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Long Island Nonprofits Reimagine Fundraising Amid Pandemic

fundraisers
Charitable organizations are getting creative with socially distant fundraisers and donation drives. (Getty Images)

The Long Island Insurance Community, a nonprofit that brings together insurance industry leaders to give back to the community and to those less fortunate, holds a big, annual fundraiser for the United Way of Long Island attended by hundreds. That was pre-pandemic.

Unable to unite this year, LIIC instead launched a virtual text-a-thon, sending a barrage of texts and live streaming an event to benefit the United Way of Long Island’s COVID-19 response fund. The group raised $96,000 — half the amount in prior years, but not bad for a fundraiser that, otherwise, would have been canceled. It announced raffle winners and presented messages from LIIC cochairs, United Way partners, executives and people benefiting from services.

“You used to have 300 people in a room,” said Gloria Gargano, LIIC cochair and a United Way of Long Island board member. “We were able to come up with something that kept people engaged and allowed us to raise money.”

While many businesses figure out how to transform with the times, nonprofits facing challenges are reinventing fundraising. 

“We had to shift gears and create a vision that was able to engage long-term contributors and new contributors,” Gargano said. “And trying to maintain COVID safety.”

Nothing beats being there and events remain effective ways to raise money, but groups have often gone virtual.

“COVID-19 took all of us by surprise,” said Susan Munro, assistant vice president of constituency programs for the Northwell Health Foundation. “We were concerned about how we would sustain our fundraising efforts.”

Northwell adapted, creating a COVID-19 Emergency Fund, raising $34.5 million from 17,000 donors and helping to secure small and larger contributions.

“Northwell completely transitioned all of our events to virtual settings in almost record time,” Munro added. “We were doing things we never did before.” 

The organization transitioned its Northwell Health Walk to a virtual fundraiser, raising more than $1 million for its COVID-19 Emergency Fund. 

Rather than canceling the Feinstein Summer Concert, Katz Luncheon and Fashion Event, and Constellation Gala, Northwell “evolved all of them into high-end video productions that raised significant support for Northwell,” Munro continued. 

The system even transitioned its Ladies’ Day Out shopping event into a virtual shopping week with a percentage of proceeds benefiting Northwell’s women’s health initiatives.

Family and Children’s Association (FCA), one of the largest and oldest health and human services agencies on Long Island, based in Mineola, sharpened the focus of fundraising.

“We had to be very specific and targeted in our ask,” said Dana Jarrett, FCA development associate. “Before, we could be general.”

FCA, through its COVID assistance fund, raised money for items like Google Chromebooks for children in homeless shelters. 

“We sent pictures to the donors of the kids who got the Chromebooks,” Jarrett added.

FCA transformed its scholarship appeal event from a breakfast to a campaign, including a Zoom call where donors met recipients who obtained $2,500 college scholarships. It transformed its pre-Thanksgiving Fall Harvest Celebration gala into a Gifts of Gratitude Campaign, raising more than $100,000 to date. 

Island Harvest Food Bank developed a taste for tech, shifting its Taste of the Harvest to a virtual event with three chefs  — David Burke, Claudia Fleming, and Guy Reuge  — slated to teach cooking online Dec. 9.

“The food and ingredients for preparation of the meal will be delivered to event participants,” according to the group. “From the comfort of their own home, they will have the opportunity to prepare a three-course meal with the help of each of the talented chefs.”

While groups got innovative, golf didn’t go away. Northwell held two golf events with COVID-19 safety protocols, no dinners or gatherings, and FCA held one with 32 foursomes, grossing $117,000. 

“Everybody wore their masks. We had a way to do social distancing,” Jarrett said. “One person in a golf cart. People had to bring their clubs.”

The Over 50 Fair, run by Barbara Kaplan, went virtual in September, raising $3,100 to benefit the Interfaith Nutrition Network.

“They’ve been doing food and fund drives at the Over 50 Fair since 2012, as well as some of the All Kids Fairs,” Kaplan said.

Meanwhile, the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington got a $50,000 National Endowment for the Arts CARES grant and planned an online fundraiser with movie star Elliott Gould.

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Island Harvest Food Bank Pivots to Meet Community Needs in Pandemic

ceo of island harvest
Island Harvest Food Bank CEO Randi Shubin Dresner is helping about 300,000 Long Islanders who don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

As CEO of Island Harvest Food Bank, Randi Shubin Dresner leads an organization that provides hundreds of thousands of meals annually. They have been busier than ever amid COVID-19. We talked with her about hunger on Long Island and what’s being done to help.

