Transcription Details: Insights from the Field: COVID-19 and the Logistics of Safety at Work
Date: 30 March, 2021
- Aric W. Krause, Ph.D., Dean, Rensselaer at Work
- John Chen (’96), Global President, CEO, Mascon Inc.
- Dan Titus (’01), CEO, HRP Associates
Bonnie Sofarelli: Good afternoon everyone and welcome to Rensselaer’s Insights from the Field: COVID-19 and the Logistics of Safety at Work. I'm Bonnie Sofarelli, and I serve the leadership team of RPI’s Education for Working Professionals programs, which are designed and delivered to meet the education and training needs of mission-critical professionals and the organizations that depend on them.
These programs are informed by continuous conversations we have with organization leaders and RPI alumni which, as a result, identify the need to have the discussion we're having today.
So, think about it - with the release of vaccines and the impending plan to orchestrate a return to work, leaders are preparing for the logistics of safety while employees have questions about how and when that may happen.
So, to inform today's discussion about these concerns, let's meet two Rensselaer alumni who are leaders in the aspect of COVID-19 and workplace safety. We’ll start by introducing John Chen. He's an RPI alumnus with a degree in Industrial Management Engineering.
John is the Global President and CEO of Mascon Incorporated, a global supply chain and logistics services company in the greater Boston area.
We also have with us, Dan Titus, an RPI graduate alumnus with an MS in Business Management. Dan is the CEO of HRP Associates Incorporated, a civil engineering and environmental health and safety consulting firm located in the greater Hartford area.
So both of these distinguished alumni will be joined by our very own Dr. Aric Krause who will moderate a discussion around a survey completed by professionals from across the US.
So, for the first part of our time together today Aric and our panelists will review the results of the survey and offer their insights on the logistics of returning to work safely and then, for all of our other guests here with us today, you are encouraged to pose your own insights and questions, using the chat feature which is that green icon at the bottom of your screen. It's right in the center there.
Go ahead and use that chat feature. My colleague Justin Hume and I will be managing the chat and posing some of your insights and questions to the panelists later on in our meeting today, so let's take Rensselaer to work. Aric, you're good to go.
Aric Krause: Thank you Bonnie, and thank you everyone for joining us today. We're delighted to have you with us, and we're also delighted to have this opportunity to talk with experts in the field to hear what's going on. And as Bonnie mentioned, it'll be somewhat of a panel discussion so we're going to get the benefits of the insights of experts in the field. So let's go ahead and get started. I'll start with a question for you, Dan if that's all right.
You're talking to a lot of different organizations. You're hearing a lot of how organizations have dealt with, and are dealing with COVID. What are you hearing in terms of how organizations are reacting to such an external event that impacts them like this? What are your thoughts?
Dan Titus: Thanks Aric. It really kind of depends on what we're talking about from an industry’s perspective. You know, in the industrial sector, as most people probably realize, it has been sort of working through this entire time period, you know - still manufacturing goods and so on and so forth.
And so on the industrial side, I think, for the most part, industry has sort of figured out how to operate in the midst of COVID.
That's not really a health comment, it's more of a logistical issue, but they have really figured out how to operate in the middle of a pandemic, whereas on the soft side - on the office side - you know insurance brokers and bankers and lawyers and all that sort of stuff -
A lot of them have not come back to work yet and are still struggling with how to do that effectively, so it really depends on what you're talking about and what your background is.
Aric Krause: Excellent, excellent. And John from your perspective, being an expert in supply chain aspects and getting materiel to where it needs to be at the right times, what's your take on how this is impacting how firms operate and what they do?
John R. Chen: Yeah, from a global supply chain standpoint, most organizations are looking at their supply chain, their continuity of supply very differently. There's been major impacts across almost every industry and governments, companies, and individuals have felt this impact over the last you know, 12 to 15 months, and everyone's getting more creative on how they're planning for continuity of supply.
You know, all the lean manufacturing principles or lean principles of inventory that were drilled into us for all these years, all of a sudden don't apply.
So everyone's talking more about how do we plan for ‘just in case’ versus ‘just in time’, and you know the shipping routes, the air routes have just been clogged up over the last year, so there is a lot of challenges, but there's ways around it and that's what everyone's planning around.
Aric Krause: That's great. No pun intended - when we think about the Suez Canal with shipping being locked up, now that that's resolved.
But I wanted to point out something that we have been seeing in the press yesterday, for example, the CDC Director - the new Director made an announcement about some feelings that she's having about ‘we're not done with this’, and I think organizations and people are thinking that we're done with this, and maybe we're not done with it. In fact, this morning there was a lot of press given out that there is a resurgence of infections primarily amongst younger folks. Now that has significant implications for how firms, you know are dealing with this and how they're going to continue to do what they need to do. So, Dan or John, what's your thoughts, and reactions to hearing those things?
Dan Titus: Well, at least from my perspective, in a lot of ways, as scary as that is, it doesn't really change anything. You know the pandemic has sort of ebbed and flowed over the course of the last year in the context of resurgences and yet, especially on the industrial side, we still have to keep moving forward, and you know, providing goods and services and whatnot. And so, in that context, you know this new idea, the new resurgence of the pandemic, especially as it relates to young people doesn't really change the day-to-day process of the logistics of safety. That's sort of how you need to think about this.
