20 May 2020
Managing Through Crisis: Shad Goes Online—a Q+A with General Manager Sue LaRose
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Sue LaRose
Photo: Mira Whiting

For many of us at HBS, some of the first signs of the increasing seriousness of COVID-19 appeared at Shad Hall. As the sanitation and safety protocols were implemented, class sizes were reduced, treadmills and machines were unplugged, and our quest for wellness became more complicated. Behind the scenes, of course, Shad employees were working diligently to keep up with the rapidly changing guidelines to ensure our safety. Then, Shad closed. We caught up with General Manager Sue LaRose to ask about how those decisions unfolded and what the Shad team (upwards of 70 seasonal Optum employees including managers, trainers, group fitness instructors, and front desk staff) was up to now that we’re all at home.

How did the early COVID-19 protocols affect Shad?
It all started early on with cleaning, which was every hour on the hour. That meant all hands on deck—fitness staff, managers, reception, all of us were cleaning every hour on the hour in the Tim Day Room and all of the equipment on the track. We also wiped down all the equipment handed out at the reception desk—basketballs, squash racquets—in between uses. Then in mid-March we started deciding how we could stay open and maintain distancing protocols.

First, we had to figure out the Tim Day Room. We put up signs and unplugged every other machine so that people couldn't work out right next to each other. Then we decided that group exercise classes would be limited to 10 people, as those were obviously held in very close quarters. But just a few days later we decided to cancel all group exercise classes, as the guidance was changing so quickly.

Then we decided to have modified hours during that week, from 6 a.m.–7 p.m., and we staggered staff schedules. That didn't last long because just a few days later Governor Baker declared the 25-person per room limit, so we posted a staff member with a clicker up in the Tim Day Room to count people as they came in, like a club bouncer! When they got close to 25, they’d let reception know so that they could inform those coming in that there might be a wait. Sometimes there was a bit of a line, so some people started their workout up on the track. Then, three days later, on March 20, we closed at 7 p.m.

Have your responsibilities shifted now that you’re working from home?
No, not really. I oversee the entire facility and work closely with our operations manager, fitness manager, Group X manager, and a program coordinator. I manage Shad budgets, operations, systems, strategies and a myriad of other management activities, so it hasn't really changed my actual work. We work very closely with Nicole Messuri (associate director for Custodial and Fitness services) and John O'Connor (director of Administrative Services) from Operations, and they have offered great support and guidance through all of this.

What does remote work look like for fitness staff?
On April 4 we started our first Zoom classes, so there was a lot of work involved in getting those recorded and online. We also started a community quarantine challenge in the Shad online newsletter. Our trainers are busy on Instagram doing Trainer Takeovers, showing the community their daily at home workouts. It's been a big hit. We also do a pose and exercise of the week and Tabata Tuesday, a workout that you can do from home.

How are you and your team taking care of yourselves?
I go for a lot of walks with my dogs and my spouse and daughter. I've actually started to do some of the video classes; I really like Siri’s barre class. Mostly I go for a lot of walks and spend time with the dogs and my family. Everyone else seems to be doing well. One of our managers was in Florida when this started, so she's self-isolating there with her parents. A lot of people are walking, bike riding, and a lot are participating in our classes. I have a check-in meeting with my management team once a week, and like most other departments we're constantly talking on Teams and checking in virtually.

What have been some of the challenges?
In the beginning, it was hard figuring it all out. How do we work from home, how do we communicate, how do we make sure everything is getting done? A lot of this is outside of our comfort zones, but we’ve all stepped up to the plate. Especially on the technology side—getting Shad online up, getting the videos on myHBS and the coronavirus website, with schedules and links and getting information out to the community. It’s been interesting and definitely a learning curve, but I think everyone has done a great job. The response has been good and we’re all really happy to see that. We’re all used to being in front of people all the time, and moving around and being active. But like everyone else we’ve now fallen into a groove; a new normal. We're in a good place right now. But we’re also ready to go back!

Have there been any silver linings?
We've all learned a lot from this. Seeing what we can do with online classes—it's not the same, but we’re going to continue to work on it and figure it all out. As a team we’ve become closer in a different way. We were close before, but we’ve really melded in a different way, going through the same thing at the same time.

What’s next?
We're continuing to offer all of our online options and are now working really hard on a new member management software system that we're switching to in June. Right now we use a few different software applications throughout the facility, so we’re changing to one encompassing program that allows us to check people in, manage memberships, make personal training and court reservations, and various other aspects of Shad. We're also working on what things might look like when we do reopen to keep our community and staff safe. What the social distancing and cleaning requirements might be, what the different rooms might look like, all the safety guidelines and face coverings that we need to consider. Trying to figure all of that out in different phases of reopening.

Is there anything else you’d like to convey?
I’d like to thank my team. They've worked really, really hard and stepped up to the plate and I really am very proud of them. I'm impressed at how hard they've worked, how engaged they've been—I'm just really pleased and proud.

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