Leading Through a Pandemic


We all have a unique perspective of the events that took place in the U.S. during the week of March 9, 2020, and the months that followed. On March 11, I was attending a networking event at the PGA’s Players Championship in Florida. The country knew the coronavirus was looming overseas, but it wasn’t our problem — yet. That changed fast, and we went from golf to crisis mode in less than 24 hours.

Our executive team at NEST worked around the clock as we made the decision to go 100% remote on March 16. Within days, 90% of our national retail clients announced they were shutting down in response to COVID-19.

In 2019, NEST experienced our most successful year and continued our record pace in the first quarter of 2020. By mid-March, that trajectory ceased to exist with little hope in sight. We were in survival mode.

The health and safety of our employees, clients, their customers and our independent service providers were my first priority. Next, my attention went to the health of our business. At NEST, we have a history of being fiscally responsible with a strong cash balance. But was it enough to survive a pandemic?

We had to look at our core business model through a new lens. By April, we developed seven “COVID principles” that would become our mission in the weeks and months ahead. We will continue to operate under these fundamental concepts:

  1. Be empathetic to customers, providers and staff
  2. Think differently
  3. Give back
  4. Adapt remotely 
  5. Be fiscally conscious
  6. Celebrate the wins
  7. Help flatten the curve and keep it flat

Our communication skyrocketed. I spoke with my leadership team three times a day, seven days a week during the pandemic’s first two months. We scrutinized every angle of our new lives.

We recognized our clients were also navigating the crisis in their own ways and we wanted them to know we were with them. Not only were we analyzing every penny and cutting costs at NEST, we looked for ways to help our clients save and survive. We had the right analytics in front of our clients to not just show them what they saved when their stores were unfortunately closed but the additional savings we can provide for them without cutting services for the foreseeable future.

In the weeks that followed, we saw our customer service at NEST excel at its highest level. We used the slower weeks to focus on training. And from a leadership perspective, I seized this opportunity to lean more on our employees.

Our executive team resisted micromanaging. We knew we hired phenomenal people and we were witnessing, virtually, how they came together to do their jobs at the highest level under difficult circumstances. Sure, we missed the in-person face-to-face communication, but it became clear the quality of our people was paramount.

By mid-May, we began to hear positive news from our retail clients. We were on the frontlines of opening retail back up around the country. We continue to develop new strategies to respond to COVID-19, including curbside pickup, new floor layouts to allow for social distancing, updated HVAC strategies, acquisition of PPE and more.

As we stabilized our operation amidst a near-catastrophic set of circumstances, my mind continued to think about those in need across the country. Unemployment spiked, people were getting sick, our frontline workers and healthcare heroes were overwhelmed. How can we help?

Philanthropy has always been important to NEST. Over the last 25 years we’ve given back to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Ronald McDonald House Charities and others. During the pandemic, we decided to launch a new division of our company called NEST Nurtures. 

The first initiative of NEST Nurtures was a $70,000 commitment to nonprofits. Rather than have NEST decide where the donation goes, we looked to our retail partners with headquarters scattered across the country. We let them choose where the money would be most impactful in their communities. The feedback has been overwhelming and the causes have transcended the pandemic. 

In Cleveland, JOANN selected Northeast Ohio Black Heath Coalition to be a beneficiary of our donation. In St. Louis, Build-A-Bear selected The Little Bit Foundation. Mattress Firm selected Ticket to Dream Foundation. All 40 of our retail clients will be included in the program, and NEST will be announcing more beneficiaries in the weeks ahead.

Rob Almond is the CEO of NEST, a provider of integrated facilities management services. Follow NEST on LinkedIn.

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