How Tellepsen Helped Employees After Hurricane Harvey

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How Tellepsen Helped Employees After Hurricane Harvey

When disasters strike, most people’s first impulse is to take care of their family. For Tellepsen, a leading building business in Houston, employees are family.

So when Hurricane Harvey brought widespread flooding to the Houston area in August 2017, Tellepsen used Smartsheet to find out the status of more than 500 employees spread throughout the sprawling Houston metro area, and get help and resources to the people who needed them.

Photo courtesy of Tellepsen

Tellepsen teams were already using Smartsheet to manage materials tracking, deadlines and deliverables, and employee HR-related processes. The solution’s collaboration features and flexibility made it an invaluable tool for managing deadlines and sharing information and process steps across teams.

What the teams weren’t expecting: Smartsheet was also invaluable in helping to get colleagues much-needed help and became the main tool for locating people during a devastating natural disaster.

Sending Help After a Hurricane

Hurricane Harvey brought unprecedented rainfall to the Houston area; more than 48,000 homes were flooded, with more than 1,000 totally destroyed and more than 17,000 sustaining severe damage. Human Resources director Maryanne Henn was in a neighborhood that wasn’t severely hit, but as she watched the news coverage, she knew a lot of her Tellepsen colleagues were in trouble — and she needed to find a way to help.

Photo courtesy of Tellepsen

“We’re a family-owned organization, and the culture is that everyone is family,” Henn says. “If someone’s in the hospital, everyone at Tellepsen knows. We send flowers and food; we visit. It’s part of our culture. So when the floods hit, the first thing that people thought was, ‘Oh my gosh, where is the Tellepsen family? Where is everybody?’”

Henn realized that trying to phone team members would be far too slow. Instead, she spent about 10 minutes creating a Smartsheet form with drop-down fields that employees could use to check in as safe, in a shelter, or in need of rescue from approaching floodwaters. She and company managers sent employees a branded link to the form via text message, email, Facebook, and Twitter.

The link was easy to recognize as a Tellepsen message at first glance; more important, the form was easy to complete even on mobile devices, which Henn knew would be one of the few possessions that flood-displaced employees would have available while making their way to safety.


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Employees’ incoming responses to the form instantly populated a sheet that Henn and her team used to check off who was safe, and get help to those who weren’t. Henn could quickly refresh and sort to zero in on who needed her attention immediately.

“An awesome function of Smartsheet is that you can turn a cell a certain color if it meets certain conditions,” Henn says. “During the hot hours of the crisis, if someone chose the drop-down ‘in a shelter,’ the line item went red. If they chose ‘taking on water,’ it went yellow. I didn’t have to sift through 200 names; I would see that someone popped up red and I had to call.”

Tellepsen employees quickly responded; as Henn anxiously refreshed the sheet every few minutes, more and more responses poured in. She could see who had the most pressing needs, then reach out to a growing cadre of volunteers who were offering rescue, places to stay, children’s clothing, diapers and other baby supplies, and more.

Photo courtesy of Tellepsen

“We used Smartsheet for deploying volunteers,” Henn says. “In the very beginning, when the floodwaters receded, we knew which houses to deploy construction crews over to their homes and help them start taking out the drywall — the mold spreads so fast, you have to get in there right away. Other people in the community had to wait weeks for an adjuster to come, where we were able to come on site the next day.”

In the days and weeks that followed, Henn and the volunteer team organized demolition and repair teams, delivered baby supplies, clothes, and gift cards to colleagues who were in shelters around the city, and organized fundraisers to provide money and resources to help members of their workplace family rebuild their lives.

“Working for another organization, I honestly don’t know who I would have called for help,” says Henn. “The great thing about Tellepsen is we ended up calling them: ‘Hey, I know you’re in trouble. Where are you? We’re going to come and get you.’”

Sharing Solutions Beyond the Company

Mobile screenshots courtesy of Tellepsen

In the aftermath of the hurricane, Henn found herself showcasing Smartsheet to people from other local businesses, who had seen Tellepsen’s Facebook posts with the employee check-in link. Other major employers in Houston wanted to know how they could prepare themselves for future emergencies and help their own teams as promptly as Tellepsen had responded to Hurricane Harvey.

“There were a lot of companies saying, ‘Why don’t we have it together quickly enough?’ We didn’t either — we just looked like we did,” Henn says. “I thought, how am I going to reach all these people? That’s when it clicked: with Smartsheet. It made it look like we were just waiting to check in with people, but was really just quick thinking, and honestly, I don’t know if we would have been able to do it if we didn’t have Smartsheet.”

A Tellepsen director of professional development also uses Smartsheet for evaluating and preparing its ambitious construction project managers for promotions. Go here to learn more.

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