Eight South Sound CEOs sat down for an hour-long virtual meeting this week to collaborate on struggles, innovations, and triumphs related to the economic crisis brought on by COVID-19.

The meeting included business owners across myriad industries including marketing, construction, and web development for diverse perspectives on the local market.

Participants included Jon Rossman from Chuckals Office Products, Joe Areyano from Olympic Landscape, Bobbie Bailey from M Agency, Tammy Birklid from Merit Construction, Alfie Treleven from Sprague Pest Solutions, Doug Burton from VSG Marketing, and Rusty George from Rusty George Creative.

The meeting was hosted by Josh Dunn, CEO of Premier Media Group.

“This group of leaders is on the frontline of our business communities and have insight, wisdom, questions, and gaps that we all can learn from, glean from, (and) source from (to) and help each other out,” Dunn said of the group he assembled. “Essentially, iron sharpens iron.”

Topics discussed included staffing, community involvement, personal protective equipment, rearranged office spaces, and the “new normal.”

Treleven from Sprague Pest Solutions was the first to speak, explaining that his business already required mobile crews to wear PPE while on the job prior to the pandemic; however, he said he has been working to slowly bring office workers back.

“Here at our home office in Tacoma where we have our operations center, we’ve got City Glass installing some glass barriers that run along walls to create more separation,” Treleven said.

Rossman of Chuckals talked about what office products were in highest demand and explained that a partnership with Heritage Distilling Co. for its sanitizing solution had been instrumental in providing businesses with necessary sanitizing agents. He said wipes had been very popular, and noted single-use rubber gloves had been hard to secure from his supply chain.

“Flexibility for me has really just been eye opening, to watch (everything that is) happening and to be thankful that it’s happening the way that it is,” Rossman said. “We’re just preparing to move forward and deal with whatever we have to, to ensure safety for (our employees) and safety for our customers. That’s just the attitude I have now.”

Areyano, from Olympic Landscape, said his Puyallup-based business had seen an increase in landscape design contracts during the first few weeks of the pandemic and that keeping his busy, boots-on-the-ground crew safe is paramount.

“We hired on a small staff for our regular day hour crews and they actually go through all 45 trucks of the daytime crews wiping down, sanitizing, and kind of going through the whole nine yards,” Areyano explained. “Any hand sanitizer is in the trucks and as many wipes as we can pretty much get our hands on are being supplied to our crews throughout the day.”

Merit’s Birklid also has many contractors and subcontractors in the field working on various construction sites. In addition to thrice-daily sanitizing procedures, Birklid explained that each person to enter the job site must wear PPE, have their temperature taken, and leave an email address and phone number for contact tracing.

Birklid said she also is taking this time to increase brand awareness for her business by connecting with other South Sound business leaders.

“If we can join forces and figure out a way to help each other, and if we can reach out in all of our different avenues and venues, I think that is the key to getting your name out there — being helpful,” Birklid told the group. “Going after this whole thing with both your hands open and both your eyes open (so you can) see how you can help someone else, what you can do for other people.”

Businesses like Bailey’s M Agency that are typically more centrally located in an office space have their own unique challenges. However, like Birklid, Bailey is using this time to reexamine the way she operates.

“I actually see this as a transition for my business,” Bailey told the group. “I think remote for my production team is going to be the way of the future. There will be some roles that still come into the office — account executives, administration, billing, things like that — but it’s been a total shift. So, I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do with the physical space and how to use it and have it be of value.”

VSG’s Burton also expressed thoughts around bringing employees back to work. “I’m struggling with why I would want to bring (staff) back just because that’s my comfort level with being able to high-five somebody and see the whites of their eyes,” he said.

George of Rusty George Creative said he, however, really misses what in-office collaboration brings to the table.

“The problem with people being remote is that they are only the sum of their best abilities,” he explained, “rather than the collaboration — absorbing the expertise, the knowledge, and the subject matter — that is so important to be better than (your competition), to have that edge that you don’t get just working from home and accessing the first three landing pages of the Google search for ‘good page layout.’”

Dunn said he intends to host other such dialogues in the future.