Business Continuity Series: Operating Safely as an Essential Business While Maintaining Business Continuity


As part of our webinar series on enabling critical operations for business continuity, WWT CFO and COO Tom Strunk and Executive Vice President of Global Human Resources Ann Marr talk about how WWT has worked toward operating safely as an essential business while at the same time maintaining business continuity and safety for our customers, partners and employees.

Please view the transcript below:


Brian Feldt:                   Hi there. Brian Feldt with World Wide Technology here. And I'm pleased today to be joined by Tom Strunk, our Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operations Officer, and Ann Marr, our Vice President of Global Human Resources. To the two of you, thanks so much for taking time out of what I know is a very busy schedule.

Ann Marr:                     No, thank you.

Tom Strunk:                  Great to be here.

Brian Feldt:                   So over the last few weeks, we've produced a series of videos focused on enabling critical operations for business continuity. And these videos provide practical and actionable information around use cases and technology considerations affecting organizations around the globe.

                                    Today, we're actually going to take a look inward at how World Wide technology has worked toward operating safely as an essential business, while at the same time, maintaining business continuity for our customers, partners, and employees. The intent here is to provide detail on how a global organization such as World Wide is thinking about and approaching the fluid situation created by COVID-19. We realize there is no single right approach in times like these, but in sharing our mindset, our hope is to help you or your company fine tune or validate your strategy as it relates to getting through this pandemic.

                                    Ann, I'll start with you here. Let's walk back to when we first started tracking the events surrounding COVID-19. What were some of the first set of discussions and decisions that we had to make and what went into those decisions and who did we involve?

Ann Marr:                     Yeah, this was back in early March when all of this started, and it was a very small group of us. It was me and it was Tom and it was our CEO, Jim Kavanaugh, Joe Koenig, and Erika Shank. And it was just a very small group of us, just really trying to strategize and figure out what to do. And the first thing was to encourage people to work remote. That was the first thing, to get everyone in their homes and get them safe.

                                    So that's how it all started. And trying to make those decisions based on the unknown. You know, none of us knew what was going on. I mean, you could look at the news and you can see some of the things that were happening, but we had no idea what the future was going to bring.

Brian Feldt:                   Tom, as cities and communities begin reopening, businesses are facing another dilemma, which is how did they begin the process of returning to normal operations if they return to normal operations at all? So how is World Wide technology approaching that decision and what considerations are critical to making sure that we make the right decision not just for the business side of things, but for the safety of our employees and customers?

Tom Strunk:                  Yeah, it's a really important topic and a great question, Brian. And I can tell you, it's one that we're talking a lot about. But at this time, our theme, and we're communicating this broadly to all 6,500 team members is you can expect us, from an office perspective, to be at the very end of the return to work curve. We see zero benefit in being a first mover.

                                    Now for us, it's very specific to our business. We have essentially two segments of our workforce right now. We have our frontline essential workers that are out in our distribution centers and our labs around the globe, or potentially still supporting customers onsite with services, engagements, that are doing just great work. And our focus and attention is on their wellbeing and safety as we keep our business going. And it certainly is both.

                                    So when we think about then the other half of our company, roughly 3000 to 4,000 team members, those are the remote workers right now, and fortunately we've been very productive. We have not seen a dip in productivity during this time. And as a result, we do not want to add to the pressure of continuing operations by bringing that group back to the office, and taking anything away from our focus and effort on keeping our supply chain going and keeping our essential lines of business running while protecting our team members.

                                    So that's our message. And Ann, you may even want to comment on the recent email you sent out that really set the tone for the timeline around this which is [crosstalk 00:04:14].

Ann Marr:                     Yeah. Yeah, I just sent the email out. And Jim has said, it's a marathon, not a sprint. So we're trying to encourage people to continue to work remote if they can, and encourage them. And it's working. The model is working. But, in no hurry to get people back at the office, because as Tom mentioned, there's a lot of things to consider when people go back, and we want to provide the same level of protocols at the office as we do at the facilities out in Edwardsville. And to do that, it takes a lot of time, effort, manpower. So it's a marathon, not a sprint. And the important thing is keeping people safe. That is the most important thing. So don't be in a hurry. People in a hurry to get back to the office, don't be.

Tom Strunk:                  Yeah. So, Brian specifically, we have not established a date. We've set the expectation. It could be months, maybe even longer. And we've lived this, the response to this virus as it's traveled around the globe, as a global organization. So we have operations in China, so we saw it there. It moved towards our Singapore operation, and Singapore is a great example. They shut down and went on lockdown several weeks ahead of the US. And just recently, they hit what they call the circuit breaker, which means they had another spike in surgeon cases, and they had to lock things down again.

                                    So again, that's just an example of what we've seen around the globe and another kind of proof point that we don't see any benefit to being a first mover when it's getting our remote team members back to the office.

Brian Feldt:                   Decisive thinking and decision making can certainly be beneficial in challenging times, but we've all heard the term too many cooks in a kitchen. Ann, how have we gone about including the right people or the right mix of people in our decision making process without slowing things down?

Tom Strunk:                  Yeah. You know, we started out with this smaller group, as I mentioned, and we were meeting really regularly, and we realized we needed to extend that to the other members of the executive team, because we needed to get their input. They have teams around the country, they had issues to deal with. So we extended that to the executive team. And we had a cadence in when we met. We met three times a week to update everyone on what was going on, to make sure we had the right people in the room, making the right decisions.

                                    And that was really critical. I think it was critical for all of us, and to just understand the dynamics of all the different teams that we had around the country. And it's been working. And we scaled back those meetings a little bit. Now we meet twice a week. But if something pops up, we know we can all gather together. And this is a team that's been together for a long time. So, while yeah, I know sometimes there are too many cooks in the kitchen, we have the right people in the room making the right decisions for the company.

                                    Yeah. I would just add Ann, the importance of that last point. For us, once we expanded it outside of the kind of core five or six of us that implemented the immediate COVID response, to the broader executive team, I really don't want to call it business as usual because there's nothing usual about the circumstances that we're dealing with it, but our executive team anyway, is organized in a manner that we want leadership from every area of the business in the room, on the same team, on a routine basis, that's able to make decisions and provide information so that we can make the best decision as possible. And it doesn't mean we always agree on the direction, but we ultimately need to align on the direction. We talk a lot about that as a business.

Brian Feldt:                   Ann, you had mentioned earlier, the email that you sent out. Certainly, communication is of utmost importance in this type of times, not only keeping employees informed, but also communication between the executive leadership and the employees staying connected, engaged, and kind of understanding where they're coming from. So how are you thinking about communication in times like this, and how important is it to creating that business continuity?

Ann Marr:                     I tell you, communication is everything. I mean, we knew immediately that we had to get out in front of this. And we wanted to make sure we were informing our employees and it came from the right people. So Jim immediately started with his company updates that he was giving. And then that would be followed up by emails, just substantiating that, or other information that we provided.

                                    And we realized how important that was for not only the employees, but for the employees and their families to understand what was going on. And it was from the source. It wasn't this interpretation of what you think you heard.

                                    And so we've had a cadence around that communication. We've scaled it back a little bit over the last couple of weeks, but still there's still points of communication. But we want to make it relevant. We don't want to repeat the same thing, but we also want to make sure people are empowered with the message. And that was really, really critical as we continued to monitor the situation, really, really important.

Tom Strunk:                  Yeah, nothing to add there. Completely agree.

Brian Feldt:                   Tom, you mentioned the 6,500 employees that we have across the globe, so we're a very dispersed company. I imagine clarity and consistency of that message has to be extremely valuable as well.

