Nobody could have seen the COVID-19 outbreak coming, and therefore nobody could have really prepared for it. But Heather Parker, vice president of client services at CleanOffice and the president of BSCAI’s Mid-Atlantic Chapter, believes that in some ways, her life experiences prepared her for the uncertainty of the pandemic.
Parker grew up moving to a new country every three years until the age of 13 as the daughter of a foreign service officer, so she’s very familiar with dealing with an unfamiliar environment or situation. Moreover, she spent four years working as a police officer, a role that required calm, informed decision-making.
When the pandemic broke out in March last year, Parker drew on these experiences to help her navigate the sudden confusion and fear across the country. More than one year on, she sat down with BSCAI to discuss 2020, the benefits of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter, and her goals for the year ahead.
BSCAI: What inspired you to pursue a leadership position in the Mid-Atlantic Chapter?
Parker: “I joined the Mid-Atlantic Chapter in 2018 as a member of the Board of Directors. Then, in 2019, I became the vice president and president-elect. Being on the board for two years prior really allowed me the chance to realize where we were, where we needed to be, and where I could use my skill set to help. Leading, guiding, and mentoring others has always been a skill set that has just come naturally to me, and it’s actually something that I really enjoy. The other reason is that I’m always looking for ways that I can grow professionally. I truly believe that if you’re not purposely growing, you’re purposely stagnant.”
BSCAI: What did 2020 look like for the Mid-Atlantic Chapter?
Parker: “Before the COVID-19 pandemic started, I had all goals set, including our calendar of events. We were ready to hit the ground running and then — boom! In March 2020, COVID-19 hit, and our industry was just thrown into a whirlwind. That definitely changed a lot of things! Pre-COVID-19, all of our events were in-person. I don’t think we did anything virtually at that point. We had to pivot very quickly and be really creative, like every industry had to be. You either became creative or you died. My biggest concern as president was that we needed to show our members that we were there for them, and also still show them the value of the chapter. We put experts on to present to our members for free. We did round tables about the challenges we were all experiencing and then we talked about what different companies are doing to problem-solve. I’m really proud of what we did in 2020, because we did a lot. We did a lot of virtual round tables, virtual presentations; we were very flexible. I think it really showed our members that we were there for them.”
BSCAI: What was it like for you to be president during such a challenging year?
Parker: “At first, like everybody, I was scared. It was crazy! I don’t think we ever saw a world where this was going to happen, where everything just kind of slowed down and sped up at the same time. We were all trying to learn as much as we could as an industry, for our industry. Being able to pivot at a moment’s notice is crisis management, and that’s exactly what we did in March. It’s exactly what we did as a chapter, and it’s exactly what CleanOffice did as well. I’m a foreign service brat; I lived in different countries every three years from birth to 13. I think that experience, plus the experience of being a police officer and the experience I’ve gained from all the different roles I’ve played with CleanOffice, really helped me prepare and adapt quickly to COVID-19.”
BSCAI: Have you observed any positive changes for the Mid-Atlantic Chapter over the first few months of the year?
Parker: “The vaccinations are skyrocketing, especially in our region — Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. So people are getting vaccinated really quickly, and that gives me a lot of hope that we are going to return back to normal and it’s going to be this year. However, we’re still assessing safety. As a chapter, we usually have two big networking events. The one in the summer is a golf outing, and then in the winter we have our big holiday party bash. We’re still assessing COVID-19 to see whether we can have those this year. We can’t really determine, with what’s going on right now, whether it’s going to be safe and whether people will feel safe enough to attend. We’re definitely seeing a lot of good things! We’ve quickly adapted and continue to adapt. We had to in 2020, and we’re still following that adaptation into 2021, at least the first and second quarters. It’s a lot easier this time around because it’s just the routine we got into last year. But I’m hoping in the third and fourth quarters we can start having in-person events. That’s just going to be based on how many people are fully vaccinated in the region and how things are reopening.”
BSCAI: In general, and not just during COVID-19, how does the Mid-Atlantic Chapter bring value to D.C.-area BSCs?
Parker: “If you ask most people outside of the industry to describe a janitorial company, they typically think of some sort of mom-and-pop operation working out of their garage. Although there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s really a stereotype, and it’s an image that we’re all combating. There are so many professional companies out there. I think being a part of our association really opens up opportunities to network and connect with other people, to learn from others. Again, if you’re not purposely growing, you’re purposely stagnant. Some people who aren’t in the chapter think, ‘Well, we’re all competitors.’ But once you become part of the chapter and really start connecting with others, you realize it’s not so much that we’re competitors; we’re all living and breathing the same life, we’re all having the same challenges. It’s really great to be able to come together and talk about that as a region. How else would you know, other than being in this chapter, how other regional members are doing? If their challenges are the same or different? Plus, education is huge for growing your company and growing individually, and we do a lot of education events. Pre-COVID-19, we had a lot of hands-on workshops and seminars. We’re doing everything virtually now, and we’re getting experts to speak to our membership on hot topics. I think if you’re serious about this industry and you’re in the region, regardless of the size of your company, you should join the chapter. You’ll thank yourself later.”
BSCAI: What are your goals for the year ahead, pandemic permitting?
Parker: “My goal is to have a big education series. We held our first round table on March 4th, hosted by Gojo, about operational sustainability and how virtual working creates growth challenges due to reduced spaces. In April, Chad Thompson, senior vice president of USI Insurance Services, will speak to our membership about how COVID-19 has really changed the business insurance world, especially for our industry. In May, Mike Stevens, partner and attorney-at-law at Arent Fox, will discuss the ever-changing legal stage of COVID-19. So many new laws have been put in place and continue to be enacted that affect our industry locally and federally. We’ll have two more virtual round tables in July and September, and one of them is going to be focused on hiring and recruiting in the pandemic. We may have our beloved Claudia St. John of Affinity HR speak to our membership about this very topic. Again, we hope to have the networking events — Top Golf in the summer and the holiday party in the winter. And then we’re having the Executive Management Conference in Fort Lauderdale and Contracting Success in Las Vegas. I’ll be hosting a networking event at both conferences for our members that are attending and any nonmembers from our area. We’ll do that in Fort Lauderdale this month.”