Did demand rise during the pandemic? Within weeks our business increased 500 percent as far as purchasing. We pivoted and changed our programs to accommodate that. We did more than 1,000 events distributing food across Long Island between March and the end of June at schools, in communities, and big distribution sites at parking lots. We partnered with Nassau County. We distributed to over 20,000 residents through a Nassau County contract alone.

Has Island Harvest changed due to COVID-19 and how? Until March, we were a food bank providing food and support and services to individuals in the community and doing a lot of our work through a member network of nonprofit community-based organizations. We were helping about 300,000 people in all and distributing about 10 million pounds of food and other services. We helped people with SNAP outreach and enrollment, nutrition education, job training programs, food safety programs. When March 9 hit, we pivoted to open our emergency resource center. A hundred percent of our work changed to be responsive to the needs of the community. 

How does Island Harvest get food? Island Harvest before March depended on donated food. About 85 percent of our product was donated. The remainder was purchased from retailers, wholesalers, distributors and in small part from the community. On March 9, we pivoted. Almost instantaneously our food donation dried up completely. Supermarkets were overwhelmed from the community coming in, getting food because of the pandemic. 

So how did you get food once COVID-19 hit? It took a little time for food banks to make connections with farmers and producers with the support of the federal government and, in our case, New York State and Gov. Cuomo. It took a couple of months for this to get in place. Gov. Cuomo awarded the food banks across the state $25 million to buy New York State-grown product from farmers and producers. We got over $700,000 in funds. We needed that food quickly and we got it in tractor trailer loads. They brought it to us. We didn’t have to pick it up.

How do you keep your own people safe? We instituted new protocols. We identified our assets — our staff, our volunteers and our food. Only a select number of people are allowed in our warehouses. We did distributions outside. We got a large tent donated that is permanently in our parking lot. And we do a lot of work outside under the tent safely. We identified staff who could work full time remotely or hybrid coming into the office a few days a week. We also identified people who would just work in the field and not come back into the office.

How do you and others at Island Harvest handle this personally? Emergency work is very hard physically and emotionally. We started with an adrenaline rush that fueled our first couple of months. Then exhaustion followed for a few months. Then a realization that this is what our work will look like for the foreseeable future. We are essential workers, Island Harvest Food Bank staff.

Where do things stand today? We don’t believe we’ll ever go back to where we were as an organization before. We’re a different organization now because of the response work we provided. We brought new programs into our organization and we’ll continue those. 

Are you seeing a return to normal? It’s a different kind of normal. We have a different work plan now. We’re doing a lot of direct delivery to people’s houses. People are homebound. They have COVID and disabilities. We opened up some direct delivery programs. We fielded 15,000 phone calls between March and June. We had to learn how to field those calls. There’s an increase in calls from people who need help and we can help.

What are you seeing and doing for Thanksgiving and Christmas? We are running our regular turkey and trimming collection campaign, collecting turkeys and funds and trimmings from the community. This year demand is up. Because of the pandemic, most people aren’t having large family gatherings. We’re asking the community for an increase in donations and smaller turkeys. 

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Applied Visions CEO Frank Zinghini Helping Return NASA To The Moon

Frank Zinghini also owns Pittsburgh-based SDS, a company working on testing software and hardware for Astrobotic Technology’s journey to the Moon.

Frank Zinghini is part of a mission to the Moon designed to be a long-awaited return for NASA and the nation. He is president, CEO, and founder of Northport-based Applied Visions and Pittsburgh-based SDS., a sister company working on testing software and hardware for Astrobotic Technology’s journey to the Moon. We talked with Zinghini, who has a bachelor’s in electrical engineering and a master’s in computer science both from Stony Brook University, about SDS’s role and space travel.

Do you remember the first Moon landing? Crystal clear. It was one of those pivotal moments you can’t forget. I was sitting in the basement. I was 11 years old at the time. I was watching on a 19-inch black-and-white TV. I remember my mom jumping up and down when they took the first step. So I remember it.

Did it ever occur to you that you or a company you own would be involved in going to the Moon? Certainly not when I was 11. I already had a deep interest in space and space tech when I was a kid. That’s one of the reasons I got into engineering, my interest in aerospace and the fact that we did so many interesting things here on Long Island. As I got older, I started to think, “Wouldn’t it be cool to do this sort of thing?”

