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Navigating Legal, Public Health and Organizational Challenges of a Pandemic as a Business

Experts in law, public health and organizational culture came together for Tufts COVID-19 Restart Series, sharing information and shining a light on the path ahead for businesses.

As the months pass since the onset of the novel coronavirus, the pandemic still looms large. Organizations across the world have faced unprecedented disruptions to their daily operations while leaders are tasked with moving their business forward. Often, they’re left to determine their paths for the future, navigating legal ambiguity and evolving public health guidance. 

For three sessions in July, Gerry Brown – Tufts Gordon Institute Lecturer on Process Improvement and Supply Chain Management – along with Gavin Finn, PhD, Tufts Gordon Institute Professor of the Practice, brought in experts for virtual discussions on how business leaders can achieve organizational success in these uncertain times. 

The sessions, dubbed the “Tufts COVID-19 Restart Series,” tackled various topics about reopening businesses successfully, including legal considerations, public health guidance, and how to build high performing organizations remotely.  

“This is a complex situation, in which each leader has to make decisions based on their specific situation. Things are evolving so fast that there is no real way to know what the future will hold, and this is always challenging for leaders,” said Gavin. “But it is equally an opportunity – to show how people-centered values always prevail, and that having a clear mission and guiding set of principles provide the foundation of management and leadership even when the world gets turned upside down.” 

He added, “Focusing on priorities is key – health of employees, stability of the business, helping customers whenever possible.”

For the first session, Joe Volman, a Tufts alum, Lecturer on Entrepreneurial Business Law, and Senior Partner at Burns & Levinson, led a discussion on how to frame the complex legal issues around re-opening. From the discussion, it became clear that “there are no generic prescriptions for employers, with respect to legal frameworks,” according to Gavin. “The balance that employers have to make is conforming to legal requirements while also keeping the culture of the company top of mind and doing what they can to ensure the survivability of the company or organization. Of course, the number one issue is the health of safety of employees and customers.”

As public health guidance and local legislation changes, the legal community is also adapting, stressing the need to utilize sound judgment while consulting with legal counsel. 

A common theme between the legal challenges and public health was communication. In the second discussion, Ian Wong, Director of Health Promotion and Prevention at Tufts University, noted it was important for companies to engage in two-way conversations with employees to establish clear expectations. Ian, who is also the Chair of the Natick Board of Health here in Massachusetts, stressed that these conversations should encompass all aspects of the pandemic – including science, business and human resource perspectives.

The final session in the series acknowledged that while we may have been part of remote teams before, the pandemic circumstances resulting in our going months without seeing our employees or even meeting staff in-person during the hiring process, is entirely new. As more organizations focus on corporate culture, remote onboarding and extended remote work can impede efforts of fostering communities. During this event, participants learned best practices for setting their remote teams up for a successful and effective culture, directly from leaders of completely virtual organizations pre-COVID. 

Reflecting on the full Tufts COVID-19 Restart Series, Gavin said, “The goal was to create a dialogue between leaders in a wide variety of domains, who could share and learn from their peers.” While companies continue to navigate their unique challenges, the series shined a light on an otherwise uncertain time.