5 Lessons Businesses Need To Learn From The Pandemic

This post was written by Emily Martin, Owner of Ally HR Partners LLC

This past year has been incredibly difficult for everyone.

But as we move toward “normal” and begin to reach the other side, there is undeniable value to be taken away from the hard lessons that COVID taught us- many we may not have learned if not forced to do so. We’ve put together our top 5 take-aways we think every business needs to come out with, or risk missing the opportunity within this tragedy.

1) Making Human Resources a priority is too mission-critical to ignore anymore

Let’s be honest, many businesses exist for a long time without any real HR expertise on staff, often resigning this function to administrative tasks, or “fluff”. Arguably the businesses who have weathered the pandemic with the greatest resiliency and agility are those who had a dedicated resource to lead the business through the mine-field of pre-dominantly people-related risks and opportunities that COVID presented. This includes strategies to have employees work remotely, ensuring the company was compliant with changing leave obligations, and navigating new employee relations issues that emerged during this unprecedented time. HR people also helped businesses stay on top of financial-aid developments that were extremely beneficial, including PPP details and COVID leave tax credit processing. The value of this resource surely proved itself during the past year, and without a doubt will continue to do so as the fallout of the pandemic will continue with variables like increased risks for employment claims, unemployment challenges, and permanently situated remote workers presenting new challenges not going away.

The collateral damage your business has either suffered or avoided during this time also likely directly correlates with the strength of the people-advisor input for your business. Consider how well your leadership navigated COVID in the eyes of your staff. The extent to which you were pro-active, empathetic, compliant, or confident in your responses certainly has made an impression on your employees, and this experience, as well as how you move forward from here, has and will impact the credibility and trust between you and your people for the long-haul. Mishandling events like COVID can cause serious, long-lasting damage to everything from productivity, retention, and hiring efforts. All of this underscores the significance of a dedicated HR skillset within ANY business, and the real and tangible business implications of recognizing this. 

2) You must adapt; flexibility is no longer optional – it’s required

A big takeaway here is that none of us have the amount of control we thought we did. 

Whether a natural disaster, pandemic, or government order, our control over maintaining “business as usual” is limited. If you didn’t have a contingency plan in place for your business before, you must realize the necessity of this now. COVID has put to bed any poorly-aged excuses that argued that a certain level of adaptability was not possible for your business. When forced to flex your business last year, you did. This includes employees working remotely, setting up a take-out operation, or completing business transactions virtually.

On this note, aside from a survival need for flexibility, the expectation for flexibility has also changed. The gig is up. Employees now know that the previous narrative that required them to be tethered to an office or standard work schedule is bogus. Sure, you can demand a return to “normal” and ask employees to return to their old 9-5 commuting routine, but with their new awareness and expanded options to stay flexible (many employers are not going back to offices), don’t expect them to stick around, and prepare yourself for some turnover and hiring challenges compared to your enlightened-employer competitors.

3) You’re not above financial assistance, you’re just being foolish

It’s time to put your pride aside. Everyone was hit by this pandemic, and as a result, there is a plethora of assistance available to businesses in all industries and of all sizes. You would be foolish to not take advantage of these opportunities- often which have no strings attached (grants, interest-free loans, etc). It’s not your fault you couldn’t do business for most of last year, or that you had to take on certain additional costs as a result of the same government shutdowns or orders. Do your homework, contact your bank or CPA, and get your assistance now. This includes a second round of PPP funding (have to apply by March 31st!), and new grant funding for those in the hospitality space (coming soon) under the Restaurant Revitalization Grant. 

Also, check out our article on Hourly Hiring Opportunities for long-term tax credits you can be taking for certain hourly hiring under the WOTC program.

4) You can’t afford to be wasting money on services and systems that aren’t helping you

One silver lining of the pandemic has been the perspective it has offered us in so many ways. This includes lessons on how you spend your precious, limited, money. Think about the last year- which of your vendors/suppliers/partners were of value to your business, and which were not? Did your CPA help notify you of the available COVID assistance in a timely fashion and walk you through applying? Did your payroll provider help you with reporting needed for PPP, or did they make sure you were getting the tax credit for COVID leave? Did your benefits broker help you understand creative coverage options for laid-off staff? Where was your attorney in all of this? There are plenty of fish in the sea when it comes to service providers and vendors. If yours aren’t working for you, they are working against you and costing you money that you can’t afford to lose without the most return.

Similarly, if you’re paying for a system (payroll, HRIS, accounting, etc.) and it isn’t making your job easier, then consider why you are using it, or how you can use it better. These systems should be taking administrative tracking and other automatable-tasks off your plate (paid sick leave tracking anyone?). It’s more than likely that you’re using these systems to a fraction of their capability right now, but paying for the total package. Press your providers on helping make this tech work better for you. This also makes sense if you’ve gone to a more remote workforce since non-automated, paper-reliant processes no longer cut it. You need to be using your tech to the fullest, which includes ways it can make you more efficient or productive. Pro-Tip: the 2nd round of PPP can be used to cover tech upgrades, including HR and payroll systems, so jump on this opportunity if you’ve been considering a change! Remember, you must apply before March 31st, and many lenders are closing the process even before then.

5) Your people are your #1 asset (or are they your #1 liability?)

Just like having a dedicated resource for your HR function was probably a huge difference-maker, so likely was the “quality” of your staff. There’s no doubt that the adaptability, empathy, and understanding of your team made a huge difference in how well you weathered this storm, both in a very tangible way, but also in terms of the amount of stress and mental distress it took to get to this side. Did you have staff willing to take a pay cut for the sake of the business’s survival? Or did you have employees quit to get the enhanced unemployment during this time? The impact of this was likely even more significant when considering the quality of your leaders in this way. This experience has hopefully offered some perspective on the real-world significance that having the right people in the right seats can have for your business’s survival. And you have the ability and accountability for making sure that great people are in these positions to do great things for your business. This includes making good/better hiring decisions, as well as more strategic employee management decisions to cut the dead weight, or show appreciation for and retain those who are great assets. The goodness of people and its benefits is real, and that has been demonstrated in more ways than one during this insane time. Have you learned this lesson, and what are you prepared to do with this knowledge?

Don’t let these hard times be all in vain. There is so much to be learned from the experiences of the past year. Those who take the time to make sure they are not squandering this opportunity to gain perspective, are those who are going to come out the other end better than ever. What side do you want to be on?

Have a question about this information, a tough situation you’re unsure how to handle, or just looking for some reassurance? We can help! Ally HR Partners helps HR people, business owners, and other people leaders who are overwhelmed or unsure tackle their problems, and strategically plan to prevent them in the future! Reach us at Emartin@AllyHRPartners.com

This post was written by Emily Martin, Owner of Ally HR Partners LLC, a Buffalo-based HR consulting firm that helps small businesses identify and implement custom solutions to their people problems and opportunities. Often a business’ #1 expense, Ally HR Partners believes your people should be your #1 asset. Through an integrative partnership approach, Ally becomes your internal expert on all things HR including compliance assurance, performance management, and strategic HR initiatives designed to make the most out of your Human Capital. For more information about how Ally can work for you, visit AllyHRPartners.com.

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Step Out Buffalo Business

Step Out Buffalo Business is a business focused publication featuring tips and tricks for entrepreneurs and small business people in Buffalo & Western New York. We write what we know and when we don't know, we ask an expert in the field. We've gained our knowledge through experience growing businesses in various industries.

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