Conference Table

As we return to our corporate offices, we have several important buckets of work facing us, ranging from the most basic tasks to pivotal decisions that will fundamentally impact the future of our businesses and public perception of our brand. At the most basic level, we need to remember to turn off our “out of office” messages, sanitize our office furniture, and put on pants, but there are also some compelling new realities that as leaders we need to contemplate.

These questions and concepts regarding customers and staff are worthy of our consideration now to help ensure we’re prepared for the changes brought about over these recent months:

EMPLOYEES

Our people are our most important asset, yet many of the expectations, norms, and policies we have relating to our staff are either temporarily altered or forever obsolete. As leaders, we must go back and re-examine the entirety of our physical offices, P&P manuals, and training programs, abandoning the obsolete and creating new norms to conform with both employee expectations and government policies.

  • Who’s Still Here? – An interesting dynamic happened overnight, and its implications will change our worlds (especially for those businesses who took a short-term approach in March)… It’s time to take a careful inventory of your staff, vendors, and contracts.
    • You lost some of your best talents. Sure, we all know a few who lost their battles with COVID, but quite a few really good employees were snatched up by other companies when you furloughed them and they’re probably not coming back. Your bottom 50%, however, will be waiting at the door.
    • Some great businesses that may have been vendors of ours have closed their doors. Hopefully, you didn’t lose too many, but even the best of them may take some time to come back online, as they too lost good employees to one cause or another. Quite a few small businesses were also forced to innovate and change their business models to stay afloat, so it may take them additional time to migrate back to the model that best served you.
    • Long-standing contracts are gone. By your termination of those deals with best price clauses and historical discounts, you put your business into a position where you now have to renegotiate or entirely requote your business relationships. Even if that does eventually net you better pricing, it’ll take time to get all those deals through the legal, risk, compliance, and policy hurdles.
  • How Will “Social Distancing’ Impact Us? – As our staffs return, a lot of our office norms are suddenly discouraged if not legally banned for at least the next few years. Corporate leaders should immediately consider these topics:
    • Remote work policies and arrangements
    • Staggered work times/shifts, especially start/end times
    • Occupancy limits for conference rooms, break rooms, common areas
    • Physical workspaces and proximity of work stations
    • Limiting the use of “hot desking” and shared workspaces
    • Evaluating conferences and convention attendance policies
    • Considering remote call centers and home-based staffing models
    • Policies in celebrations – birthdays, work anniversaries, awards, etc.
  • Business Travel – For most businesses, the events of the past several months have revealed the misconceptions of our prior business travel patterns. Not only were we traveling often for meetings which could easily have been videoconferences, but we were adding significant cost, effort, and risk as we did so. Increasingly, people in nearly every functional area of companies are mutually realizing that they can be much more productive and equally effective through a 40-minute video conference rather than a 4-day business trip. Here again, we will have to consider our policies on important topics:
    • Business travel protocols and restrictions
    • Conference and convention attendance policies
    • Videoconferencing technologies and usage policies
    • Technologies and tools provided in lieu of physical travel
    • Domestic versus international call centers and technology teams
  • Health & Wellness – We will also need to contemplate and possibly adapt our corporate policies and procedures to deal with a variety of COVID-related topics:
    • Sick leave arrangements and durations
    • Modified working arrangements for high risk groups
    • Position on COVID-positive staff (including past positives)
    • Non-discrimination policies and training
  • What did we learn? Don’t miss this opportunity to document lessons learned and update your business contingency planning so you’re better prepared should a second spike of this (or some other major global catastrophe or pandemic) once again cause a similar disruption to our operations. This might be a good time to evaluate remote access to our systems or even consider remote call center and cloud data capabilities if we’ve not already made these moves. For a lot of companies, they had good plans but hadn’t sufficiently updated basics like employee cell phone lists and remote access plans to facilitate continuity of operations. Regardless of our company or industry, we’ve all gained new insights now that will help us if something like this ever happens again.

CUSTOMERS

Our relationships with our customers have likely changed as well. Each of us needs to contemplate the impacts of those changes on our business model, our products, and our company policies to ensure we remain relevant going forward.

  • Customers’ needs and expectations – Whether you operate a global chain of resorts or a single retail shop, the pandemic of 2020 has changed fundamental aspects of your customer’s needs and expectations:
    • Cleaning and sanitizing protocols
    • Reduced occupancy limits
    • Social distancing
    • Staff testing and health
    • Cancellation policies
    • Check In / Check Out procedures
    • Access to unit by housekeeping staff during Owner / guest stays
    • Access to trip cancellation policies (type? limits? exclusions?)
    • General travel preferences (In the near term, vacations will focus on destinations within a 3-5 hour drive, travel parties will be smaller, durations will be shorter, and the experiential content of those trips will change.)
  • Communications – Now more than ever, our customers need clear and frequent communication from trusted businesses to reassure them and confirm answers to their common questions:
    • Status of the resorts, including timelines and contingencies
    • Updated policies and procedures to protect customers
    • Where to go for additional answers
    • Status of members of our teams with whom they’d built relationships
    • Don’t forget to validate that you meet the new privacy laws (GDPR, CCPA, etc.)
  • Contracts – Just like we need to reconfirm our vendor contracts, we also need to go through and reconfirm every customer agreement made prior to 3/15/2020. Some of those businesses no longer exist, and many more of their planned conventions and groups are impossibilities in the near term.
    • Reconfirm each customer’s intent, timing, volume, content
    • Evaluate validity of customer intent, relative to public policy and local/state reopening plans and timelines
  • Attendance volume and occupancy limits for planned spaces
  • Meeting content (e.g. Can we do buffet meals?)
    • Consider available options and company policies on cancellations/rebookings

However unfortunate this pandemic has been and however terrible its impacts on our respective businesses, each of us survived and we are now at a critical juncture with significant incentive to carefully contemplate our employee relationships and the ways we engage our customers. Many of the “winners” coming out of this cycle will be those who have taken full advantage of this pivot point to carefully refine these important aspects of their business model.

The author has focused on growth through innovation and customer experience for more than three decades and across a broad range of industries ranging from automotive to healthcare to hospitality. Today, as CEO of CX Artisans, he works with clients ranging from new healthcare startups to global blue-chip hospitality and technology leaders, helping each develop and execute successful strategies for revenue and market share growth.