What’s it like for a Long Islander to be involved not just in computers, but a lunar landing? I fell in love with computers and software in high school. It never ceases to fascinate me, what we can make happen — from landing on the moon to mobile apps. I love it. I can’t wait to get to work every day. I grew up in Northport. I went to Northport High School, then Stony Brook. I’m a Long Islander through and through. How cool is it to be involved with a moon landing after what Long Island did with Apollo?

Is there stress in working on equipment for space? Engineering developing space systems is stressful, because you only get one shot at it. Within an airplane, you can take a test flight. With a rocket, you push a button and it goes. 

Is Astrobotic’s work part of a bigger picture with space? This is part of NASA’s fresh approach to space travel, where they lean on commercial business to achieve breakthroughs. NASA is purchasing services from commercial companies like SpaceX and Boeing, which helps create and grow those services, rather than directly funding the R&D for space travel.

Is this an unmanned flight? The term of art today is “uncrewed,” because we have plenty of women going into space. We have very diverse crews. Uncrewed flight is an incredibly important part of space travel, but you still need humans in space, which is why we have the space station there. 

What is SDS or Software Design Solutions doing for the Peregrine? SDS has clients in many industries including transportation, energy and healthcare. We are building test equipment. You need to test systems rigorously before you send them into space. 

Is SDS making software, hardware or both? It’s both. It takes a lot of work to test space systems. The systems are very complex and often very intelligent. There are a lot of computer processors in the spacecraft. To test those, you have to simulate what they’ll experience in space.

What are you testing? You can imagine any spacecraft will have propulsion systems, guidance systems, scientific payloads. The reason you put these up there is to do science. All the systems that make those things happen involve complex electronics and software that they’re building, because that’s their specialty. Those systems need to be tested.

How do you test them? The testing we’re doing is at the subsystem level. If they develop a complex computer board to control the propulsion system, that will need a circuit board. We will design a test they can plug that circuit board into that provides the electronic signals the propulsion system generates. And you can test the output. 

How important is testing computers? Far too often in software in general, people don’t pay enough attention to testing. Then they have problems with software that goes out into the field or their website crashes.

Is testing on schedule and when is the launch scheduled? Our work is on schedule. Our belief is their schedule is to launch next July. They’re working day in and out on their spacecraft, using our test equipment to do that. The interesting thing about test equipment is our work is done when they launch.

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How Essential Industries Have Adapted To The Pandemic

Construction and manufacturing workers were also deemed essential at the pandemic’s peak. (Getty Images)

After the coronavirus pandemic hit, Anne Shybunko-Moore, CEO of Hauppauge-based aviation and aerospace engineering and manufacturing company GSE Dynamics Inc., saw her company quickly declared essential and had to figure out how to move forward. 

She wrote workers’ names on sheets of paper, placed them on the conference table, and divided them into two groups: those who could work remotely and those who would work on-site.

While healthcare workers were on the front line and those providing food were crucial, others that were deemed essential workers, including many manufacturers, found themselves adjusting rapidly. 

“This was new for everyone,” Jeffrey Reingold, COO of Contract Pharmacal Corp,. in Hauppauge, said of a shift to an at least-temporary new normal. “There was no playbook.”

A handful of leaders of businesses that were declared essential recently got together via Zoom to trade notes and experiences at a virtual gathering sponsored by the Hauppauge Industrial Association of Long Island (HIA-LI) and moderated by Joseph Campolo, managing partner at Campolo, Middletown & McCormick in Ronkonkoma. 

“There was a pride about being essential with a capital ‘E,’” Shybunko-Moore said of one immediate impact. “People were happy to still have a job, respectful of their peers. And there was pride in our industry.”

There was also a fear as companies declared essential put safety measures in place and sought to reassure workers. 

“There was a vulnerability we all felt no matter where you were on the corporate echelon,” Shybunko-Moore added. “We were all concerned about one another.”

Campolo said manufacturers and their workers were often unheralded heroes of the pandemic. 

“We were the Omaha Beach in Normandy of COVID,” Campolo said of New York. “We got hit like nobody’s business. Healthcare workers stepped up. Manufacturers do not get recognition the way some others do.”

Having to keep going put a lot of pressure on everyone from executives to workers amid the onset of COVID-19. 

“This was probably the most stress I’ve ever had in my career,” Reingold said. “The stress level was through the roof.”

Shybunko-Moore said she commuted to Hauppauge in 15 minutes, far less than her usual commute, on a nearly empty road with no rush hour and an almost eerie emptiness around her.