You know, you need to apply good logistical management techniques to sort of eliminate the exposure hazard. Not so much to deal with the medical side of it, but just remove the source, if you will, from the receptor and to the extent that you're able to do that, whether the pandemic is ebbing are flowing is a little less important.
John R. Chen: Yeah for me, I agree with Dan. You know at the beginning of the pandemic, when we looked at all the historical data for these huge pandemics from 100 years ago, 200 years ago, after the first wave, historically, the second wave is always five times worse, right?
We've seen that five times worse. Now, with all the variants we have, can it go even greater than that? It's very possible, but we can't shut down the economy. We're going to keep on moving, right? And with the vaccines out there, there's a lot of a lot of things that we can do to help manage the resurgence, right? Anything from just vaccines, to indoor air quality, to management of the process of reopening. It’s critical and you know there's many countries that have done it very well and there's many, many parts of the US that have done it very well. But to be able to spread that to all the industries and all the different groups that need to get educated on it, it's quite important.
Aric Krause: Awesome. So let me, let me, as Bonnie mentioned, we did do a survey and I want to show you a few of the results from that survey. For example, we did a survey over February and March...
Let's see…You are seeing…Hopefully you're seeing the survey results.
Good. So we did the survey over February and March just recently. It's still open for those who are interested in taking it.
You can kind of get a sense of the breakdown. We asked people to respond by industry, and by functional area, as well as by position. We wanted to be able to get a look at the different perspectives from the leadership level to the ground level, and everywhere in between, as to how things are going.
And to your point John, you just mentioned people's need to be on, and have plans in place, and be reacting, and taking the safety measures. But there's a certain amount of people who were uncomfortable. As you see on your screen right now, we asked people to rate their comfort with working in this new environment, with the new work being around taking precautions, working in different ways, and different you know flows and ebbs of business. What's your thoughts and reactions when you see that reaction that there's approximately 20% - 80% are comfortable, but then 20% are feeling that that's challenging for them. Any thoughts to that?
John R. Chen: Yeah, you know I've been in a lot of different organizations now we’re in the vaccination effort, right?
And it's interesting when you find the demographics of who's comfortable and who's not comfortable. I think, you know, overall, for lack of a better term, I guess the white collar workers, or the you know, those type of jobs, there seems to be more uncomfortable feelings about getting back to work. The more blue collar workers jobs, the hourly workers, whether they're comfortable or uncomfortable, they don't have a choice.
Right. So they have to go back to work, and they have to do the things that they have to do.
And I think as an organization is able to ask how do we, how do we get these folks more comfortable? And I think that's what Dan’s group does - is how do we make sure that they're more comfortable getting back to work?
Aric Krause: Let's take that a step further Dan and look at this particular graphic and you can respond to John's comment, as well as this graphic. We asked people to talk about how much their work actually shifted, and you can see that 60% said that their work was changed either significantly or most significantly.
And just as a side note Dan, one of the things we thought would come up with was that goods producers, people who are in a physical location, making things would be more impacted, but we didn't see that. We saw services equally as impacted at the same level. What's your thoughts and reactions to that?
Dan Titus: Yeah um this is sort of a little curious to me. All the comments that you just made I completely agree with, but I think it sort of more speaks to the way that people personally and emotionally deal with the pandemic, as opposed to the realities of their work situation.
And I think you know what John was saying before about the blue collar workers, I think, in a lot of instances those folks are used to sort of working in hazardous material environments, you know? Sort of the proverbial moon suits. He’s started to accept intellectually that there are people who go to work every day and wear a moon suit. Now that's not super common, but you know, that sort of analogy, if you will, understanding that the moon suit, while it may protect you from some heavy industrial solvent, or some chemical, it is also effective at protecting you from COVID-19. And so the application of that engineering device, otherwise known as the moon suit is effective for all of the same purposes, so people who deal with that sort of stuff all the time, I think, once they started to understand that that those sorts of techniques - those tools were just as effective against COVID as they were against hazardous chemicals, they're like ‘Okay, I do this every day, so no big deal’, whereas with white collar workers not wearing moon suits every day, having to deal with something that you can't see, taste, or smell, is more emotionally impactful to them and that probably has a larger impact on their working environment, or their work in general, because they're sort of working in a in a fear space, if you will, and that is coming out in the context of like this kind of a survey, I think.
Aric Krause: About the aspect, John or Dan - How about the aspect about the more senior person working in an organization not consistently but, in general, may have less familiarity with using, for example, a digital tool to communicate. And so that's what I’m really going to ask about - is this issue of communication within an organization.
Is it the case that this is a partially an issue of how people communicate, the methods they use to communicate - even with clients - even if you’re client facing, you know? You may have been consistently going and seeing that client, but that all had to change, and the level of relationship and communication we have with those we work with, and those we serve that change. Is that part of this?
John R. Chen: I think from the communication standpoint, for at least the non-manufacturing jobs right? But for service industries, or anything that's client-facing, I think what we found out in the last you know 15 months, one is:
Once everybody figured out how to use Zoom or Google Meets or you know Microsoft Teams, that whatever you have, the efficiency of the worker has actually gone up.
