Driven to Discover


Inside Harris & Associates’ People-First Approach to COVID-19

4.9 minute read

October 14, 2020

It’s so vivid in my mind, hearing with escalating frequency unnerving alarm signals: asymptomatic virus, outbreaks, quarantines…global pandemic. With the initial phase of our crisis management and emergency action plan already deployed, we kicked it into high gear on Friday, March 13. 

The COVID-19 pandemic meant we were in a crisis.

Putting People First

Like many firms, we had to quickly adjust our way of doing business. Keeping our employees safe and healthy and addressing their need for direction as the situation evolved was imperative. While that entailed changes and challenging decisions, it was also a moment to reexamine the why and how of the way we work, and what putting people first truly means in moments of crisis. How do we take care of our Harris family? What do they need to stay healthy, safe, and well-informed? How do we enable their personal and professional well-being through trying times? How do we manifest our shared values given this new context?

Acknowledging our clients have similar and yet unique challenges, we focused on learning what their needs were and how we could assist. Early recognition that we were all going through this crisis together versus being so inwardly focused, we have been able to meet and anticipate challenges with solutions.

Here are some of the best practices and resources we’ve put in place thus far.

Working Together, Apart

Harris employees and offices are spread out across the West Coast and as a result, we have a set of values that focus on working smarter, together or put more directly, enhancing trust through functional teamwork. When COVID hit and the federal government declared a state of national emergency on March 13, our Corporate Services and IT teams swiftly transitioned all Harris’ office-based staff to virtual workspaces in their homes. Our first priority was to make sure that those who could work from home had the needed tools to work productively, ergonomically, and comfortably, and that those in the field were protected. Our People & Systems team accomplished what might have appeared impossible by providing technology and equipment to our team in a matter of a few short days. Additionally, we quickly accessed support, resources, and training to help our team adjust to the vastly different work environment and how to work in this new context. Everyone stepped up and collaborated and this shared valued was enriching to live in real-time.

Staying in Touch

Because we could no longer travel to be together, we amplified our team communications, holding virtual weekly all-hands meetings to maintain our connections with each other and our business, and frequently updating our intranet. In these contexts, we shared everything from financials, project wins, wellbeing resources, and tips to work from home with small children! Most importantly, we opened ourselves up as human beings—sharing vulnerabilities, fears, challenges, and silver linings, honestly. Leaders led by example because it was okay not to be okay. Simultaneously, our senior leadership team intensified its outreach to employees to offer help and mentorship in this mostly uncharted territory. All of this grew out of our enduring sense of collaboration and interconnected work culture

Promoting Wellness

Our Human Resources team became ground zero for our ongoing pandemic response and our mission to stay connected, and stay the course. This group pivoted quickly to support what is most important—our people. They created and communicated next level resources and updates that spanned everything from staying fit, accessing counseling resources available through our health plan, getting office supplies at home, systems to provide PPE to our field staff, and even an online magic class to entertain young ones at home. We offered flex schedules and provided time off when necessary, while also increasing the employee health and wellness stipend significantly for themselves and their family’s needs.

Living Our Commitment

As of today, we can say that Harris is succeeding in a world none of us ever really contemplated. We attribute this to holding true to the values we, as a company, developed several years ago that became a relevant guide in a global crisis. Harris employees have maintained the high level of performance our clients expect. When we continue to put our people first and make decisions aligned with our shared values, we can stay the course even in an uncertain world. Going forward, our leadership team remains dedicated to its firm commitment to protecting employee wellbeing while providing excellent service to our clients.

What's Next?

Our new normal will evolve, creating new creative ways to work together, serve clients, build relationships, and develop ourselves. Some things will need to change but our culture that anchors us so firmly, remains steadfast. We’ll continue looking to our north star, our shared values, to support our sustained resolve, guiding our actions and decisions by:

  • Investing in our People by putting their health, safety, and well-being first.
  • Building Stronger Communities in doing our part to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  • Leading by Example as we proceed according to scientific data and direction from state and local public health and governmental authorities.
  • Working Smarter Together as we apply what we’re learning through this experience to take Harris forward.
  • Thriving on Balance by ensuring business continuity and planning for how our people and firm will flourish long term.

I believe this time of being more of our true selves, allowed us to show up in a way that made me feel proud to work with such great individuals—our Harris family. We will continue to leverage the lessons we’ve learned and will honor the new ways of delivering services to solve complex problems for our clients and drawing upon our passion and expertise to build stronger communities. 


Michelle White

Michelle White

Chief Executive Officer / President


Michelle White


Harris & Associates


AEC Industry
Corporate Social Responsibility