April 21, 2020

*Mickey Sullivan, Diane Regensburg, Brandi Amos, Kate Lee, Sara Rayman and Rick Yeager also contributed to this post

When the queen recently addressed the United Kingdom in response to the coronavirus pandemic, she cited examples of how Britons were responding to the disruption of their everyday lives. Striking a positive tone, she noted that “across the Commonwealth and around the world,” the nation had seen heartwarming stories of people coming together to help others. That comment from a monarch piqued my attention and got me thinking about our people at Gresham Smith.

As consultants, we are attuned to serving our clients and helping them develop solutions to their problems. During some recent “watercooler” conversations, I’ve come to learn how we’re pulling together as a firm to solve some of our own challenges in response to the coronavirus crisis and the unprecedented ways it is changing our everyday lives. In this post, I share how our people are responding to one another’s needs, helping each other often in remarkable ways, in these extraordinary times.


Rising to the Occasion

No doubt, we are all now facing many new challenges in response to the COVID-19 measures designed to keep our firm, clients and families safe. These are often significant disruptions to our routines as well as our understanding of how to go about our business. Some of the efficiencies and tools that we perhaps took for granted each day have now become more challenging as we work remotely and without the benefit of our in-person office communities.

Yet, perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a firm that specializes in innovative solutions for the built environment and our essential infrastructure would rise to such an occasion, drawing on our ability as problem-solvers and thought leaders to look for opportunities in the challenges.

Although I’ve only been with Gresham Smith for a relatively short period of time, coming on board just last year as a practice leader in our firm’s Transportation Systems Management and Operations group, I can already see that there’s a different kind of culture here—a culture in which we truly care about our employees. A culture that attracted me to Gresham Smith in the first place and has motivated me to share some examples of this crisis bringing out our genuine ingenuity and our “better angels”—the best part of our nature—in the midst of a whole new normal.


The Courage to Read the Tea Leaves

In a recent conversation with Gresham Smith senior vice president Mickey Sullivan, he shared how our leadership is responding to the COVID-19 crisis: “We not only have a company to preserve, we also have our people to preserve, and that’s the human side to all of this. And it ties into our overall strategy as a firm, which places an emphasis on our people and culture, with our practice, clients and business all building upon that bedrock. Our management team’s authentic actions during the coronavirus pandemic have only reinforced to me that they truly meant it when they said that our people and culture come first.”


Speaking from his home office in Franklin, Tennessee, Gresham Smith chairman and CEO Al Pramuk encourages the firm to stay connected and to lift one another up during this new normal.


Those authentic actions have included keeping the health and well-being of Gresham Smith employees at the forefront, making early decisions to introduce a work-from-home policy and setting us up with the resources we need to be successful while working from our homes—even covering the cost of additional hardware that we may need or upgrading internet service so we can work seamlessly from our homes.

Recently, my colleague Diane Regensburg, a senior engineer in our Transportation group, expressed to me that she was amazed at how our management team always seemed to be two steps ahead of everybody else—making a clear and prompt decision, for example, to close our offices ahead of most other companies—and then watching the world do the same thing a week later. She even joked that it seemed like they had an inside informant clueing them in!

In thinking about it, I personally feel that we’ve managed to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to flattening the curve because our leadership has had the courage to read the tea leaves, so to speak—the courage to trust their eyes and instincts, and ultimately be brave enough to act without self-doubt.


We’re All in This Together

These anything-but-normal times are a great reminder of the inherent value of working together as a team, and that no one part can be effective without the support of others. And that brings me to our IT group. I’d like to call them unsung heroes, but so many of us have been singing their praises as they have swiftly responded to a massive shift in how we work at a moment’s notice, making sure we all had our laptops, monitors, docking stations and even office chairs, and helping us to stay connected as we began working from home.



Our administrative assistants have also rallied to support our people remotely, which marks a huge change in their roles. Helping to address workflow items and process changes to better fit our current work styles, our AAs have assisted our Accounting department in developing processes so we can keep processing invoices and billing. The AA team also worked with IT as they rolled out Microsoft Teams by testing and learning about it so they could serve as a resource to their teams as they began to use it.

And taking it from behind-the-scenes to the front lines, our AAs have been heading into the offices to scan mail and check for packages just to make sure that everyone has what they need to continue to address our clients’ needs. I’ve even heard through the grapevine that many of our staff is sewing face masks to distribute to co-workers, healthcare workers and the community. In fact, our client experience specialist, Joan Hamrick, and our purchasing manager, Tanya Buba, came with up with the creative idea of turning Gresham Smith bandanas into face masks that are both functional and fashionable!



The Ultimate Project

At the end of the day, as much as I love my technical discipline, I am reminded now more than ever that we’re all human beings. And we’re all trying to take care of ourselves and our families, and simply do a good job as other things start to shrink in significance and we contemplate what is truly important.

Of course, none of us know what lies beyond this chapter, but my personal hope is that, as a firm, we come out of this with stronger teams and relationships, along with a greater sense of community, just as we do when we successfully complete a challenging project. And I guess we could consider making it to the other end of this crisis our most challenging project yet. Based on how we are all pulling together in this time of crisis, I sincerely believe we are both collectively and individually more than well-equipped to get through this.