business support, business resources, job information and information on how you can help our community. That site is constantly updated to ensure that the latest information is available.
TLR: What tips do you have for other companies trying to make this a smooth, successful transition and have success?
Davasher-Wisdom: My recommendation is to first focus on your employees because they are the heartbeat of your organization. The better you can communicate with and lean on your staff, the easier it will be to get through this crisis. For businesses that have significant loss of employees or income, or are unable to carry on work remotely, I encourage you to visit our COVID-19 Resources page so that you can learn all of the resources available from the state and federal government, as well as the local community resources that are available to assist you. And lastly, I would say that, while this is an uncertain time, I am confident that with the support our community has shown one another, we will all get through this together.
Share your story
We want to hear how business leaders across the state have responded to the challenges presented by COVID-19 and the efforts to stop the spread of it. If your business would like to share its story, email Lorie at [email protected].