Coping with COVID: N.O. Leaders Share Their Insights

Businessman Working From Home Do To Pandemic Outbreak

NEW ORLEANS – We asked more than 500 local business leaders how they are dealing with the challenges of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some of their insights and observations:

How are you coping with the current coronavirus crisis?

Julia Bland, Louisiana Children’s Museum: We have prioritized mental health needs for both parents and young children, and are partnering with the Tulane Institute of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health to share tips, strategies and understanding about managing the anxieties we are all feeling. 

Edward Carrick, Performance Analysis: Schedules and contact with personnel, clients, and field visits have all gone with the wind. Work and home life have melded together. Accounts receivables are stretching out because either personnel are working remotely or companies are slowing down their payment process for self-preservation. The whole thing makes running a small business even more of a challenge. The good news: when this is all behind us, any challenges during a “normal” business environment will be gravy – kind of like after Katrina.

Charlotte Piotrowski, Rent-A-Nerd, Inc.: We are experts in business continuity. As an IT company, we were able to fairly easily transition from our office to working remotely. We’re even able to use our same phone system – we use a VoIP system, so employees were able to bring their desk phones home and are now using them via WiFi. For the past few weeks, we have been helping our clients with their transitions. 

Susan Kliebert, Kushner LaGraize, LLC: We are continuing to analyze the CARES Act and are currently assisting our clients with Payroll Protection Loans, SBA loans and other opportunities from the legislation recently passed. We are also continuing with our traditional consulting services.

Tracy Guara, American Cancer Society: This is undoubtedly a challenging time. We are grateful for all the dedication of our volunteers and appreciate the sacrifices they make to support our events. Every day, more people are diagnosed with cancer, and they’re more vulnerable than ever right now. We’re looking forward to continuing the conversation with our volunteers virtually on new and creative ways to support families facing cancer. If you would like to give, you can do so at cancer.org

Ashley Stagg, NOCCI: It is a new normal so we are coping by diving into research and finding other opportunities to keep the business going. We also were able to contribute our event production skills and networks to our community. We provided pro bono assistance to a local community health center which requested our support in sourcing equipment they needed in order to set up one of New Orleans’ first COVID-19 test centers. 

Sister Camille Anne Campbell, Mount Carmel Academy: We are coping as we always do: waking up in the morning, asking God to show us the direction for the day, and doing what we need to do to maintain our school. The lessons learned from Katrina give us a measure of courage since we were able to open [the following] January, an impossible feat. The most important thing was to organize the excellent teachers, skilled in a variety of areas, and to engage the students with technology in a collaborative manner. 

Adelle Bergman, Crescent City Cafe: We normally serve a bi-monthly restaurant style breakfast to our guests. We are doing to-go bags now due to the coronavirus. In normal operations, we have anywhere from 25-30 volunteers each time; now we are using no more than 10.

Chandler Nutik, Community Works: Our top two goals were giving all of our hourly program staff the option to work remotely and continuing to offer enrichment opportunities for the young people that attend our programs. We are still adapting to the drastic change in our programming, but these two goals have helped us focus our efforts.

Did your business continuity plan work or were there surprises?

Guy Williams, Gulf Coast Bank & Trust: Our plan has worked exceptionally. We experienced zero down time and we were able to assist our employees moving from primarily on-site [work] to mostly remote [work] and the massive challenges that come with that, with some workers still operating our branches but now adhering to guidelines from officials to keep our employees and customers safe. 

Tucker Crawford, Albert Architecture: As with hurricanes and other temporary disasters such as occasional flooding, our remote work from home or alternate site plan is working well. I (we) miss the personal interaction and there is a little bit of a disconnect, but we’re using Microsoft Teams, Smartsheet, Zoom and other collaborative programs to keep connected. Our servers are redundant and allow for secure access.

Copelon Kirklin, KPC Cork: There were definitely surprises. Being that our product supplies the construction industry, if they halt, we halt.

Elliot Hutchinson, Son of a Saint: We’ve put extra systems in place to allow people to continue working consistently, safely and virtually. This includes increased voice and video calls as a collective staff team and using workflow and communication systems, like Slack and Asana.

