Navigating the Onset of a Pandemic

Everyone faces challenges in their personal lives and work careers. Some of those hurdles are big and some are small with everything in between, but nothing in my experience compares to what we are going through with the current pandemic. Unprecedented in this case is an understatement.

As the COVID-19 virus started hitting the United States in early March, the Merkle RMG senior management team began meeting regularly and as needed to assess the situation and make changes to how we operate. Our first priority was (and continues to be) the health and safety of our staff while also ensuring that we continue to operate the business.

Fortunately, we are considered an essential business in Maryland. The donations we process for our 200+ nonprofit clients are essential to the continued funding of the programs that serve the missions of those organizations. Most are impacted by the Coronavirus to one degree or another, especially those in the healthcare, food bank and international relief sectors. We also want to be able to continue to provide jobs for our employees.

Initially the focus was on helping our staff follow the CDC guidelines involving hand washing, social distancing and staying home when sick. At the outset I gave all of our staff an additional 80 hours of sick time so that they wouldn’t feel any pressure to come to work if they had any of the symptoms of the virus or had been in close contact with anyone who tested positive. We also enhanced the cleaning of our facility by using stronger disinfectants and doing so more frequently. Work areas are wiped down at the beginning and end of each shift, and plenty of hand-sanitizer is available throughout the facility.

We also required staff that had been traveling recently or who were being tested for Coronavirus to self-isolate for 14 days or until the test results came back. Knock on wood, so far none of our staff have tested positive. Anyone already set-up to work remotely did so immediately and in subsequent weeks we identified other employees that could work remotely and equipped them to do so. Meetings on-site were limited to no more than five people with proper distancing and conference calls are being conducted in lieu of most meetings. All visits to the facility by non-employees were cancelled indefinitely.

The next step for us was to implement temperature testing at the beginning of each shift to identify those with elevated readings and send them home. We also reconfigured the work areas in our facility to create more space between employees and set-up separate break and lunch areas for each department. This helps narrow the number of people that came in direct contact if an employee contracted the virus and minimize the area that would need to be closed temporarily and sanitized.

One of the most recent steps we took was to increase pay by 10% for those employees working in the facility in recognition of the more challenging environment. With the recent change in the CDC guidelines on face masks, we have ordered them for all staff and will be making them mandatory while working in the facility once we have enough for everyone.

A key aspect overlaying all of our actions has been ongoing and transparent communications with both employees and clients. By keeping everyone informed we have tried to alleviate the fear of the unknown and let them know what specific steps management is taking to help protect our employees and continue to provide services to our clients.

We still have a long way to go to get through this crisis, but at this point I think we have created the safest possible work environment for our staff that allows us to continue the important work we do for our clients. We’ll continue to learn (as everyone is doing) how to best combat COVID-19 and implement best practices to mitigate its effects. I look forward to the day when we can look back on this and have a greater understanding of what we need to do to be better prepared both individually and collectively for future such challenges.