By Andrew Pittam
Our business is all about designing and building experiences that bring people together, whether it’s a trade show exhibit, a pop-up retail display or something related to a live event. To say the pandemic has had an impact on us is an understatement.
Given that government social distancing guidelines suggest everyone stay at least two metres apart, it’s only natural that a lot of our clients wouldn’t need our services for the time being. We could have shut down too, but then we got a call from St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto that changed everything.
As part of the fight to contain the spread of COVID-19, institutions like St. Mike’s have had to set up rapid assessment centres, and in this case, the hospital needed a second facility built across the street from the main site.
While many projects in our traditional business would be devoted to mapping out a timeline and a workback schedule, in this case we had only 72 hours to pull it off.
Of course, the ASTOUND team has a lot of experience in setting up temporary walls, and we’re used to working with all the materials in the world, but this was a very different kind of client. We had never built anything that would be considered “medical grade”.
As daunting as this could have been, the urgency of the crisis and the opportunity to be of value to those on the front lines galvanized our entire team — from those in the paint shop or wood shop, to the installers and anyone else needed to make these screening facilities work.
While the project for St. Mike’s went well, it is only one hospital among many where these kinds of services are required. That’s why we took it upon ourselves to reach out to other hospitals. This was a matter of pivoting some of our existing talent, like trade show account managers who wouldn’t have had a lot to do otherwise.
We even set up a little remote call centre, with staff connecting with healthcare providers to say, ‘This is who we are, and is this something you’re interested in as well?”
Then the media started paying attention. A crew from CTV News, a local broadcaster here in Toronto interviewed us about the work we were doing. Not only did we get featured — our story kicked off the six o’clock news on a Saturday night.
That’s when our phone systems really started to erupt.
We’ve always been pretty tech-focused, and Salesforce has been a partner. We’ve been to Dreamforce and have learned a lot about transforming business processes using the right tools. In this case, having a CRM has been an amazing way to keep track of all the different hospitals, who contacted whom and when.
Working in a distributed fashion isn’t new to us either — we often build things out of our Oakville location but connect with teams in places like New York and Las Vegas — but the way work is conducted onsite now has to be carefully managed for safety.
It’s not a simple matter of walking into the back of the shop and having a discussion. No outside vendors can go into our shop, and much of our teamwork now involves using video calls, since we can no longer always be together. For example, we do morning check-ins where we can use Salesforce to track the progress on projects and share information more easily. We also use Chatter to provide ongoing updates.
I think everyone has learned to be a lot more patient given the current working conditions. Everyone’s situation has changed, in my case, I have two young children at home, and my wife works in healthcare and is now working more than full time hours.
As a result, you have to recognize that what we would have called a regular work day no longer exists. People aren’t always as available as they were when at the office. You have to put more trust in your employees and not worry about people not getting the work done. The great thing about Salesforce, is that you can always login and really quickly see what's being done.
The success we’ve had in making screening facilities has generated so much interest we eventually determined that we can’t handle what the community is asking for alone. It made more sense to find a way to have these items produced locally.
From there, we started to get more partners involved, and then eventually went to “open source”. Just as software code is sometimes shared with the wider developer community to let them create their own applications, we’ve taken what we’ve designed or figured out and built a microsite with drawings and plans that could benefit everyone.
Our response to COVID-19 may not have been something we could have predicted in advance, but it’s changed us profoundly. We’ve had so many conversations and collaborations with some incredible people. We’ve forged a lot of really great relationships. And we know we’ve done the best we can to use our talent and expertise to help the people who need it most.
ASTOUND is a global solutions agency that specializes in the design and execution of memorable experiences for companies to share with their customers. ASTOUND’s services include architectural fabrication, brand strategy and development, retail design and store rollouts, digital engagements, trade show booths, events and environments.
Our offices span North America with locations in Toronto, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Detroit and Portland. The combined fabrication facilities currently exceed 600,000 square feet with locations on the East and West coasts.