Operating During a Global Pandemic: Women Who Embraced Change
Here at JAMS, over 30% of our panelists, 40% of our senior leaders, and 70% of our associates are women. So, we don’t wait for Women’s History Month (March) or International Women’s Day (March 8) to note the important contributions of our female employees; we recognize them every day. During COVID, however, we’ve been especially cognizant of these contributions—especially those of SVP West Region Gina Miller and SVP East/Central Region Liz Carter, whose deliberate and inspiring leadership has guided the company through the many operational difficulties posed by the pandemic. Recently, we spoke with Miller and Carter about their experiences steering JAMS through the COVID crisis, the challenges they faced and the unexpected opportunities that arose as a result of the pandemic.
In March 2020, when it became clear that COVID posed a real threat, how did you respond?
Senior Vice President, U.S. East/Central Region Liz Carter: Our first priority was to make the transition to fully virtual hearings to ensure that cases could move forward and operations could stay afloat. Despite the hurdles we faced in the initial months of the pandemic, including a brief dip in overall cases, our ability to make the smooth, sustained transition to virtual enabled us to return to pre-COVID levels of business by the end of 2020.
Senior Vice President, U.S. West Region Gina Miller: Liz and I were on the phone with our teams every day. We needed to make sure that everyone had appropriate technology to be able to work efficiently from home—and that our neutrals were trained to use online platforms. We worked with our marketing team and practice development managers to stay in touch with our clients. It didn’t take long before we were all moving in the same direction and working so well together.
What were some of the biggest challenges during that period?
Liz Carter: Historically, our neutrals could rely on somebody else within JAMS to help them with the technology side of things. COVID changed that and they needed to learn how to use the technology that enabled us to continue to arbitrate and mediate cases. That posed a bit of a challenge. In addition, no one could leave their personal lives behind. Our home lives became intertwined with our work lives. That was hard on a lot of people, and I think many women—including mothers of small children—had a very difficult time. On top of this, there was emotional stress linked to uncertainty around the future and how the pandemic would impact our own health and safety. It was a really emotional time.
Gina Miller: People were nervous. And in the midst of all this was the murder of George Floyd, which brought such huge unrest on top of the pandemic. Because everyone was processing all this so differently—some people were extremely worried and alarmed—they all had different opinions on how the company should respond. It was important that our neutrals and associates felt heard. The senior management team made it a priority to listen to everyone, and we did our very best to make measured decisions.
How did JAMS ensure that its leaders, neutrals and associates stayed connected?
Liz Carter: Our managers had to be really deliberate about keeping people together. We had as many virtual meetings as our staff and panelists needed to keep people engaged. On top of that, our HR team put together affinity groups for associates, where those with similar interests could get together to talk about any issues they were facing. The HR team also set up an internal social media page, where people shared pictures of pets and kids, and were able to share how they were doing or what they were doing in their free time. These groups helped to make sure people felt supported. We organized online social hours as well as “class reunions” for people who joined JAMS during certain years.
How did JAMS adapt to conducting ADR sessions virtually?
Gina Miller: I think one of the most important things we did was set up a daily curriculum for our neutrals. To keep our neutrals engaged, the VP and Executive Director, JAMS Institute scheduled daily programs that included how to use technology and online platforms to manage their caseloads. JAMS offered online webinars and CLE programs and we experienced an increase in attendance which was great for staying connected to our clients! We also worked with our HR department to make sure there were aids for working efficiently remotely.
Liz Carter: To assist with our shift to virtual ADR, we developed multiple resources to support our neutrals, clients and associates. For example, JAMS Talent Development and JAMS Institute rolled out additional lines of support our neutrals and associates to help with case management, case intake, scheduling, as well as other areas of the business. We also recognized the greater need for assistance throughout a virtual arbitration or mediation as people adjusted to remote hearings. Accordingly, we created the JAMS Virtual Moderator Team which is comprised of individuals dedicated to supporting any issue that arises during the remote hearing process. Now, as things start to get back to normal, they’re also working to support our hybrid cases. JAMS is also providing more training for our neutrals now than we ever have. There are many opportunities for them to get together virtually to learn and network with each other. Before the start of the pandemic, we had training videos they could watch, and we’d do a few in-person trainings every year. Now, we do a couple of trainings every month.
Did the pandemic expedite any initiatives you had intended to pursue anyway?
Gina Miller: Prior to the pandemic, we did offer a browser-based platform for virtual proceedings, but there was not yet the appetite or need to roll out broader capabilities. Of course, that quickly changed at the start of the pandemic – we realized the immediate need to convert all operations to a virtual setting and all segments of the company came together accordingly to make that happen. Although the transition was not without a learning curve, we are so proud of how our neutrals and associates embraced the change and worked collaboratively to put their best foot forward.
Liz Carter: It forced us to be aggressive with technology upgrades. We made sure our clients could easily pay their invoices online, from anywhere and we rolled out an online arbitration demand and document filing system. We were already working on those things, but once COVID happened, there was a heightened sense of urgency, we were able to launch JAMS Access in August 2020, a platform that brings these capabilities together in one place.
Gina Miller: Our priority was always to ensure that our clients continue having a very good experience, and that looks different than it did two years ago. We’re doing a lot more online. We’ve continued to create new security systems so people feel safe. We’re providing our associates with training on how to engage clients, because a lot of their interactions are now online. We’re making our website more efficient and user-friendly.
To what do you attribute your survival and success?
Liz Carter: As a company, we could not have survived the pandemic without the people in the field, who worked so hard to keep the ship afloat. At JAMS, we have always strived to put our associates first, and they repaid us. I don't think we would've seen our people put their heads down and just get to work like we did if we hadn't built up years of goodwill and trust and treated people right. The goodwill and trust JAMS had with our panelists and clients also meant that they bought in to the idea that cases could be resolved virtually, without ever being in the same room together. We didn't just get lucky. It was a lot of work.
Gina Miller: We connected. We engaged. We stayed in touch with our associates to ensure that we were all going in the right direction. It didn't take long for the team to embrace change team demonstrated agility, and they did it very well.
Has there been any upside to this experience?
Gina Miller: My colleagues have reported to me that they now have relationships with people in the organization that they never would've had otherwise. The pandemic has allowed them to be closer and collaborate with people in other states. I absolutely love that, and it never would have happened without the pandemic. That made us all stronger and more empathetic to each other's situations.
Liz Carter: There are things that have happened as a result of the pandemic that I think have changed our business for the better. We’ve created more opportunities for our people. We’ve created new teams. We’ve been really creative in general, because for the last two years, we’ve had to be. We got ideas from everywhere, and we implemented as many as we could. I think we always tried to do that, but now I think that’s even more ingrained in who we are.
When you reflect on how JAMS has responded to COVID during the last two years, what are you most proud of?
Gina Miller: The collaboration across the country made me extremely proud. How agile everyone was, the patience and support that everyone gave each other, the understanding that grew between all these different groups—it exceeded my expectations. I have never seen our company come together so quickly and so effectively. I'm just really proud to work for an organization that cares about everyone—our associates, our neutrals and our clients
Liz Carter: And now, here we are. We’re bringing on new associates and new panelists. We're onboarding them in a virtual environment and we're resolving as many disputes as we've ever done.
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