Have you found silver linings in these difficult times?

Tucker Crawford: Sure. Working out, watching shows, spending time with loved ones, hanging outside and riding my bike.

Tracy Guara: Our amazing volunteers and their continued support of our mission are the silver linings for us. We have seen them rally, assemble and innovate to ensure our events remain successful. We are also proud to be awarding $541,592 to Louisiana health systems to help overcome transportation barriers and equalize cancer outcomes. And we are thrilled to be offering our Patrick F. Taylor Hope Lodge on River Road as a temporary housing facility for healthcare workers fighting COVID-19.

Guy Williams: Yes, there is a level of comradery and willingness to help others that arises each time a crisis like this occurs, much like Hurricane Katrina. Like ordering takeout from struggling restaurants, which creates a sense of unity. In times like these, we’re reminded that we’re all in this together.

Copelon Kirklin: Yes. We have pivoted to distributing essential products to the healthcare industry.

Sister Camille Anne Campbell: The expressions of gratitude from the parents, students, teachers and community supporters are a silver lining. Video conferencing creates school in a new and exciting way. Another silver lining is the increased time for families to be together, returning to days when families walked together in the evenings, played games, and did not have so many places to go.

How are you maintaining your company culture?

Betty Pei Ching Sun, Lotus Bistro: I believe leadership should not be about taking charge but more importantly taking care of those in my charge. My entire team and I have been on Emergen-C for three weeks now. Everyone is on a strict sanitizing regimen personally and professionally. They have even been sent home with bars of Dial antibacterial soaps to bathe with.

Edward Carrick: We’re just grinding along, working on projects in our pipeline, providing high-quality customer service as usual. There is no need for any of these core values to change.

Charlotte Piotrowski: We still hold our weekly staff meetings, though now they are video conferences. We have continued our Free Lunch Fridays, though now employees order their own meals and we reimburse them. We continue to celebrate birthdays with a cake, though now we aren’t able to share it with the rest of the staff. We have a group Teams message string where we talk about work, but also post silly memes. 

Sister Camille Anne Campbell: The mission, “For God, For Learning, For Life” creates our culture and as long as we stay focused on why we are here, the culture thrives. Our culture is one of caring for the whole person, be that a student, teacher, parent, administrator, supporter or staff person. 

Ryan Gallagher, Brother Martin High School: We begin our day with school-wide prayer every morning of remote learning. Last week, we hosted a live-streamed Stations of the Cross with our campus ministers. We had a Brother Martin T-shirt day. Our NJROTC started the #CadetsForHealthWorkers and #CrusadersForHealthWorkers by writing letters to healthcare professionals in the area. 

Do you have advice for other local companies?

Ashley Stagg: Take one day at a time and continue to support our hospitality community. Understand that the uncertainty of these times can be very stressful for all and actively support each other. Look for opportunities to harness your collective skills and networks to help your communities. We in New Orleans survived very dark and uncertain times after Katrina, so we know we can do it again and emerge stronger.

Elliot Hutchinson: Now is the time for overhearing, oversharing and overextending your employee and employer relationship. Working remotely and in this altered and uncertain time is certainly a challenge, but not one that can’t be used to hunker down and figure out strengths and weaknesses during this time. If anything, use this time as a way to rediscover or reinvent your business and its culture. 

Ryan Gallagher: In a letter to our parents, I said that “the educational tradition of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart provides personal attention and friendly discipline rooted in religious values in a welcoming environment that promotes each individual student’s academic excellence.” Keeping true to one’s mission and the will to come out of this stronger and better and the rest will follow.

Betty Pei Ching Sun: Think outside the box. Value your employees and do your best to keep everyone on payroll so they can continue to take care of their families. Keep a positive attitude, we will all get through this together.

Chandler Nutik: Put people first.

Tucker Crawford: Always have a plan (or two) including remote access to computer files; separate backup files on portable drives; an available home or alternative work space; Internet access; a semi-quiet space to work; a supply of pretzels, Twizzlers, protein bars and water; and a small basketball hoop above the door for the occasional three-point paper toss!

Julia Bland: Think about what really matters now – challenging times call on us to be more relevant than ever! For our staff and our community!

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