ALAINA FORD and her mother run scDataCom, a security system company that primarily services healthcare facilities, as well as the commercial sector and the government. When COVID-19 hit Savannah, Alaina had some tough choices to make to keep her business afloat and her team in work.
This is her Quarantine Chronicle.
How has COVID-19 affected your business?Oddly, when all of this hit, I had guys in four different hospitals in four different states. That was alarming. On one hand, we were happy to have work because we are critical infrastructure, and in a time like this where so many people that depend on those businesses are completely at a stoppage or are negatively impacted, like St. Patrick’s Day effectively getting canceled.
We’re not in a fun, sexy industry like that, so there is not a lot of glamour in security, but there is security in security. People need it, especially right now as things are changing and people get a little stir-crazy. We’ve seen some instances where people are really going out of their way to help their neighbor, but there’s also some instances where that’s not the case. Why is all the TP gone? Because people are just looking out for themselves.
So with that kind of attitude, people want or need increased security of their facilities, especially when they’re shut down, or when you operate a medical or government facility that needs extra eyes and protection on their people and patients in order to keep them safe while they’re treating them, or on their supplies that are at an all-time risk factor right now.
What sort of differences are you seeing in your clients in the hospital? How is that changing on a daily basis?There’s definitely an emphasis on PPE. When things got really dicey in Georgia, it happened fast—we were not concerned and then all of a sudden it’s an emergency.
We have an obligation, as the employer, to provide our people with the best protection available and the most robust information we have. But also, as a business, in order to continue to provide for these people and their families, that depends on their employment. We need to keep business healthy and we need to finish jobs as long as it’s safe to do so.
That was just kind of a day-to-day touch-in about where things were in that particular area, and talking to our teams that were not all in the same time zone, trying to change work schedules to limit their contact and to overnight them gloves and masks and wipes so they could disinfect their work areas and vehicles and tools multiple times throughout the day.
We’re really lucky we have an incredible group of people that we’ve been staying in very close contact with in different areas. There was a memorandum from the Department of Homeland Security that said if you’re in critical infrastructure, they request—and it’s really your duty—to stay on the front lines and perform the work that you’re doing as long as you can, because it’s needed. What situation could you imagine that being more applicable than in a hospital during a national health crisis?
Our guys took that really seriously and instead of just giving in to fear, they all responded with level heads and exercised good judgment and took the PPE protocols and social distancing very seriously, but also put their heads down and were there to do the job.
And then from an employer’s perspective, I’ve been having a moral complex. Am I doing the right thing by keeping our business open and by keeping our trucks rolling? I have come to the conclusion that yes, because we’re providing an essential service, and we are doing everything we can with all the resources at our disposal.
I’ve told them very plainly, this is what we’re doing. This is the company’s mission to complete the work and try and keep jobs rolling so we can have a healthy company at the end of all this for everyone to come back to. But if you’re not comfortable with the assignment, or you don’t feel it’s in your best interest or your family’s best interest, that’s your call. And at any point if anybody wants to take leave, I am not in a position to offer paid leave, but there is absolutely no penalty at all.
People have to do what they need to, and I’ve had people do that—have to quarantine themselves while they waited for a test result, had people with different levels of immunocompromised loved ones at home and have elected to take a week or two weeks off. And we just tried to be supportive and make things work.
I can’t imagine that was an easy decision for you or your mom.
It definitely was and continues to be difficult, but my mom and I—what better business partner could you have than your mom? If you need to have a moment of weakness and just anxiety sob on the phone, she’s not going to judge you. She also was in the Army nurse corps for almost 30 years, so she’s got a very firsthand, robust knowledge of healthcare and how hospitals work.
We have 15 people on staff and that’s a size that’s not tenable to, as I have done in the past, make yourself feel emotionally or morally responsible for the entire lives of the people that work for you. I have an amazing team, I hire intentionally very smart people, and they come to work expecting to have a workplace that where they’ll be given the tools and knowledge to be successful in their job, and to be compensated for doing their job.
In this case, it’s part of that agreement, I believe, for me to give them supplies and information and let them make the decision because it is not my place to ask what everyone’s particular situation is. They may have an immunocompromised person at home that I don’t know about because they choose to keep their private life private.
And so I just have to very clearly and kindly and repeatedly make it known that this is what we’re doing. Where I personally get wrapped up is wanting to make those decisions for people. You feel responsible for them, and you just have to remember that we hired really smart, capable people.
I’m here everyday. The work I do could definitely be done from home, but if I have guys and girls on the front lines, I’m here everyday. There’s enough room in our office for us to socially distance from each other, and we have office workers doing their work from home and that’s fine. But from a leadership level, I think it’s important that there is an executive level person here. I’m not asking them to do anything I’m not willing to do. I don’t have the skills they do, so I’n not going to do the technical installations they do, but I can sure as hell sit in my seat in the office and wave goodbye in the morning and wait for them to come back.
What else should people know about scDataCom?One of the things we’re doing in addition to serving our regular customers, our commercial work has for obvious reasons pretty much completely dropped off, outside of critical industries. We had intended on launching a new program called SafeCity, which was going to be our way to reach the Savannah small businesses and make our technology solutions available to that consumer. We intended on rolling out a pilot program for a couple businesses, and then corona hit and everything closed their doors. We were like, okay, great!
But as we were talking about earlier, people see the value in security now more than ever, especially if they’re forced to close their doors. We decided to move forward with that. We have a certain amount of equipment we’ve already purchased, so we have some totally free security systems that we’re looking to put up for local businesses. The value for us is that it provides us with the data we need to roll this out in the future when people are in the position they’re able to think about another bill. But in the short term, it keeps our trucks rolling and it keeps my guys in work for another day.