Rolling with the Punches: Finding Your Organization’s New Normal

By Chris Wolf, MS

The old joke goes like this: How do you make God laugh? You make a plan. In that sense, COVID-19 has been the ultimate punchline — emphasis on the punch part. Across industries, all of us are now struggling to find our footing and adjust to the new normal of doing business in the middle of a global pandemic. For many of us, how quickly we figure out that new normal will make all the difference for our organization’s future. 

When COVID-19 first hit Ohio, like many organizations, Boundless had to respond quickly to information and situations that were changing by the day. Plans, policies, and procedures were drafted, revised, approved and then wholly scrapped as the situation evolved. Training and communication struggled to keep pace with the state and local guidelines and industry best practices. On some days, it was easy to feel pessimistic, stressed, even angry. 

 That being said, I never believed chaos would be our ultimate new normal. That was an organization reacting to — not necessarily responding to — events amidst a once-in-a-century whirlwind that cut across the nation quickly and ferociously. The thing about being in the eye of a hurricane though is that it can clarify a host of strengths and weaknesses. 

At Boundless, some of the details of our new normal are still fuzzy, but the broader outlines — the themes if you will — are crystal clear. Our new normal is a deeper understanding of the critical part we at play in the fabric of our society’s health and human service support structure. COVID-19 drove home the message that our direct support professionals and other frontline staff provide an essential service our country cannot function without. It reinforced the vulnerability of many of the communities we serve and highlighted the everyday risks our professionals endure simply by doing their jobs.  

So if that’s our ten thousand-foot view, what does the new normal mean in practice?

Communication 

Finding our new normal has meant communicating at unprecedented levels, and it feels right. Communication has always been the one area everyone says they need more of, different ways to get it, and more targeted communication for specific teams. As an organization, we are broadening the old lanes of communication and creating new paths to engage our audiences in a two-way dialogue. 

At the height of the crisis, our executive team shifted to daily meetings, as did our directors. We relaunched our family newsletter and partnered across departments to create a COVID-19 information hotline, and new webpages for employees and individuals served. Our president and CEO began recording weekly video messages to update employees on action items and new developments to keep everyone feeling informed and connected. We also launched a text-messaging alert system for team members and families. Not all of these channels will prove “sticky” and remain in place beyond COVID-19, but for the time being, our new normal means err on the side of oversharing. 

A Medical Lens 

Changing course for an organization like ours can be a bit like trying to pivot a cruise ship. A decentralized structure spread out over more than fifty counties combined with the day-to-day challenges of navigating local, state, and federal guidelines can be a bear under normal circumstances, let alone during a global pandemic. Yet, protecting the health and safety of the people we serve and our team members is at the heart of our mission. This means that as part of our new normal, we are learning how to be nimble.

Borrowing from the models of our state and federal government, Boundless is setting up a Health Advisory Committee to advise on how new guidelines may impact our existing policies and procedures. Our Health Advisory Committee will act as a place to review and debrief our response and reaction to the virus, to support our efforts at continuous improvement, and improve our understanding of best practice development. Committee members include nurses, medical doctors, program professionals on staff, and volunteers to provide a purely medical lens to inform Boundless on the medical science that impacts our operational health and safety policies and procedures.

Innovation and Access

With social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders in place across Ohio, it felt slightly like the world was on pause for many of us. However, for the people who depend on Boundless for essential services every day, sitting back and waiting for things to return to normal was not — and is not — an option. Figuring out how to safely resume services became critical. It didn’t take us long to realize a big part of our new normal moving forward was going to be a mix of new technology and fresh takes on old programs.

Telehealth became the go-to solution for many of our behavioral health services. We were already offering telepsychiatry throughout the state and were quickly able to scale existing infrastructure to include more general counseling, care coordination, and diagnostic assessments.

Congregate and center-based settings came under fire in the wake of COVID-19. We responded by shifting to virtual services where possible and creating a brand new series of community-based clubs for small groups of individuals interested in accessing and integrating with their community. Center-based programs moved into the homes of the individuals served, while our speech and language team went to work creating a series of YouTube videos. Members of the center-based team even went so far as to write and illustrate short stories to help the people they work understand some of the changes forced by COVID-19.

Looking Ahead

It is impossible to overstate the impact of COVID-19. Thousands of lives have been lost. Millions of people are out of work. Countless businesses have closed their doors. I don’t know what the landscape will look like once this pandemic is firmly in our rearview mirror, but I do know it won’t look like it did in January 2020. Organizations unwilling or unable to find their new normal do so at their peril. The world has changed, and we have to change alongside it, or risk being left behind.

Chris Wolf, MS, is the executive vice president of I Am Boundless, Inc. He has over twenty-five years of experience working for and supporting social service agencies and public entities. Having held different executive roles throughout his career, Chris drives development and quality through fiscal modeling and braided funding methods.

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