“Even that emotionally was a surreal experience,” she added. “It’s hard to explain what it was like to go to work every day with my peer group while others were at home going through their own struggle.”

Some companies and projects were not deemed essential initially only to be reclassified as rules changed suddenly.

“We did get shut down,” Jim Coughlan, principal of East Setauket-based Tritec Real Estate said. “Then PPP came along and we didn’t have to lay anybody off. There were a couple of weeks at the beginning when there was a huge fear of that.”

Tritec staggered shifts and outfitted construction workers with devices on helmets, triggering alarms if they came within 6 feet of one another.

“If somebody did get sick, we could tell who they were next to and where they had been,” Coughlan said, noting that Tritec’s workers had no cases in New York, although there were some in Virginia. 

Shybunko-Moore said her company’s work stations already were 6 feet apart from each other, although some employees shifted to work remotely.

Contract Pharmacal brought in temps to do temperature monitoring of workers arriving at work and after lunch. When one temp charged with taking temperatures didn’t arrive, Reingold improvised.

“I gowned up, got a thermometer,” said Reingold, who worked out of a conference room for six weeks. “I was taking temperatures for people to come in.” 

Contract Pharmacal hired outside cleaning staff, brought in paper bag lunches with the food truck on hold, restructured lunch breaks, and set up tents outside the building.

Hauppauge-based Walkers Shortbread Inc. shifted to Microsoft Teams’ collaborative platform and limited face-to-face meetings and virtual meetings rather than telephone calls. 

“It pushed us to have more virtual meetings with customers,” Walkers U.S. CEO Mark Kleinman said. “In the past, it was phone calls. Now it’s more commonplace to have virtual meetings with video. I think that will stick around.”

As more workers returned, companies had to monitor more people on-site, Reingold said. He added that he got to spend more time with family, with children home rather than busy with activities such as sports and dance.

“We expect there will be a second wave,” Coughlan added. “But we’re doing everything we can to prepare and be as safe as possible.”

Shybunko-Moore said manufacturing is resilient, but hopes companies don’t get complacent and drop precautions. 

“We made a lot of great stuff during COVID,” Shybunko-Moore said. “We need to reinstate that pride we used to have, that Grumman pride. We should have manufacturing pride.”

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Crescent Duck Farm: Last of its Kind on Long Island

Photo courtesy of Crescent Duck Farm

Long before the East End became known as wine country, Peking duck ruled Long Island, where more than 40 duck farms once dotted the region.

Today, the Long Island Ducks play baseball and the term “Long Island duck” resonates, although all but just one have resisted the urge to sell the land to real estate developers: Crescent Duck Farm in Aquebogue.

“We’ve had some of this land since the 1600s,” Crescent Duck Farm President Doug Corwin says of the 140-acre farm. “My great grandfather started growing ducks in 1908. Each generation has added more to this. It’s a family owned business that’s four generations old and hoping to go into the fifth generation.”

Duck farming in the U.S. first truly caught hold on LI after the original breeding stock was brought over from China in the late 1800s.

“So much of the industry was here on Long Island it almost became a generic term, just as Maine Lobster became a generic term,” Corwin says. “Long Island duck meant something. It’s not quite so well known a term anymore.”

The Island’s combination of land, climate, proximity to markets such as New York City, and transportation such as the Long Island Rail Road made it ideal for duck farmers.

“Back two centuries ago, you had a phenomenal amount of farms on eastern Long Island,” Corwin says. “There was nothing but potatoes, ducks, and whatever else was being farmed.”

He said 70 to 80 percent of the nation’s ducks were grown on LI, as farms got bigger and absorbed other farms. Gradually, the World Wide Web replaced webbed feet as a more common source of income.

“The industry took a big downturn and most of our competition went out of business,” Corwin says. “We’re trying to do agriculture in an expensive area. It’s cheaper to grow ducks in the Midwest.”

Today, duck farms are more commonly found in Pennsylvania, Indiana, and California. But Crescent presses on, using technology such as high-tech microbiological testing and selling to wholesalers that supply high-end restaurants and butcher shops.

“We’re putting up a brand new hatcher now,” Corwin says. “I invested in a phenomenal waste treatment plant.”

People sometimes offer to buy land, but as Corwin describes things, don’t expect this era to end on Long Island anytime soon.

