Approaching COVID-19 with an EHS mindset: My journey

A safety expert looks for a positive side to the pandemic

Written by Timo Kronlöf

Corona, fear and social distancing have separated us. They limited our private and professional lives. Right? Let me show you the opposite. Follow me, my family and company on a journey and learn how positivity survives even the hardest of times. You will get some unusual insights into and use cases for health and safety theories.

Finland – April 2020

When I look out my window, I’m greeted by a white field. The nearest neighbors are hundreds of meters away. Everything is quiet and peaceful. It feels like the long-awaited winter has finally come to Finland and that I am on my ski holiday. But I am not. In reality, spring has long since blossomed, and I am on Corona lockdown in my remote office.  

As recently as the beginning of March, I was still working at Quentic's Helsinki office, almost as usual. Just over a week earlier, to my great disappointment, the traditional Finlandia marathon skiing event had been canceled. Not because of Corona, but due to the lack of snow. Now, in early April, when even the Olympics and the European Football Championship have had to be postponed, it sounds crazy that a mass skiing event with thousands of people side-by-side was very recently canceled without any dramatic comments about the ongoing pandemic.

On March 11th, I had an in-person appointment with my bank that went quite normally, although I remember the conversation already revolving very much around the Corona virus. Regarding work, I had switched completely to remote office. March 12th was the last day our children went to kindergarten. From this day forward, events began to transpire very quickly.

A good starting point in this crisis

We moved to a practically completely isolated detached house, just over an hour away from the city in the countryside. Coincidentally, last fall we renovated our old garage here and made it into a fully functional remote office, complete with an electric desk, screens and office chairs. Undeniably, this was incredibly good timing. The former farm, which my wife’s parents still use occasionally all year round, has been our base since the pandemic started. The only physical contact we have with the outside world is when we go grocery shopping twice a week.

At Quentic, we were still in 100% work-mode at the beginning of March, with no significant impact on everyday work. We even published our most significant white paper of the year, the Safety Management Trend Report 2020, on March 12th, when the news flow was already very much focused on the ongoing crisis. It was nice to see how well the report was still received, and I think we managed to temporarily shift the focus  of the EHS experts away from the stressful situation.

Fortunately, working remotely is very common in Finland, and all the required tools are generally ready to use without special arrangements - VPN connections, Confluence, office 365 services, Teams and of course Quentic's own SaaS product have all worked without issue. We have even seen a 15% increase in usage of our mobile app since the outbreak. Without knowing it, we had already been ready for this very special situation of work. It has been great to see how my colleagues in over 15 countries, especially those in our recently opened offices in the two highly affected countries of Italy and Spain, have quickly become accustomed to working from home. We are also lucky to have exceptional in-house IT colleagues at our headquarters in Berlin, Germany, who have been helping everyone to cope with secure remote access and any IT challenges that crop up.

Which comes first? Children, Colleagues or Clients?

Corona forced me to review my priorities. The most significant challenges so far have come to us as parents of young children. Children react in their own way to the lack of friends, kindergarten and their usual daily activities. Their own emotional reactions can be challenging for us as parents. In terms of work, the well-being of colleagues has become increasingly important, and on the other hand, supporting customers and partners in the EHS (environment, health and safety) sector is imperative, too. For me, however, prioritizing children, colleagues and clients in that order seemed only natural: if things are not okay in one’s own family, it is impossible to work from home efficiently, and if co-workers and their own team cannot work or are ill, clients cannot be helped either.

Over the past weeks, my appreciation for early childhood education has risen even further. Indeed, the backbone of any developed society as a whole is found in its kindergartens, schools, food production and distribution, infrastructure, health care and critical governmental actors. And even if my job is not critical to people’s survival right now, I'm very proud of the way we are doing our part to help electricity and power grid companies, food companies and other socially critical actors to work more efficiently and with regard to health and safety. I can see how the EHS experts in our networks are being challenged on a new level by this pandemic. Occupational health and safety has never been such a focus before. I'm happy that we can contribute to EHS managers’ and specialists’ valuable work.

