One Company’s All-Hands-On-Deck Approach to Overcoming COVID-19 Challenges

Sponsored by Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America

Sharon Hornby

Image courtesy of MBRDNA.

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July 21, 2024 at 8:0AM UTC
Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America (MBRDNA) relied on the collaboration amongst leadership and cross-functional teams to conquer many of the obstacles presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, many employees would not have had the opportunity to work alongside each other, and now they’ve formed a community responsible for ensuring the safety and wellbeing of employees together. The teamwork has led to creating a more agile and flexible environment for the company. 
“I have to say thank you to my fellow COVID/Return to Office Task Force members,” says Sharon Hornby, lead safety specialist at MBRDNA. Hornby joined the company in 2017, long before the COVID-19 pandemic transformed her job administering and implementing the Safety, Health and Environmental programs. 
Her dedicated and collaborative team has also aided in MBRDNA’s success in navigating the novel challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic created. “From the early days of the pandemic to periods of status quo, the collaboration, guidance and humor when needed made all those meetings all worthwhile,” says Hornby.
Hornby’s coworkers have a lot of positive things to say about how their company has handled the pandemic. “MBRDNA has done a great job of keeping up with the ever-changing state and county mandates throughout the pandemic,” notes Matt Delphus, Senior Safety Specialist. “Ensuring that all who are on site have been properly trained on the current safety controls and how COVID-19 is transmitted has been a top priority.”
Others agree that the company has taken the right measures to manage safety concerns surrounding the spread of COVID-19.
 “The company has taken measures to greatly reduce the chances of viral spread,” Chris Wetty, Site Operations Manager, agrees. “Seating within areas of congregation have been reduced in capacity, and training has been provided to ensure we are all up to date.  Mask mandates remain in effect for all persons entering our California and Washington offices, and, if you forget, they have additional masks for your use.” 
We caught up with Hornby to learn more about how the pandemic has affected MBRDNA — and what her team has done to get through these tough times together.
1. How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect MBRDNA?
I would have to say that MBRDNA has embodied the definition of resilience by withstanding, adapting and thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the business units were able to quickly transition to a work-from-home model, and those who had to be onsite were able to return with peace of mind, knowing that we were providing them with the safest workplace possible. The pandemic required MBRDNA to become more agile and flexible when tough decisions had to be made. Leadership stepped up and provided support and comfort to their teams during the early days when there were so many unknowns.
We saw the creation of a cross-functional task force whose goal was to review the federal, state and local guidance for each of our offices, to understand and comply with our obligations and to keep leadership updated on the laws and the best practices for employee safety. Leadership then used that information to continually make informed decisions on implementing the best practices for the company as the COVID-19 pandemic changed over time.
It really was an all-hands-on-deck approach, and we saw collaboration across teams that may never have interacted otherwise. The pandemic taught us that it is okay to not know all the answers immediately, but we can depend on our colleagues to help us find the answers. 
2. How did MBRDNA change or adapt as a result of the pandemic?
We had to become more agile and flexible as we worked our way through the myriad of health guidance and state and local health orders. The guidance and recommendations of the COVID Task Force allowed leadership to make decisions that benefited employees when they returned to the office.
We saw changes in the day-to-day operations guided by local health orders, including daily wellness screenings, restricting access to our offices and workshops and pausing site amenities such as gym access and lunch service. Though many of the employees throughout our locations do have the ability to work from home, we had to create COVID-related procedures for those who had to be onsite to perform their job duties.
From the perspective of health and safety, I am pleased to see the integration of safety “speak” into everyday conversations such as references to the hierarchy of controls. The hierarchy of controls is the basis for how we protected employees as they returned to the office.
3. How well would you say that MBRDNA has adapted to the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic?
MBRDNA has embraced the changes brought on by the pandemic. As we strive for the new normal, leadership has maintained the path of employee safety and comfort while allowing us the flexibility to be successful at our jobs.
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