Oct 07, 2020
I began working at ASD in 2003 when I was 17 years old. For the past nine years, I have had the privilege to oversee ASD’s blog and write about our company’s history, features, and workplace culture. It has been beyond rewarding to see and experience firsthand how our company has evolved over the years while still remaining a close-knit family. It’s no accident! At every opportunity, our owners and managers have endeavored to create a positive, fulfilling workplace for everyone here. From establishing annual Team ASD events to finding multiple ways to reward our staff, they are constantly brainstorming new ways to make our company an even better place to work.
While I have felt fortunate for many years to be a part of the ASD team, this year I developed a new appreciation for what it means to work for a family-owned company. A few months before the pandemic shut down our country, I found out I was expecting my first child. There are a lot of things to fear when you’re pregnant for the first time in the middle of the worst pandemic in 100 years, but one thing I never had to worry about was losing the support of my employer. I remember hearing family members and friends of mine who worked for corporately owned companies telling me about the lack of compassion and understanding they were encountering at their jobs. I can recall how the pregnancy message boards were filled with story after story from women who were forced to put themselves at risk during their pregnancies because of their unsympathetic employers. I feel truly blessed to work for a company that not only encouraged me to work safely from home but went out of their way to show they cared about me throughout my pregnancy despite all of the pandemic challenges.
I can’t even count how many times this year I thought about how fortunate I was to be employed by ASD. It wasn’t just job security ASD’s owners and managers offered us all during this extremely difficult time…it was flexibility, empathy and constant reassurance that came in many different forms. ASD’s company philosophy is built on helping others in need and providing compassion. When truly put to the test, our owners and managers lived up to that mission. While some companies sought to mitigate their losses at the expense of their workers, ASD’s leadership team took every step possible to help their staff. Their actions demonstrated to all of us working here how much they truly care about their employees.
Below are some of the ways ASD has supported its staff through the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Clear Communication
One of the inside jokes we have around the office is that we are communication company and therefore there is no excuse for internal miscommunication. It’s our tongue-in-cheek way of reminding one another we all need to be on the same page in order to thrive as a company. This year, that internal mantra became more critical than ever. With more than 200 employees working remotely, the need to keep everyone informed about how our company was responding to the pandemic was an essential task that required clarity, thoughtfulness and transparency.
ASD Family-Member Owner, Kathy Kelley, took an active role in communicating with staff directly about how ASD was being impacted by COVID-19. As early as March 22nd and as recently as last week, Kathy regularly published “ASD Coronavirus Statements” that updated everyone on recent steps ASD was taking in response to the pandemic, commended staff for their adaptability and provided helpful resources. These statements gave our staff confidence their jobs were secure while keeping everyone connected during a time when we all were feeling quite isolated.
Although we have begun to bring small groups of employees back to the office on a limited basis while following social distancing guidelines, the majority of our staff is still working remotely from home. Clear communication was, and continues to be, a truly crucial component in helping ASD staff adjust to this new normal. It is imperative to ensuring employees do not have unanswered questions and understand how ASD’s leadership intends to move forward into the future. Kathy’s reliable ASD Coronavirus Statements provide reassurance to our employees on an individual level while making us stronger as a company.
2. Recognizing Staff as Essential Employees
“As owners, it was heartbreaking watching the number of death calls our staff handled for so many families across the United States. ASD staff was on the frontlines battling similar to healthcare workers. We are very proud of our team’s dedication and ability to serve so many families during this unprecedented time,” said ASD Family-Member Owner, Kathy Kelley. “This situation is unlike anything we have ever gone through in the many decades of handling calls for funeral professionals. The abundance of calls in the New York City area crippled the death care industry and caused dreadful backlogs like never before. With the lockdowns and social distancing, loved ones were isolated during this grief process. Families were, and still are, frustrated, depressed, and hurting. ASD Call Specialists provided a kind voice offering support to people in their most difficult period. We commend them for helping each and every caller through this extremely horrific ordeal and recognize the ministry they serve in helping all people.”
