Fresh N Lean CEO: 7 Lessons I Learned During Covid

Thomas Asseo shares the wisdom he gained from leading the organic meal delivery company during the coronavirus pandemic.

Running a company is hard enough. But running a company during the Covid-19 pandemic has been the most challenging situation I’ve encountered in my professional career. This past year has presented so many obstacles and challenges, as well as opportunities.

Here are the lessons I learned and wisdom I gained from leading the organic meal delivery company Fresh N Lean during the coronavirus pandemic.

1. Be prepared to adjust.

Fresh N Lean made immediate adjustments and remained vigilant when the pandemic began — we needed to maintain employee safety while also meeting the growing demand for direct-to-consumer meals. We couldn’t slow down, but we also couldn’t put our employees at increased risk.

We mandated masks and social distancing, staggered shifts, instituted quality control measures like disinfecting surfaces more frequently, and scanned employee temperatures when they walked through the door. We also ramped up hiring, provided more flexibility in scheduling and allocated extra emergency sick time in case anyone was experiencing Covid-19 symptoms. The last thing we wanted was someone who was sick to put their colleagues at risk because they were too worried to miss a shift.

Things were different because of the pandemic. We couldn’t simply make like everything was normal and maintain a “business as usual” approach. We tried to maintain as much flexibility and stability as we could.

2. Stay calm.

During the tough times, your employees will look to you for patience and calm — courage under fire. The example you set matters. Your personal leadership style filters down through your organization. You can be honest and vulnerable with your team while also maintaining focus on the task at hand. One of the first things we did was communicate our actions to our employees and customers with messages. We strove to be direct and clear with our stakeholders and avoided taking short-sighted measures that were fueled by fear like raising our rates.

3. Everybody hurts.

People are struggling and facing lots of stress and uncertainty in their lives, and tough times require leaders to be extra sensitive to others’ needs. Empathy—the ability to walk in others’ shoes—is a powerful tool.

Our jobs are about more than simply meeting a benchmark or fulfilling an order. As leaders, it’s important to keep everything in context. Employees are looking for more than a paycheck—they want to feel a connection to their job and company, and to know that you care about them on a personal level.

While the pandemic isolated us from friends and family and took away normalcy from even mundane tasks like going to the grocery story, our jobs provided one element that could help us feel less isolated and less lonely.

4. Be essential.

When you think of essential workers, your mind drifts to doctors and nurses and frontline workers, but food service workers are essential, too.

Thankfully, Fresh N Lean was deemed an essential business at the start of the pandemic. That designation allowed us to stay open during lockdowns. Over the past year, we have remained especially vigilant about food safety guidelines and stayed in close contact with our suppliers.

We’ve been proud to meet a need for our customers and give people peace of mind so they don’t have to worry where their next meal is coming from.

5. Nutrition matters.

During tough times, it’s easy to lose sight of healthy eating and to fall back on comfort foods and ordering takeout.

But nutrition matters. Fresh N Lean was founded with the goal of providing people nourishing meals to help them fuel their busy lives. Quality fuel should be available for everyone.

Cooking a meal might not fit into your schedule, especially when balancing work and family responsibilities and a wave of digital meetings. Our heat-and-eat meals—which don’t require any assembly or preparation—represent a solution in today’s high-speed world.

5. Give back.

How can you make the biggest impact? The pandemic has forced all of us to consider how we can give back.

Fresh N Lean has been honored to provide meals for Prince Jackson’s Heal Los Angeles Foundation and other causes that feed those in need, supporting the most vulnerable people in our communities and teaming with school groups to help fight hunger.

Building a better world means balancing financial growth with altruistic efforts. And I hope that sense of compassion continues in the years ahead.

7. Find a new normal.

The tough times won’t last forever, and we’re starting to see some semblance of normalcy return as the country has experienced widespread vaccination coverage. But even as we approach a new normal, it’s important not to lose sight of the lessons we’ve learned during the past year.

Companies should have contingency plans in place and be prepared to shift when obstacles inevitably arise (and they will). But those obstacles will also help you reconsider your company’s processes and procedures and uncover the best path forward.