How will businesses be different once this pandemic subsides?

While no one knows exactly how things will change after the Coronavirus pandemic, it is safe to say that the traditional 9-to-5 work setting has been disrupted. Black Twig Marketing + Communications (BTMC) reached out to a variety of businesses around St. Louis to find out what they have learned and where they see their businesses going from here.

BTMC: What is one item you had in place that made it easy to transition?

Thom Wellington, CEO, Wellington Environmental: Since we were already active in the Infection Prevention space with hospitals and nursing homes prior to COVID-19, our team knew exactly how to react. We already had plenty of disinfectant, respirators, fogging equipment, gloves, disposable suits and face shields.

Curt Kinney, vice president of advisory services,  Alliance Advisors: Our business was fairly easy to transition as we have been used to working virtually. We have been advising clients how best to utilize tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack for internal communications and Zoom or Skype for customer/client communications. We have also been encouraging sales teams to update their customer relationship management (or CRM) and also coaching them on the most efficient ways to input data.

Tom Swip, president/CEO, Swip Systems: Our virtual private network (VPN) allowed everyone to go home on a Friday and be immediately online on Monday working remotely.

Albert Shoemaker, chief administrative officer, Travelers Protective Association (TPA): We had the ability for senior managers to work remotely from home already in place when the stay-at-home order was issued.

Gregg Smith, CEO, Pearl Solutions Group: As an IT company, we already had most of the items we needed in place to get people set up to work remotely. That way we can still offer the support that our clients still need. Our projects have still been moving forward.

BTMC: What one thing do you wish you would have had in place?

Wellington: We wish we would have had more equipment on hand to handle the disinfecting needs of more clients.

Kinney: A higher speed data plan for my home office. We are an agile company by design, so we were accustomed to being able to nimbly address client questions and challenges as this all unfolded.

Swip: I wish we would have had more projects in the closing stage of the pipeline.

Shoemaker: The ability for all employees to work remotely from home would have been helpful.  However, due to nature of our business, we need to physically open mail to be able process dues payments and to pay insurance claims. In our case, we need to physically be at the office to perform specific job functions.

Smith: Having more video cameras would have been more helpful for us. Our technical team has daily meetings and they need to be able to see each other. It helps them be able to communicate with each other more effectively.

BTMC: How do you feel about your industry’s future?

Wellington: Our regular environmental business depends on a healthy economy. Everyone on TV is talking about a “V” shaped recovery, but with 30 million people without work, I think the recovery will take longer to develop. We are also worried that a second round of COVID cases may occur as businesses open back up, which may further prolong a significant recovery.

Kinney: We are a consulting, advisory, mentoring and coaching company. We think this pandemic will have a similar impact on companies as 9/11 and the great recession did. Many of the changes we have been dealing with over the past 60 days are going to be long-term. We feel there will be good opportunities to work with clients to re-focus and possibly even pivot their businesses to be prepared for similar events in the future.

Swip: I feel very positive. Technology is only going to make these situations easier in the future.

Shoemaker: It is a concern. Our organization has large gatherings. For example, our annual convention was scheduled for late June in Michigan where we were expecting approximately 150 or more people.  Members travel from all over the country to attend, which requires air travel. Due to the virus the annual convention was cancelled for health and safety reasons. Our members also meet at the local and state levels. Going forward, the ability to hold large gatherings, and to do it responsibly and safely, is a concern. However, it also presents an opportunity. People are learning that they can meet electronically through videoconference, which allows business to be conducted without traveling and having to worry about health concerns.

Smith: I am encouraged by our future. Outsourced IT and management services are important. It is great that people continue to rely on us for their IT needs. We’ve been lucky and haven’t had many people cut back on our services.

BTMC: Is there anything that you learned about your business that you didn’t know before the pandemic?

Wellington: I learned that your team will respond if you are honest with them about what they are facing. During our first response to a building with actual COVID cases, we had a circle meeting in the parking lot and explained exactly what we were going to be doing, the dangers of the virus, the importance of our personal protective equipment and how proud I was of each person on that team.  They responded with enthusiasm, and I was proud to be working with them side by side.

Kinney: We feel there will be a greater need for services that we provide going forward. We need to continue to focus on how our decades of experience can be of further value to clients than before life changed.

Swip: I learned how well everyone can come together over remote connections and still take great care of our clients.

Shoemaker: Having the ability to work remotely in times of emergency is great, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. My remote connection to our server is much slower than when I’m in the office, which makes it less efficient. For me, I prefer to be physically in the office.

Smith: Surprisingly after all this happened, we actually got busier as more companies went remote. We had customers who needed us so we did everything we could to keep working remotely. Up until a few weeks ago, we were busier than before this started. Working in IT is a stable business because we are an essential business. We work with a lot of construction and healthcare clients who are also essential, and they have needed our help as they have made this transition as well.

BTMC: Will it change the way you interact with clients? If so, how? If no, why not?

Wellington: One of the hardest things to get used to is not shaking hands. Just the other day, I was on a construction site and guy came right over to me to shake hands and without thinking I shook his hand.  The rest of the day, I washed my hands, the pen I was using, the tools I touched, my steering wheel and anything else I may have touched.

Kinney: There will be more virtual communications as we have learned how incredibly efficient they are. We feel that face-to-face interactions will, therefore, become more valued and impactful.

Swip: I think we will have more video conferences with clients going forward, rather than calls or in person meetings.

Shoemaker: It already has changed the way we interact. Any meetings that we have are now taking place electronically through teleconference or video conference. Health and safety are the top priorities, so we must adapt.

Smith: We’re going to start doing conference calls with new clients at first instead of face-to-face meetings.

BTMC: How will doing business after COVID be different for your company?

Wellington: Many of the hospitals where we work will initiate new protocols such as wearing masks, distancing when possible, and stricter limitations on travel routes inside hospitals to keep more distance between workers and patients.

Kinney: Companies are going to do business differently, and the industries that will be most impacted by this are travel and hospitality. Companies are going to continue to develop virtual sales and communications strategies and structures. Clients are going to need help with everything from having the right personnel in position for those changes, training and building a strategic and operating plan. We will be a more forward-looking company.

Swip: I don’t see much of a difference, other than getting back to more in person meetings and networking.

Shoemaker: Social distancing will be challenging. As a fraternal organization, social gathering is part of our core. We need to be able to do this in a safe way going forward. It’s not only going to be a challenge for our organization, it will be challenging for all companies in the hospitality industries.

Smith: Our future is going to consist of more remote working. We are going to create a scenario where people can do their work remotely. Our office will probably have a scenario with shared desks. Then they can wipe down the shared desks every day. We will also have to figure out how to manage the culture of our company with having so many remote workers. That will be an important step moving forward.

With the future of many companies turning to more remote and less face-to-face, companies will have to make sure employees who work virtually to are engaged with the company. This will be necessary to make those employees feel as if they are part of the company’s culture.

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