COVID-19 has been described as the great reset.

As well as facing the obvious challenges of lock downs, government restrictions and infection control; businesses are experiencing shifts in consumer behaviour and employee expectations, as well as many of our leadership and management practices are in a state of flux.

Every business has been impacted by COVID-19. We spoke to business leaders to find out what the pandemic has taught them and the changes they’ve made as a result.

Luke Dunne – Principal/Commercial Law

COVID-19 hasn’t so much changed our business. Rather, it seems to have validated that we are on the right track.

Over the last 5-10 years, we have invested a lot into both culture and IT, and it has felt like those investments have paid off. Like all businesses, 2020 has been a challenging one for us, but what we have been absolutely blown away by was how our staff rose to that challenge. We knew the systems would adapt well, but the effort, care and productivity of our staff was truly humbling. We have had to do some different things to maintain the sense of connectedness, community and collegiality, but again the level of buy-in has been fantastic.

We have been lucky in that demand for our service did not really drop away, and whilst we had to change our method of delivering that service, we were not (like some other businesses) prevented from doing so completely. There is no doubt we miss the face-to-face interaction with our clients and others in our network, but it has been great to be able to still maintain and build on these relationships through different media.

The big takeaway is confirmation that the quality of the relationships we build, and the nurturing of those relationships, is what is important in our business.

Jill Simpson – Practice Manager

Our staff are AMAZING! While things such as remote working, becoming paper-lite, and holding more electronic meetings were all side effects of COVID, the upside was the daily reminder that our staff are AMAZING!! The way that everyone chipped in and adapted to the ongoing changes, while remaining positive and client focused, was beyond our expectations!

Stephen Allen – Director

The challenges of 2020 have brought our teams’ work lives into their homes.

Now more than ever effective leaders are required to understand external influences which may be affecting the performance of our team members.  To an extent, we should assist them in overcoming these for the betterment of the individual and therefore the team.

Working remotely challenges the culture of any organisation and maintaining a positive culture is a key indicator in the success of the business.  We have encouraged our team to engage in virtual catch ups and cloud-based activities to maintain connection.  By bringing our work lives into our homes we must place a greater focus on output not hours.  We want our teams to take pride in this output, themselves and our brand.  A pride that is driven by our culture.

It is at the most challenging times that the foundations of strong leadership are most important and provide teams with confidence and strength to perform.


Chris Radford – Director and Physical Performance Manager

The past 8 months has certainly been a challenging time for our business, as it has for many others that’s for sure. Our strength and conditioning business is predominantly run from our gym facility, helping to physically prepare athletes for their sport or assist them with an injury rehabilitation.

Across both lockdown periods we were forced to close the doors on our gym. During these blocks we shifted all of our programming to an online model, with our coaches utilising Zoom to run the online sessions. Once allowed we also began to conduct outdoor training sessions, I’d load my car up with our equipment and head to the City Oval to run our trainings there. While this worked really well, it was very weather dependant…… and yes, we were even set up there on that day where there was two hours of snow in Ballarat.

Throughout this whole period, it has enabled us to reflect on a number areas of our business – addressing our membership model and training system which we have revamped to continue to add more value to the client, as well as a big focus on staff development and restructuring to help us keep innovating and growing our business.

Personally, my biggest takeaway from this period is the importance of time away from the business – really enjoying spending time with our young family and getting lots of projects done around the house and exploring regional Victoria.

Luke Harper and Shayne Reese – Owners

Like many businesses, COVID-19 hit us hard. Under government direction, the pool has been closed for more than half the year. Unfortunately, our line of service doesn’t allow us to deliver “online zoom classes” or “take away” options. We made the decision early to see this as an opportunity! With 9 years of operating knowledge under our belts, we sat down with a number of our senior and long serving staff and said “pretend we are opening this business for the first time, how would we set it up and what could we do better?”.

We were lucky. Not only did we run an extensive customer survey prior to lockdown, but we now had the time to explore the thoughts and ideas of our team. With all this valuable insight, we totally changed our business model. As a team we’ve made a range of operational changes, but the one we are most excited about is moving to perpetual year-round classes. This not only provides a better learning environment and experience for our swimmers; it also provides more stable employment and career opportunities for our staff. Teaming up our staff into “think tank” groups to tackle these fantastic concepts and bring them to life, not only kept them motivated, inspired and connected but strengthens Shayne Reese Swimming’s position as Ballarat’s leading Aquatic Education provider.

We’d never wish a pandemic on anyone, but we are grateful for the space it gave us to think and innovate.

Katherine Rickard – General Manager – People, Culture and Community

Covid challenged us all and PETstock was no different.

Our vision and purpose, PETS. PEOPLE. FAMILY. shined throughout the pandemic and guided us as to what is important not only as we made business decisions but also what is most important to us. Whilst PETstock were fortunate to continue trading throughout the pandemic, we needed to innovate our offering to ensure that customers could still access what they needed (particularly services such as puppy school & grooming that was cancelled for a period of time) – we offered online puppy school classes, At Home with PETstock series sharing content for pet parents to help pet parents at home with their pet’s needs, increased our online click and collect services and home delivery services.

