3 Business Lessons from Navigating Through a Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged businesses to the degree that some have never experienced before. It has impacted company culture, client acquisition, employees' mental health, and so much more.
As the leader of our HR organization at a fast-growing technology company, we have experienced many of these challenges. The pandemic revealed some of our strengths as an organization, and it also provided an opportunity to take inventory of areas we should focus on elevating.
The pandemic measured our ability to pivot in unforeseen circumstances. We concentrated on strategically adapting to the pandemic, employee engagement levels, the breadth and depth of company-wide communication, and our leadership team's perceived level of trust and empathy.
As a 600-person company reliant on human interaction, it became clear early on in the pandemic that we would need to concentrate on preserving these interactions while securely moving to a remote landscape. As we were transitioning to a remote workforce, we focused on three key areas to move us through the challenges and come out of this stronger.
1 – Assessing information and pivoting.
Early in the pandemic, the news inundated us with information about COVID-19, but we knew very little about it. And federal and local governments provided no clear direction on precautions companies should take to deal with the pandemic. I soon realized it would be up to the leadership team at Pax8 to ensure the health and well-being of our company and its people.
The first step in doing this was creating a pandemic task force comprised of C-suite members. Weekly meetings were held where we talked through all the information to uncover the correct facts. As we kept a close eye on the virus's progression and possible implications to Pax8's business, we also planned for the chance we might have to close our office. We communicated weekly updates to the organization, informing employees of what we knew and understood about the virus, its effect on the country, and our current company outlook. Keeping the organization abreast of the situation allowed people to prepare, make smart decisions, and provided reassurance in knowing what leadership was doing to look out for their well-being.
As COVID-19 cases rose across the country, it was obvious things would worsen. In anticipation of a state-wide lockdown and efforts to shield our employees from possible exposure, the executive team decided to close our office and have everyone work from home. While the task force had planned for this, there were still several steps to create a safe and productive work from home environment.
Employees were provided a timeframe to gather items from the office before its closure. Additionally, if they required items like office chairs or extra monitors, they were made available. We secured devices by equipping them with the right safety software and updates, multi-factor authentication (MFA) solutions, appropriate permissions, and virtual desktops. Devices were also enabled with industry-leading collaboration, video, and conferencing tools, providing the best technology solutions for our employees to work remotely. Through these efforts and strategic planning, the entire company pivoted to a remote workplace within 48 hours.
The pandemic and this new virtual environment also had financial ramifications. Regions began locking down, businesses became remote, and companies started restricting travel, forcing Pax8 to cancel all monthly partner enablement events. Canceling these in-person events resulted in un-recouped conference, hotel, and travel fees. While initially the company was financially impacted, the new virtual landscape presented a considerable upside.
We were weeks away from signing leases on two new office spaces. Fortunately, we were able to cancel the agreements saving the company a significant amount of money. All industry events moved to a virtual experience, as did Pax8's events. Attending and hosting events in a virtual setting dramatically decreased associated costs yet increased the number of attendees. We realized we could reach more partners while saving money at the same time. Additionally, the office electric bill dropped incrementally. With these savings, we were able to re-invest in the company and our people.
2 - Elevating the employee experience.
As we moved through the pandemic, we were incredibly focused on maintaining our award-winning culture by enabling our employees to stay connected with each other, their teams, and our leadership. Our goal was to support our employees emotionally, ensure that people living alone did not feel isolated, and give parents the flexibility to facilitate their child’s remote learning.
The team sought to understand how employees felt and how we, as a company, could support them in this new landscape. From what we observed, we introduced three new initiatives:
- Weekly leadership communication
- Collaboration events across the organization
- Mental health resources and support
More communication was a significant initiative because we wanted our employees to stay connected. Therefore, we established a cadence of sending employee communication every Sunday. Each message was by one member of the leadership team and included an encouraging theme, challenges they were facing, and uplifting ways they were coping. These messages ultimately provided our organization a silver-lining during the pandemic.
We created new personalized experiences to excite and delight our team. Employees with children were surprised with gift cards, courtesy of Pax8, to purchase a meal and spend family-time together. Collaboration began to spread organically at Pax8, as employees demonstrated the need for continued connection with their colleagues. After making our formal internal events a virtual experience, we started to see employees create new ways to connect virtually by offering cooking classes, yoga, meditation, mixology classes, and movie nights. Our employees’ strong desire to keep their relationships with their co-workers intact was inspiring.
Our third initiative was employee mental health and well-being. As an organization, we provided external resources, internal support groups, and an enhanced PTO program to help our employees maintain their mental health. Additionally, our leadership team created a plan to retain all jobs. We have not laid off any employees during these unprecedented times. We have continued hiring throughout the pandemic, adding more than 191 new employees since January, and we have promoted more than 230 employees.
Because of the programs we implemented, the commitment to our employees’ success, and the continued communication and collaboration, we earned an internal NPS score of 69. Even during a pandemic, Pax8’s Glassdoor rating went up. Recently, we received the following encouraging feedback on the website:
“The level of compassion that Pax8 continues to show is truly heartwarming. There aren’t enough words to express the gratitude that I feel, and the appreciation that I have, to be able to call Pax8 home.”
3 – Developing a strategy for the future workplace.
Accomplishing new milestones, even during a pandemic, is enabling us to focus on the positive aspects of Pax8, what we are learning, and how we can continue to support our employees into the future.
We found that the 'work from anywhere' model is the future of our workforce at Pax8. We conducted a survey that revealed the following results:
- 50% of our employees would prefer working from home full-time, with the option to come into the office once or twice a month
- More than 40% would like to go into the office a couple of days a week
- Less than 10% of the company wants to return to the office full-time
In the new work from anywhere environment, we discovered another interesting revelation. Employees' productivity is higher in their preferred environments than before, resulting in increased revenue. March and October were the highest revenue-generating months ever for Pax8. With the increased productivity and revenue we have experienced, the work-from-anywhere model is extremely advantageous for Pax8.
Understanding our employees' preferences and the company's financial benefit, we look at returning to the office as a driving force for collaboration instead of providing desk space for daily work. We are making plans to redesign and repurpose our workspace, removing desks, and creating collaboration spaces. The new environment encourages employees to jump into group conversations, introducing more opportunities for collaboration and communication.
Moving to a remote work environment taught us the importance of equity, which will play a critical role in our new strategy. In the future iteration of Pax8, employees will have the power to choose when it comes to the hybrid work landscape. This equity will empower them to be more productive by allowing them to work in their ideal environment. We continue to bridge the gaps and raise the bar.
Our organization's goal is to ensure the strong health and well-being of the company and its employees during these challenging times. Pax8 is committed to coming out of this even better and stronger than before. We now see new ways to improve and adapt.
Before COVID-19, I believed it was our job as leaders to support our employees in creating their desired culture. While I still believe this is the right mindset, the past months have taught me that we have an even more significant opportunity to create a highly influential culture. We also see the opportunity to develop an expansive work environment, free from an office building's constraints, allowing employees to flourish in their preferred space. We continue to listen to our employees and realize new ways of thinking. Following this path in navigating the COVID-19 pandemic will offer a strategic approach for the future of work, resulting in stronger productivity, increased revenue, and lower attrition.
Susan Mitnick, Chief Human Resources Officer at Pax8