We are living in unprecedented times. We are paying employees to work from home and avoid one another. We are no longer shaking hands or even coming into contact with others at a distance less than 6 feet. We viscerally react when anyone near us coughs, or sneezes, or approaches us in public without a mask. We avoid friends and family outside our immediate circle. We scramble to find essential items like toilet paper and cleaning products from the grocery store, and we do as much of our purchasing online as possible to avoid even entering stores. And we live under the cloud of uncertainty associated with a virus – in particular whether we or our loved ones will contract the virus, and if we do, what we will experience.
And yet, we continue to recognize our duty to serve our Members. To provide needed power for those who are themselves undergoing difficult circumstances - perhaps the loss of a job, or a business, or a loved one.
So how do we balance those two, seemingly conflicting priorities? How do we work together to achieve our commitment to our Members, and at the same time exercise reasonable diligence in protecting ourselves, our co-workers, and our loved ones? It is these two critical questions that management has faced since the pandemic first impacted the cooperative over two months ago.
The Pandemic Response Team has worked diligently to develop and communicate strategies, procedures, and processes to protect employees and maintain business continuity. Approximately 30% of STEC’s workforce has been working from home since late March to limit the amount of personal contact that they and their co-workers would have with each other. To accomplish the change in work location, a significant effort was required from the IT Staff to put the necessary technology in place. Critical Category One employees were identified, food and other supplies necessary to support those employees on-site for two weeks were acquired and stored, and access to critical work locations was restricted to essential personnel only. Staggered work schedules were put in place to minimize on-site personal contact, and large meetings (including Board Meetings) were cancelled or shifted to video conferences. Speaking of which, we have become well versed in Lifesize, MS Teams, WebEx, Zoom, and other video conferencing platforms. We have provided quantities of hand sanitizer, cleaning products, and masks for employees who continue to come to the site to work, as well as employees who are working from home. And we have continued to monitor the pandemic-related statistics as reported for all of the counties served by our Members.
I am very proud of the attitude, professionalism, and cooperative spirit reflected by the STEC employees. Despite the difficult work and personal issues each of you are dealing with, you have continued to successfully implement our core values and perform our Vision and Mission Statements. And most importantly, the health of our employees has been maintained.
Now, it is time to begin to move back toward "normalcy". Beginning June 1st, STEC employees who have been working from home will move back to their on-site offices. Despite that move, we will continue to practice social distancing, workplace cleanliness and good hygiene. It will be some time before we fully implement all in-person meetings, so video conferencing will continue to be used to a large extent. And management will closely monitor all of the work environments to ensure that we do not move too quickly.
And if the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t enough to deal with, hurricane season is upon us, with the first storm of the season being named. As we prepare for what looks to be an active storm season, I know that each of you will continue to perform at the high level you have consistently demonstrated.
Finally, I am writing this message one week before Memorial Day. That day holds a special meaning to each of us who owe so much to those who have sacrificed their lives for the freedoms we enjoy. Even in the most difficult of times, we can rest secure in the knowledge that we live in the greatest country on the face of the planet. Our call is to ensure that those who paid the ultimate price and gave their lives so that freedom can endure, did not do so in vain.
Bob Dylan wrote, "A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom."
May we all be heroes.