Maslow’s Hierarchy and the positive side of Corona

After mid-March, when it became clear that the situation was not going to recover quickly, I forced myself to actively think about whether something good could come from all this. It was hard to see any benefits at first, but I soon began to notice that, for example, communication with colleagues and customers began to work more smoothly. Collaboration tools like Slack and Teams have shown their strengths and we have finally succeeded in reducing the internal email back-and-forth between different countries as well. It is a wonderful development, and also a great possibility for us throughout the EHS industry to learn to get better at EHS communication too. We could get EHS out of the dregs of email inboxes and into the right contexts. We are already learning how to enable direct interaction between different parties and how to lower the threshold to participating in the EHS discussions. Digitalization now seems to be progressing much more efficiently, and we have all been laughing at related memes such as:

“Who in your company is advancing digitalization?

A. CEO

B. CIO

C. COVID-19 "

At first, however, the collective stress response seemed to cripple innovation in particular. It is a very natural consequence according to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which we as EHS experts know all too well.

The first instinct is always to satisfy our basic needs, such as procuring enough food and, obviously, toilet paper, and only then do concerns of safety and well-being come into play in the hierarchy. This was initially reflected in the mass hoarding seen in stores around the world as people scrambled to stock up, meanwhile putting themselves at risk of infection. In the early stages, I also felt an increase in overall stress levels from the individual point-of-view in many conversations that I had both internally and with clients and stakeholders. A few conversations during the worst stress load seemed to escalate into surprisingly negative scenarios - when something was wrong, it seemed like everything was wrong.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

The positive effects on society

Towards the end of March, the crisis has also begun to show collective positive features. People are beginning to understand that the world is not ending. And that we are surviving this - together. I am happy to see the feelings of togetherness and solidarity grow as initiatives spring up to support elderly people and local entrepreneurs as well as the financially weakest in various ways. After we weathered the first impact, when hard physical and social boundaries were drawn between us, noticeable caring for “others” started to raise its head again. This is an incredibly great sign and an unprecedented opportunity to bring the people of the world together as well. In the end, we are all in the same big boat called the Earth and we have to fight off Corona together.

There is hope that, in the end, all of this will open our eyes of the strength of a wider community in the fight against other global challenges such as climate change.

There is hope that we will understand the power and opportunities of cooperation even in the midst of difficulties.

There is hope that we will remember how this crisis was overcome collectively, not handed over and eventually turned into a common good, and did not devolve into just the survival of the fittest.

The power of safety culture

We EHS experts already know the power of safety culture well. I think there is an analogy here - when everyone is involved in identifying hazards, control measures, acting according to common guidelines, taking responsibility at the individual level, and doing their part independently regardless of sanctions, we have a better chances to reduce infections or accidents and ill-health at work.

Now, in early April, it feels like life is partially rolling again on some level. At Quentic we’ve got our innovation machinery up and running again. Inspired by an internal occupational health and safety inspection, we developed a risk assessment for teleworking. And then, of course,  we created a mobile checklist for our Quentic App from this evalution model.

We decided to make the remote work assessment available to all our customers free of charge. If this enables us to make your life a bit easier, to help our customers with the psychosocical overload and help to understand a little more about the challenges of remote work across the organization.

You can request that the audit be activated in your account via your regular contact person or by writing to our customer support (support@quentic.com). We also wanted to help others beyond our existing customers, and thus decided to offer a free version of our software to cities, municipalities and public administrations for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

My family and myself are safe here in the countryside, socially distanced, and our anxiety curve is declining. I sincerely hope that you, dear readers, are all well and good. Remember to stay home, take care of others and take care of yourself.

 

Timo Kronlöf
Head Of Business Development, Nordics at Quentic
Twitter: @Kronlof

Always up-to-date about current events.