To paraphrase the words of President Franklin Roosevelt, “2020 is a year that will live in infamy”. We’re only halfway through the year, yet the COVID-19 pandemic has already shaken our world in ways nobody could have foreseen, exacting a terrible toll in human lives, disrupting entire economies, and putting millions of Americans out of work. And as I write this blog, it appears to be gathering steam again after showing signs of abating.
From a business perspective, COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the way most companies operate. Many are struggling to keep their businesses operating smoothly. Many service providers in the retirement plan industry haven’t been affected as deeply because most of what we do doesn’t require heavy machinery or working closely together. For others it has proved more of a challenge. For yet others, it is flat out a matter of survival.
PenChecks Trust® is fortunate to be one of those where working remotely hasn’t resulted in any disruptions to our business. Yet because financial services is a people-oriented business, many challenges remain. How do we provide the personal touch we’re known for when we can’t meet face-to-face with clients? How do we manage employees and stay connected with each other when we aren’t all in the office together?
From a sales and marketing perspective, how do we stay at the top of our prospects’ minds when we can’t meet in person? How do we close sales when our regional sales directors are prohibited from traveling? (For the safety of our employees and clients we have adopted a strict no-travel policy.) I know that many of our clients and competitors are grappling with these and other challenges as well.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like COVID-19 is going away soon. Furthermore, many of the changes it has unleashed upon the work environment may well become permanent.
As we look ahead to the future, the overriding question is: where do we go from here?
Opportunity in the Midst of Uncertainty
The Chinese have an old saying that “crisis is an opportunity riding the dangerous wind.” Without question, the COVID-19 pandemic is a dangerous wind. In fact, it’s more of a hurricane. But as we struggle to adapt our businesses to the new and uncertain work environment, opportunities to improve our companies and better serve our clients and employees can be found.
Will working from home become permanent? For some, perhaps, but not likely for all. Yet, companies that figure out how to do remote work successfully can reap many benefits. It can expand your pool of job applicants. It can improve productivity, as many employees find they work more efficiently at home. It can also produce happier, more autonomous employees, which leads to higher employee retention. The key is finding ways to keep remote employees engaged with the company and connected to their in-office workers. You may want to read about how PenChecks keeps our remote employees in touch with each other, which is covered in a previous blog post.
Smart use of technology.
Whether working at home or in the office, COVID has reinforced the need for good technology. PenChecks’ proprietary processing technologies and our fluency with “connection” software – Zoom, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, etc. – have played a key role in our ability to successfully work remotely. In particular, Microsoft Teams has helped our employees stay connected with their work groups and the company as a whole.
Even when COVID-19 is no longer a threat, business travel will likely remain down for a long time. Technology that enables “face-to-face” meetings with clients and prospects will become increasingly important. Using a cloud-based platform also facilitates connection and communication between remote workers.
Results-only work environment (ROWE).
The traditional management model involves telling employees what they’re supposed to do and when and how to do it. Today’s workers, especially younger generations, are demanding more autonomy and responsibility. Instead of describing jobs as a list of duties and tasks, the ROWE model defines the results you expect each employee to deliver and allows for generous leeway in how they produce the results (as long as they don’t break the law or violate your corporate values). Implementing ROWE will likely require significant change for most companies business, from a management and cultural standpoint. But companies that get it right will end up with better performance and happier employees who are more engaged with their work.
Strong employer brands.
When the economy finally rebounds, millions of Americans will be coming back to work, presenting a huge talent pool for employers to select from. The difference is that job seekers will be selecting you rather than you selecting them. This is why having a strong employer brand has become so important. It tells job seekers who you are as a business and an employer, and (hopefully) positions your business as a desirable place to work. Without it, the best performers will reject you before you even get a chance to interview them. Conversely, a strong employer brand can provide a real edge in the recruiting wars that are sure to erupt once the economy gets rolling again. You can read an excellent blog post on this subject from our marketing partner BottomLine Marketing.
COVID-19 is forcing companies in all industries to become more flexible and adaptable. This starts with understanding how the pandemic is making it hard for our customers to provide excellent service to their clients. This, in turn, requires adapting our ways of working to meet their needs. At PenChecks, we believe it is more important than ever to remind employees of our mission, our commitment to excellence service, and the values by which we operate. COVID-19 is certainly changing how we work, but we refuse to let it change who we are and how we serve our clients.
President and CEO