“Every now and then someone comes in and says, ‘I’d like that parcel,’” Corwin says. “We’ve turned it down. I’ve got a good business. I’ve got a brand name that’s well known. There’s a sense of satisfaction in doing something iconic for Long Island.”

Related Story: How COVID-19 Is Impacting Long Island Farmers

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Commercial Landlords’ Rent Concessions Ease Pandemic Pain For Businesses

It’s a renters market for office leases. (Getty Images)

In addition to an increase in remote work, social distancing and safety precautions, the coronavirus pandemic is leading to an uptick in free office rent and tenant improvement allowances, according to a new study.

The national report by Los Angeles-based commercial real estate firm CBRE found that office landlords are in a more giving mood these days, at least when it comes to granting concessions such as free rent and tenant improvement allowances to obtain new office leases and renewals.

“This means that office tenants can find some advantageous terms in many markets,” said Whitley Collins, CBRE’s global president of occupier advisory and transaction services. “At least until the U.S. economic recovery gains more momentum.”

That’s in part because fewer office deals are closing and because companies are facing new needs — and sometimes less need for space. All this is adding up to concessions that, when taken into account, are the equivalent of lower rent.

Net effective office rent, calculated including the cost of concessions, for the second quarter  dropped 6.6 percent in the 15 largest U.S. markets, according to CBRE. Base rent before concessions, however, declined by only 1.1 percent.

The average length of free-rent periods rose to 10 months, or nearly a year, up 13.7 percent from the first quarter. Tenant improvement allowances, money landlords offer to improve a space, increased by 5.1 percent to $75.57 per square foot. 

This came as office-leasing activity tumbled 43 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier, according to Collins.

Philip Heilpern, a senior vice president at CBRE’s Long Island office in Melville, said relatively few deals have taken place here since the pandemic started, as few leases expired.

“Like almost every other market in the country, we’ve had a fairly dramatic drop-off in the number of deals in the market,” Heilpern said. “ Everything inessential has been put on hold.”

He said Long Island office renters “have enjoyed a slight uptick in landlord concessions,” but at least so far there hasn’t been a surge.

“We’ve had dropping vacancy rates and rising rental rates in the last few years,” Heilpern continued. “Tenants in the market now are being wooed a little more aggressively by landlords who want to make deals and get their space leased.” 

Darren Leiderman, executive managing director of Colliers International’s LI office, in Jericho, said the Island office market remains tight.

“There’s not a lot of space,” Leiderman said. “We haven’t had much building in the last 20 years.”

He said the Paycheck Protection Program helped companies pay office rent, benefiting both tenants and landlords.

“There haven’t been that many deals signed post-COVID,” he said. “Some haven’t been affected. Some have had more leniency and flexibility on concessions.”

An increase in working remotely is leading to more subleases hitting the market as well as workers separated by greater distances. And that is impacting the market as well.

“People still have leases,” Leiderman said. “People are saying work-from-home may impact the market. If you have a lease, you still have to do something with the space. Do you spread people out; do you sublease?”

New York City-based companies are shifting more Long Island residents to offices closer to home, fueling local demand, Heilpern said. Workers often work at home or travel to a closer office, instead of making the daily commute from LI to Manhattan.

“Clients said they plan to move some employees who live on the Island and work in New York City to their Long Island office,“ Leiderman agreed.

Heilpern said Long Island hasn’t seen “a dramatic drop in asking or taking rents,” even if concessions such as free rent are up. While deals are being sweetened, base rent at least so far hasn’t been impacted.

Leiderman said free rent, which initially was used to help companies cover moving costs, now provides leniency, while maintaining landlords’ base rent.

“When you refinance, you carry that higher rental rate,” Leiderman said of landlords. “It balances out.”

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First National Bank of Long Island CEO Chris Becker: Keeping Cash Flowing

Chris Becker was named CEO of The First National Bank of Long Island in January. 

Chris Becker in January became president and CEO of The First National Bank of Long Island. We talked with him about leading a financial institution during the pandemic and the role of this nearly 100-year-old, Glen Head-based bank with 49 branches (including 10 in New York City) at a crucial time for the bank and borrowers. 

How did First of Long Island modify operations during the height of the pandemic? As the pandemic was building and spreading, we phased in limited hours. We had our employees work from behind the teller line with glass barriers. We kept our drive-up windows and ATMs open and we kept a few lobbies open. We always had our staff in.

