October 2020: Tips for Business Leaders to Respond to COVID

Top tips for business leaders to respond to COVID – Best practices to embrace for success

The pandemic has tested all organizations and their ability to adapt to a world of virus risk and social distancing. Adapting the work environment to stay viable has meant embracing remote work, redesigning office space, and virtually connecting. The impact of COVID-19 on employee morale, expenses, and budgets has business leaders reevaluating the contours for our next phase of normalcy.

Warren Whitney’s team recently facilitated roundtables discussion with the HR Leaders and CFO/Controllers in the Greater Richmond community to discuss and share ideas on how best to respond to the crisis related to:

  • Expense Management & Budgeting
  • Morale, motivation, and retention in the COVID workplace

These roundtables produced best practices beneficial for all businesses. This article recaps the key learnings and takeaways.

FINANCE & ACCOUNTING: Expense Management & Budgeting

1. Reduce and Manage Expense

Cost control is a strategy embraced by organizations when conditions are challenging. It is the practice of identifying and reducing expenses to increase profits. Tight cost controls strengthen the business and provide flexibility. To start this process, evaluate how the pandemic has impacted your costs; there are savings to be found due to remote work. Overall, remote work provides businesses with the opportunity to lower expenses associated with computers, printing costs, phones, electricity, heating, and air conditioning. In addition to that, consider reducing other office expenses such as breakroom snacks and coffee.

Fewer meeting expenses, travel, entertainment, and conferences are other places where savings may be realized; these savings can be anticipated for the rest of 2020 and into 2021. Another expense subject for review is cleaning services. If your office space is used less often due to remote work, consider reducing the frequency. On the flip side, if you use your office space, you will want to ensure that the proper cleaning protocols are followed. Another possibility for potential savings is with your equipment leases; there may be room to renegotiate the lease.

With the pandemic revealing that many employees are happier and equally (if not more) productive working remotely, consider evaluating your office space and how much space is needed.  It may be only a conference room, and a few workstations will suffice. Part of the evaluation should include:

  • Record the number of in-person meetings and how much your workforce is using the office.
  • Surveying your workers; do they need access to an office? If yes, how often would they use it?
  • Evaluate your storage and equipment needs.

If staff continues to work remotely, consider investing in improvements for their home office/space, such as desk organizers, house plants, or air infuser. This will help employees remain productive, focused, and motivated.

2. Budgeting

During uncertainty and unpredictability, it is critical to budget for various scenarios each month and closely monitor cash flow, receivables, and payables. With many businesses experiencing difficulty choosing a basis for the budget, it is helpful to understand how your customers/clients are being impacted. Pay close attention to their financial position and ability to continue your services. Are you an expense they may need to cut? Another point mentioned during the roundtable is while some have not felt the impact on their revenue stream, the pandemic has increased labor and materials costs, depressing margins.

Additionally, check with your commercial insurance carrier.  Ask about COVID credits to offset your premiums.  Examine your worker’s compensation expenses which may be substantially different if your employees are working from home now versus their previous setting.  Be sure to review for any virus/pandemics exclusions.

HUMAN RESOURCES: Changes in the COVID Workplace

1. Unique challenges in the workplace as a result of COVID

Business leaders are faced with a new set of challenges as a result of the domino effect of the pandemic. Some of them are effectively recruiting, addressing unused PTO/ vacation, and showing appreciation to employees that have demonstrated commitment and dedication to their job.

To start, successfully recruiting and conducting interviews is not easily done virtually. The challenge is attracting recruits, getting to know them, and selling your company without the in-person, one-on-one meetings. Hiring for cultural fit is one of the most difficult parts of the interview process for both the job seeker and the employer. The best practice to adopt is to intentionally communicate your culture knowing that the candidate does not have the opportunity to sit in the waiting room, observe lunchtime or meetings, or any office dynamics. Focus on a culture of collaboration, communication, and respect. Explain how those values are carried out virtually.

Another concern to address is the many unused PTO/vacation days that have not been taken due to the stay at home restrictions and not being able to go away on vacations. The challenge is making sure employees take their PTO/ vacation time before the end of 2020 and not all at once. The best practice is to build awareness and a policy now to avoid everyone wanting to take time off at the same time, such as year-end or your busy cycle. If necessary, temporarily modify this year’s and/or next year’s time off policy (i.e., carryover days).

Lastly, another item to address is with unemployment numbers being historically high, it’s easy to develop a false sense that employees will not be recruited. However, with companies now being able to cast a broader net geographically due to remote work, top talent is actively being pursued. Organizations need to show their employees they appreciate their commitment, hard work, and dedication. The challenge is how to keep a loyal workforce. The best practice to embrace is to show your appreciation monetarily (can be small), verbal, or both! It is the recognition and acknowledgment that matters; the investment is in the relationship. Employees will be receptive and appreciative.

In addition to the above, take the opportunity to document the key learnings and develop strategies based on them. Remember, practice makes perfect, and everyone is learning along the way!

2. Support and manage employee morale and motivation

Employee burnout is a real problem and causes exhaustion, a growing mental distance from work, and lower productivity. The emotional toll due to the pandemic is a serious issue that needs consistent and constant attention. It is the business leader’s and manager’s responsibility to reenergize and motivate their workforce. Here are effective tools to show support and reconnect with your team:

  • Increase your communication and build a strong 2-pronged communication strategy; broad company-wide communication and individual conversations. Consider dividing up the management team, so each executive periodically connects one-on-one with a specific group of employees.
  • Address exhaustion by giving employees a day off and be accommodating to people’s schedules.
  • Offer virtual happy hours, pet shows, and opportunities for people to open up with one another during these informal gatherings, which will help break down walls between coworkers.
  • Implement tracking codes to monitor who does have work or doesn’t have extra capacity.
  • Gradually bring people back in the office 1 or 2 days per week.
  • Evaluate current methods to support employee and skill development. Consider new ways to train your workforce that are exciting. This is an important element to keep employees engaged and motivated.

If you have any questions or seek further clarification on these items, please call us at 804.282.9566. Warren Whitney is available to evaluate your readiness for today’s new operating environment. Our fractional assistance and project work can help you think through decisions and execute strategies. We can put together cash flow projections, manage HR issues, adapt technology and processes, and devise a strategic plan. We Make Potential Happen.