This article is the 3rd in a series of posts we will share about the support we have provided to our clients as they respond to the challenges presented by the coronavirus. After all, workforce management continues to be the key to your company’s success, and how you respond to this crisis can build your reputation and encourage ongoing loyalty from your employees and your customers or clients.
Despite early fears that the coronavirus shutdown would derail his marketing company, one of our clients is learning that remote working is not only attainable, but it is also a strong model that allowed his company to permanently identify and cut unnecessary overhead.
“I was worried about this particular client during the first few weeks of the shutdown,” said Petra Heffron, an HR Advisor for RSJ/Swenson. “But the situation was not as drastic as the CEO thought. He realized he was carrying facility expenses that were completely useless, and by eliminating these expenses, he could survive.”
Petra noted that the company’s workforce is tech-savvy and already accustomed to using technology to communicate. As a result, the CEO plans on keeping his workforce remote, even after the pandemic restrictions have been lifted.
“A lot of companies can make this model work. They just need to trust the people who work for them,” said Petra.
In his book, The 5 A’s of Great Employees, Eric Swenson wrote about the importance of agility, which he identified as the second trait of great employees. It is also a trait of great companies. Change has always been a constant. Companies that are unable or unwilling to adapt to change will become obsolete, but companies that are agile enough to adapt to change can rethink their models as the landscape changes.
This was true before the global pandemic, and it is even more apparent today. When a company is able to respond to the changes in the landscape, the company is more likely to survive than one that insists on hanging onto infrastructure, models, or even employees that no longer represent today’s needs.
Of course, agility doesn’t look the same for every company. A manufacturing company with a factory and a warehouse, for instance, cannot reasonably expect its factory workers to work remotely.
At RSJ/Swenson, we are helping our clients adapt in the ways most appropriate for their business.
One of Petra’s clients, a hospitality company that was surviving on an existing line of credit, was hit hard by the pandemic when the bank pulled its line of credit. The most agile course of action was to help the company temporarily dissolve. Other loans—even a forgivable PPP loan—would have been ineffective in helping a hospitality company that is facing months and months of nonexistent business opportunities. In this case, dissolving quickly was the smartest course of action. Any other choice would have eaten into the executives’ personal savings.
By temporarily dissolving the company, the company made the best choice for its long-term viability. Employees were able to take advantage of state and federal unemployment and pandemic compensation programs, and executives were able to hold onto their personal savings so that they can restart the company when hospitality rebounds.
Another of Petra’s clients, a manufacturing company that provides plastics used in both the medical and retail industries, was deemed an essential business, but its employees were not following safety guidelines established by the company and the government.
“The company had to respond to this new situation quickly. There wasn’t time to create a verbal warning and a documented warning for workers who weren’t maintaining a safe distance, which is what they would have done in the past,” said Petra. “I advised the company to immediately send any employee home without pay if the employee was failing to follow safety guidelines.”
For other companies, we suggest a softer approach to human resources. One of our clients, a personal injury law firm, has not been hit as hard by the pandemic. Given that they are not facing long-term financial jeopardy, they chose to keep all employees—even file clerks who cannot currently do their jobs—on payroll. This seems like a wise choice: After all, preserving a strong and loyal workforce will help them transition more quickly and with more agility when the firm returns to its offices.
“A positive outcome of this time has been that it’s more professionally acceptable to be personal,” said Petra. “When we discuss the business decisions and what it means to be agile during these times, we also ensure that the person on the other end of the call is okay.”
I have always been a stickler for being on time, but Petra reminded me that agility is important here, too.
“We are all trying to manage our work responsibilities, but we also have to make it okay for a person to be late to a meeting because their kid needed help getting on their Zoom call for school,” said Petra.