On June 4, Public Works Partners brought together Jeanette Nigro of Perch Advisors, Michael Crowley of LaPlaca Cohen, Schillivia Baptiste of Laland Baptiste, and Sunil Narayan of Urbane Development for a virtual panel discussion to share and examine efforts to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. We’ve broken down our summary of the conversation into 3 themes: impact, recovery, and culture.
Impact: April was a stressful month for our panelists. Not only were small firms grappling with new constraints as they switched to remote work, they were also attempting to sort through the PPP application process, supporting staff, and trying to manage cashflow as projects were put on hold, cancelled, or altered in response to the pandemic. Perch Advisors continued to support clients knowing that payments would be pushed down the line. Laland Baptiste saw 25% of their projects put on pause even though they were categorized as an essential business. Urbane Development and LaPlaca Cohen both made the decision to give up office space.
The pandemic has also inspired small firms to incorporate new areas of focus and work models. LaPlaca Cohen has been working on a COVID-19 Edition of Culture Track, examining the challenges facing the arts and culture community as a result of the pandemic. Urbane Development and Laland Baptiste have both been looking inward; Laland Baptiste partnered with a friend to provide continuing education curriculum to staff members working on paused projects, while Urbane Development has looked to their internal structures and processes to make sure they are in the best position they can be.
Recovery: For the leaders on our panel, the recovery process holds a lot of potential, and uncertainty. With so much about the timeline up in the air, no one is preparing for a complete return to “normalcy” anytime soon. That being said, workflows have begun to pick up again for some firms, and some have even seen new projects start.
Across sectors, there’s a recognition that this will be a defining moment. Firms are reevaluating everything from their missions to how they approach clients and what projects they apply for. They are also refocusing on getting their names out into the world and cultivating new partnerships. Updating profiles on sam.gov and other vendor websites is a great way to stay in the loop on potential projects and create new partnerships.
This moment has also highlighted problem areas within procurement processes and strengthened calls for more meaningful M/WBE involvement. Sunil called on agencies involved with the M/WBE hiring process to fix the systems that continue to shut qualified M/WBEs out of opportunities. The complexity of applications, fast turnaround rates, and delayed payments make many city sponsored opportunities impractical or impossible for smaller firms. Schillivia also called on agencies currently reviewing proposals to not relax their standards. M/WBEs are still here, she said, and still providing a high quality of work.
Culture: Early on, many firms tried to replicate all their normal internal practices for a remote setting. This impulse has shifted as the pandemic has worn on, and especially over the past few weeks as firms have created space for discussing the anti-racist movement that has continued to grow in the wake of the death of George Floyd. One theme that stood out in our discussion was spontaneity. Firms have seen success in providing opportunities for staff to come together in new, less structured ways. Laland Baptiste hosted a bird house challenge where team members were sent all the materials to design their own bird house. LaPlaca Cohen has brought staff together to celebrate non-work milestones. Perch Advisors has created space for staff members to have heart to heart conversations about the difficulties of the past few months. Lastly, Sunil emphasized that supporting staff and maintaining firm culture cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. Since every staff member has different stressors, experiences, and situations, they may need different things from their leadership.
Check out our graphic summary of the conversation here.
Watch excerpts from our conversation below.
Initial Impact and strategy:
Meeting clients’ needs: