What We've Learned One Year Into the Global Pandemic
Like many firms in the Engineering and Consulting Industry, 2020 proved to be a challenging business environment for us. Employees were forced to work from home, much of our routine work was put on hold or delayed, and clients quickly required a new set of services to help them navigate COVID-19-related business challenges. A year into the global pandemic, we asked executive leadership to reflect on what we’ve learned and how we’ve managed to weather the storm, while also providing a glimpse of what’s in store for the future.
by Brian Ricketts, Chief Executive Officer
What I learned this past year…
“During this time of extreme uncertainty, we were laser-focused on the things that are most critical to our business viability – our people and our clients. I learned that we must continue to evolve how we engage and develop talent, how we deliver services and how we represent our value in the environmental consulting market. It’s been a turbulent twelve months, but I’m encouraged by the opportunities we have with our clients to help create a cleaner, safer, more sustainable world.”
Leveraging technology has been a strategic imperative to our business for several years – and at the onset of the pandemic, our digital readiness certainly set us up for success as employees transitioned to remote work. We had a good foundation of cloud-based systems and tools already in place that enabled our teams to be effective and efficient while working from home. We also had an established webinar platform and digital marketing program in place to be able to virtually engage with and share content with our clients. Lastly, our commercial technology team was ready to deliver some important tech-enabled services using drones, smart glasses, AI and other digital tools to perform critical auditing, site assessment, mapping and monitoring work that clients needed but COVID-related travel and site access restrictions required remote options. Developing and adopting tech-enabled EHS services will continue to be a focus of ours in 2021 and beyond.
Another business function that the pandemic brought to the forefront for us was risk management. As local and federal COVID-related regulations and mandates began taking effect, we had to evaluate how we were going to protect the health and safety of our employees, and how we were going to effectively be able to continue serving our clients. The pandemic highlighted the importance of having a proper and comprehensive risk management plan, including a pandemic plan, in place to address risks in an efficient and timely manner. In the early weeks of the health crisis, we worked quickly to develop a business continuity plan to identify, quantify, and qualify the potential impact of loss, interruption, and disruption as a result of COVID-19. This plan included convening a cross-functional crisis response team, establishing internal and external communication plans, updating health and safety practices, assessing financial risk and scenario analysis, determining supply chain impacts and developing a recovery plan. The plan also helped us define mission-critical activities and timeframes to ensure the continuity and resiliency of our operations.
While the pandemic has taken an enormous toll on the economy, it has also put environmental and sustainability issues at the top of the global agenda. The links between human and planetary health have been laid bare by the COVID-19 crisis and leadership on environmental sustainability will be in high demand over the next decade as governments, businesses and NGO’s work to correct the climate crisis. Understanding this, we saw an opportunity to launch a strategic planning initiative at the end of 2020 to account for the mega trends we see impacting our industry and develop a plan for how we can continue to bring value to our clients as they seek to take greater action and deliver enhanced transparency to their stakeholders, employees and communities in which they operate.
Evolving Client Needs
by Raimond Baumans, Chief Marketing Officer
What I learned this past year…
“I learned that increased awareness of long-term sustainability may be one silver-lining of this pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis has been a catalyst, amplifying and redefining business resiliency, and prompting business leaders to accelerate towards a future that rewards companies committed to measuring success beyond just shareholder returns. For a company like Antea Group, it is exciting to play a unique role in this transformation with our clients.”
As a company, cultivating and growing sustained relationships with our clients is a top priority. And while the pandemic created challenges in many parts of our business, our ability to stay engaged with our clients was a big one. All non-essential business travel was put on hold and we no longer had the opportunities to connect in-person with clients at conferences, industry events or at office and facility visits. Thankfully, our digital readiness and experience convening industry consortiums, like Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable, Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council, EHSxTech and EHSxRetail quickly evolved into establishing a series of virtual COVID-19 focused roundtables early on where we invited groups of clients to share with us and with each other their environment, health, safety and sustainability concerns in light of the pandemic and how these were impacting their businesses and supply chains. Through these virtual roundtables, we were able to maintain the trusted partner role that our clients expect from us while also providing a forum for open dialogue and insight sharing during a time of extreme uncertainty.
As expected, COVID-19 drove a new set of business challenges for our clients, and our job as consultants was to find new solutions. The size of our business and our matrix organization enabled a unique agility to develop, test and go to market with new solutions very quickly. A few of the areas where our clients needed immediate support and we were able to deliver included:
Pandemic Planning and Support
We supported clients around the globe with tailored pandemic planning and support services including, pandemic plan development, local directive and regulation updates, disinfection protocols, hazard communication programs, respiratory protection programs, OSHA recordkeeping, ergonomics, health screenings, and return to work plans.
