As coronavirus mandates unnerved business owners and managers, information flooded in from the internet, social media, news organizations and government agencies. The advice has been similar but overwhelming: limit necessary travel; avoid contact with others; and venture out to the businesses that can remain open only when you must.
But what about communication with the customers, employers, peers, mentors and others who created your core relationships before the crisis and who will remain critical after it ends? How are different leaders handling those challenges? What is working? What isn’t? And what are the stories that provide inspiration?
John Dame, a CEO coach and business consultant based in Harrisburg, realized that top managers would struggle with what to do about the unprecedented crisis, so he and his son, Ed Dame, set up a forum for leaders to chat about their experiences and to share their stories. The first forum, held March 20, attracted about 50 people to the electronic meeting place offered by Zoom, where participants can join a virtual meeting, see everyone’s face and chat about what is on their minds.
That initial forum evolved over last weekend into #BizCares and a dedicated website at https://bizcares.org where other resources for business owners and managers will be posted, as well as stories about ways in which businesses are helping their communities.
“CEO’s, the people I deal with, are sick about this, and they want to help people, so this can be a conduit as a way to help,” John Dame said. “What we are trying to do is give people an opportunity to talk about all the positive and uplifting things that are going on.”
The virtual interaction provides a sense that business people are not alone, and their networks still are intact, he said.
“It generated a positive feeling, getting together as a community with ideas on how to help people,” John Dame, who writes a periodic column for the Central Penn Business Journal, said about the first forum. “… But it is not just to feel good. I actually feel like we can make a difference.”
The group agreed to collect documents and ideas that could be shared, which led to the hashtag and new website. Some of it is being developed as the issues shift daily with new developments and announcements.
“As we navigate uncharted waters, businesses all over the world are providing leadership through small and large acts of care,” the new website says. “We started #BizCares to share these stories and inspire others to do more good in the world.”
The initial forum primarily included people from the Harrisburg region but also from other areas, such as Florida and Washington, D.C., John Dame said. Anne Deeter Gallaher, who owns Deeter Gallaher Group based in Camp Hill, listened in on the Friday forum and expects to do so again on Fridays at 2 p.m. Her company specializes in public relations, marketing and digital media, and she constantly reminds clients that there is no such thing as over communicating.
The trick will be to do so with a personal touch, despite the heavy restrictions that have been put in place, she and others said. The transition to electronic meetings and virtual interactions was something that her workers had done long ago. They already had been working remotely with clients. For other companies who are not used to such technologies, they will need to get up to speed quickly.
Gallaher said she knows of one small-business owner who runs a women’s clothing shop who set up an e-commerce site last weekend, almost immediately after Gov. Tom Wolf announced that all non-essential businesses must close. Long term, Gallaher said, the changes being made will fundamentally alter the way companies conduct business.
“This is a new normal,” said Gallaher, adding that businesses will need to constantly adapt while the crisis unfolds. “…The winners are going to be able to make these changes almost hourly.”
The forum and sharing of resources will give participants an edge, she added. For example, as a communications company, she advises clients to make sure that they take control of the messaging. One big mistake could be making a change and telling a few people, who then spread the word through social media before the rest of the team has heard about it from the owner or CEO.
Ed Dame indicated that such tips are at the core of what the forums hope to address.
“We really are focusing on people,” said Ed Dame, who has been handling the technical logistics for the forum and website. “We are helping to facilitate it and get the word out.”
Beware of security issues
Zoom is one of many different meeting platforms, and companies with specific needs or ideas can share their advice, he explained. Gallaher and the Dames said that the solutions also could create problems, such as with legal considerations or with cyber security, so an organic forum will help people learn and adapt.
Brad Olena, director of marketing and business development for Summit Technology Group in Cumberland County, said he wasn’t aware of the #BizCares effort. But he said his company has been coaching clients on being careful when setting up new systems or access points to sensitive information.
“Safe, secure and compliant,” said Olena. “With all these new ways of working from home, you have to make sure you are OK.”
Summit specializes in helping companies in the banking industry transition to cloud computing, and its training is available to other industries, including insurance, architecture, engineering, construction and education.
While forums like Zoom or GoToMeeting are secure, he said, companies could run into issues when they get employees to work from home and they tap into work computers through their home systems with virtual desktops. Compliance and security issues could arise if the connections are not done properly, he said, adding that it would be best to consult with firms familiar with such hazards.
John Dame said a lot of companies will be looking for sound advice about all sorts of topics. Gallaher said small companies such as hers don’t have human resources departments.
“What can we do to keep the lights on?” she said.
The more businesses can pool resources, the better for everyone, John Dame said.
“This is a radical disruption with the way they are working,” John Dame said, adding that the lessons will remain long after a cure is found for the virus. “A lot of the leaders I work with think this will change the way people work in the future.”