Our Impact

How Boston businesses are adapting and innovating through the pandemic

Posted by Haley Glenn on September 02, 2020

Interested in sharing how your company is navigating this crisis and protecting your workforce? We appreciate input from our membership. Contact Haley Glenn for further collaboration and potential features.

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to affect the economy in mid-March, Massachusetts businesses needed to understand quickly how to shield themselves and their employees from its most serious economic ramifications. From early on, it was evident that for companies to survive a challenge of this magnitude, they would need both to protect their workforce and find ways to innovate. The Chamber, representing over 1,300 organizations in Greater Boston, asked members of the business community what steps they have taken to adapt best. 

In the first part of our blog series on COVID-19 unemployment in Massachusetts, the Chamber examined the impact of the state’s unemployment crisis on our economy, and, most importantly, our people. With the Massachusetts having the highest unemployment rate in the country at 16.1% in July, business leaders understand they must adapt to ever-changing circumstances in order to survive.  

In this second installment, we spotlight employers Chamber members who managed to provide job security for their workforce and encouraged employees to innovate as they navigate the uncertainty of this ever-evolving pandemic.  

Kerry Stakem, Northeast People Leader at PwC, provided insights on how PwC took steps both to retain their employees and create opportunities to grow, starting first with long-term planning and preparedness that began well before the COVID-19 crisis hit. Stakem shares that the business “began focusing on remote work capabilities five years ago and have since continued to invest in a robust technology infrastructure that allows people to work where, and how, it best suits them.” Recognizing the growing trend in work from home (in 2018, the American Community Survey estimated that 5% of the workforce in Massachusetts worked from home, a number that has risen exponentially since the COVID-19 pandemic) while it was still in early stages positioned PwC to be prepared to transition their entire workforce. As Stakem shared, we must “lean heavily into this existing model of flexibility and [create] longstanding investments in technology in order to continue to operate in this new virtual world.” 

Partners at PwC created guidelines for how the firm would continue to operate during the COVID-19 crisis. One such guideline, “[operating] with total transparency and [sharing] any decisions with our people,” helped employees feel an added sense of job security. Frequent communication from leadership (including bi-weekly webcasts, emails, and an internal resource page) helped PwC employees stay informed and up to date. 

Most importantly, the firm demonstrated a strong commitment to their employees’ job security. Tim Ryan, US Chair and Senior Partner, communicated that layoffs would be a last-resort and called on the rest of the business community to buy into this commitment to their employees as well. In a LinkedIn post he shared during the early stages of the pandemic, Ryan said he believes

“the best way for the business community to help is to do what we can to keep our people at work — virtually or otherwise — so they can continue to participate in the economy and support its rebound.”

Hollister Staffing, a Boston-based HR firm and Chamber member, is focusing on both talent retention and growth despite an industry-wide hiring freeze.  

Phoebe Hyde, Director of Organizational Development, shares that Founder and CEO Kip Hollister led the organization through three prior recessions, experience that equipped her with the skills needed to lead insight through the pandemic. In the earliest stages of the pandemic, the deteriorating economic conditions forced the company to lay off 30% of its staff. However, in doing so, the remaining staff better understood their role in getting the organization through the pandemic “without worrying that there’d be additional layoffs each week,” which ultimately “enhanced each person’s commitment to their role and contribution during this time.” 

Leadership at Hollister relies on heavy communication with video messages that allow employees to hear directly from the CEO. Sometimes the messages are informative, other times they are motivational. Both serve to boost community. put into determining how to keep [the] culture and engagement alive,” proving that they are a “people-first organization and that has been more apparent than ever.” 

Concerning innovation, Hollister also used this time to innovate and create by developing over 10 free internal offerings, including lunch & learns, CEO conversations, and mindfulness offerings and meditations via Zoom. These activities allow employees the opportunity to connect, foster community within the company, and help staff feel supported. 

Both PwC and Hollister agree that moving forward, Boston will look different. Stakem shares that

“work may never be the same again.”

Members of every industry must continually reflect, rethink, and readjust to rebuild their business coming out of this crisis.