Second wave planning: Drawing on lessons learned

As we enter a “Second wave”, Reflecting on lessons learned over the past few months with Abacus co-founder Peter Reitano

Important Lessons

As an employee at Abacus it was clear to see that yourself and Jeff really made sure both your customers and employees relationships were to outlast coronavirus. What did you find was most important when keeping customers on side for abacus?

Abacus really focused on how we can add more value to prospects and clients, whether that’s through paid services, content or free webinars. 

Being empathetic to clients – if they need to pause work to reassess and take stock we were open to coming up with solutions and being flexible. 

The webinars in particular have really worked well. We get great attendance and people get a lot of value from them, especially since regular marketing conferences are all cancelled. 

Focus on what adds value for your customers to ensure you still have a business to come back to when it’s all over.

What worked well? What could you have done differently in terms of the rollout of the initial stay at home orders? 

Honestly, I think we nailed it. We were quick to react, we got our team home before anyone else at the start of March. We were super dialed into the citation going down and aware of the seriousness. Then we made a plan and executed for the next 6 months. We got our whole team PPE early on before masks were mandated and whilst some in the medical establishment were saying they don’t work (they do).

 We didn’t have to let a single employee go, the whole team pulled together and worked super hard and now we’re pretty much back to pre Covid levels of business activity.  I’m incredibly proud of how everyone has handled this whole situation. 

Plan for a financial impact

What mentality should companies approach when preparing for a second wave? A lot of smaller businesses don’t have those fall back funds like other large corporate firms.

Some businesses may need to cut costs, that’s unavoidable. 

Make a plan now, with contingencies for different scenarios. So you can be flexible and react to circumstances as they arise. No one knows how bad this next stage will be. So the key is preparation and the ability to pivot based on the situation.

As the British army says with their 6Ps:  proper planning prevents piss poor performance

A big focus at Abacus was making sure we didn’t have to let go of anyone. We wanted (and still want) to get to the end of this as a unit. We made that call early in the pandemic. We found every way possible to cut costs that didn’t involve staff, then doubled down on our growth/sales efforts to make up for any drops in revenue from clients dropping off because COVID affected the business. 

We re-focused our client strategy on verticals that would either be affected less by the pandemic or thrive. Stuff like E-commerce, tech that enables remote work, food delivery etc. 

Mental preparation for a second wave.

Anxiety spans from leadership down to all levels of employees. How have you managed to support your employees and create a healthy work atmosphere for everyone at home?

Be honest, transparent and confident in the path forward. Your team needs hard talk, not happy talk. Be honest with your communications, tell the truth about the situation, and present a plan on how to move ahead.  When people get happy talk – everything is fine –  instead of hard talk, it doesn’t reassure them. It does the opposite: It causes them to question the credibility of their leaders, which heightens their anxiety and makes them feel rudderless.

We have regular company wide updates where we discuss what’s going on with the company and any changes to our approach to the pandemic. 

Encourage your team to take time off. Although vacation options are limited with international travel restrictions in place, it’s important people have downtime, and space for self care. Encourage this behaviour.

Staying at home by yourself can obviously increase feelings of isolation and loneliness. We’ve tried to have COVID safe social distanced socials to keep spirits up. 

Encourage healthy behaviours – at the start of the pandemic one of our team did Zoom work out classes. Fun and healthy. 

As a leader, be understanding that people have a lot on their mind. Some people have kids to look after. Some people haven’t been able to see their family for a long time. Some people have sick relatives. Have empathy. 

Communication is key

Working remote puts a magnifying glass on things like organization skills, accountability, communication. Get the right tools and processes in place. 

Be very clear about goals and objectives, even more so than usual. 

Be careful that peoples days don’t fill up with zoom meetings. Question what needs to be done in meetings and what should  be done asynchronously. 

We measure engagement and hold team debriefs about the results – giving employees the opportunities to speak up about what was working and what could be better is important for us. This allows issues to be raised and appropriate attention to be given.

Be there for employees to talk to. Have regular 1:1s and check ins.  

There’s no more water cooler talk, so try to insert a new way for employees to interact to discuss non work related topics to fill that void of chatter in the office. “Virtual water cooler chat”.

Secondd Wave: Working From Home

Photo Credit: Mikey Harris

Working from home: How to make it work when recruiting new employees?

If you’re lucky enough to be onboarding new staff members during this crisis, then you will have be extra cognizant of their feelings of isolation from the culture. Make sure you have processes in place to make them comfortable, at home in the culture,  and that gets them up to speed as quick as possible. 

Give the team and outlet and a space to bond, even if they’re not in the same space: 

Making the best of culture in the situation. 

How important is the implementation of necessary support structures, especially during such unprecedented times?

HR played a visible support role for employees in the company. 

Working with a business oriented HR team can help you make better decisions vs just getting them involved after the fact to execute. You need to find people who understand your business, the numbers, and your overall goals. 

We put in a bunch of training to help the team. An approach that is highly focused on great managers because we know that they drive engagement at the organization.

Abacus had started working with A Modern Way to Work prior to the pandemic, which I think was really helpful for a few reasons. We decided to invest in strategic/meaningful HR like training for all Managers, team development, creating processes and adapting tools for managers and employees to use for things like goals/objectives/feedback

Having started this work helped us set up for success in the hardest of times – so maybe the takeaway is start working to train your managers/build strategic HR now before wave two – we recommend AMWTW 🙂 

Transparency and honesty is key. Be reassuring but don’t give false hope. 

Be open and focus on getting the whole team to the other side vs just the bottom line.