Modeling compassion in the crucible of Covid-19

The consultants at Work Wisdom were used to the video-conferencing app Zoom, the instant-messaging service Slack and other tech tools that connect people remotely. 

The team at Work Wisdom in Lancaster, from left: Mary Alice Fallon Feskey; Jamie Arroyo; Kate Coleman; Donunshae Sanders; Kedren Crosby; Kimberlee Peifer; Sarah Colantonio; Randy Berridge; and Anne Parmer. (PHOTO/SUBMITTED)

So when Pennsylvania ordered non-essential businesses to close their physical locations in mid March, the Lancaster-based firm adjusted relatively smoothly, said the firm’s president, Kedren Crosby.

The canceled contracts have been tougher to bear, Crosby said, though she is mindful of the circumstances facing businesses today as they try to ride out the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Many companies are losing revenue, laying off workers and reaching for lifelines in state and federal emergency-loan programs. Work Wisdom itself managed to snag a loan in early April through the Paycheck Protection program run by the U.S. Small Business Administration, and the firm has managed to avoid layoffs. Still, while some organizations are continuing to lean on Work Wisdom, others may not have time or money for the kind of leadership and organizational consulting that the firm delivers nationwide.

“One of our core values is compassion,” Crosby said in an interview. “So when someone calls and says, ‘I have to cancel this contract,’ I want to be loving and kind and all of those things. But I know what it does to our bottom line … So, for me, that’s the hardest part.”

Money, though, has never been the chief goal for Work Wisdom, which is a B Corporation — meaning it also focuses on a social mission. The firm is drawing on an entrepreneurial spirit to continue that mission during the pandemic.

“As an organization we have faced all these challenges,” said Jamie Arroyo, managing partner at Work Wisdom and a Lancaster city councilman. “But I just love how, even in the midst of lost revenue and canceled contracts, we’re still like, ‘What can we do for our clients?’”

The answer has come in a variety of forms. The firm has been offering free mindfulness sessions twice a day, for example, and it also has cooked up new products to help organizational teams grow and connect despite the demands of social distancing. The products include online authenticity circles for teams of 10 or less at a cost of $1,000 for three sessions. Topics include cohesion during remote work, leading through crisis and managing anxiety.  The firm also is offering free versions on a first-come, first-served basis.

Arroyo said the circles have allowed businesses to describe the pain they’re going through during the pandemic. But while consulting advice is often handed out at an emotional remove, the pain right now is shared.

“For us as an organization, it’s probably the most important time to lean into that and try to help these organizations as they go through this,” Arroyo said.

The circles also allow participants to share rather than keep their emotions to themselves, said Work Wisdom partner Kate Coleman. By doing so, she said, people can gain much-needed perspective.

“When the fear is yours, there’s a narrowing spiral of how to problem-solve versus when you’re in a collective group,” said Coleman. “Others are sort of able to see your perspective from a little bit of a distant point, and then there’s an opening spiral of problem-solving that occurs. And so, just connecting with people in slightly different circumstances can really open up creativity.”

Crosby describes the pandemic as something of a crucible — a period of intense heat that melts an existing structure to make way for something new. What that something new looks like and when it arrives are up in the air. But Crosby said Work Wisdom will have a mission then, too, as teams that had been separated come back together again.

— Joel Berg, editor of BizNewsPA

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