Across Connecticut, companies are navigating the pandemic through innovations in the workplace and the many ways they support their employees and communities.
"This pandemic has been so very difficult for everyone and we want to do anything we can to make it a little easier," says Marietta Lee, chief operating officer, general counsel, and corporate secretary of precision manufacturer The Lee Company.
"We are a family owned business—and we consider our employees to be part of our family.
"We're all in this together, and we've got to look out for and take care of each other."
The 73-year-old company, based in Westbrook, usually holds its annual meeting with 1,000-plus employees in December in a large indoor space.
As that was impossible in 2020, the company improvised, hosting the meeting in December in the parking lots at its three Connecticut locations.
Employees sat alone in their cars while viewing large screens attached to the side of parked trucks, with sound transmitted through car radios.
There were 23 different showings to accommodate all the employees.
"Everyone was able to attend," Lee said.
The effort is just one of the many steps Connecticut employers are taking to help their employees—and their communities—in this ongoing crisis.
Bank of America understands that its success is tied to the success of the communities it serves.
The bank recognized the pandemic’s devastating financial impact on businesses, individuals, and communities, and adjusted its policies, including deferring payments of mortgages, credit cards, loans, and more.
"With more than two million deferrals made to date, we have provided relief to our clients who need it the most," said Bill Tommins, the bank's Southern Connecticut market president.
"We have also assisted small businesses in accessing more funds than any other bank through the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program."
Bank of America helped more than 6,464 Connecticut small businesses access $630 million in funding last year.
On top of $250 million in annual philanthropic giving, the bank committed $100 million in 2020 to support local communities—including in Hartford, Fairfield, and New Haven counties—with pandemic-related needs.
It also donated millions of facemasks and thousands of cases of hand sanitizer to vulnerable populations by partnering with community organizations across the country.
Additionally, Bank of America made a $1 billion, four-year commitment to help advance racial equality and economic opportunity, focusing particularly on affordable housing, job training/reskilling, small businesses, and health.
Tommins said it's all part of a holistic approach.
"We've been able to drive responsible growth, invest in our community, support the health and wellbeing of our employees and our neighbors, and meet the financial needs of our clients," he said.
Ensuring the wellbeing of its employees is always top priority, especially during the pandemic, Tommins said.
The bank offers no-cost COVID-19 testing and related office visits, no-cost virtual general medicine and behavioral health consults and mental health resources.
It also provided industry-leading solutions to support childcare needs—including nearly three million days of childcare and elder care support for U.S. employees during the health crisis, above and beyond their ongoing care support and programs.
"Our goal is to make our employees feel valued, especially during the health crisis," Tommins said.
Medtronic, the global medical technology leader with a presence in North Haven and Mystic, encourages its employees to volunteer in the community by paying them for up to 16 hours each year to do charitable work.
This has resulted in Medtronic workers helping many causes.
They include encouraging more girls to get into STEM education—Medtronic's Kayla Cloutier won a 2020 Woman of Innovation Award for sharing her STEM experience to inspire future generations.
Along with other Medtronic employees, she mentors at underperforming middle and high schools in New Haven, advising and sponsoring local high school robotics teams.
Jeff Varesio, Medtronic's senior director of operations, said the community isn't the only beneficiary when workers volunteer.
"The dividend is multi-faceted," Varesio said.
Medtronic gets engaged team members who are passionate about their work, about giving, and, in turn, become "empowered team members who will speak up and not be afraid to hit tough challenges when they arise."
Plus, he said, "being a neighbor in great standing who cares about its employees and their family’s needs helps foster the sense of belonging in a community."
Medtronic also took great steps to help its staff weather the pandemic, including allowing flexible work hours, and access to virus testing.
"A healthy, engaged workforce allows Medtronic to keep serving its patients, communities, and shareholders," Varesio said.
Community is a core pillar of the business philosophy at InCord, the Colchester custom safety netting manufacturer.
"InCord feels deeply the importance of giving back to its community and organizations that better the environment and the community," said InCord marketing director Tammy Raymond.
It was the impetus behind the company's donation in 2019 to the town's RecPlex of a new NetPlay E-Pyramid and Birds Nest Cradle.
But with social distancing rules in place, few children are getting to enjoy the RecPlex these days.
So InCord devised two new programs, Raymond said.
The Ed Ritz Gift of Play Project, in memory of InCord's co-founder, will annually donate NetPlay playground equipment to a youth organization. It will include InCord’s Freedom Glider, a wheelchair accessible swing.
The Colchester RecPlex is the first recipient, and this spring the town will receive several playground structures for different age groups, Raymond said.
The second program is the Bob Martin Eagle Scout Scholarship to honor the distinguished service and loyalty of another InCord co-founder who was also an Eagle Scout.
The award will recognize a Boy Scout working on an Eagle Scout service project dedicated to outdoor space and recreation showcasing values that Martin epitomized, including loyalty, helpfulness, friendliness, and kindness.
The first winner, Logan Koliscak, is installing a spider web climbing net at a nature center in Maryland.
Along with its community involvement, InCord is always focused on its employees' wellbeing, Raymond said.
That's why the company has taken to mailing little surprises to remote workers—such as a stress ball, face mask, or some hot chocolate mix.
"We want to have a work environment where everyone enjoys coming to work and works hard for themselves and each other," Raymond said.
"We also know the products we are manufacturing saves lives—this is something that is very important to all of us.
"We work hard together and we have fun together."