Photo: Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media
The three winners in the large-company category of the Hearst Connecticut Media Top Workplaces competition in many ways could not be more different — a health care provider, an online employment services business and a residential real estate brokerage.
But as they have faced the coronavirus challenge, they are united in core principles even with different strategies on how to respond. All three have emphasized organizational flexibility, employees’ well-being and a strong dialogue with workers and customers to navigate the ongoing disruption and uncertainty.
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Career-services specialist Indeed, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties and health and educational services provider Wheeler all have keeping workers safe as a top priority, of course, like most employers.
The question is how, and the answer is lots of communication and willingness to change. The three are this year’s winning companies among large employers in the Hearst Connecticut Media Top Workplaces competition. Berkshire Hathaway is No. 1 for the third straight year; Indeed is No. 2, up from No. 3 last year; and Wheeler, No. 3, is a new winner in 2020.
“It is a very challenging time overall, but our staff has been quick to pivot and be flexible,” said Sabrina Trocchi, CEO and president of Wheeler, headquartered in Plainville. “We’ve stayed true to our mission.”
To help protect their nearly 1,000 employees across 30 locations in the state, most in the three counties covered by Hearst, officials at Wheeler said they have implemented initiatives such as maintaining a six-month supply of personal protective equipment and capping their staff’s on-site presence at 50 percent of regular levels.
For the small number of coronavirus cases among employees that Wheeler has recorded, it has implemented its own contact tracing to contain the infections, Trocchi said.
Communication has also been critical to maintaining services and managing employees who have been working remotely.
In March, Stamford-based Indeed became one of the first large companies to temporarily vacate its offices and move all its employees to remote-work setups. Among its approximately 10,000-person global workforce, about 1,000 are based in Stamford.
Since then, company officials said they have been able to support employees, listen to their concerns and remain transparent about business decisions through virtual initiatives such as Q&A meetings with executives including Chief Operating Officer Dave O’Neill and CEO Chris Hyams.
“Meeting virtually on a regular basis, seeing our coworker’s pets and family members — these are all things that are creating stronger bonds within our teams at all levels and have become a welcome byproduct of our current global remote-work structure,” O’Neill said.
At Wallingford-based Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, CEO Candace Adams said digital platforms have helped her firm’s workforce of about 1,800 and 51 offices across Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island respond to a real estate market that is “the hottest it has been in 10 years.”
The pandemic, she said, “has cut down on the face-to-face interaction, but because of technology, I think we’ve been able to reach out more frequently than we normally would…For example, we’ve been able to bring in speakers to discuss the different aspects of the business, like the psychology of selling homes during the pandemic.”
Wheeler has also used online town halls to bring employees together, “to let them know what we’re thinking and doing and hearing from state agencies and other partners in the state and how we’re responding to our communities, patients and staff,” Trocchi said.
Indeed has ramped up its development of products and platforms for virtual hiring and interviewing. In June, it partnered with Connecticut’s state government on a series of virtual hiring events, working with 48 employers who made more than 300 hires across three days.
“The impact COVID-19 has had on the global labor market and resulting unemployment has made our mission feel more important than ever,” O’Neill said. “While we’ve always been focused on helping people get jobs, we’ve really needed to adapt to how people get jobs in today’s environment with social distancing.”
The three companies said their experiences of the past few months have prepared them for dealing with longer-term disruption sparked by the pandemic.
In addition to operating centers that offer primary health care and behavioral-health services, Wheeler also provides social services and runs a school for special education in Plainville. Northwest Village School is using a hybrid-learning model where students split their time because the classroom and at-home studies.
“As a health care provider, there are services that we must deliver in person,” Trocchi said. “Our goal is to ensure that we are best positioned to continue that work.”
At Indeed, out-of-office is now entrenched. The company is letting employees work remotely until next July.
“While we do plan to be in-person again in Stamford and in our other global offices, we’ve also found that we can be productive and maintain a high level of collaboration virtually,” O’Neill said. “That’s why we are not going to rush back into offices until we feel that it is safe to do so.”
Luther Turmelle contributed to this article.
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