Robert A. Francis, President and CEO, Planned Companies
I am CEO of a four-generation service company that provides vital front-of-house and behind-the scenes staffing and services to condominiums, apartments and office buildings across 11 different states.
After we thought we had seen it all, the pandemic hit, and we realized that we had to learn on the fly – just like so many in our own and other industries.
Consider that more than 40 percent of our clients are based in the exact area of the country that was most affected by COVID-19 — the five boroughs of New York, with a large concentration in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and New Jersey.
Nevertheless, as the hysteria was growing, our employees selflessly and courageously served tenants and residents throughout the northeast, proving that teamwork really can overcome obstacles. As an essential business, shutting down was not an option. We needed to face the new normal bravely and comprehensively, mitigating risk where possible.
If we were asking team members to risk exposure to COVID-19, we, as employers, needed to have their backs. After all, each employee is someone’s spouse, son or daughter. Humanity needed to be a priority and become our top guiding principle.
We started by taking care of our team, outfitting our colleagues with high-quality personal protective equipment (PPE). In addition, we continued to source additional PPE, on a domestic and international basis, to ensure that our staff members were and continue to be protected throughout the balance of the emergency.
Further, despite baseless union claims to the contrary, we continue to provide our employees with high-quality health coverage and some of the most competitive wages and benefits in the industry.
Because families were hurting, we created the COVID-19 Immediate Response Fund, providing immediate grants of up to $300 per qualified employee who experienced financial hardship related to the public health emergency. Planned contributed $500,000 to this fund that has already helped over 1,300 employees, union and non-union alike.
We modified our existing sick day and leave policies to address the unique needs of employees that have been affected by COVID-19, including those with a diagnosis or caring for a loved one with the virus.
As part of our efforts to support our community, we donated vital face masks to long-term care facilities in northern New Jersey, including a federal veteran’s home, that were deeply affected by the pandemic. I continue to be struck by the dire needs of these facilities and the pervasive nature of the virus in the long-term care environment.
Our efforts extended to our professional colleagues through the exchange of best practices across all facets of our industry. Through a weekly “town hall” virtual forum, bringing together leaders from throughout our business and vendor environment, we have covered many topics related to COVID-19 response and facility reopening, the need to modify existing policies and procedures and other essential operational topics related to the protection and maintenance of public spaces for living and working.
On June 16, we held a virtual trade show, allowing members of our industry to directly interact with each other, in real-time, online. This was an industry first and we were proud to initiate. Planned has a core value, “Never Be Complacent.” The town halls and virtual trade show have helped instill knowledge and confidence throughout our industry.
To help us address the nation’s new normal, we developed Commercial and Residential Reopening and Rapid Response Guidelines, as well as a Disinfecting Procedural Booklet.
These crucial recommendations have been created with the input of industry leadership to reflect the best practices available to combat COVID-19 and other viruses. Planned is offering these materials to clients and businesses across the nation.
Lastly, we launched a COVID-19 Disinfecting Service Program, one that current clients, as well as public buildings and institutions, will find particularly useful in preparing their operations for reopening and ongoing infection control and prevention.
This service includes a number of reference documents designed to ensure the safety of employees, tenants, residents, and the public.
Our society’s COVID-19 experience has created an enhanced understanding of the essential role that the real estate services workforce plays in our daily residential and business world. The global pandemic also gave us a time to shift our focus squarely to those we employ, those we serve, and those industry peers that we work alongside.
In times of crisis, things work the best when all of us work on the same side – a silver lining we can take away from the experience of COVID-19. AS we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel and adjust to our new reality, we can look towards the promise of a healthier tomorrow for all of us.