Importantly, was our team and their health and wellbeing, most of our team were on the front line every day ensuring that pet parents were able to provide for their pets needs and care and our support office team like many others are working from home, we needed to adapt our support, messaging and approach, introducing new programs such as GROW focusing on personal development and engagement with the team, Fit for the Future program where we ran a stepping competition across the business and the introduction of our video messaging that enabled us to quickly communicate to our team updates from our leaders – our most popular message was on a Sunday night at 9pm!

Our PETS. PEOPLE. FAMILY. vision and family values are used daily and whilst the way we work has changed, the impact of team being and working together is integral to our culture and PETstock’s success.

Elise Rowe – Owner/Manager

The year of 2020 has given The Hydrant Foodhall a good old shake up. A young business of 2 years, was still in its infancy stage, as we saw the restrictions to operation placed upon us in March. In what felt like overnight, a solid business with a strong foundation of skilful staff, efficient systems and optimistic goals, was pulled up to a halt. Closure was the most surreal moment given how hard everyone had worked over the past 2 years. As time passed, finances tightened, staff found other directions for life, and the building gathered dust. As owners of what we knew was a solid business, we didn’t fall to the new challenge upon us. There was no way we were going to let the new way of operating tarnish the loved cafe that The Hydrant has become for the people of Ballarat.

Adaptation was quickly instilled in us to a larger degree than we ever knew it to be within us. Throughout the year we have seen a reduction in staff numbers, and a change in current staff motivation to work. While the constant adapting to weekly Government announcements is extremely unsettling, as a team we are able to support each other and find a way to view the restrictions positively and continue to deliver the service that our customers know. The largest change we have made is to our way of operating. We are accepting table reservations alongside walk-ins, we are having to carry out a Covid safe checklist with every customer, increase cleaning and sanitising standards, and control the seating of customers according to current Covid restrictions. This has been a challenge, especially when we have to see customers walk away to find a table elsewhere because we are not permitted to seat them. So many challenges have been presented, however the ‘can do’ mindset and focus on the goals for The Hydrant has seen us weather the storm. Fortunately, we are now able to see many positives from the changes we have had to make, and are ready to recover from the downturn and continue to grow into the business we always strived for.

Dr Jess Lim – Owner

Our business had been operating for 7 years when Covid-19 hit us early in the year. Like many small, family operated businesses, the 7 years pre-Covid for John and I was a complicated juggling act between clinical practice, non-clinical practice, further education, paperwork and raising young children with lots of hands on support from family and friends.

When Covid-19 forced us to halt, for what was then, an unknown length of time, it was the first time we were able to properly pause, breathe and reflect on our business and our family. It’s very easy to lose a healthy work life balance when you run a family business and the only silver lining from this pandemic is the gift of time we were given with our children. We had nowhere else we were expected or allowed to be, the weather was terrible outside, we weren’t allowed to see any family or friends but our two little boys had the time of their lives with weeks and weeks of undivided attention from mum and dad. We are sorry it took a global crisis for us to restore the equilibrium between work and home.

Our amazing team have taken on all the necessary changes Covid-19 has brought this year, with positive attitudes and big smiles, and for that we are grateful and proud. We are a front-line industry and during lockdown, we remained open even on Sunday’s to keep dental emergencies out of our emergency department despite a very real Covid-19 contraction risk. Not one staff member expressed that they did not feel safe to work and every single member of our team was willing to continue to work. They are pretty awesome. We are a very social workplace and the lack of fun has definitely started to take its toll with some questionable behaviours arising, usually involving interpretative dancing and strange laughing. We are very much looking forward to spending some time together out of the surgery, hopefully with a well-deserved Christmas party, Covid-19 permitting. I think I can speak on behalf of the team that we all value the simple luxury of being able to see someone smile or to sit together at lunchtime, something I suppose we have all taken for granted this whole time.

Mel Fulcher – Business Development Manager

We have experienced polar opposites. In the space of 24 hours, we lost 70% of business in our wholesale department when the hospitality industry was shut down. While on the flip side our retail stores saw growth. Whilst we were grateful that unlike other businesses, we were able to stay open and were busy, it brought with it the pressure to do all we could to keep our people safe.

In the background we had preparing a home delivery service, which we had planned to rollout in late 2020. What was effectively a 6-month project, became a stripped back system, which we got up and running in just a couple of days.

In many respects it helped us go back to basics, we had to work out what were the key areas in the business. Covid has really made us sit back and assess what we are doing within the business. As a family business we, as a family, are often guilty of trying to wear too many hats. With the help of our business consultant, we realised that to be effective during Covid and beyond, we couldn’t continue to operate that way. We had to review and streamline our business and leadership structure.

One of our key initiatives was to free up our Managers to do the jobs they are good at and need to do, and leave other things to the experts. The first thing we did was to outsource our HR. At the risk of sounding corny, it has honestly been the best business decision we have made in a long time. We saw changes almost immediately.

Lastly, I want to acknowledge our incredible staff. Our team continued to come to work when others were told to stay home. It’s been a roller coaster for many of us, experiencing fear, uncertainty, stress and plenty of fatigue. But we’ve pulled through, continued to provide great customer service and we are stronger because of it.

Claire Huntington has over 15 years’ experience in senior and executive level human resource management and strategic leadership positions. Claire learnt HR under the wings of great mentors and through trial and error. She has a very practical hands-on approach to HR and management, and isn’t afraid to look outside the box. Claire is also mum to three school aged firecrackers and is an avid photographer in her spare time.


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.
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