When you think about being on the “front lines”, one usually envisions those who are physically responding to the pandemic, but there was also an invisible front line handling the emotional fallout caused by COVID-19. For ASD Call Specialists, the month of April was extremely difficult. For a period of time, ASD was handling 1,000 more death calls per day than our typical average. This pandemic proved to be a trying test for all of us answering calls for funeral homes at ASD. Our staff was forced to adapt to this extraordinary event in ways we never could have imagined before.
One of the simplest yet most important ways ASD’s owners and managers supported its staff was by acknowledging the heartbreak they were encountering and praising their efforts continually through the pandemic. There was nothing that could be done to stop the surge in funeral home telephone activity or to alleviate the upsetting nature of the calls we were answering. Yet, knowing our work was being seen and appreciated helped to lessen the weight of that burden.
In addition to continually commending our staff for their perseverance in the face of so much human tragedy, ASD’s owners also sent a token of their appreciation in the form of a specially made T-shirt and ASD hat to every employee. The T-shirt, emblazed with the words “ASD Essential Worker – Serving Families & Last Responders – We’re in this Together”, provides ASD employees with a wearable badge of honor. (Special thanks to our longtime employee, Myrna Russi, for suggesting this wonderful idea). Each time we wear the shirt we are reminded that our work at ASD is truly valued and recognized as essential.
3. Hazard Bonuses
In May, every ASD employee received a special “hazard bonus” in their paycheck. This bonus was given to our staff for the difficult work performed from mid-March through mid-May. Many factors were considered and contributed to each employees’ overall bonus, including hours worked, extra shifts picked up and number of calls handled. The average bonus was greater than $800.
This generous action from ASD’s owners truly says a lot about how committed they are to standing behind their staff during tough times. While other companies were laying off workers, cutting benefits or abstaining from matching 401k contributions, ASD’s owners were focused on ways they could thank employees for their extra efforts during such a challenging and emotionally draining time. Our owners understood, then and now, that ASD could not survive this pandemic without our dedicated staff. Recognizing the potentially traumatic work of each and every one their employees with a monetary bonus demonstrates how highly our owners regard the contributions of ASD staff.
4. Continued Hiring
Although there was little that could be done to decrease the high call volume our company was tasked with handling during the peak of the pandemic, ASD’s owners and managers were able to help curb the tide by continuing to hire and train new employees. Our company became one of the only places in our local area those out of work due to the pandemic could turn to for employment. The combined technical and problem-solving skills of our owners helped them to formulate a creative solution that made this possible.
With our remote capabilities, ASD was able to hold in-house training classes with our new employees adhering to social distancing guidelines. The classes were held at different times with employees spaced out in our state-of-the-art training center, which was disinfected continuously. Our trainers were able to teach these classes remotely from their homes.
During the peak of the pandemic when our call volume was at its highest, ASD was able to graduate 18 employees from the training program. This helped lessen the burden our staff was carrying as we had more Call Specialists available to answer the phones. Thankfully, our call volume returned to normal in the month of May, but ASD has remained committed to growing its workforce. In total, between March and end of August, more than 60 new employees joined the ASD team. There have been zero cases of COVID-19 traced to our training classes. Our new employees have adapted very well to our remote work-from-home model and have excellent call scores. Based on these positive outcomes, we will continue to hire and train using this model going forward. Both our clients and staff benefit from ASD’s commitment to growing our workforce as it helps ensure calls are answered promptly and our call volume does not become overwhelming.
5. Delicious Deliveries
First came the platter of artisan cheese, sausage and gourmet mustards. Next, a bucket filled with homemade cookies to sweeten our day. Then, a box filled with fresh oranges and grapefruit to boost our Vitamin C. Then finally, to cap it off, an entire turkey from the Honey Baked Ham Company.
