Keeping Our Focus on Clients Throughout the Pandemic

Joe Duggan, Communications

May 27, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic required most Olsson staff members to work from home starting in mid-March, we faced the challenges of maintaining excellent service for our clients while protecting the safety of our employees.

How would we augment communications networks to handle massive design files? How would the close collaboration necessary to execute complex, multi-disciplinary projects translate over a video-screen? And how would etched-in-granite deadlines be met while helping the kids adjust to virtual arithmetic instruction?

Olsson achieved those objectives and more – although parental math assistance proved head-scratching for some kids.

The point is, we know what our clients are going through because we’re going through it, too. Like you, we’ve juggled, improvised, and learned a bunch of videoconferencing hacks. But what has kept us focused through it all is finding ways to help you navigate the COVID-19 turbulence.

Ron Mersch, leader of our office in Springfield, Missouri, recently shared an example that illustrates the point. Just as the work-from-home transition arrived, members of our General Civil team were closing in on a critical deadline for the hospital replacement at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. Although some voiced concerns about completing the work remotely, our team members met the deadline established by RLF Architecture + Engineering + Interiors, one of the firms leading the $295 million design-build project.

It took everyone doing their jobs, Ron explained. From information technology staff knocking down VPN issues to team members working nights and weekends in hastily arranged home offices.

“Ultimately it came down to communication,” he said. “Everybody’s ability to stay connected and keep the communication channels open was critical. That was one of the things our clients brought up, how we stayed on top of the communication needs, set up meetings, and kept the channels open.”

Fort Leonard Wood hospital rendering provided by RLF Architecture + Engineering + Interiors


With communication never more crucial, we have the talent and technology in place so our employees can connect with clients and each other. If anything, we believe it is better to overcommunicate in the current environment. Good communication enables us to continue holding relationships paramount, one of the ways we achieve differentiation in the marketplace, said John Olsson, executive vice president of consulting services.

The firm has kept all offices open (albeit with reduced staffing), our field staff follow all worksite health measures, and the rest of our employees are working from homes across our nine-state footprint and beyond.

“Let us know your pain points and we will do what we can to help,” John said.

A common question in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) community is whether the U.S. Congress will pass an infrastructure stimulus package. Making the commitment to invest now would provide sustained employment opportunities while making the nation’s infrastructure more resilient to future disasters.

“Infrastructure has been talked about for 10 years, so I try not to get too excited about it,” said John, who follows the issue closely. “All I can say is it has a fighting chance. I won’t take it to the bank, but I’m hopeful.”

From Iowa to Arizona and Nebraska to Texas, key staff in Olsson agree now is an ideal time to position projects for future funding opportunities – whether the funding flows from stimulus packages or other sources. Olsson can help with environmental assessments, drainage plans, permitting strategies, surveys, and other advance project work. We also have a team of drone survey professionals who are uniquely able to assist with all manner of site reconnaissance.

 “You can at least start the study phase so down the road you can have the project in a position to be shovel-ready,” said Mark Bachamp, business development senior specialist in Manhattan, Kansas. “There are no guarantees, but there’s no reason you can’t be ready.”

In the earliest stages of the pandemic, officials anticipated that spikes in infections could potentially overwhelm hospitals. In response, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ramped up efforts to convert civic arenas, hotels, and dormitories into alternate care facilities. But as public health measures helped reduce infection numbers, the need for the alternate facilities abated.

Nonetheless, Olsson planned for how we could offer a rapid response to the health care industry. Our groundwork showed we can deliver a full range of engineering services that a health care partner would require for facility additions or retrofits, according to Don Young, federal program leader for Olsson in Fort Worth, Texas. In addition, we can offer architectural services and more through our relationships with trusted project partners.

“While we’re certainly keeping a pulse on what we can do on the federal side, we’ve also networked with state and local health care providers to see what we can do to help in our communities,” Don said.

Jack Schaller, business development specialist in Joplin, Missouri, said Olsson has a solid resume on health care facilities. That includes our work on Mercy Hospital in Joplin, which replaced the facility destroyed by the devastating tornado of 2011.

“We’ve got a really good group led by Jared Rasmussen (General Civil team leader in Springfield, Missouri),” Jack said. “We’ve got the ability to do not only large-scale projects, but to do rapid-fire type projects as well.”

As a former assistant public works director, Jack is one of several Olsson employees who have governmental work experience. Olsson excels at doing what public works directors most want from consultants: delivering quality work on time and on budget. We employ in-house experts in every key discipline while maintaining strong connections to our communities. That combination adds value for our clients and brings a deeper purpose to our projects.

Olsson also can help assess what projects could be eligible for the Community Development Block Grant program, which received additional funding through the CARES Act, according to Joe J. Johnson, business development leader in Kearney, Nebraska.

Joe, who formerly worked as a city administrator in three Nebraska cities, has a keen awareness of the impact of COVID-19 shutdowns on small businesses, something Congress needs to keep front and center as it considers additional relief legislation. Olsson is taking part in those conversations and tracking legislative developments so we can be ready to better serve our clients.

“When we come out of this pandemic, Main Street is going to need a boost,” he said.

Olsson has always been committed to the communities where we work and live, regardless of size. That includes serving in the role of municipal engineer or street superintendent, which keeps us close to the issues that most impact smaller cities.

Because your Main Streets are our Main Streets.