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None of us were planning on dealing with a pandemic like this. Every company has had to learn how to quickly adapt to the current climate. The storm clouds are here, and the time for preparation is past. Now is the time to weather the storm—ideally with minimal casualties.

The storm clouds you’re facing

Economists have been predicting a recession for years now, but none of them predicted that it would happen like this. In the face of a global pandemic, many countries and states have issued mandatory stay-at-home orders to slow the spread. This has significantly impacted the day-to-day operations of the majority of businesses. 

Every company is taking a hit—but some companies have been quick to adapt. Restaurants have added online ordering or created makeshift drive-throughs in their parking lots. Grocery stores are increasing delivery and pickup options. Movie theaters have even created impromptu drive-ins to keep money coming in and employees working. 

And big-box retailers like Walmart have announced 150,000 new open positions to keep up with current demand; Amazon announced 100,000 new roles

Unfortunately not every company has been so lucky. Unemployment rates have officially topped 20 million and many of those have come from smaller businesses—only 13% of small businesses are confident with their contingency plans. While the CARES Act promised widespread relief for small businesses, funds from the Paycheck Protection Program have already been exhausted.  

To make matters worse, no one knows exactly how long we’ll be feeling the economic and social impacts of COVID-19. It’s still unclear how long stay-at-home orders will last and what the impacts will be months from now. Analysts are trying to determine exactly how deep of a recession we’re facing, but history offers little help.

Navigating your business through COVID-19

Preparing for a recession is one thing, but everything is shaken up when the recession hits. Oftentimes, you have to throw out yesterday’s playbook and start from scratch. Leaders need to be decisive, but flexible. 

Because this downturn has happened fast, now is the time to focus on what you can do with the limited resources available. Here are a few suggestions to help you steer your business through the storm.

Help employees work from home

Currently 42 states have initiated a full or partial lockdown order. For most companies, this means shifting operations to be completely remote, wherever they can. Obviously, this isn’t possible in every industry, but companies that can successfully transition to a remote workforce will be better equipped to navigate the current crisis while keeping team members healthy and motivated. 

You can assist employees in working from home by setting them up with the proper equipment and making sure they have basic necessities to work, like decent internet, a comfortable chair, and desk. You can provide guidance on where to purchase these or offer discounts through office suppliers. 

In addition to physical resources, make sure employees have access to needed documents and processes. You should have everything employees will need to refer to in an accessible location online. It is also helpful to have an hr or remote-work slack channel, or another simple and quick way for employees to contact you with work-from-home questions and problems as they come up. 

And when it comes to a remote workforce, always over-communicate. Meet frequently with a video-conferencing platform like Zoom or Google Hangouts. When you speak with team members, set clear expectations, objectives, and deadlines. 

If you are helpful and transparent, you may find that employees who work from home are more productive than those in the office. Use this to your advantage and allow your employees up to work remotely throughout the crisis—and even beyond.

Be transparent with your customers and your employees

This is an unprecedented time for everyone, so having clear communication from the top down is critical. Although it may be hard, having open lines of communication throughout the company (as well as open-door policies with management) will increase the level of trust from your employees. 

It’s important to remember that this is an emotional time for everyone—employees need to know that they’re not alone. The best thing your company can do is build an engaged community around empathy and understanding. You can create different chat groups or Employee Resource Groups

It’s critical that your employees know they can communicate with their employer about their struggles during this time and that they maintain a growth mindset. Having managers responding to concerns in an empathetic and transparent manner will increase trust, ownership and involvement throughout the organization.  

Wherever possible, you should also keep your customers in the loop. If you’re adjusting product offerings or even changing your business model, make sure you give clients avenues to contact you with questions or concerns.

Adjust marketing and sales targets

It’s been a few weeks since we’ve adjusted to the “new normal” so hopefully, you’ve taken the time to identify current business strengths and weaknesses. Utilize your strengths by building marketing and sales techniques around the needs of COVID-19. 

Track successes and report updates regularly to your team members. Share dashboards with progress, engagement, and other sales cycle metrics, just like you would in the office. Just because you aren’t on the same sales floor doesn’t mean you can’t empower your sales team to push each other virtually. 

Get creative with marketing campaigns and throw out old scheduled content if needed. Be careful not to neglect the current emotional climate. Targeting the tragic circumstances surrounding the recession could appear opportunistic or tone-deaf. Understand the new challenges your customers face and be sensitive to them, but stick to your tried and true target audiences and strategies.

Repurpose and re-partner

What’s really encouraging are the companies repurposing their facilities to make sure there’s enough high-demand product. Companies like Louis Vuitton and Prada are making face masks at chief distribution centers—and they’re not alone. With over 30 brands reconfiguring their product, the fashion industry is taking mask creation by storm and joining together to solve this widely spread problem.

Fashion isn’t the only industry creating solutions to solve world shortages, over 100 distilleries in the U.S. have started making hand sanitizer as the demand has increased. All kinds of industries have come together to see how they can alleviate some of the key product shortages COVID-19 has presented.

If your industry is not in high demand in the current climate, consider new partnerships that allow you to help where there is need. For example, brands like Cotopaxi and Uncharted created an extended partnership that allowed them to share space for inventory and fulfillment. There may be opportunities that you have not even considered yet, so keep your eyes open.

Offer empathy first

It’s clear we all need to be understanding and empathetic with one another to get through tough times like this. People are working from home while they homeschool their children, some haven’t been able to see family members for weeks, and many are worried about the long term effects COVID-19. 

Many companies have also had to make the hard decision to lay off a large number of their employees. If you’re unable to offer job security under these circumstances, handle the process with grace. Offer continued benefits where you can and don’t pull punches. Be honest about how hard the decision was and empathize with the hurt employees are feeling.

What your company does now could forever change your brand

Clearly we are working through a unique time that requires every business to look at what they’re doing and decide how to adapt. Although it’s difficult to navigate this changing dynamic you will discover new talents within your teams as you are forced out of your comfort zone.

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