At UES, Inc., our 300 employees faced a myriad of productivity, logistics, and communication challenges as we responded to COVID-19 yet we continued our work uninterrupted to deliver scientific research and technical expertise to the Department of Defense (DoD). We focus on several disciplines including materials science, aerospace power and propulsion, bio and nanoscale technologies, surface engineering, photonic and electronic technologies, additive manufacturing, and product development.
UES is also an active member of SEMI Nano-Bio Material Consortium (NBMC), a public-private partnership with Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), and has been a part of the organization since its inception in 2013. Dr. Stephaney Shanks, Director of our newest division, Integrative Health and Performance Sciences (IHPS), is currently acting as the NBMC Governing Council Chairperson. IHPS is setting the standard for high-level research in the Air Force Research Laboratory’s 711th (711 Human Performance Wing) and beyond.
Its areas of focus include advancing marker discovery in air and biofluids, sensor development, evaluating microbiomes for health and performance, toxicology, industrial hygiene, and high-throughput screening for genetic and chemical exposure. Most of our employees work at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, which is offsite of our corporate headquarters and product development labs.
Here are some examples of how our COVID-19 response efforts have not only worked, but helped us thrive during this difficult period, enabling us to continue our vital research for the Air Force and our product innovation work in our corporate labs.
1. Pursuing Research Projects to Support COVID-19 Solutions
Staffed primarily by scientists and engineers, UES holds a distinct position in supporting the fight against COVID-19. Our entire organization strongly supports finding solutions to the problems brought on by the pandemic to make life safer for everyone.
With our AFRL partners and in our UES labs, we pursued new proposals and began projects to combat the pandemic’s problems. We’re developing rapid devices for detection of breath biomarkers that may indicate COVID-19 infection status to provide non-invasive testing capabilities. We are also pursuing point-of-care devices for real-time assessment of COVID-19 outside of the clinical environment, and we are developing models of the protein spikes of SARS-CoV-2 that could be used to further improve detection capabilities.
UES also extended active research toward COVID-19 patient transport on cargo aircraft. We have been working with the 711 HPW to develop computational models to evaluate biological agent dispersal in cargo aircraft.
UES is conducting research into the biological agent dispersal patterns in cargo aircraft.
2. Enacting an Effective Work-from-Home Policy and Format
Before the pandemic, most of our employees did not have the option to regularly work remotely. However, by the end of March 2020, UES needed to respond to both DoD and Ohio government orders to stay at home. This presented new challenges. How do we keep laboratory/bench-based staff working? How do we keep all staff mentally engaged while teleworking?
As luck would have it, we moved to Office 365 in February. That technology rollout proved to be a significant advantage in our COVID-19 response. Employees maximized their use of Microsoft Teams by sharing files, collaborating, using chat functions, and hosting video meetings. UES also utilized GoToMeeting for larger group meetings and real-time group file sharing/editing.
By late March, our management team provided a tracker file in Excel format for all employees to document daily technical progress. This proved to be an excellent method to track projects, monitor staff COVID-19 symptoms or exposure, and record work location as the AFRL and UES labs began to allow small teams to return. This also kept managers in touch with employees on a weekly basis about ongoing work. It not only created extra layers of accountability, but also demonstrated progress and achievements week to week.
Microsoft Office 365 has proved its usefulness to UES during the pandemic.
3. Offering Support to Employees and the Community
The overall wellness of our employees and the Dayton region is part of our mission at UES. As we resolved logistical issues and reshaped how we collaborated and delivered results, our leadership team began to focus on how to best support employees and our local community. A few activities supported this effort:
- We provided masks to all employees, along with an informational visual guide for best practices in wearing and caring for a mask. Safety has been a top priority for all employees.
- We started offering virtual Coffee Talks and Happy Hours. These company-wide online meetings gave employees a chance to reconnect and share concerns. We also shifted our Fitness Classes to an online format.
- We utilized our social media channels to engage with employees and share resources.
- We allocated community support to vulnerable populations (food banks and a domestic violence center). UES gave corporate donations, as well as shared non-financial ways to support the community with employees.
This pandemic has brought plenty of challenges, but we're impressed by everyone's innovation and resilience. Every UES team member played an active role in adapting, not just to continue their daily work, but to be a part of the solution and support the community.
UES used social media to share remote working tips with employees.
Dr. Nina Joshi is president and CEO of UES, an award-winning innovative science and technology company based in Dayton, Ohio that provides its government and industry customers with superior research and development expertise, world-class technical support and value-added management services. A unique philosophy emphasizes passion for advancing science, dedication to superior service and commitment to enhancing careers. Contact the company here.