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March 2020 will be a month that I remember forever. I’ve been a small business owner for 6.5 years now and this month has been the most challenging period in that journey so far. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions, sleepless nights, hard decisions and every where I turn it’s all about Coronavirus; it’s on the TV and radio, my inbox is full of Coronavirus emails and everybody is talking about it. I’m not alone, every other small business owner (any business owner) is experiencing the same challenges, many are in much more challenging situations with their businesses forced to close. I’m fortunate, my business is still operating. Pivoting seems to be the new buzz word as we all try and adapt our businesses to operate in this new world of working from home and social distancing. As challenging as the last few weeks have been, I’ve learnt a lot about leadership and about being a business owner.
HOW WE ARE OPERATING
It’s business as usual at Inspire HQ, except that now the team don’t come into the office, everyone is working remotely. This was easy for us to do as we had always been set up to work remotely, we’d just never done it all at once. We’ve moved all our internal meetings to Zoom. Recruitment is done online; initial phone screens, Zoom interviews, client meetings over the phone or via Zoom. Zoom has become our best friend as it has for many other businesses. Our HR services are being delivered online too. Phone calls with clients, Zoom meetings again and emails.
The challenge is keeping up team engagement and keeping our IHQ culture alive. We’ve implemented two team catch ups a day, one at 9.15am and one at 2.15pm they are short and sharp, they are not compulsory but most times most of the team are online if they are working and don’t have other meetings. It’s a quick chat, a check in to keep in touch, sometimes we talk work and sometimes it’s just a bit of banter. Sometimes its venting and sometimes it’s about sharing a win one of the team have had. In addition, we still have our team meeting and I still have an individual weekly catch up with each team member.
What I’ve learnt: It’s not the same as face to face but it’s better than nothing. Just as when we all worked in the office together, it’s not a one size fits all. Some team members want and need the couple of check ins, others find it a bit too much – depending on their personality and their need for people interaction. Having the flexibility to allow team members to pick and choose when they attend gives them the flexibility they need to do what works for them but with some guidelines.
More than ever I’m using my listening skills – particularly over the phone with my team. Zoom is good but reading people’s body language isn’t quite the same over Zoom. Hence why I’m mixing up the communication with my team via Zoom and over the phone. Over the phone I feel I hear things I don’t see and hear on Zoom. It’s the longer pauses, the sighs, the hesitation in responding, the tone of the voice that I’m listening for to give me insight in to how that team member is coping.
OUR BUSINESS PLAN
In the first couple of weeks of Coronavirus turning our world upside down I became consumed with trying to keep up with reading, actioning and applying every piece of advice that came through about Coronavirus. My inbox was flooded with emails on what to do as a business owner to keep your business afloat, to survive and then thrive post COVID-19; it was confusing. Now I’ve gone back to basics and I have a couple of key resources that I use to keep up to date and guide me in my decision making.
- My Accountant – if you don’t have an awesome Accountant you need to get yourself one right now.
- Our Industry body the RCSA – these guys have been putting out great content specific to our industry and sharing what other recruiters are doing.
We have a 6 month and 12 month plan, we are planning for the worst but hoping for the best. We have cut hard to reduce our operating costs. I’ve taken a pay cut, some staff have reduced their hours and unfortunately, we had to let a team member go. Sometimes being a leader sucks, these decisions have been some of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make in business.
We are staying true to our Why. We build great workplaces and we will continue to do just that but in different ways now. Our service, quality and values remain the same and we won’t cut corners just to get business in the door.
We’ve created a project list of all the things that weren’t quite right in the business. Those tasks or projects that were always on the to do list that we never got around to doing. The system or process that never flowed quite right and was a little cumbersome. Or the task that just annoyed us and wasted precious time. We are now allocating time to work on the business. It helps team members to mix up their day with a variety of tasks and it’s allowing us to build a better business so that when this does pass Inspire HQ is better positioned with better systems and processes to build even better workplaces.
MY SUPPORT NETWORK
I believe everyone needs a support network, now more than ever, regardless of if you are a business owner or not. I rely on these people to talk through hard decisions, to vent to, to reason with, to pick me up when I’m losing the energy or courage to keep moving forward, to give me a kick up the bum when I need a reality check. My support network includes my family and close friends, my business mentor and my Accountant. I’m drawing on these people now more than ever. You can’t underestimate the value of a strong support network.
THE SILVER LINING
Is there a silver lining to COVID-19? Yeah I think there is.
Pre COVID-19 we had been super busy (I hate the busy word but anyway). We’d moved offices, the work was flowing in, we were recruiting new team members and getting them trained up. Life was good but I was stuck in the doing it – doing it – doing it. I was stuck in the trenches and it wasn’t sustainable, but I was struggling to break out of the rut and get my head above water.
As a business we can now seize this opportunity to do a bit of work on the business and create better habits for when this storm passes. It’s giving me and my team the opportunity to cross train and learn new skills and expertise – a situation like this makes you realise how vulnerable you are when you only have one person who can do something in your business.
More broadly, this experience will change the future of work; how we work and where we work. No longer can we make excuses for working remotely not being an option. This means that some businesses will have access to a much greater pool of talent that have previously been untapped – stay at home Mums. Now that’s an exciting prospect!
Wishing you all the best as you navigate the COVID-19 storm.
Angela Connor is the Founder and Director of Inspire HQ, one of regional Victoria’s leading recruitment, human resource and career coaching companies. She understands the significance of having the right team of people in a business and is passionate about helping business to attract, recruit and engage the right people so those people can inject their talents into the business; creating an environment where they can do great work and love what they do. Find more useful information and advice at www.inspirehq.com.au or by following Angela on LinkedIn.
Disclaimer: The material contained in this publication is of a general nature only. It is not, nor is intended to be, legal advice. If you wish to act based on the content of this publication, we recommend that you seek professional advice.