Take it from the top: More leaders discuss pandemic response

Colin Creel

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Colin Creel

Executives of some highly ranked organizations speak candidly about operating in the pandemic. Whether publicly held or private, large or small, schools or staffing firms, they’ve all had to make changes. Here’s some perspective from their change-makers.

Heidi LaMarca

CEO and managing partner of the public accounting firm Windam Brannon, ranked No. 4 among organizations with 150 to 499 employees

“We support a hybrid workplace now. We have shifted to allowing employees to come to the office or work remotely, based on their preferences. We are now conducting virtual audits, unless a client specifically requests us to be onsite. Our hiring processes have pivoted to remote interviews, and physical location in Atlanta is no longer a requirement — as we’ve hired many fully remote employees since the onset of the pandemic. This year, a priority of ours was to outfit our conference rooms for hybrid meetings, facilitating better collaboration across both the remote and in-person teams. Since March 2020, when the firm implemented our remote workplace environment, we’ve been laser focused on our employee experience and ensuring that our staff has both the physical and mental resources they need to complete their job well. We have worked to maintain team communication, collaboration through a series of firm-hosted virtual (happy hour and team building) events, rolled out additional benefits related to mental health and wellness, and emphasized grace and flexibility as parents were juggling the additional responsibilities of working remotely and virtual schooling for their family members. In all firm communications, we continued to emphasize “family-first” priorities and continue to support that philosophy and flexibility as each new surge takes place. As an added benefit and spirit of mental health, we closed the firm for the week of Thanksgiving to give employees a substantial amount of downtime to recharge.”

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Heidi LaMarca, CEO and Managing Partner at Windham Brannon

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Heidi LaMarca, CEO and Managing Partner at Windham Brannon

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Heidi LaMarca, CEO and Managing Partner at Windham Brannon

Credit: spe

Credit: spe

Colin Creel

Headmaster at private Cornerstone Christian Academy in Peachtree Corners, ranked No. 5 among organizations with 149 or fewer employees

“Like all institutions, we’ve had to be very flexible and adaptable. Thankfully, we have great staff members who always start with the question, “What’s best for our students?” For our students, we have been relentless in keeping the school day as “normal” as humanly possible. We do not want to compromise the student experience, while at the same time keeping everyone safe. For our employees, the leadership team and parents have found numerous additional ways to encourage the staff like Thankful Thursdays (catered lunches), gift wrapping around the holidays, and unexpected surprises throughout the year (ex. gift cards, sweet treats, and snacks).”

Keith Newport

Senior vice president for corporate administration at Locum Tenens.com in Alpharetta, ranked No. 5 among companies with 500 or more employees

“At the beginning of the pandemic, all of our associates began working remotely until we could safely move to a permanent hybrid model, which allows for more work-from-home options. We introduced remote onboarding for new hires, included additional virtual training class options, offered more flex work hours, and enhanced our cleaning and sanitizing policies. We also implemented a new campus health and safety policy, a program that allows associates to report potential COVID exposure and informs them of quarantine policies, a quarterly companywide learning program regarding COVID, and employee support groups for working parents and those with elderly parents. In addition to the support groups and moving toward a more flexible, hybrid model, associates also have access to an employee assistance program, which allows them and their dependents free, confidential, short-term counseling and referral services.”

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Keith Newport

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Keith Newport

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Keith Newport

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Credit: spec

Carol Austensen

Managing director at the boutique business and consulting firm SEI-Atlanta LLC, ranked No. 4 among organizations with 149 or fewer employees

“Our culture at SEI is built on strong bonds and interpersonal relationships with our team members. With the pandemic, our in-person interactions naturally became more constrained. To address this, we implemented processes like our ‘buddy checks,’ where each week you are assigned a team member to check in on. We created a simple process where team members could let management know about another team member who they felt needed some special care or recognition. We went from large group events to more intimate events, such as social dinners where three consultants and their significant others would get together for quality time, small group hikes, and spa day. We also scheduled many virtual events that included consultants’ families, such as cooking classes, craft night for kids and trivia. We created channels for collaboration on topics such as “work from home parenting” that were very popular. And we doubled down on rewarding and recognizing contributions to the office on all fronts — business development, culture, retention and excellent service to our clients. Our leadership always has a very collaborative approach and open-door policy. During the pandemic, we worked particularly hard on the basics, just ensuring that leadership was always accessible, open to ideas and input, and flexible about expectations of our employees. We leveraged our virtual collaboration tools to give daily updates on the status of the business during the most disruptive part of the pandemic so that employees had a feeling of security from knowing everything that was happening. We transitioned to hybrid staff meetings where team members could attend in person or virtually based on their comfort level and leveraged state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment to create a good hybrid experience. And most important, we invested even more in their development through training and certifications and in employees’ well-being through caring touches, such as sending care packages and providing Door Dash delivery.”

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Carol Austensen: managing director at the boutique business and consulting firm SEI - Atlanta LLC (ranked No. 4 among organizations with 149 or fewer employees):

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Carol Austensen: managing director at the boutique business and consulting firm SEI - Atlanta LLC (ranked No. 4 among organizations with 149 or fewer employees):

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Combined ShapeCaption
Carol Austensen: managing director at the boutique business and consulting firm SEI - Atlanta LLC (ranked No. 4 among organizations with 149 or fewer employees):

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Credit: spec


SOME OF WHAT’S CHANGING

More working from home

More hybrid situations, dividing their work time between home and office

More access to mental health resources

More outings

More vacation time