And almost everyone I speak to has noticed that you don't spend a lot of time traveling. You know? You can jump from meeting-to-meeting almost immediately, and have probably twice or three times more meetings as you did pre-COVID.
Right. So there's some aspects to that that where we saw an efficiency increase, but there's nothing like the face-to-face meeting for a customer meeting.
Right. But there's still something to be said about meeting face-to-face that gets lost in this - in the Zoom calls, but, on the communication side within an organization there is something lost as well.
You know, you're right on the on the senior side that some folks are uncomfortable using Zoom, but actually they got comfortable pretty quickly. What's more challenging is on the line side.
The communications are tough because most of those folks probably don't use them, don't have a computer, don't you know, may or may not even have Internet at home, and that communication piece is still a challenge to today.
Dan Titus: Yeah I completely agree with John. I think the adage that COVID has just accelerated what was already happening is absolutely true, especially in this particular context.
You know, we're struggling with B2B communications and how you do business development, but also on the management side. A lot of senior managers like to be able to lay their eyeballs on people and sort of understand where they're coming from, which is difficult in these digital spaces, but again, this was already happening, and certainly younger people - younger than I - are much more comfortable in these platforms and don't really don't really seem to need that sort of eyeball-to-eyeball, or belly-to-belly contact, and so it's just a new reality, and you know I think we’ll probably get back to some semblance of normal, but I think people will probably be making decisions more carefully about how often they need to climb on an airplane and have a face-to-face and certainly that's still going to be important at some level, but maybe we don't need to have 10. Maybe we only need to have five and the rest, we can do with Zoom or Teams, or whatever.
Aric Krause: Right, right. Interesting. So you know, part of that dance, to your point - part of that, though, is knowing that that person next to you is not going to infect you or something like that. One of the results that we got from the survey was: we asked the question about whether or not vaccines should be required for individuals who are going to be on-site, and I'd love to hear both your reactions to this.
You can see, on your screen, we had about 33% who definitively said ‘no, it should not be required’. But then we've got this idea of people within proximity of each other, and maybe less ability to know whether or not that person is safe or not safe, if you get my point. Of course it's also surprising that 17% is, you see, on your screen. I'm sorry – 13%, you see, on your screen weren't sure.
There was 50, 54% 55% that said ‘yes everybody should be vaccinated’ but then we've got approximately 50% who say no, or unsure.
What's your thoughts about this with the mind of getting back to a place where we can have the interactions we need to have, and yet balance safety at the same time?
Why don't we start with you, John from your perspective?
John R. Chen: Well, having had a real-world experience now, in my own company, last Friday, we are heavily into this.
We’re vaccinating people here in Massachusetts. We're part of a part of the solution here, and being able to have access to the vaccines, I was, early on, I was able to get vaccines for my whole staff.
And I actually had 80% that did not want to get the vaccine, right? I was actually really shocked that they didn't want to get the vaccine.
Until last Friday, when we had one person test COVID-positive and I had everybody coming up on Saturday to get the vaccine and only two people didn't get it. They got tested, and got the vaccine, all at the same time, on Saturday. So having that close scare actually makes a big difference for some reason in the mental. I think as Dan said earlier, a lot of this is mental. I mean some people are hesitant because it's a new technology, especially the Madonna of Pfizer vaccines. The J&J one is a little more acceptable if you if you do take vaccines, but there's a lot of folks that don't even take the flu vaccine because they don't believe in the vaccine.
And that becomes a major challenge we have seen in big food producing manufacturers for the last couple of weeks. And for these couple of weeks, they came into the new phase of vaccinations.
There's Haitian Creole, Cape Verdean, there's the Latin-x community. These big communities that are hesitant because they think the healthcare system let them down. They're very skeptical of the healthcare system.
And so we have done outreach, and are working with them, and actually what one of the employers did - and they're all following suit now - is they said ‘Listen: we're coming on site, we're going to give the vaccines, you can do it during work hours’, which is challenging because we've got to work with all the different shifts but we do the planning with them on how to get the world vaccinated.
And then, they said ‘We'll give everybody $100 if you get vaccinated’, and boom it went to almost 100%.
You know, money talks sometimes. But literally it went from a 40 or 50% participation to nearly 100% participation.
Aric Krause: How about Dan?
Dan Titus: Yeah, this is a really interesting space, and the responses here are fascinating. So I got my first dose of Pfizer a couple of weeks ago, and it was fine for anybody out there who's wondering, and didn’t have any side effects, so that's good.
I think that the idea of vaccination is important. It's particularly important for us here, and in our business. What we do is we send consultants - outside experts into other facilities, sometimes around the globe.
And you know people are comfortable with the people that they work with, even if they don't necessarily have the vaccine. Sort of that's your cohort, so you know the guy or the gal who sits next to you, and you have some semblance of understanding of whether or not they're safe, and whether or not that's true, it's just comfort I guess.
