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Empathy, understanding grow as pandemic prompts new ways of doing business at Embarc Collective

Margie Manning



Seeing and listening to coworkers and clients speaking from inside a Zoom box or Microsoft Teams room can provide a new perspective on their lives.

That’s one of the lessons learned by Lakshmi Shenoy, CEO of Embarc Collective, during the Covid-19 pandemic. She said she has increased empathy for every person with whom she now engages.

Lakshmi Shenoy, CEO, Embarc Collective

“I’m no longer looking at them solely in the context of their professional identity. We’ve been brought into their homes and we’re seeing the other dimensions of their lives, whether it’s kids or spaces in homes that are the only place they can get a quiet area. I feel like I’ve met at least 50 dogs,” Shenoy said. “If anything it gave me a little more context about why what you are doing professionally matters to you personally, whether it’s because you’ve got this beautiful family to support or your professional life delivers something meaningful to you personally. I work a lot and sometimes I forget not everyone does the exact same thing. It gave me a great understanding of the whole person I am speaking with.”

Embarc, a downtown Tampa education nonprofit focused on the area’s startup community, had only been open a few months when the Covid-19 crisis began.

Related: Scenes from the ribbon-cutting at Embarc Collective

The physical facility, at 802 E. Whiting St., shut down on March 16 and reopened to members on June 8.

“In those eight weeks we had a task force make sure that all the processes and procedures we had in place were not only well thought out but also vetted by healthcare professionals,” Shenoy said.

A team from BayCare Health System visited the facility and reviewed the safety steps and gave a healthcare “stamp of approval.”

It was not a small effort to be able to reopen, Shenoy said.

Embarc put in place more automated doors and sinks, to reduce touch points. The HVAC filters were upgraded and Embarc stocked up on hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies. There’s signage reminding members about new norms of behavior, such as six alternatives to shaking hands and rules about weaking masks inside.

“The key is we have to stay vigilant. We can’t get complacent, even though we’ve been open for a couple of months,” she said.

Embarc also is leveraging the technology built into its systems before the pandemic.

“Every user does a self-assessment every day before they enter the space. They do an automated temperature check once they are in the space and if you don’t do that, you can’t come in,” Shenoy said. “People sign in through our visitor management system, which talks to our door access system, which is able to give the yea or nay on whether this person has filled out an assessment to confirm if the person is displaying any symptoms of Covid-19 or has been around anyone who is a confirmed case of Covid-19.”

Embarc has reopened its event space for small groups, and about 30 percent of Embarc’s members have returned to the facility in person. As they have since the shutdown in March, Embarc’s staff continues to work virtually with all the members, offering coaching and programming.

During the shift from in-person to digital to a hybrid of face-to-face and virtual gatherings, the Embarc team took time to reflect on the changes, and shared some of their thoughts in a blog post on Aug. 31.

• Staying at home helped Allie Felix, program director, understand the value of relationships.

• Fabio De Sousa, analytics and engineering manager, built rituals to start and end the work day and establish boundaries.

• Time away from the screen and focusing on real human contact became important to Ryan Schneider, executive advisor.

 See the full blog post here.

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