Adapting your business strategy during COVID-19
Companies worldwide are having to get creative with their business strategy — not only to serve customers in a time of social distancing, but employees, as well.
Here are a number of ways that can help you trim costs and ensure your customers’ and employees’ needs are met.
Identify new business opportunities
Rethinking the services and products your company offers can compensate for a loss of traffic and sales. Plus, finding alternative ways to attract customers can open up new opportunities for your company down the road, even after business returns to normal. Start by looking at the resources you have on hand (e.g., staffing, supplies, facilities) and evaluating the needs in your community.
For example, we’ve all seen a shift to online ordering and curbside pickup as a response to social distancing restrictions and mandatory dining room closures. But some restaurants have gone even further to adapt, now selling individual food ingredients and pantry items like a grocer, or whipping up ready-made meals to sell in grocery stores.
These types of changes aren’t just limited to the food service industry — many others are pivoting as well. Fitness centers are now serving up virtual workouts. Salons and spas are offering special discounts or self-care kits. Even manufacturing companies that aren’t typically healthcare-oriented are changing gears to produce in-demand products like hand sanitizer, face masks, ventilators and other essential equipment.
Restructure employees for greater impact
If changing market demands has decreased activity in certain areas of your business, you may want to move employees to concentrate on other areas of the business with greater needs. In addition to keeping essential operations running smoothly, restructuring can give team members the opportunity to cross-train and learn new skills.
Here are some other ideas to keep your business running efficiently and your employees productive:
- Perform deep cleaning. Maintaining a clean environment will help protect the safety of your customers, clients and employees. Sanitize shared spaces regularly, and don’t forget to thoroughly clean those commonly overlooked spaces such as walls and ceilings, upholstery and windows.
- Boost (or build) your online presence. Consider adding an online store to your website or setting up online ordering and curbside pickup options. Train your employees to manage and grow your company’s social media presence, which can help customers and clients stay engaged with your brand and up-to-date on things like hours of operation, new services, etc.
- Encourage professional development. Give your team the green light to take online training courses. Courses should be related to their role — or a role they would like to grow into — so that their new knowledge adds value to the team when business ramps up in the future. Or, invite them to take a course for mental health and well-being. Some organizations offering free courses at this time include Coursera and Harvard University.
Offer flexible work arrangements (including workshare programs)
Depending on your business needs, you may want to consider staggering work schedules and reducing hours. Offering flexible schedule options can help you trim overhead costs while keeping employees on the payroll.
Talk to your team to gauge interest on adjusted schedules, and ask for individual preferences. Some may prefer 20 hours a week during morning shifts, while others could work 30 hours a week any time of day.
Consider workshare programs if you plan on reducing hours, which would give employees partial unemployment benefits to help compensate for a loss of income. However, not all states offer workshare programs. If your state does — and a workshare program is right for your business — you’ll generally need to apply in order to participate.
Allow unpaid time off
Consider encouraging your employees to take voluntary unpaid leave — as long as a reduced workforce can keep business up and running — by allowing staff members to take a week, two weeks or more off at a time.
Providing employees with the option to take unpaid leave can help reduce payroll costs and accommodate your staff members’ needs. Many employees may also be feeling generally overwhelmed during these challenging times. Providing the option to take leave can also help ease any anxiety they may be coping with due to COVID-19.
Providing support for your employees
Prioritizing the health and safety of your employees builds trust and shows that you care. These kinds of gestures can go a long way in making your staff feel appreciated in the long run, and could mean they’ll be less likely to search for a new role once the job market recovers.
Communicate clearly — and often
Changes are happening fast in light of COVID-19. While you may not have all of the answers yourself, keep an open line of communication with your employees as you navigate this crisis together.
Keep your employees informed on how the company is responding. Help them understand how you are preparing, any potential changes to the business and what it means for them. Remain calm and transparent in your communications when providing updates. Lastly, give them specific information on who they can contact with questions or concerns, and show them where they can find the latest information (e.g., company wiki, bulletin board, information binder).
Additionally, encourage your team to stay connected on a more personal level, by catching up on things other than work, for example. Check in with your employees routinely and assure them you’re doing what you can to support their well-being.
Show empathy and appreciation
Though we are collectively navigating new challenges, it’s important to remember that not everyone is in the same situation. Some may be struggling financially while others are more concerned with caring for children or eldery parents. Regardless, most are probably managing feelings of stress, anxiety or frustration, so showing your employees care and empathy are more critical now than ever.
Here are some of the ways you can offer support to your employees:
- Relax work expectations. High-stress situations can impair thinking and trigger burnout. Help your employees manage this stress by clearly prioritizing and delegating tasks, encouraging them to ask for help when they need it and finding creative ways to have fun with team activities.
- Keep morale high. Boost morale and engagement by showing appreciation for the hard work your employees are doing — especially those putting their own health on the line as essential workers. This could be as simple as encouraging the team to leave friendly notes for each other or giving kudos in recognition of good work.
- Promote rest and recovery. If an employee doesn’t feel well, instruct them to stay at home and rest until they are better. Giving them time to recover will also reduce the risk of spreading the illness to others.
Positioning your business and employees for a strong recovery
Nurturing your employees’ well-being and ensuring their safety not only promotes goodwill, but also boosts the likelihood they’ll stay with you — even if they’re presented with another opportunity. Instead of training a team of new hires or draining resources, you can free up your time to focus on rebuilding the business.
The more proactive and adaptable your company is during the coronavirus crisis, the more likely your business will be able to recover and thrive after COVID-19.