But you know when we're you know go to Alabama to go into a manufacturing facility, we're an outsider and there's a sort of convergence, I think. I'm not a lawyer, but there's this convergence of individual rights and then also individual property rights. These are generally private property, and the entity has the right to control the individuals that come on site. And when you're talking about some sort of strange vector like COVID-19, they probably have an interest in making sure that those cohorts, even if they aren't anything other than just a comfortable space, aren't disrupted, so I think that we're going to end up in the not too distant future, with the powers that be deciding that employers can mandate vaccines in that you need to have them in order to come to work.
Like I said, this sort of a big issue for us because it's a business disruption issue if I can't send people into facilities and we can't really do the work that we do.
So we're going to need to be able to demonstrate that we are vaccinated folks otherwise we're not going to be allowed entry, so…
Aric Krause: Right, right and so that's a balancing act that the organization has to really be mindful of. Balancing individual rights, organizational mission and so on and so forth, then the intellectual property and the ownership that you both mentioned.
Let's take a moment. I'm going to ask my colleague Justin to let us know if we've had any questions that we can address from the participants.
Justin Hume: Actually Aric, yes. We have seen a few questions come in, of course, in the event registration, and like Bonnie had said earlier, we are monitoring the chat for questions that are coming up.
And one thing that was shared with us was the question of ‘What steps would you recommend organizations take as professionals begin to re-socialize to in-person work?’
Aric Krause: Re-socializing to in-person work. Why don't we start with Dan? What's your thoughts there, and then John, we’ll come right to you.
Dan Titus: So this is the simple answer - you need to have a plan, and I know that that sounds kind of silly, but it's really not. You have a plan in your facility, or your office space for what happens the event of a fire, you know, the fire escape plan. And I don't mean to oversimplify this, but a lot of the work that we do in this space sort of builds on that kind of an idea; there are things that you can do in your space to mitigate exposure and that's sort of the engineering side. I'm reminded of an image I saw a couple of days ago in the news. I think it was from Italy, where these two people - one person living affected by all the tragedy that's going on over there, but there was a cellophane or sort of clear plastic between these two people and they were hugging each other.
Which is sort of a strange and grotesque image, but it underscores the point that you can mitigate exposure by simple things like introducing barriers so if it's something that you're not comfortable with, I would suggest you probably should reach out to an outside expert - somebody that's a you know, a CIH or something like that to talk about how to put together a plan.
The plan doesn't need to be overly complicated, it just needs to think through what the exposure pathways are for COVID-19, and how do you mitigate those exposure pathways.
Think of Swiss cheese. It's not one single thing. it's not taking somebody’s temperature before they come through the door. It's not just making people stay six feet apart. Each one of those things will be a piece of Swiss cheese with holes in it, but if you layer in a few pieces of Swiss cheese together eventually you've got a solid piece of cheese, with no holes. Again, sort of a silly analogy, but that's sort of the approach that you need to take and understand that on the engineering side, there's a lot of techniques that can be used that are not necessarily certified or even talked about relative to the CDC, which really deals with the medical side of it, but there are engineering things that you can use – tools and techniques that you can use to help mitigate exposure and reduce that element to something that makes people feel more comfortable.
Aric Krause: John, your thoughts?
John R. Chen: Yeah, just to follow up with what Dan said, you know there's a lot of the physical things, but they’re on the planning side. If there is a COVID outbreak, or post-COVID outbreak, what is your reaction plan, right? Yeah, every company has to have a COVID response committee, you know?
If that's one person, two people, or three people, but what do you do if something happens and that response has to be well documented? Who’s in charge of what, and how those things happen?
The reason that even though this thing came from China, they did a very good job of controlling it. When they get one, they get a couple of cases, they shut down the whole province.
Right. And they go through testing and that whole process and it's extremely well documented. Because when something does happen, how quickly you respond, and how comfortable the people are that have to respond to it and when they know their responsibilities, you can quickly contain an outbreak.
Aric Krause: Right. So Justin we’ll come back to the next question in just a moment. Let me pull up a graphic here real quick.
We asked people in our survey to evaluate the effectiveness of the plan that they had. You both mentioned how important it is that we have plans so, we did this as a scorecard. We listed in text all the different aspects of a plan that would be present, and we asked people to evaluate their own plan, and so the darker read meant that it was a problem area - it wasn't clear or wasn't present or whatever the case might be.
But then the greens are the ‘thoroughs’, it was a very thorough part of their plan, as you guys look at this as experts on what Plan should include.
As you look at this, what's your thoughts and reactions about how the plans are being developed, first of all, and then how people perceive the effectiveness or thoroughness of those plans? Dan, why don't you go first?
Dan Titus: Yeah. It's funny - if I had taken the survey, I'm going to answer some of this differently, but I think the one that sort of jumps out at me is the assignment of workplace coordinators with clear duties, and I think John was just sort of hitting on this.
That's really important, and what we're seeing in settings where you know I would say they haven't done that great a job, a lot of that sort of ends up either with the facilities folks or in the HR department, or a little bit of both.
Neither of those are necessarily well-equipped to deal with these sorts of issues, you know, maybe there isn't a better alternative in certain instances, but that's not really their thing, and I think that part of the problem there is that you know, you’re not exactly projecting confidence when people who are not comfortable doing it in the first place are trying to manage the workplace environment.