Did you personally shift to remote work? I’m set up to work remotely at home, but I came into the office every day. We were deemed an essential business. We had most of our back-office folks working remotely from home. I came into the office. We had people dealing with the public. I wanted to be here side by side with them.

Has electronic banking accelerated? We’ve been migrating to digital channels for years. During the pandemic, transactions shifted to electronic products. Our customers can snap a picture of their check. Those volumes tripled during the pandemic.

How are branches impacted? In-person transactions have been going down for years, as electronic transactions went up. Branches have become about solving problems, asking questions, talking about new products, financial needs, and things to help their business.

Are you adding branches? We’re opening a branch in Riverhead. That should open in the fourth quarter of this year. We’ve been opening branches in Brooklyn and Queens and will continue to look for opportunities there. We continue to expand our branch network geographically. We think there’s plenty of opportunity on Long Island.

Who was borrowing during the pandemic and for what? A lot of loans were the Paycheck Protection Program loans. We did $170 million in PPP loans to our customers. We were very busy with that. We did another $600 million of payment deferrals to help our customers out during the pandemic. A lot of customers came to banks and asked for payment deferrals. I think the banking community stepped up and combined with PPP to help the country get through this shutdown.

What was it like to help with PPP loans? When we were doing the PPP loans, we put together a team at the bank. I was personally processing loans and dealing with customers. The employees were so excited to help these businesses get through the pandemic and pay their employees. I had so many employees saying how proud they were that we were here to help. People were working around the clock. We had people emailing each other at 2 in the morning. The system was open around the clock.

How do you decide who gets loans? When we underwrite a loan to determine if a person qualifies, you get current information. You take that information and determine what’s appropriate for them. You work with them to try to create a win-win situation. You have to make sure the customer has the wherewithal to pay back the loan.

How do loan volumes look now? Normal loan volumes have been down. We’re starting to see activity pick up. As Long Island opens up, we’re starting to see customers come out looking for loans. We’re starting to see that activity pick up. We’re encouraged that things are getting better on Long Island.

As more banking is done online, do banks have to work harder at security? Banks have to be mindful of cyber security and fraudsters trying to steal identities. They do that more and more through digital channels. We’re constantly investing in our security to fight cybersecurity crimes. With the pandemic and people using more electronic transactions, criminals will try to exploit that.

How do you manage stress, particularly in difficult times? Make sure you laugh every day. We have a dedicated board of directors. Even at those meetings, we make sure we have a good laugh or two. It relaxes people, helps get rid of stress. When I go home in the evening, a lot of times I put on an old sitcom and watch it for a half hour and get a good laugh. I find that laughing is the best medicine for stress for me.

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RJV Office CEO Varun Bansal On How The Office Is Being Reimagined After COVID-19

Varun Bansal is CEO of RJV Office and officefurnitureshop.com in Farmingdale.

Transparency with plexiglass partitions is in and water coolers are out as offices are being re-imagined amid the coronavirus pandemic. When workers return to offices, they are sometimes finding the space has been redesigned. Varun Bansal, CEO of RJV Office and officefurnitureshop.com in Farmingdale, talked with the Press about new workplace norms.

How is furniture being used to make a healthier, safer workplace? In order to create a safer and better environment to go back to work, we need to make sure the cubicles are tall enough for the employees to work. The industry used to be more focused on an open environment. That trend is going away. People are going back to a safer area where benching is being replaced by cubicles.  What happened in the ‘80s and ‘90s is coming back in 2020 with a better, more advanced-looking cubicle with more glass and fabric.

What specific design decisions can make the office appealing? One thing we’re doing to make the office more creative and appealing is not having a wall partition from floor to ceiling. A combination of fabric and glass is a creative and fun way of designing. Light can travel. We don’t want to just provide a fabric-based system. You still want creativity.

Are the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines impacting office design? We created some guidelines based on the CDC such as 6-foot distances between people in work stations and meetings. More space, not people sitting on top of each other. It’s a combination of what the CDC has given. We used that to integrate into the office furniture industry.

Is density changing in the office as well as in other businesses? If you have 100 employees, only 30 percent are coming back. Seventy percent is working from home. It’s not a regulation, but that’s what I am hearing from companies. The work we’re doing is in phasing. The employees coming back get the priority. Once we complete those, we work on other phases.

What are people doing to make a better home office? To make a safe and healthy home office, people are buying one or two desks, one or two office chairs. The demand for acrylic glass, plexiglass, is coming into effect. When they buy small offices or desks from us, they secure their space with Plexiglass. Even working from home, they are securing the home-based offices with plexi around them.