Remote Audits and Assessments
We offered clients two tech-enabled solutions to support their compliance and due diligence work during the pandemic. With drones and smart glasses, we were able to conduct remote site assessments and audits, providing cost-effective real-time interaction, collaboration, data and visuals without the need for travel or onsite access.
The pandemic caused many of our clients to implement hiring freezes. It also caused EHS managers to shift their priority towards halting the spread of COVID-19 to their employees, clients, and communities. To help our clients keep up with their day-to-day EHS work, we offered our own employees as available resources to embed onsite, partner remotely or a combination of both.
Without question, this pandemic has been a catalyst for stakeholders demanding more action and transparency from companies in terms of their positive contributions to society. The past year has highlighted the growing importance of Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) factors in ensuring business risks are being appropriately managed. As we walk with our clients and help position them for growth, we know they are going to need to embed ESG strategies throughout their core business functions and operations. We also know they will face new pressure to measure, disclose and improve upon ESG-related metrics. The good news is that through our diversified practice areas, we are already well-positioned to help our clients with this work. Our subject matter expertise around GHG emissions, air quality, facility optimization, water stewardship, hazardous materials management, employee health and safety, corporate reporting and disclosure and understanding of local and global regulatory environments will support our clients as they prepare for the future.
Prioritizing Employee Wellbeing
by Rosanna Ouellette-Pesicka, Chief People Officer
What I learned this past year…
“Throughout the past year, I learned that our workforce is incredibly resilient. Our employees have balanced unforeseen personal, and work demands with dexterity and resolve. We supported each other through a pandemic, civil unrest and a polarizing election. It hasn’t been easy – but the care and compassion that I’ve witnessed across the company reminds me why I’ve spent 30 years here myself.”
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we created a cross-functional team that held daily calls to monitor the evolving situation, evaluate our ongoing business needs and communicate important information to help keep our employees safe. It was through these calls that we discussed and vetted new health and safety processes and protocols, including office use rules, procurement of PPE, and work risk assessment tools. While most of our workforce was working remotely, we still had field staff that needed access to our offices to pick up and drop off equipment. We also used these “COVID calls,” as we referred to them, as a forum for developing company-wide communications to employees. Given the uncertainty created by the pandemic and the lack of in-person engagement, it was important that employees heard from us more, not less during this time. Sharing the latest CDC guidance, COVID-19 testing and vaccine information, company benefit updates related to paid time off, along with mental health, wellness and ergonomics resources were frequent themes of employee communications over the past year.
With most employees working from home, we had to figure out how to maintain employee engagement and a sense of connectedness. There was no more water cooler chat, grabbing lunch with a colleague or office happy hours – and this was a difficult adjustment for many. Even outside of work, the social aspects of our lives were also paused. We were very aware of the potential mental health issues that could result from a lack of connection like this, so we encouraged office leaders and managers to find creative ways to stay engaged with employees. Small outdoor gatherings, virtual trivia nights, online holiday cooking events, and chat groups where work-related topics were prohibited are a few examples that sought to foster a bit of fun and connection. Additionally, we really leaned into our wellness program this past year. It was really nice to already have a solid wellness program in place for employees to take advantage of not just mental health resources, but physical health and financial health resources as well. Lastly, based on employee survey data, we know that we like (and miss!) working together in-person and we appreciate flexibility. As we look forward to regathering in our offices by end of year, we’ll be also be looking to integrate more flexible work models that foster collegial connections but also afford optimal work-life integration.
At Antea Group, we are proud of our company culture -- a culture that is built upon employee empowerment and respect and that’s supportive, collaborative and committed to employee well-being. And while the pandemic was the headline of 2020, there were also social justice issues that individuals, communities and organizations needed to face. As a company headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota, the killing of George Floyd hit particularly close to home. As an organization, we knew we had an obligation to revisit how we recruit and hire talent, as well as create a workplace that is more inclusive. Over the past few months, we have invested time to share resources and tools, vet training programs, review existing policies and develop new ones in order to more accurately reflect our commitment to better integrate diversity, equity and inclusion practices into our company culture. Our goal is to create an environment where everyone can bring their whole, authentic self to work and feel completely empowered to do great things.
About Antea Group
Antea Group is an international engineering and environmental consulting firm specializing in full-service solutions in the fields of environment, health and safety, infrastructure, urban planning, and water. By combining strategic thinking and multidisciplinary perspectives with technical expertise and pragmatic action, we do more than effectively solve client challenges; we deliver sustainable results for a better future. With more than 3,200 employees in over 90 offices around the world, we serve clients ranging from global energy companies and manufacturers to national governments and local municipalities. Antea Group is a founding member of Inogen Alliance, a global network of independent consulting companies that are together by choice to collaborate around the world on EHS projects for a consistent client experience. Learn more at https://us.anteagroup.com.