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Insights: A Cerus Leadership Blog

TEAMWORK AND COMMUNICATIONS IN THE AGE OF COVID

Lori L. Roll, VP Administration at Cerus

We caught up with Lori Roll, Cerus’ VP of Administration this week to discuss the importance of collaboration, leading during a pandemic and the company’s long history of building diverse teams. Lori oversees all of the human resources, facilities, IT, and recruiting functions at the company and is a member of the company’s COVID-19 Task Force.

Lori, as the head of people at Cerus, tell us about the teams you work with.
In a word, they are exceptional. Over the last decade, we have doubled in size (now 260 FTE worldwide) but despite our growth, we have maintained a tight-knit culture, where every employee rallies around our mission. Equally unique, we have built and maintained a diverse workforce with more than half of our management and senior leadership roles filled by women (currently, we have a 54%F / 46%M split). Working in a highly regulated environment, our teams bring expertise from a wide range of areas including, but not limited to, biologics and device development, hematology, biology, device engineering, global regulatory strategy, accounting and finance, supply chain, sales, and people management. Despite the varied backgrounds, each member of our team is incredibly dedicated to our blood center customers across the globe.

When COVID-19 drove countries (and employees) to shelter in place, how did Cerus respond?
We have rallied as a team and done a remarkable job responding to the impact COVID-19 brought to our R&D teams, office functions, manufacturing, supply chain, and distribution efforts globally. Collectively, we have been able to maintain product availability for our customers during the initial months of COVID. By March 11, we established the initial cross-functional and cross-regional COVID-19 Task Force, led by our Chief Legal Officer, with key additions along the way that allowed us to stay on top of, or ahead of, the developments that arose during the first 30 days of lockdown restrictions (or, Shelter in Place). Our leadership team took an ‘early and often’ communications approach providing direction on everything from guidelines for employees and visitors coming on-site, to travel and quarantine restrictions. Our IT team jumped in to ensure expanded VPN bandwidth, corporate-wide implementation of the Microsoft Teams application and updated training on WebEx. The support around Work From Home transitions exceeded the organization’s expectations and also allowed for a deepening of our community commitments to each other and the company.

Of course, the impact of lockdown restrictions was a different playbook for our Facilities leadership, who support our lab personnel, all of whom are designated as essential workers. To ensure uninterrupted access to the Concord, CA, HQ facility and guarantee all essential services for the lab remained operational, we quickly developed tracking tools to chart and manage traceability and adjusted schedules and work plans to keep R&D studies on track. The COVID-19 Task Force established PPE and social distancing protocols and managed compliance with the quickly evolving regulations being issued by the state of California and our local county. I know I speak not only for myself but for the entire leadership team in saying how grateful I am to our lab team who have come into the lab every day throughout this pandemic to ensure our important research studies continue uninterrupted.

Now that we are six months into the lockdown restrictions, we continue to function effectively because of the Cerus team’s high degree of commitment to supporting our customers during this challenging time. Especially noteworthy are our deployment and technical service groups who continue to support our blood center partners around the globe throughout the pandemic. Deemed essential workers, they volunteered to be on the front lines in multiple high-risk areas across the globe.

I know many folks are being challenged by this new way of work – especially working from home where they may have family members, elders and/or children, for whom they must also care for. As we head into the fall (and back to school for many), we continue to actively support our teams around the world. In the face of these societal shifts in responsibilities, we have seen an unwavering commitment to the company’s mission of making our technology the standard of care for blood safety worldwide. It is humbling to be associated with such a great team.

Looking ahead, how will Cerus take the early Lockdown Restrictions learnings to create the ‘new norm’ for its employees?
The lockdown restrictions have demonstrated that with the right tools and teams, we can operate successfully in a virtual environment. We will continue to evaluate and invest in digital transformation that allows us not only to succeed but to thrive in a remote work environment. By supporting our teams to be flexible and nimble, we are seeing a silver lining in our recruiting efforts. Where possible, no longer are we requiring employees to relocate to the Bay Area, which has allowed us to widen our search for the highest quality talent in the life sciences space. The inability to travel and the added technology has also allowed for more cross-team collaboration by expanding attendance on key internal meetings.

We’ve also implemented a new protocol called “No Internal Meetings Fridays.” We saw the fatigue from back-to-back virtual meetings as our teams adjusted to lockdown restrictions, so, over the summer we implemented a ‘no internal meetings’ rule for every other Friday. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive and we just announced an extension until the lockdown is over.

What makes the Cerus culture unique? What do you miss most about the day-to-day interactions?
There is a downside to not having day-to-day interactions, and the ability to have impromptu conversations with co-workers has been severely impacted. No one is calendaring a “how was your weekend” meeting. We also miss the employee events, the quick hellos in the hallway, sharing lunches and cookies brought in from home. Despite this, a strong sense of community still survives.

When I think about what makes Cerus unique, one characteristic stands out — that is despite our growing success as a commercial operation, we have maintained a start-up vibe when it comes to the ownership that the employees take related to our corporate mission. This, coupled with our culture of inclusiveness, humility, and collaboration makes for a unique work environment where our employees thrive.

About Lori Roll
As the people and human resources lead at Cerus, Lori oversees the Human Resources, Facilities, and IT functions at the company in partnership with a dedicated team of professionals. She’s also a member of the company’s executive leadership team and a member of the company’s COVID-19 Task Force.

Over her two decades at Cerus, Lori has led the company’s efforts in scaling (doubling in size over a 10-year window), instituted a competency-based recruitment process, moved headquarters, and established an HR presence at our European subsidiary. Inspired by her colleagues worldwide, she is struck by the passion everyone brings to work and the eagerness to fulfill the Cerus mission.