And that's I think particularly problematic - accommodation for high-risk workers, which is another one that sort of pops up of the screen here for me.
Yeah that's a hard one, and I guess that sort of backs into what we're talking about before about requiring vaccines and whatnot.
You know I think everybody needs to be used to working really hard to accommodate people who are in difficult situations. But in the same breath, you need to figure out how to move forward, and just to bring that whole idea full-circle, I think it's all about a plan, and John is right - it's not just about the plan to prevent transmission of the disease, it's also having a plan like that fire escape plan I was talking about before, that you can pull off the shelf in the event of an infection.
How are you going to deal with that? You can't just flip the switch and shut everything down. You need to sort of figure out how to isolate it, contain it, and continue to move forward in other parts of the facility as best you can.
Aric Krause: John, thoughts?
John R. Chen: Yeah, I echo what Dan said and in reality, now a year later, there's actually a fair amount of best practices out there that organizations can reach out to the professionals to come in and review what they have in place.
You don't need to reinvent the wheel anymore. There's a lot of data out there around what works, and what the best practices are.
Outside of just the engineering things, there's some technical tools, you know, apps and different types of things that organizations can use to help on the reaction side because in crisis management, you know the firemen are running in and, are speaking fast, something happens, and people forget things.
So you have to have these things and there's a lot of apps and different tools out there that can get activated when there's an event, whatever that potential exposure by addressing that issue through steps we’re supposed to be doing, and it's a communications tool, so that everybody that's involved - the coordinators’ management team - anyone that needs to be involved has up-to-date information.
Aric Krause: Awesome. Thank you. Justin, next question from the group.
Justin Hume: Excellent. Thanks Aric. So, the next thing coming up in this relates to the plan; ‘How can employers provide adequate assurance to their teams that their facilities are actually safe for this in person work?’
Aric Krause: John, you want to start us off on that one?
John R. Chen: That's a good question. You know, aside from if we take the vaccine equation out of it, then you have to come into what are the best practices for social distancing, for cleaning and disinfecting, for indoor air quality, some of the big hitters for how you keep a workplace clean, and you know the funny thing is that the science has shown now that you don't really pass this infection from surfaces. It's all aerosolized, so indoor air quality, how air exchanges, how air exchanges in the room -
You use UVC light by pole ionization, or any of these other technologies - HEPA filters, MERV filters - any of the technologies around cleaning the air really helps with the comfort level for an employee coming back, whether they’re simply coming back to work, or a customer is coming into a restaurant, it's the same thing, right?
There's the other pieces - educating them and communicating with them on what the plans are – the things we we're just talking about, right? ‘These are the plans if something happens’. Everybody understands how the company is going to react to a potential outbreak or a potential event.
And those are the types of things - communicating with everybody in the organization from the highest to the lowest levels, and making sure they understand and they participate in it, that they have a role to play in that, and they have a role to help make the workplace safe. I think that inclusion piece helps with getting people back to work and feeling safe.
Aric Krause: Awesome, awesome. Dan, your thoughts?
Dan Titus: Yeah, it's all about communication, like anything else right? And there's a desire, sometimes I think to sort of tell people that they're okay, which is not the same thing as making people feel okay.
And so, some of that doesn't really change. I don't think that it’s about the procedures that you use, but it's thinking around what is it that makes people comfortable in their space? For example, John brought up a great point, so this is not something you will get from the CDC: I think UV light technology is a tremendously useful tool with respect to COVID, and frankly lots of other bacteria and viruses - it just destroys them almost on contact.
And UV light technology has been around for a long time and it's developed rapidly in the last year. There's all sorts of cool portable units. The devices that you can get out there are relatively inexpensive, and then you can get some that are super expensive that are actually going in your air handling systems, which is kind of cool technology, but anyway…
You know, one of the things we do here in in our practice – in all of our offices, we have some of those horrible UV light systems, and what we'll do is after people have been in a room for example, we have a coordinator, who sort of handles that instrument. You don't want to be in the room with it, because that's bad.
And we'll go in and put a sign on the door, you know this space is being decontaminated, come back in an hour or whatever, and then, you know there's signage on the door that says ‘the last time that it was clean and how long was clean for’ etc., etc., And that sort of information demonstration, if you will, I think, goes to that idea of how you make people feel comfortable.
Back to that Swiss cheese idea - you know you're using all of the layers of the cheese and you're communicating that in a way that people can readily access that information, have access to that information by like I said, seeing a sign on the door or something like that.
That sort of fundamentally builds people's comfort, I think, over time, and it just sort of starts to be the way that you do things. You just get comfortable with it.
All the way back to what I said in the beginning, you know the folks who wear a hazmat suit every day: ‘I'm pretty comfortable wearing a hazmat suit’. The person that's never worn one is probably a little intimidated by that. Once you've worn one a couple of times, it's not so bad anymore, so you just sort of have to help people through that process, or let them have contact with it - tell them that they're okay, but then also show them that they're okay, and that you're using good communication tools to build those layers in and to get people comfortable.
Aric Krause: From one perspective, the MERV filters that you mentioned John, and Dan - these UV lights, even if COVID weren't present, we still have flu and the common cold - those same technologies may be good just to have whether or not COVID continues as an issue, or whatever the next potential pathogen could be. Is that the case? What are you guys’ thoughts along those lines?