How is technology fueling home office growth and impacting the traditional office? Conventional offices are playing a big role in technology. Demand for software like Zoom has increased compared to three to four months ago. The demand for band width is increasing. As more people work from home, you need more bandwidth to support the work force. Within cubicles, our clients are more focused on having an effective power system running across the cubicles, so they can plug in laptops.

Can you retrofit cubicles? If the existing height can’t be raised, we have a way to put together the frames with acrylic glass. That’s safer at the offices. We manufacture frames based on the height of the cubicles. Those frames are being installed on the low-height cubicles. It can give more height to lower partitions.

What will offices look like in future? Sales are going to be comparatively less, but the demand of redesigning offices is going to be higher. The demand for products like acrylic glass or plexiglass will be higher, redesigning work of existing offices where employees sit in a tight space, getting us six feet of space.

What about the future of the home office? Home offices typically are going to be a combination of a desk, a chair, and a printer. It’s more like a command center that is going to be creatively occupied by the employees. 

What’s the fate of the water cooler? The water cooler is history. We have to wait and see the next few months, to see industry trends. When people come back to work, they want to make sure they have hand sanitizer on their desk instead of a water cooler. Hand sanitization, the cleaning of office work surfaces, those are more imperative now. The pantry area. The offices that share microwaves and water coolers, those areas are more restricted.

New College Grads Face Pandemic Job Market

Two people in office passing documents with keeping a distance. Getty Images.

Moeez Naveed, 21, of Plainview, graduated from Stony Brook University with a degree in biochemistry. Now he’s heading into the workforce as a medical scribe at a pulmonologist’s office in Bethpage.

“COVID delayed my hiring,” he said of the job, obtained through ScribeAmerica, in which he assists during doctor’s visits. “They had a hiring freeze. Everyone wears masks. I also wear a gown and a face shield. There’s a substantial amount of precautions.”

While there’s no one way to describe today’s work world, it’s very different than it was just months before. Recent college grads are entering a different economy, but also a transformed workplace.

Virtual interviews are often replacing those in offices, jobs sometimes have become remote and rock-solid job offers sometimes fell through.

“If students had offers, for the most part they’ve been retained,” said  Michelle Kyriakides, executive director at Hofstra University’s Career Center. “They may have had their start date pushed back.”

Orientation is often done remotely as new hires receive laptops and headphones. Initially, at least, they are working from home.

Internships sometimes have been canceled or at least shortened, as employees have had less time to mentor.

“Some employers have a halt on hiring or are pushing back starting dates,” Kimberly Joy Dixon, Stony Brook University’s director of employer engagement and diversity recruitment, confirmed. “Be a little more patient with the process.”

Grads are entering a brave, new jobs market with 11.1 percent unemployment nationwide as of June, down from 13.3 percent in May.

“I think there’s a lot of stress,” Kyriakides said. “They saw the number of unemployed going up and up. We’ve been telling students, ‘Be as proactive as you can.’”

Matthew Colson, executive director of alumni relations and the alumni association at Stony Brook University, said these are the latest tumultuous times.

“I think about the class of 2008 entering a challenging market,” [during the economic recession] he said. “And they have since persevered and found great success.” 

Indeed.com said job postings are down 29 percent from June 2019, but noted there’s strong demand for technology skills such as computer programming in SQL, Java, Python, and Linux.

“Soft skills are also growing due to the coronavirus pandemic,” according to Indeed.com, which cited communications.

As offices reopen, they likely will be different in activity and atmosphere for new hires. Many companies are welcoming up to 30 percent back at once.

Alumni often help those with or looking for work. Dixon called Stony Brook’s roughly 200,000 alumni “a bright light” and a “silver lining” in a changing world.

Stony Brook students and grads are taught how to present themselves on Zoom, including what to wear and what’s appropriate for backgrounds, and how to onboard as an intern or full time in a virtual setting.

“Prepare to have multiple employment opportunities with multiple companies, and one side hustle gig,” Brad Szollose, a business consultant in Bay Shore, said. “Be like a commando and prepare for anything. This is the only way to survive in this day and age.” 

Szollose predicted that many small companies may go out of business over the next year. 

“Be prepared to move on, over and over again,” he said.

“COVID has made it impossible for some people to get clinical experience,” said Naveed. “I plan on working as a scribe and conducting research at Stony Brook.”

Kyriakides said the workplace will likely never be exactly the way it was prepandemic. 

