Working remote with purpose: The New Normal

As a road warrior for the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA), it’s not uncommon to be in multiple states in any given week. As the Director of Field Operations and Government Relations, I manage our field team who cover all 50 states and the U.S. Territories. Our Field Ops Team members all have routines, and for most of us that travel regionally or nationally, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our world.

COVID-19 has had both positive and negative effects during this time. We started asking our staff to limit travel around the second week of March, as many states started issuing alerts. Ironically, this was about the same time that the NFSA Board of Directors were having their Spring meeting. A few members were unable to attend due to travel conditions in their region and travel restrictions by their own companies. Much discussion was given to how COVID-19 would affect the Fire Sprinkler Industry. Every Board Member left that meeting with concern on how this pandemic would change our world.

As this was all unfolding, our Maryland Headquarters was preparing for employees to work remote as Maryland was placing restrictions on business operations. At the same time, we opened our NFSA National Coordination Center in Tennessee to manage operations nationwide because of the access we had to information from various government agencies, our ability to also maintain CDC recommended practices, as well as our entire NFSA Leadership team being accessible via Microsoft Teams, which we had implemented a couple years prior to this pandemic. Tennessee was chosen as good spot to utilize a small staff to help kick off several campaigns to support of our members’ ability to continue working on construction sites that are safe and secure. Supporting the fire sprinkler industry as an essential service during these times has been critical for the manufacturers, suppliers, and contractors, as well as for the safety of citizens and firefighters. The challenges were countless. As conditions have changed, the NFSA Coordination Center has also begin to operate remote.

In addition to NFSA Headquarters, which continues to operate with a remote workforce and various department members coming in as needed to ensure shipping of member material and other limited finance operations, we have offices in New Jersey, Illinois, and Tennessee. Our New Jersey and Philadelphia teams operate out of a shared office in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, and the team there has been working from the office one day per week to keep the normal mail and systems functional. Our Illinois office is in Orland Park, Illinois, and serve the Chicago area as well as the entire state of Illinois. The Pleasant View, Tennessee, regional office is where the NFSA side-by-side burn trailers are built and distributed, where national regional operations are managed, and where many of our conferences and events are coordinated.

The negative effects have become challenges and the positive effects have become opportunities. The challenges have mostly been about communications, keeping our website constantly updated, and staying in personal constant contact with our members and partners. Listening to industry reports, attending many virtual meetings, modifying our communications plan, engaging in state-to-state issues, studying new laws and more executive orders than ever, sharing information, and now preparing for recovery are just a few more of the challenges we have faced. Opportunities have included a chance for staff to work closer with each other and participate in much needed training.

Being grounded requires our team to be more member sensitive, to stay in contact with all members, check on their well-being and their company’s strength during this time. What I have noticed most in my role is the ability to bring the NFSA team closer, divide up into smaller groups to complete more complex tasks, meet more often as a team, and for everyone to get to know co-workers better.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our previous routine of bringing staff into headquarters for training. Our new normal includes conducting virtual meetings that offer time to discuss personal well-being, as well as our overall status with families and friends. The need to provide more than basic training to everyone in the field has been a priority. To achieve this, NFSA has been utilizing Microsoft Teams as the platform for this technology. The Teams platform works well for the Field Operations and Government Relations Departments by allowing us to continue to meet, train, and see each other virtually, especially with everyone spread out across the country. Each weekly staff meeting now includes a theme, like favorite sports team, choice of hat, unique hobby, or even funny socks. This personal interaction is proving effective in making our group strong.

While our new normal will continue to change, NFSA continues to operate with full force in support of our members and the fire sprinkler industry. The mission of NFSA is “to protect lives and property from fire through the widespread acceptance of the fire sprinkler concept.” Our vision of “a stronger Industry, a safer world” has never been more true and our NFSA president reminds us now that our “new normalcy must be long sustainable”.