John R. Chen: Yeah for sure. I think in the post-pandemic world, now that everyone understands how bad it can get and we didn't see the flu for the last year basically.
If you look at the last two relief acts that were passed by Congress and signed by the President or the previous president, there's billions – 10’s of billions of dollars going to HVAC handling for K through 12 schools. In December, it was $54 billion, and the most recent one there's $120 billion, I think that can be used for HVAC as well, but that's the biggest piece of the of the equation when it comes to the schools, right? So that's where you can translate that into it into a workplace, which is exactly the same, right?
Well in the workplace, you know, the UVC technology has been around for 100 years almost, but they used it to rid our country of tuberculosis back 60 years ago. So that technology is tried and true, ashrays endorses it, it’s one of the best technologies out there, but because there's a lot of other drugs out there that people are taking to kick the common cold and flu we don't think about ‘hey we can actually probably eradicate a lot of our airborne illnesses, by putting some of the same technology in place’.
Dan Titus: John's right that another sort of lesson of the pandemic is actually practicing best management practices from a health perspective in an office or an industrial space. And instead of just waving your arms around in the middle of a pandemic and doing it because everybody's afraid, making that everyday practice is a great idea. If you're going to make the investment in some portable UV light technology, and you're in the middle of flu season, why not run that in your common spaces and your conference rooms and whatnot?
Every night that's certainly something you could have janitorial crews take care of. It's not complicated. Sort of plug it in, and shut the door and walk away.
So you know, it's not like it's inaccessible technology. And if we're redoing that, I agree with John. We’d have less flu that's for certain.
Even in air handling systems – the N95 mask filters down to five microns. That's why it's an N95 mask, right? Well most types of filters will do the same, so if you use HEPA filters in your air filtration system, and you change them regularly, you’re sort of going along ways to help remove viruses and bacteria and whatnot and pollen and everything else from your air systems and it just makes for a healthier indoor environment.
Aric Krause: Yeah, excellent. Thank you let's ask Justin for another question from the community.
Justin Hume: Now, this one is somewhat related to a number of themes that have already come up here both with regards to the plan and with regards to communication.
Now, what sort of advice would you offer - what sort of guidance - to professionals who may have questions about the validity of their organization’s plan? How can they raise those questions, comments, concern without appearing to be providing push-back to leadership?
Aric Krause: That's great. Dan, why don't you go first?
Dan Titus: Yeah, I mean obviously every situation is wholly different. there's some politics involved there. I mean hopefully leadership generally understands that people are uncomfortable with this pandemic. It's a once in 100-year kind of thing, and they would be a little forgiving of people asking those kinds of questions. So, at the end of the day, I think people have a right to know that sort of stuff and, if you think that your organization is not really conducting themselves with an eye towards best management practices, I honestly say the internet's a great place. I would jump on there to do a little Googling to see whether or not some of the things that are being talked about around the office track, and then from there, maybe you gently push into management and talk to them about maybe bringing in - it's not your thing you know - an outside expert to take a quick look at it.
We don't have to toot our horn, but we do a lot of that work reviewing other people's plans and, in general, most of them are pretty good, but you know when you have people that do it all the time that are looking at it, there are things that you can do to tighten up your plans and honestly, most often it's not really complicated stuff. It's just ‘I never thought of that’. It’s just applying those ideas, so you know, maybe you could have a gentle conversation with that leadership person about maybe having somebody who does this kind of work take a look at it.
Aric Krause: John, your response.
John R. Chen: Yeah I just want understand the question again. It's about if somebody in the organization that's lower-level has questions about the plan, and is hesitant to approach senior management? is that it was that the question, Justin?
Justin Hume: That largely gets to the spirit of it. It doesn't necessarily need to be somebody lower down on the totem pole. Let's say that they’re anybody in a team or management group and they're expressing concerns about the overall plan for the organization.
John R. Chen: As a management group, whoever whoever's in charge of this COVID team, they have to be open. They have to be open to suggestions, and they have to find ways to reach out to all the all the employees in the company and make it open for them to make suggestions, because sometimes the best suggestions come from somebody that you would never think of. So having that inclusion is very helpful in building a plan that will be accepted by everybody and someone at the top has to set that tone.
If the tone isn’t set from the top, it doesn't filter down and you will end up with instances like that, where people are afraid to step up and say something.
Aric Krause: Let me take that further. We'll have time for one more question Justin in just a moment, but let me show you one of the survey results we got. This was a question where we asked people how they how to rate their own understanding of their organization’s go-forward plan, and what struck me about this graphic was that between 22% minimally understood their plan, and 7% said that they didn't understand their organizations plan at all. 30% of the audience aren't clear what the plan is. We won't get into grading the somewhat understood - that's a little problematic - but what this suggests is that these plans aren't necessarily clear, but let me take that, and to add on to the to the question that we just answered.
There's accepting what may be uncomfortable, there's accepting what requires me to change my work, and there's objecting to what makes me change my work whether or not I have a scientific understanding of the basis of the plan. In other words, how do you make a plan that can be understood as well as communicated, and that has enough clarity as to the reasoning behind it, such that people - even if they don't necessarily like changing how they do things - can get on board and be comfortable? Dan why don't you start us off with your thoughts along those lines?