Tom Strunk:                  Yeah, no, great question. And it's immensely important. You know, I'd say where it starts is we build off of the communications that we had mentioned previously, that Jim delivers, because again, we want to make sure that we're consistent across the entire organization. But then as an executive team, there are certain portions of the operation, take our global operations, for example, and our supply chain, that need very specific messaging at this time. There might be something going on in a certain portion of the world, region like Singapore that needs certain communications. And then there are certain areas like our global supply chain operations, that has probably a more frequent communication that's going on at this time, just in terms of the safety protocols and all the things we're doing to both remain open while keeping our team members and frontline workers safe. So clarity and consistency is very, very important.

Brian Feldt:                   Hey Ann, I recently heard a board member, a WWT board member say culture is not developed in a time of crisis, but it is revealed during it. And if a company doesn't have the right culture in place or leadership in place prior to moments of disruption, cracks could become apparent. So I was hoping you could talk about the role of culture and what it plays in responding to times of crisis or during this pandemic even specifically.

Ann Marr:                     Yeah. I mean, gosh, isn't that so true. I mean, culture is everything for us. And when you think about how we define culture at World Wide, teamwork, camaraderie, flexibility, all these things that are part of our culture, really allows us to be able to go through this situation as an organization and as a team. I mean, it is just the definition of what we are and what we do, and how it has empowered people and how they feel that sense of confidence and camaraderie. Even though you're not sitting right next to someone, you can still feel the teamwork, even on calls, on Webex's. There's so many ways to stay connected, but you feel a part of it because we've established that culture and that has permeated throughout the organization.

                                    So I couldn't agree more. It is the most important thing that we have created, and the thing that really will get us through this situation.

Tom Strunk:                  Yeah. And, just as a side note, I was just on a new employee virtual round table. This is something that traditionally most of the team members would be in the room, and you'd go around, you'd introduce yourself, how long you've been here. And this group had been here, some as few as two weeks, up to six months. And asked that question about how do they feel about the culture being new, and it's a pretty standard question.

                                    But it was so interesting during this response that basically, universally the team members on this call commented exactly what you pointed out to, Ann. They joined the company because of culture and they have not seen any deviation from that. And that culture has enabled us, during this crisis, to move seamlessly into remote work and to take care of our frontline team members. And it's something that one, as a leadership team and in our organization, we need to remain focused on, and something just personally I know, and speaking for Ann and the executive team, we're very proud of and focused on maintaining.

Brian Feldt:                   Tom, we'll stick with you here. The situation around COVID-19 is so fluid and things are changing. So sometimes information, by the time it's communicated with the broader organization, can be outdated, or in some cases, contradicted. How do we balance keeping the company informed, but not over communicating? Is there such a thing as over-communication during times like this?

Tom Strunk:                  Well, I think there could be, Brian. And I'll refer back to Ann's previous answer just about the frequency of our communication. So during the early days of this crisis, we made a commitment that Jim's going to do a company wide update so that all of our team members hear the same message once a week. And as that has evolved, we've space those out to two weeks. And now we're about to move into a three week rotation.

                                    We can always pull that forward, but the point of that is we want the updates to be relevant and meaningful, and to deliver the information that we need. So if you're up there weekly and you really don't have anything new to add to the situation, it can blend into the background. And people are busy enough dealing with everything we have going on. So that's an example where you can over-communicate.

                                    But, back to your kind of opening question, these are extremely fluid times. And one of the biggest challenges, and I think our team has done a reasonably good job of this, is just staying up to date on what's happening and what's next. When we finish this video, Ann's got a call set up for us about the next generation of testing and what those protocols look like, and how do private companies in industry participate in testing. And that's a rapidly evolving field as well.

                                    So there's no shortage of things you need to quickly get up to speed on. And it's a real art to figure out the frequency, and then what level of communication you provide to your team members?

