A few people have asked me lately, how do you manage a team and keep a business thriving through COVID-19? What’s it been like?
Well firstly, let’s define thriving. Right now I’d say thriving is maintaining your head count, producing a consistently high quality of work and experiencing happiness and cohesion among the team. Smashing budgets and other bottom-line business objectives out of the park, not so much part of the equation right now!
As a business with a very strong grounding in hospitality, tourism and retail, COVID-19 has certainly seen our revenue tumble, like most businesses in the world. Gratefully our equally strong roster of FMCG, grocery and liquor clients have continued, and in some cases increased their level of activity. Additionally, many of our tourism clients are strategically and rationally keeping a solid presence in the market to set them in good stead as restrictions ease. This has allowed us to keep all staff in jobs.
At the outset of the COVID-19 crisis we were faced with a decision: implement redundancies inline with the forecast inevitable decline in business or keep all staff employed on reduced hours. It didn’t take long to come to the conclusion that retaining all staff was a key priority, long before JobKeeper was a thing. Striking the ideal balance of skill-sets and personalities in a team does not come easily but we’ve done it. Such an assembly of talent, work ethic and good nature is a rare thing we’re determined to hold on to.
To be truthful, for Rich and I who have been running a business from home with two kids under five in tow, managing a smaller staff would be easier in many ways. We’re not about easy though. We’re about quality, energy, teamwork and intelligence.
Here are some of the processes we’ve implemented or continued that have been key to our WFH success so far:
- daily morning Google Meets with all staff rostered that day – a chance to say hi and share key info
- 4pm Friday themed whole-team drinks – when your wardrobe/craft cupboard/mum’s 70’s archive/kids dress-up box is only rooms away, dressing to a theme is easy and gives us some much-needed lols at the end of the work week
- monthly 1/2-hour check-ins with managers – continuing direct two-way feedback sessions has been crucial
- anonymous WFH mental and emotional temperature check surveys – providing clarity around the common threads of concern, discontent and appreciation and illuminating things we would otherwise not have known about
It’s been glorious to see more introverted members of the team shine in this time. Their creativity and confidence has beamed from them in ways I’ve never seen before.
The more extroverted in the bunch have missed the in-person interaction terribly but they’ve continued the excellent work we know and love them for and they live for Friday dress-up drinks now!
I noticed early on that a great benefit of video meetings is the intimacy that comes from “meeting” with people within their own homes – comparing indoor plants, laughing (or else we’ll cry) together about working from garages with the leaf blower and kids’ bikes as workmates. The casualness has bred an openness and vulnerability not as evident before. This has made meetings and decision making more efficient and meaningful – frankly there’s just no room for bullshit now. So we’re feeling closer than ever with clients at the moment and we’ve found that establishing relationships with new clients has also been a deeper process thanks to this intimacy and the true sense that we’re all in this together, despite the fact we might not have met in person yet.
We’ve been in more frequent contact with clients due to the ever-changing nature of the environment we’re currently working in. The phones and emails run hot and most monthly WIP meetings have become fortnightly ones, fortnightlies switched to weeklies, etc.
It’s certainly not all been smooth sailing. I think the entire human race has experienced the three phases of COVID-19-life so far:
- The initial burst of adrenaline and compassion– “We’re all in this together, how can we be of service to each other?”;
- Exhaustion and irritation– “My brain is completely fried from Zoom calls, everyone’s making silly mistakes and I have no patience for ANYTHING!”;
- Acceptance and adaptation– “So I guess plans will change every few days now, it’s cool, we know how to roll with this, onward and upward”.
In Phase 1, the supportive calls and messages from clients were extremely energising. And after I broke the difficult news to our team that all their hours would need to be significantly reduced, they sent Rich and I a stunning bunch of flowers. You know you’re going to get through this when you’re surrounded by such a warm and positive business community.
Phase 2 was a doozy and frankly we’re all still in it to some extent if we’re honest. I like to think we’ve handled everyone’s collective Phase 2 issues as calmly and productively as possible. We probably couldn’t be functioning so well in Phase 3 without living through Phase 2!
Like with all relationships, communication is key and we’ve endeavoured to communicate efficiently and effectively with clients throughout, and will continue to as we always have.
THE ADMINISTRATIONAL NIGHTMARE
Anyone managing a business or team this year will know this nightmare. Never have I felt more deeply awash with administrational decision making.
In March, when the virus was starting to “get real” for Australia and the Government was in guideline rather than restriction mode, deciding the best way forward in terms of office health and safety measures, WFH movements and commercial decisions was really difficult. I’m grateful for a stellar management team who very instinctively and calmly worked with me to create and communicate policies at the right time for our individual business.
With new Government support measures announced (gratefully) what felt like weekly in April, the constant requirement to analyse our situation, forecast, decide and administer business adjustments and communicate them to the team was completely overwhelming at times. I received some great advice to slow down this process and consider and implement any adjustments at the same time weekly so the administrational overwhelm didn’t swamp the other work and my mental load.
All I can say is, thanks to the universe for our amazing bookkeeper and accountant who have been so generous with their time, clarification and hard work, to help us understand and implement all of this change for the best possible outcomes.
So this is the big picture as to how we’ve kept littleBIG thriving in this time.
It’s been overwhelming, exhausting, inspiring, heart-warming, confusing, discombobulating, hard work, surprising, humbling, frustrating, scary and so many other things.
As restrictions gradually ease and businesses become more clear about their short and mid-term plans, momentum is gradually building. New and returning clients are talking to us about how to best harness new interest in their business or a changed landscape – how to make this situation work for them, be it finding new audiences and/or completely changing their offering and how they communicate it. With our full team and well-functioning systems in place, we’re perfectly poised to create and implement smart strategies.
Onwards and upwards we head.
This blog was written by littleBIG founder and director Sally Harley.