Dan Titus: Yeah. Again, that is totally an issue of perspective, I guess. I mean - depending on the size of the facility you’re working in you know? Maybe somebody doesn't know if you're working at Pratt in East Hartford. Maybe the guy is working down in Florida and doesn’t really understand what's happening on the floor so it's hard to pull it apart, but I guess what I would say, is it goes back to what we were talking about before in the way that you communicate with people and try to help them feel comfortable, as opposed to telling them that they should be comfortable. And I think that’s one of the things that's really important with some of these plans, because a lot of the elements of the plan are physical, so things like traffic patterns and changing air filters, there's an activity involved, you know? Doing some drills can be very helpful, maybe, as opposed to giving people stuff to read - walking them through it might facilitate better understanding, not unlike that fire drill we keep talking about. You practice once in a while, and everybody kind of knows what's happening, and I think that probably increases people's comfort level so it’s hard to pick this apart, as you said, but maybe in those situations people just haven't had exposure to what the plan is.
And that's really where the breakdown is so probably management's responsibility is to try to work a little harder to help people understand how it works, why it works, and a drill can be a good way to effectuate that.
Aric Krause: Awesome. John, any other thoughts?
John R. Chen: Yeah would be interesting for me to understand the demographic of the people that are in the 7% and the 22%.
If you're in food working and food manufacturers, there's a bunch of other people who don't even speak English, so understanding that demographic is important. Is this a legal office, a consulting firm? Is this at Pratt where it’s mostly engineers and whatnot? Maybe some of the janitorial staff can be a little bit different but I think it's quite important to understand what the demographics are.
What's causing that may be causing the communication gap, right? Maybe, the things are getting passed to them, but they have no idea when they can't read it, or can understand it.
Aric Krause: Thank you. Justin let's take one more quick question.
Justin Hume: Right. And this one actually is quite related now for those 49% that are on the less understood side of that pie chart:
What sort of questions do you think they should be bringing to the conversation with their management and leadership teams, so that they do move over into that slight majority?
Aric Krause: Excellent let's start with you, John and then we'll go to Dan.
John R. Chen: Yeah. I mean if they're answering that they are not clear, then they definitely have to raise that either to their manager or somehow to their management and ask the questions. Now, that doesn't mean everybody's going to do it right, this is very new for most organizations, where everybody has to make a plan, or try to adhere to a plan and understand this plan from an emergency management standpoint.
But I guess the closest analogy I can come to - it's like on a cruise ship -everyone's got to know what the evacuation plan is.
And they got to be very clear when you get on a cruise ship, you know we got to go to this section you got it? You're in charge of this, and you do that and that's the best analogy I can come up with: that everyone in in a facility and organization needs to understand what their role is and if they don't know what the emergency plan is, then they need to ask.
Aric Krause: Yourself, Dan?
Dan Titus: So, not to get too far into the weeds, but I think if I were somebody that was trying to figure this out, and asking those questions, to me, it sort of breaks down into two things: there's sort of the abatement plan, trying to keep people from being exposed, and then there's what happens when there's an exposure, but I think that those two things generate different questions. So on the front end, when we're talking about how do you remove the source from the receptor, what you want to ask questions about comes back to that Swiss cheese model. You want to ask your management about the layering approach that they're using to mitigate exposures, and what I mean by that is - just to use an example - just use a school, for example.
You know if the school seems to have a really great in-facility mitigation protocol, they're using plexiglass and traffic patterns and masks and all that sort of stuff.
That sounds pretty good. there's lots of there's lots of layering of technology there to prevent exposures. But then, if they throw all the kids on a bus and the bus is densely packed, and the kids are throwing spit balls at each other, like kids usually do, the work that you just did in the school is undone because that then becomes the gateway to transmission, right?
So you need to think about it in that context and ask good questions about how, in your environment, in your facility, the practices are layered in a way that creates protection and then, when you feel like there's a missing element - like maybe the cafeteria is just open writ large, and people can stand on line and order lunch to say ‘well, that doesn't really make sense in the context of the things that we know we need to do in order to mitigate exposure’ so that's a hole, and we probably should talk about that.
Then, in the in the event of an exposure, there needs to be a plan. That plan needs to be well-articulated and as John said before, there needs to be clear pathways of responsibility for who is responsible for what, because that is essentially the same as ‘there's a fire in the facility and we're implementing the emergency state plan’.
And that should be well-articulated. It should be written down to be available for everybody to review, so that they can understand it. That's probably something that's worth drilling. So, right.
Aric Krause: So thank you to our audience for providing those awesome questions. They were much better than was I was gonna ask, but I want to try to pull a little bit of a summary of what I've heard you guys both saying, and what I heard you saying was: planning, crucial communication, crucial planning and communication, but here here's the conundrum I think. Let's hope that we were able to move beyond COVID. What will that next issue be? The next issue is unpredictable. We don't know what the next shock is going to be. It could be the Suez Canal throwing your supply chain for a loop, it could be another pandemic. It could be any number of things. It could be a trade war, or problem that we have with one of our trade partners. It could be a million different things. How does an organizational leader be prepared with planning and communicating when the next issue is unknown? What are your thoughts? And let's start with you, Dan.