“I think we will see some change in how companies work and recruit,” she said. “There will be more flexibility in some industries.”

She said it’s important that graduates don’t simply sit on the sidelines, mentioning a healthcare administration major who moved back to Las Vegas and volunteered with her church, to help run its youth ministry group and food pantry.

“It’s really about telling your story,” Kyriakides said. “Being able to say, ‘This is what I gained from the experience. This is how I responded to the crisis.’”

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Sotor Technologies CEO Derek Peterson: Keeping Long Island Safe and Sound

Derek Peterson, posing with a Sotor Technologies sensor, named his company after the Greek god of safety, Soterus.

As CEO of Ronkonkoma-based Soter Technologies, Derek Peterson is an engineer and entrepreneur. He talked with the Press about the tech sector, going from Symbol Technologies to his own company, developing sensors and new products for COVID-19, and being a Black CEO.

Can you tell us about the device you created to screen for COVID-19? We created a device called SymptomSense, a screening evaluation gateway. It screens for vital signs such as blood oxidation level, temperature, respiration and heart rate. It’s in the same format as a metal detector. You walk through it and it will scan you and give you a pass or not. We’ve learned that blood oxidation level is a better indicator than temperature. We’re shipping to sporting teams, NFL teams, Major League Baseball. We also have police departments, hospitals, health institutions, major bakeries, and food producers. 

How did you get involved in sensors? We invented and designed the world’s first sensor to detect vaping. My background is in engineering. I’ve been creating sensors my whole career. It’s been part of my DNA to design sensors that keep people safe. The name Soter is inspired by the Greek god of safety, Soterus. 

When did you start Soter? Soter was founded in 2017. It was born out of another entity called Digital Fly. We created Digital Fly with a product called FlySights, which was a social media monitoring tool. If you posted a threat against somebody, like a student, teacher or principal, we could identify that threat and alert authorities. We were focused on bullying.

How did that lead to Soter? Schools were asking, “Can you help with physical bullying? Kids are fighting in bathrooms.” We went back to the drawing board. You can’t put a camera or microphone in a bathroom. However we can put a decibel level sensor in a bathroom. We created our first device in 2016 that picked up on sound anomalies. And we branched into becoming a hardware company. We rebranded ourselves to become Soter Technologies.

How did you develop vaping sensors? Schools asked us if we could help them with the vaping problem. Kids were vaping in the bathrooms. We added sensors that could detect if kids are vaping. And we created the world’s first vaping detector. We’re in 21 countries and about 8,000 devices deployed. All of Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, Japan, Singapore. Everywhere. Australia, New Zealand. Canada.

Do you have to be an engineer and an entrepreneur? I’m an engineer first and a business person second. I like to invent and solve problems. However, I’m also on the business side. I view everything as a sport. I like to win. Building a business and winning deals, it’s sport to me, gamesmanship. And I enjoy the win. It’s satisfaction to invent and create technology. Can I sell this? Can I make a change in the world? 

As a Black engineer and businessman, have you faced additional challenges? Now I’m 30-plus years into my career. I built a brand for myself so people understand and recognize who I am. I’ve gotten past a lot of the systemic issues in the engineering world earlier in my career.

What issues? Early in my career, working for other people, I was not paid equally compared to an engineer at the same level, same grade, sitting in the cube next to me. That has been documented. I had to get salary adjustments to catch up with my peers. In the engineering world, there are few minorities, African Americans and Latinos. Typically when I travel, one or two or three engineers at a conference. They’re just not there.

Why? That’s a good question. They’re just not given the same opportunities. Maybe they’re not given the same awareness that these roles and jobs are available. It starts at the high school level.

Have you been able to make a difference as a mentor? I work with local universities in regard to mentoring. I speak often at high schools and universities and bring awareness to what’s going on and job opportunities. I sit on boards like Timothy Hill, the children’s ranch in Riverhead, to help young adults.

How diverse is your company? My company on a percentage basis is probably one of the most diverse on the island. It’s the United Nations, men, women, Black, white, Latino. All mixed races. Everybody plays happily in the same sandbox. Everybody  brings their own talents to the table. People come into the office and see the diversification. I look for good, talented people. 

What new products are you developing? The next thing we’re working on is sensors to open up the schools due to the pandemic. Those will be in the marketplace in August. It’s different technology we’re doing for schools. They can purchase what we currently have, but we’re releasing technology to go a little further to ensure safety.

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