Ann Marr:                     One thing I will say, and I completely agree with Tom, the gauge of communication is the responses that I know I've seen from our employees, just how they have appreciated how the company has handled the communication and empowered them with the communication, and compared that with either their friends or family. So it makes us feel really good about what we're doing when we get that kind of positive response from our employees, just thanking us for keeping them informed, thanking us for creating a cadence around that communication. That's been really great to see, and it's been encouraging for us as an executive team.

Brian Feldt:                   So we've talked a lot about communicating with employees, but Tom, walk us through how we're approaching communication as it relates to customers and suppliers because I'm sure that's a very important aspect as well.

Tom Strunk:                  Absolutely. And really all the same principles apply as we've been discussing about communicating to our employees and team members during a crisis, in terms of clarity, frequency, and consistency of the message. And whether that's communicating with our top partners on the supply chain side and understanding impacts to lead times and other things we need for the products that we're bringing in, integrating and delivering technology outcomes for our customers, or communicating to our customers as they're responding to the crisis, how their needs are changing.

                                    Are their dates pulling in and do they need special help from us, which has happened quite a bit in terms of our support, for example of healthcare customers? Or are their needs pushing out because of other factors, whether it's their facilities are closed and they don't have an opportunity to implement the technology, or some other region, maybe even budgetary during this time? So all the same principles that apply to communicating internally to team members, apply also to our customers and our partners.

Brian Feldt:                   Certainly the term, the new normal has been an incredibly buzz word going on right now, but certainly nobody's going to know what the new normal is going to be. And everyone is wondering what's next as it relates to restaurants are sending their kids back to school or getting back to the office. It's a little bit of a crystal ball question here. But we can't predict the future, what do we have to look forward to over the next six, 12, 18 months? And how are we thinking about handling those situations?

Ann Marr:                     You know, I'm from New Orleans, Brian, but my crystal ball isn't working with this one, not at all. There is not a new norm. I mean, to your point, I wish we could look into the future, but we are going to take that cautious approach as Jim mentioned. We're not going to rush things. There is no such thing as normal right now. I think as things move, we're moving with it. We just want to create a fluid- It's a fluid situation. We're trying to be proactive as much as we can. And trying to, as Tom mentioned, look at the information out there and see what's happening.

                                    But when you look at state to state, country to country, it's so different. You can't have a consistent message because it's so different in what states are doing. Some are opening, some are not opening. And so you just have to monitor that and see what's best for the organization.

Tom Strunk:                  Yeah. And then I would just add, one of the topics that's frequently on our executive team calls, for example, Brian, is what are we learning about ourselves, our organization, our teams, and our culture and how we collaborate, and how we effectively serve our customers in this environment. And how does that inform our decisions moving forward?

                                    And to Ann's point, we haven't made any decisions about ... I'll take an extreme. We never need offices again. We're going to go 100% remote work, except for our frontline team members. You know, that would be an extreme. We're certainly not there. We're also not, as we said, going to be the rush back to work. We're fortunate that we're very productive during this time.

                                    So that gives us an opportunity to continue to learn and understand what's working and what's not working. And we'll continue to do that. And my bet, my guess is that we will adjust and there will be more telecommuting than previously, but it won't be a full tilt to only telecommuting. And so we're just going to continue to learn. That's how we get better as an organization.

Brian Feldt:                   Well, Ann, Tom, those were the only questions I had for you. And very much appreciate you taking the time out of what I know is the busy schedule as I said. Thanks to the viewers for taking an interest in the topic. And hopefully some of what we talked about today is helpful in terms of how you view or approach the situation moving forward.

                                    We continue to remind you as well on our wwt.com platform, we have a host of other videos that touch on business continuity concepts as it relates to technology and use cases. So would encourage you to check that out. Ann, Tom, thanks again, and we hope to talk to you soon.

Ann Marr:                     All right, thank you. Take care and stay safe everyone.

Tom Strunk:                  Thanks a lot. Enjoyed it Brian. Take care everyone. Bye now.