A year ago at this time, most of us were just starting to come to terms with the disruptions at home and in the workplace caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Halfway through 2021, it looks like we’re finally starting to turn the corner in restoring a sense of normalcy in our lives and our businesses.
The big question for business leaders is: what will the new normal look like?
The answer to this question will likely vary from company to company based on what it takes to provide a great customer experience. But one thing is certain – many aspects of the traditional workplace went away for good and won’t be coming back. Companies that can adapt to the new normal and use it to deliver more value to their customers will have an edge over those who try to reinstate everything that COVID-19 took away.
The PenChecks® team learned a lot about ourselves during the pandemic, including how we react to adversity and how to find opportunity in the midst of uncertainty and unwanted change. As we begin defining the new normal for PenChecks, we intend to leverage what we learned over the past year to deliver even better customer service while working more efficiently, no matter where the work takes place.
The New Workplace
With vaccination and the standardization of safety protocols, it’s becoming safe to work in the office again. Interestingly, while employees everywhere are getting excited about returning to the office, many have decided they prefer working at home. As a result, business leaders will need to grapple with some critical questions.
Do we require all employees to work onsite as before? Do we leave it up to the employee, as long as their work can be performed at home? Will we require those who return to the office to get vaccinated? How will having a mixed-mode workforce (home and office) affect teamwork, communication, problem solving, and other human factors needed to operate a successful business?
The answers to these questions will affect the entire business, from recruiting and hiring to getting a quality product or service out the door and everything in between. At PenChecks, we are allowing employees to work remotely at least through the 3rd quarter and likely through the end of the year. At that time we will review the past year to determine what works best for our customers and our employees.
One thing we learned during the pandemic is that as long we have agile technology we can serve our customers without interruption even with the majority of our staff working from home. At the same time, as a service company we should never lose sight of the importance of building relationships through face-to-face contact. That’s why we recently re-opened the door to in-person meetings between current and prospective clients and our Regional Directors. Going forward, we plan to use what we learned to adapt our workflow so we can retain valued employees and continue providing the high level of service our clients expect.
Recently two long-time employees moved to different cities for family reasons, and both expressed a desire to continue working for PenChecks. Thanks to what we learned and implemented during the pandemic, we were able to accommodate them. This was a great win-win because the employees got to keep their jobs (allowing them to maintain stability in their lives and make their moves less stressful) and PenChecks got to retain highly productive, long-time employees with valuable processing and operational experience.
What to Look for in the Retirement Industry
The road to the new normal is lined with roadblocks, some with the potential to interrupt business as usual. For example, businesses in many industries are having trouble hiring employees despite the large number of people that remain unemployed. PenChecks continued to be a strong leader and didn’t lay off a single employee during the pandemic. Aside from individual investor account balances, the retirement industry, as a whole, has been fortunate to weather the storm relatively unscathed. However, it would seem unwise to expect business as usual when it comes to recruiting and hiring qualified employees in the near-term.
At a broader level, the change in the White House will certainly have an impact on our industry, although I don’t foresee anything drastic. The previous administration often sought to reduce the bureaucracy that can impede the efficiency of how firms conduct business. There were certainly pros and cons to this kind of activity. Even so, the Department of Labor continued to increase its scrutiny of retirement plan fiduciaries. My sense is the current administration will seek to continue that trend through careful consideration of fiduciary rules and best practices for plan sponsors and plan participants.
One trend we will all need to pay attention to is consolidation. Prior to the COVID pandemic, consolidation was increasing throughout the industry, with larger companies acquiring smaller ones, and smaller TPA firms combining into one to increase their market presence and capabilities. As the pandemic continues to subside, I foresee these transactions returning to their pre-COVID levels and continuing. Industry contraction is inevitably followed by downward pressure on fees and margins. Retirement space companies that can’t grow through acquisition or find a unique niche to differentiate themselves may find it difficult to survive or maintain sustainable margins.
Hiring Top Talent in the New Normal
Despite being out of work or underemployed for lengthy periods of time, American workers have become more selective about where they go back to work. In last year’s midyear update blog, we mentioned the importance of having a strong employer brand. If you’re having difficulty hiring qualified candidates, you might want to look at your employer brand to see whether it aligns with the needs of current job seekers. You can learn more about why you need a winning employer brand and how to achieve it by reading an excellent blog on this subject from our marketing partner, Bottom Line Marketing.
PenChecks has achieved more than 25 years of success by focusing on two key elements – continually developing innovative technology, products and services and providing superior customer service. Both elements require talented people who can not only adapt to change but create it. During the pandemic we learned that if we remain resilient and leverage our technology, our workforce can thrive in several different formats. This provides more opportunity to continue employing the best and brightest without being constrained to one geographic area.
In the wake of the damage caused by the pandemic, 2021 offers abundant opportunity – but only if we identify and embrace the new normal as it manifests itself in our organizations. To thrive in the new normal, be flexible, be adaptable, and stay close to your customers because they need you more than ever. It’s going to be interesting to see where we will all be a year from now and what our workforces will look like.
Spiro G. Preovolos
President & CEO, PenChecks Trust®