Dan Titus: Um so yeah. I mean one of my favorite people from history, George Patton always used to say: “The best laid plans go to hell, when you engage with the enemy.”
That's kind of true, you know? There's no way to really plan for every particular happenstance or outcome, or whatever. I think it's more about posture, right? So if you're an organization that that postures towards dealing with threats, dealing with business downturns, dealing with business disruption, whether its environmental, or geopolitical, or what have you, you're probably better able to move in contact with whatever the next issue is, and that to me is probably the defining skill set for good leadership, when you're talking about an organization that can adapt and transact in an uncertain and difficult environment.
You can't write a plan for everything but if your mind thinks that way, you think about the logistics and planning. You think about the hazards of the world, and if you posture yourself that way, you're always going to be better able to react because you're mentally prepared, if not physically prepared.
Aric Krause: I liked where you use posture. If you're well postured for planning.
So John, your thoughts?
John R. Chen: Yeah, obviously, this past year and change has been challenging for every organization, and even for us. We were heavy into aerospace and defense, and the aerospace industry went to nothing for this past year and a half.
Prior to that was the 737 Max grounding. It has been a tough year and a half, to two years. So ‘real time’ for us is as Dan said, the posturing side, you know? We kind of went back to our roots and asked what are our core competencies as a supply chain and logistics planning operation, and how can we take advantage of the opportunity that was in front of us, where all the supply chain in the world is broken down, and how can we get in to inject ourselves into that process? And that's what we've been doing for the last year and a half.
You know, really funny before this call - one of our board members sent me a text message - she's an infectious disease doctor here in Massachusetts - and she's like ‘I need help getting a vaccine for somebody’.
Right. ‘Can you get them in one of the clinics?’ I said this was pretty funny, right? How ironic, that one of the top infectious disease doctors in Boston can't get a vaccine for somebody who's calling me, who has been in the medical industry for all of 12 months.
And I said yeah I'll probably take care of it, but the pivoting, understanding and rallying the troops is important, you know?
It looked really down in the first and second quarter last year, how are we going to get through the rest of the year? But you know, the communication piece is true, showing them a path to the future has been extremely important on the pivot.
Aric Krause: Well that's great Thank you so much for that. You know, one of the things that we've been doing over the last year or two from Rensselaer’s perspective, and it's so great to see our alumni leading in these sorts of industries, but one of the things we've been doing is we've been out talking with employers about precisely the points that you just raised: this idea of resilience, this idea of flexibility, but then this idea of purposeful action to really describe what it means to be an effective leader.
Leaders aren't these entrenched individuals who are marching in this direction. ‘No matter what we're going to get that hill, no matter what!’
Because the hill might change, the direction might need to change and, in fact, one of the things that we've done over the last couple of years is build graduate-level certificates. These are three courses in a particular area that helps someone develop an ability set like the one you described.
And as you guys were talking, I was thinking about these two particular certificates. We have a certificate for example in Leading Change and Innovation, and another certificate in Systems Engineering, both of which are really fixed around this idea of being able to see the horizon, see when the direction of the ship might need to change. I gotta figure out Dan how to work Swiss cheese into this, but when the ship needs to change, and then coming up with a plan as opposed to becoming stymied or sitting in the corner with that glazed look, because you don't know what to do. These people know how to assess what needs to happen, diagnose, plan, and then execute that change to move the organization to help the organization pivot appropriately.
Again, to your point Dan. Whether its environmental, or supply chain-related or whatever it is - geopolitically was the other one you said - the organization needs to shift and so, I’d encourage those on the call to think about those in your organization who could benefit from one of these graduate certificates.
Again, three graduate courses, they can be completed in a year or less. They're designed using real-world scenarios and projects so that the individuals in these programs are doing what they're learning, doing that diagnosis, doing that planning because - one other point I would add to the conversation - it's not just the C-level person who has to have that capacity, but it's these individuals throughout the organization, who have the right perspective, the right viewpoint to really see when this threat might be coming or how the organization can best react.
So please, if you know individuals in your organization, who could benefit from this sort of academic experience, we'd be happy to provide that to them.
Our programs or graduate certificates are completely digital - they can be taken by an individual anytime, anywhere using our digital Rensselaer classroom so we'd be happy to follow up with you on that and talk more about those programs. Dan, John, thank you so much for joining us today I love the perspectives given to our participants.
Thank you for joining us today, let me ask Bonnie to give us some thoughts about how people can continue this conversation and move forward.
Bonnie Sofarelli: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Dean Krause, and again, thank you to our distinguished alumni, John Chen and Dan Titus. And thanks to all of you for making this meeting happen.
Yes, let's absolutely keep the conversation going. Keep sharing with us what you're experiencing at work whether that's transformational or not.
And let us know how we can support you and your teams, with the Education for Working Professionals programs. You can look for an email from me with an invitation to remain connected with Rensselaer and for now let's just stay healthy, everybody.
Thank you again for joining us. We'll be in touch.