SCJ Alliance Supports Working Parent Staff Members During COVID-19

Whitney enjoys some cooking kitchen time with her three girls. She and husband Patrick, both engineers, typically take shifts watching the kids as the other one works. Photo courtesy; SCJ Alliance

Patrick Holm never considered himself an extrovert. Before joining the SCJ Alliance team six years ago, he would have been more likely to identify himself as an introvert. It wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic hit and everyone began working from home that he noticed something had shifted. “The hardest part about not being in the office was not interacting with my colleagues,” he says. “This whole process made me realize how much I thrive off of engaging with other people.”

Patrick Holms new norm for meetings … video calls and kids. Photo courtesy; SCJ Alliance

Throughout the first phase of COVID-19, everyone at the engineering and design firm worked from home. Adapting to their new working conditions was easier for some than others. Dozens, like Holm and his wife Whitney, also an engineer at SCJ Alliance, were coping with homeschooling children ranging in age from toddlers to high schoolers. The company worked with their team to keep everyone connected and provide both technological and emotional support.

The first few weeks balancing home and work life were a bit rocky, according to Principal and Planning Manager Dan Penrose, but eventually, things smoothed out. “Trying to do schoolwork with our three boys and get work done on top of that, it’s been tough to feel good about both things,” he says. “The company has been willing to work with us to get to a place where we’re psychologically comfortable. We’ve hit a stride with academics, and they’ve been very understanding about what I can accomplish and what I can’t.”

The Holms take turns watching their children, all of whom are under six-years-old. “We have times when we’re on Zoom meetings and one or two or all three of our kids end up in the meeting with us,” says Whitney. “People have been really receptive to that and understanding. In some ways, it makes the meetings more enjoyable.”

Patrick Holm enjoys bike time with two of his girls. Photo courtesy; SCJ Alliance

The couple has also made good use of the yard space on their 1.5-acre property, encouraging their children to play outside as much as possible. “It helps to tire them out later in the evening so that we have more downtime, both individually and as a couple,” says Patrick.

The company has supported working from home in several ways, through multiple video conferencing platforms, file sharing tools, and rapid responses to any technological issues. One Friday afternoon, the laptop on Patrick’s hard drive crashed. The IT team was able to replace it over the weekend, he picked it up on Monday, and was able to continue work without interruption.

Communication has also been an important factor in keeping the team connected, says Penrose. He credits President and Co-Founder Jean Carr with providing regular updates so everyone stays informed. “The door is always open at her office,” he says. “Now that door is remote, but the mindset has been the same. There’s been a consistent and widespread attempt to be as transparent and forthcoming with news as possible.”

Pre-COVID-19, Dan frequently participated in public workshops for SCJ projects. Fortunately, his planning team is also skilled and experienced at gathering people and opinions virtually. Photo courtesy; SCJ Alliance

As a company, SCJ Alliance places great emphasis on workplace culture. The approach has paid off both in creating a loyal and committed team and in achieving outside recognition. Five times, most recently in 2019, SCJ was recognized with the Best Firm to Work For award from the Zweig Group, the nation’s leader in enhancing business performance for architecture, engineering, planning, construction and environmental consulting firms.

Patrick believes that the pre-existing company culture has made the transition to working remotely easier to weather. “We have close relationships,” he explains. “I think everyone looks forward to our group calls. They’re almost less work-related and more like we’re all having coffee together three times a week.”

Even before the onset of COVID-19, Whitney had a flexible schedule that allowed for an effective work/life balance. Now, even though they aren’t physically near each other, she and her colleagues have grown closer than ever.

“When we meet three times a week via video chat, we talk about work but it’s also about everyone’s mental health,” she says. “People feel comfortable saying, ‘I’m having a rough week. I need to take the day off because my kids need me.’ Other people step up and say, ‘I’ll help you out with that project.’ It’s always been a team effort, but this experience has shown me how strong our team really is.”

For more information visit the SCJ Alliance website or call 360-352-1465.

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