By March 17, 2020, the majority of BKD had switched to a remote work environment. Monitoring guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as federal, state, and local guidance pertaining to each BKD office, the firm updated travel policies, implemented safety measures, and temporarily closed offices as the pandemic continued to evolve. As the economic effects of the pandemic took shape, BKD also created the Bridge Program to help keep the team intact while preserving the intellectual capital of the firm.
Finally, after vaccines were made widely accessible and communities began safely reopening, much of the workforce was back in the office on a new hybrid work schedule by late summer 2021. Steadily, opportunities to gather with co-workers resurfaced, and BKDers were eager to celebrate.
BKD’s New York interns after a day volunteering with the Billion Oyster Project, a nonprofit that works to restore oyster reefs to the New York Harbor through public education initiatives.
Promoting a strong and fun work culture
In BKD's Kansas City office, Senior Associate Madison Giles, Associate Mike Boehm, and Campus Recruiter Kaylan Vrana collaborated with Managing Partner Rachel Dwiggins to establish a new committee: KC SAS (Social Activity Squad). With fun at the core of its purpose, SAS hopes to help promote a strong culture at BKD, especially following a time where in-person experiences were drastically altered. The co-leaders, along with the full committee, planned events, coordinated happy hours, and created an office newsletter.
“Our goal is to help restore the office culture to normalcy, which is undoubtedly strongest when people are in the office,” explains SAS “Fun Officer” Mike Boehm.
SAS hosted its first pop-up event for the Fourth of July, The Scavenger Hunt of Patriotic Proportion. Participants began with a riddle or puzzle provided in the initial email and, once deciphered, received the name of the next location where another holiday-themed clue lay waiting. BKDers sprinted throughout the office, and the first five to successfully decode the final clue were rewarded with an Amazon gift card.
The committee hosted events throughout March Madness, including a bracket challenge, screening of the games on Thursdays and Saturdays in the break room, and a Pop-A-Shot® challenge. SAS also has organized surprise barista visits, bar carts, and food trucks. So far, the largest event will take place later this summer for a Kansas City Royals tailgate and baseball game.
Community service efforts
In July, BKD’s Chicago office brought a 10-member team to Good Shepherd School in the Little Village neighborhood to participate in school landscaping, cleaning, and classroom setup with Big Shoulders Fund, which supports inner-city schools throughout Chicago. The team did a cleanout of a shuttered school in the area, which has been closed since 2005. When they left, the preschool was ready for students and the front entry landscaping was updated.
“The school is being brought back to life through community donations,” says Senior Consultant II Ingrid Brauer. “We cleaned and set up two kindergarten and preschool rooms. Bring on the kids!”
BKD Chicago volunteers with Big Shoulders Fund. Volunteers: Ingrid Brauer, John Schabes, TevinTerel Johnson, Jim Boie, Nick Massura, Morgan Snook, Batul Kapasi, Patrycja Zima-Wojnicki, Tori Chan, and Drew Neville.
Chicago BKDers wrap up a fun day of school landscaping, cleaning, and classroom setup.
BKDers also gave back to their local food banks in Colorado and Salt Lake City. Combined, the teams packed more than 11,000 pounds of food for the Food Bank of the Rockies and Utah Food Bank. Mitch Jelniker of the Food Bank of the Rockies estimates BKD employees and interns packed enough food to help provide 5,830 nutritious meals for Colorado families facing hunger. “On top of that, BKD made a generous $20,000 donation that will allow us to provide another 80,000 meals! We’re grateful to have partners like BKD that help us keep up with the increased demand from the pandemic,” he says.
Some offices took their volunteering to the great outdoors. In Houston, BKDers got some fresh air assisting the Galveston Bay Foundation’s Oyster Shell Recycling Program by building linear oyster reefs as part of the foundation’s reef restoration mission. The team built 33 feet of oyster reef, which is roughly 7,700 pounds of recycled oysters, or about 21 bags per volunteer.
“These reefs will help protect the eroded landscape from storms, as well as provide a safe habitat for creatures to grow and thrive in our waters,” explains Campus Recruiter Scarlett Young. Afterward, Houston Partner John Steffes and his wife hosted the group at their bay house for lunch and an afternoon of paddleboarding.
Finally, the local BKD Foundation committee in New York planned a three-day volunteer event with more than 60 teammates who helped plant, preserve, and protect trees and flowers in the city through Trees New York. The service spanned three different locations and involved removing litter and weeds from tree beds, planting flowers, watering, and laying mulch. The team cared for more than 70 trees and enriched an entire avenue. One month after the three-day event, BKD’s New York team also partnered with Long Island Cares to plant vegetables and pack food for Long Island students in need. Led by Partner Sal Shah and his daughter Mahi, the event was held in Hauppauge, Long Island, and also included youth programming called Learning to Earn, which provides an overview of hunger and poverty in Long Island.
Madiha Kanwal is an active member of the office’s BKD Foundation committee and explains that to help promote and reward volunteer activity within the office, the group recognizes a monthly winner based on individual volunteer hours for the month.
“Our Foundation committee believes in giving back to the community. I’m blessed to work with such a wonderful team of people who are not only dedicated to their work, but have a generous heart for helping others and making a difference,” she says.
Senior Managing Consultant Kettly Bell and Report Processing Specialist Takwa Southerland volunteering with Trees New York.
Director Aaron Shapiro volunteering with Trees New York.
Senior Audit Associate Madiha Kanwal volunteering with Trees New York.
Teammates in and out of the office
From pizza and laughs in the break room to a back-to-back happy hour and paint night, every BKD team celebrated the return to the office in their own way. BKD’s Springfield, Missouri, office and National Office enjoyed the joint BKD Office Olympics, where teams gathered for the javelin pool noodle throw, paper basketball shootout, and team coffee run obstacle course. In Omaha, the public sector team put their creative and critical thinking skills to the test at a local escape room. With the delayed tax deadline, many celebrated April 15 on June 15, including San Antonio Tax Partner John Bruce and his team. John has also held an annual summer party as a way to kick off the season and welcome new interns to BKD. The party has become a great way to beat the Texas heat and enjoy food, drinks, and a beautiful Hill Country view.
Campus Recruiter Baylin Petrillo kicked off intern week in true St. Louis style at the Anheuser-Busch brewery.
Campus recruiters across the board celebrated BKD interns with bowling, golf, rooftop happy hours, and a tour at the Anheuser-Busch brewery. Of course, the interns also had a healthy dose of job shadowing and learning opportunities.
“Not only are our interns gaining the knowledge and skills they’ll need at BKD during their internship, but the relationships forged in the fun of these activities during summer intern week will be the glue that binds,” says Human Resources Manager Nicole Bremer.
Nicole transitioned to BKD during the pandemic and found comfort in the firm’s transparency and authenticity. BKD’s commitment to its long-standing culture of taking care of its employees helped many feel heard, valued, and connected. By releasing timely internal emails, developing work from home and mental health resources, and issuing team bonuses, BKD helped alleviate a level of anxiety and provide a supportive path forward.
“The people at BKD are amazing, and this is due to the fact BKD recognizes that people must be at their best personally to be productive and effective. Our People First culture invests in our physical, mental, and emotional well-being,” says Nicole.
Even though more and more BKDers are returning to the office, gathering with colleagues and within their communities, the sense of excitement won’t wear off any time soon. To quote Campus Recruiter Anna-Marie Parker after a day spent with colleagues, “When you’re this happy to be back together, you know you’re with the right team.”
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