“No company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it!” – Jack Welch, General Electric
I hope that all of our In-Step users, caregivers, physical therapists, neurologists and others have no personal stories or connections to the current coronavirus pandemic. I hope, that while perhaps more isolated, you and your loved ones are all healthy and safe.
Like most of us, it was shocking to slowly realize that we are dealing with a worldwide pandemic. Even more so, I could never have imagined that it would strike so close to home, afflicting my In-Step team!
On Sunday, March 15th, it was still early in the reported cases of coronavirus in the US. There were, however, already some cases reported on the Northside of Chicago near our In-Step office. E-mails and WhatsApp messages were shared amongst the community, including with our staff, to warn and pass the message along. Being that these were some of the first cases in the Chicago area, I decided it was time to write up a plan of action for safeguarding my employees and our customers.
I felt confident as I hit the send button. Little did I know, unfortunately, that it was already too late. A couple of hours later, I got a text message that five people from our office had called in to say they were sick and would not be coming into work on Monday. I was shocked – five people getting sick at the same time – it just doesn’t happen.
I sent my office manager a message – “What type of crazy message is this? How can this be possible?” Honestly, I didn’t believe it – I thought to myself, “Maybe I did something to offend them and then they decided to play hooky? I am thankful that I have a great relationship with the In-Step staff! After being directly in touch with a few employees, I realized this was no joke – they were sick and this was serious.
I thought back to something an employee told me the week before. She said the cleaning person for the office was coughing a lot while cleaning the office. She was disturbed by this but hadn’t thought at the time that there was any need for serious concern. I am fairly certain that is the source of an affliction of so many in the office contracting Coronavirus at the same time.
We were still in denial that this was coronavirus until my administrator tested positive. Surely, we thought, it could just be the flu; not us! But once the results came in, we, of course, shut everything down. The office and warehouse were closed within an hour, a first in our 25 years in business. Being located in Chicago, we are accustomed to closures – due to extreme weather. Snowstorms, sub-zero temperatures, and blackouts have caused rare and brief closures, but rarely more than a day. This was so unusual, that we needed to address this new situation and figure out how to proceed.
Business matters aside, my primary concern was – and remains- the wellbeing of my staff. We are a small, tight-knit company, and most of us have worked together for many years; we are a family. Throughout their recovery, we prayed, we checked in on each other, and we sent food. Everyone who had contracted the virus battled it for over a week, and three employees were especially sick and it took them longer to recover. This virus is downright scary.
Due to some recent upgrades to our office systems, we were able to conduct some of our work remotely. Our new phone system allowed for call transferring and remote access to work voicemail. Once our team members were well enough to want to work, our server has allowed for remote access to most of what we need. With the help of our internal IT person, who was battling the virus himself, we slowly started operations back up with everyone working from home.
Fortunately, our customers and the medical professional we work with were understanding but we couldn’t keep telling our customers to wait. After all, people are calling us because they need a product to prevent them from falling. In-Step customers need us and our products, and we take the responsibility very seriously!
After having the office closed for two-weeks, we decided to try and open up on a limited basis with a skeleton staff. They donned masks, gloves, and filled the office with hand sanitizer. Our warehouse staff was intact, untouched by Corona. So we started operations with less than half of our employees, and the rest who were well enough worked remotely. We were back in business!
Though not as efficient, given the work was decentralized, it was good enough to get on top of things and get orders moving. In just a few weeks, we are caught up on shipping orders and returning phone calls. Our bookkeeper recovered and has returned to work while everyone else continues to work remotely. We are not in a rush to have everyone back in the main office until this health crisis blows over; safety comes first.
Amid this health crisis, my employees showed an amazing commitment to In-Step and each other. I am very fortunate to have the staff I do, and I don’t take them for granted. I am so proud that once we got over the initial shock of this crisis, we pulled together as a team and figured out a way forward. May this coronavirus become a distant memory and may we grow as a society. The In-Step team knows that they are making a difference in people’s lives, and it is clearer to me now more than ever that the staff internalizes this and knows just how much it matters – that they matter.
May the next time we make a big deal about “Corona” be when we are enjoying a cold one on a hot summer day. (It is one of my favorite beers)