Pandemic. Yes, it really happened. And, yes it has been a major interruption to life as we knew it. It also gave us a moment to pause, redefine priorities and find new ways to connect with the people with whom we share our lives.
As the effects of the pandemic touched most of the earth’s inhabitants, what became clear is that we may be going through this together, but the experience is very different for each person. And, as we look for ways to continue to safely re-enter the three-dimensional world we left behind on March 11, 2020, knowledge, common sense, safety, priorities and creativity have been playing important roles in that re-entry process.
Making Business Fun Again
Last summer, Meggan Kerber, associate vice president of advancement at Alvernia University, introduced tailgate coffee. By carrying two tailgating chairs and a small table in her car, she was able to stay connected face-to-face with colleagues, co-workers and friends on a regular basis. It also provided a way for Kerber and her husband to enjoy take-out meals from their favorite restaurants, while appreciating scenic views around the area.
David Wise II, owner of six 1-800-GOT-JUNK? locations, is committed to the people in his company. Wise clearly recognizes the importance of relationships and developing the people in a business. Even though company sales were trailing behind during the pandemic, Wise found creative ways to make the business fun again and keep the team together while inspiring collaboration.
Wise initially rented a movie theater and catered individual meals to give everyone a night out. More recently, he took team members to Miami for a company meeting and a bit of water sports. As a result, he noted the team was better equipped to work “on” the business instead of being stuck in the business. The connectedness, conversations, level of innovation and the outlook and ownership of the future, came more easily than it could have through a virtual setting.
“There are ways to be safe and smart in bringing people together,” Wise told me. “The intangible benefits of bringing people together are big. It’s too difficult building and deepening relationships on Zoom. Need to be shoulder to shoulder, working better together. Things you might think are obvious, might not be to others. It’s easier to see it when you’re in person.”
Staying Connected To Your Industry
Industry partners, Bill Fraser, Fraser – Advance Information Services, West Reading; John Kuchta, All Copy Products, Lincoln, Nebraska; and Barry Simon, Datamax, Inc., Little Rock, Arkansas, were together recently for an industry conference. Because their businesses support clients on the frontlines, it was critical for them to join a group of 70 colleagues, peers and suppliers to learn about the efficiencies of new products being introduced, work through supplier mergers, supply chain issues and strategies and be able to support each other as many of their peers across the country were struggling.
All three business leaders agreed that the conference attracted a higher attendance this year, there is a pent-up demand for travel and socialization and a key topic of discussion centered around ideas on how to get everybody back to work, starting with the hospitality industry.
We Are Open, Keep People Working
In talking with these business leaders, it became apparent how much they have in common. Each company leveraged their healthy workplace culture as the foundation for navigating the pandemic. Employee and client safety were always at the forefront as they put recommended and practical protocols in place, and kept the lines of communication with their employees, vendor partners and community wide open.
Kuchta spoke about his company’s mantra “We are Open,” and what it meant to live it. Living the mantra takes a lot of extra planning, training and practicing safety protocols. “We were aware many employees in the industry had been furloughed. We did everything we could to take care of our 450 employees across seven states, and keep everyone working. Some at home, some onsite at our client locations (local and remote), and some in the office. Safety always came first, regardless of how far they had to travel to perform their work.”
Doing The Right Thing
On March 4, 2020, Simon started hearing about a shut-down in the country. “When it was announced, we decided to keep everyone on the payroll, even if they were not productive. It was the right thing to do. We also identified who of our team members could work from home and who could not. Engineers and technicians were considered essential to support frontline clients. The salespeople are social people and they did not like working at home, so we brought them back to the office. We had misting machines, kiosks for taking temperatures and other tools to help keep people and environments safe. When we needed to be onsite, we made sure everyone was safe with proper protective equipment.”
Sharing a common ideal of “our people first,” gave Wise, Fraser, Kutcha and Simon the impetus to not lose their focus, look at the situation from all perspectives, gain as much knowledge as possible, keep moving forward, bond more closely with their teams through constant and open communication, and make the best qualified decisions.
As many companies and employees currently prefer a virtual world of work, the long-term effects are yet to be determined. Using safety and common-sense protocols as a clearly defined position, helped each of the four companies quickly regain their connection to a three-dimensional world.
What steps are you taking, and how will they impact the future of your company, employees and outlook for what’s next?
Bonnie Sussman-Versace is a principal at FOCUSED LLC in Wyomissing, who leads business and leadership development forums for emerging and next generation leaders. She can be reached at [email protected].