From March until May, these unexpected surprises came regularly from ASD’s owners and managers to lift everyone’s spirits. Each delivery came with a message of support and appreciation: Keep up the great work & stay healthy!… Thank you for your continued efforts to help so many families!…We appreciate your heroic and empathetic efforts!
The thoughtfulness of these gestures truly speaks to the type of people the Czachor family are. Knowing their employees were struggling with the isolation and anxiety caused by the pandemic coupled with the difficult calls they were handling, they looked for a way to provide relief. These delicious distractions brought joy and happiness to all of us during an otherwise very trying time. For a moment, we were able to forget about the pandemic and enjoy a cookie or an orange while feeling grateful to work for such a caring company.
6. Added Flexibility
The pandemic has upended the concept of “business as usual” in every way imaginable. For years, ASD has maintained the same office policies in regard to attendance, tardiness, shift changes, dress code and the like. These policies remained consistent because they worked well for our company for many years. However, the pandemic has ushered in a wave of changes that impact not only how we as a company operate, but also what our employees must juggle outside of work. Understanding our staff requires flexibility now more than ever, ASD has relaxed many of our office policies to accommodate the needs of our staff.
7. Acknowledgement of Those Who Went Above and Beyond
While every one of our employees is essential to our operation, ASD’s owners and managers took time to recognize employees who played a key role in helping our company weather the storm. They spent time looking over our statistics to uncover which one of our staff answered the greatest number of calls, worked the highest number of hours, and handled the greatest number of death calls. They also spotlighted our hiring, training and technology for the crucial role they have played through the pandemic.
8. Sharing Helpful Resources
There is no doubt answering calls for funeral homes during a deadly pandemic is mentally and emotionally exhausting. ASD’s owners and managers have been instrumental in providing helpful resources to ASD staff to help them cope with the stressors they are juggling. In addition to providing useful mental health resources, ASD’s Coronavirus Statements also regularly provide CDC guidelines, state health department recommendations, virus-related news and other helpful information.
9. Holding Virtual Team ASD Events
2020 has felt strange and surreal in many ways. For those of us at ASD, one of those ways is the absence of Team ASD events which are usually held throughout the year. We are really looking forward to being able to safely hold Team ASD athletic challenges, volunteer days and fun events again. We miss the days when could all gather together in groups and socialize outside the work environment. In the interim, are implementing virtual Team ASD events and virtual exercise programs to keep everyone connected.
This month, our Team ASD volunteers will be taking place in our very first ASD Virtual Team Event. All month long, our employees will be spending their time cleaning up community parks and public lands that are in need of some ASD love as part of our Pick a Park event. We’ll be sharing photos on our social media of Team ASD donating their time and showing their community support. Give it up for our first Team ASD Volunteers, ASD Operations Manager, Lori Meehan and National Sales Manager, Craig Meehan, who spent time this past weekend cleaning up a local park with their two boys. (pictured above).
COVID-19 has sent thousands of American companies into a tailspin. CEOs and owners are being tested in every imaginable way. As a family-owned company, ASD has remained committed to putting their employees first. The Czachor family and ASD’s managers were tasked with an incredibly difficult set of obstacles. The logistical and technical challenges of switching our company to a work-from-home model were just part of the equation. They also had to lead an emotionally traumatized workforce in the middle of a pandemic. In the face of such challenges, they stepped up and showed all of us what true leadership looks like.
On July 22nd, I gave birth to a healthy and beautiful baby girl. My ASD family has been a constant source of strength and reassurance as I transition into my life as a new mom. In writing this blog, I have an opportunity to speak for all of the staff here at ASD and I just want to take moment to say THANK YOU to our owners and managers for all of the many ways they have supported us through this pandemic.
ASD Expands Remote Capabilities to Support Funeral Homes Through COVID-19 Pandemic
ASD Staff Reflect on Answering Calls During the Peak of the COVID-19 Pandemic
12 Awesomely Unique Job Perks and Activities at ASD
About The Author
Jess Farren (Fowler)
Jess Farren (Fowler) is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD’s company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at Jess@myASD.com