Pandemic responses at Florida's best companies
The pandemic forced firms to reconsider how they do business. Here's how some of the Best Companies to work for are handling the outbreak.
Patel Greene and Associates
No. 2 Midsized | Bartow
With nearly 80 employees, civil engineering firm Patel Greene and Associates has offices in Hillsborough, Orange and Polk counties. It primarily designs highways and roads for the Florida Department of Transportation and hasn’t slowed down during the coronavirus, says Executive Vice President Gordon Greene. The company has been hiring employees in recent months and even hired a furloughed engineer from Disney. “We’ve always got a little more work than we can handle,” Greene says. “There’s definitely a scarcity of good engineers.”
Everyone at the firm works on laptops rather than desktops, making the transition to telecommuting last spring fairly seamless, he says. As the firm prepared to reopen its offices in June, it stocked up on face masks and hand sanitizer but gave everyone the option to remain at home. “We’re not forcing anyone to come back to the office,” Greene says. “It’s been interesting to see who is really chomping at the bit to come back and who’s nervous about it. We don’t try to judge or anything like that. We’re all getting our work done, so there’s no sense of urgency to have everyone back.”
No. 4 Large | Ocala
Founded in 1985, Ocala-based Team Cone distributes beer in 22 counties across North-Central Florida. With nearly 320 employees, it operates two warehouses in Ocala and another in Tallahassee. On March 17, Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered all bars and nightclubs in Florida to shut down temporarily due to the coronavirus, and “we had 10% of our business literally close overnight,” says company founder Doug Cone.
Around the same time, the company’s telemarketing manager began showing symptoms of COVID-19. The employee went home to self-isolate but soon ended up in the hospital on a ventilator. Like many hit hardest by the coronavirus, he had underlying conditions, including cardiac disease and diabetes. “Within five days, he passed away,” Cone says. “Obviously, the anxiety level in the office was very high.”
The company formed a task force to ensure it was following CDC guidelines, bought face masks and hand sanitizer in bulk for employees to use and hired a biohazard company to disinfect its facilities with a virus-killing aerosol. “I can’t tell you what a difference that made,” Cone says.
Given the nature of what it does, the company had to keep operating as normally as possible, he says. “Our operation has worked 24 hours a day, six days a week throughout the entire pandemic.”
Despite the negative impact to bars and nightclubs, the company saw an increase in business overall. “The one thing people will not give up in times of recession or pandemic is their beer. Even with that 10% loss of volume from bars and restaurants, my business since COVID is up 25% from a year ago. People are still buying beer and taking it home to drink,” Cone says.
The company has avoided layoffs and pay cuts and is even hiring, he says. “We have employees whose husbands and wives lost jobs. I think there’s been a sense of relief and comfort working for a company that’s not furloughing or laying anyone off,” he says.
Hanson Professional Services
No. 6 Large | Springfield, Ill.
Bill Bradford, Senior Vice President/Energy, Sustainability and Resiliency Principal -
Communication: “Our H.R. department has been very proactive. On March 4, they came out with the first communication to the company, saying they were monitoring developments, making recommendations for personal hygiene and promoting tele-health. They sent out seven or eight communications in March. And then in April and May, we had weekly updates from our CEO via Zoom. He’d spend about a half-hour just going over everything. At one point, roughly 80% of our staff was working from home.”
Economic Impact: “We were very fortunate because we entered this with a very good backlog of projects. Because of what we do and the clients we serve, we’ve been able to maintain that backlog. I have noticed a decrease in the amount of requests for proposal and requests for qualification from municipal governments, state government, schools, colleges and universities. And we’ve had a small percentage of work go on hold. We’re very sorry about that, but at the same time, we understand. We’ve had one furlough, and that was somebody who was devoted to a project that went on hold.”
Safety Measures: “I’ve gotten four, gallon jugs of hand sanitizer along with masks and gloves for our office’s reopening. Our president’s wife personally made 500 face masks for our employees. If you’re in an office alone, you don’t have to wear a mask, but if you’re interacting with people, you do have to wear one.”
The future: “There’s going to be businesses doing away with the open-floor plan and moving to more closed offices. There’s going to be less density per office. There are going to be touch-less water faucets and toilets. The way we deal with elevators is going to be substantially different. It’s going to change the offices of the future, and I think we’ll be better for it.”
Dorcey Law Firm
No. 8 Small | Fort Myers
When hiring an attorney to write a will or trust, most people still prefer to meet face to face rather than through a webcam, FaceTime or conference tools like Zoom, says Joshua Dorcey, founder and managing partner of Fort Myers-based Dorcey Law Firm, which specializes in estate planning. The firm’s revenue plunged more than two-thirds in March from the previous few months as the coronavirus kept clients at home, he says. “They’d rather not deal with someone virtually. Almost every new in-person appointment we had on the books either canceled or rescheduled for later in the summer,” he says.
Dorcey used savings to avoid layoffs and pay cuts during the first two months of the shutdown and then received a federal PPP loan in mid-May, just as he was starting to run out of cash reserves. “Luckily, with the PPP money and the stay-at-home orders coming to an end, we didn’t have to take pay cuts or furlough anyone,” he says.
The firm, which employs about 30, is now adjusting to the new normal, he says. In-person meetings between attorneys and clients have resumed, with safety measures in place to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including air purifiers for conference rooms, frequent cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch surfaces and masks for everyone entering the office. The firm’s revenue also is on the rebound.
“We’re nowhere close to where we would have been, but at this point, it’s more about surviving than thriving,” he says. “Just in terms of our staff and culture, it’s taken us a long time to get where we are, and I wasn’t willing to lose any of that just because of COVID-19. I’d rather dip into our reserves and keep our team intact. In my mind, this was an anomaly. The market was good; the economy was good. I figured at some point we’d pull out of it, and I wanted to have the same teammates with us.”