As published by Forbes Business Council
My company is headquartered in Manhattan. We are in a highly personal, face-to-face business of recruiting and employment. Our employees rely on public transit. Our clients operate factories, retail outlets, and food services across the city.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit in New York, it hit us hard. How could we possibly stay profitable?
I decided to work 100% remotely, which I had never done before. It was considered taboo in our business. I didn’t go into the office for 100 days. I lived in solitude. That was an easy decision. The tougher decisions were yet to come.
Three Tough Decisions
I was committed to staying profitable throughout the pandemic. This was non-negotiable. After more than 70 years as a business, we made three difficult decisions to maintain revenue and respect the realities of our new normal.
1. Reduce payroll costs
There was no way around it. To survive, we had to cut our biggest line item: employee compensation.
We let 15% of our staff go, furloughed others, and reduced pay by 10% from top to bottom. This was the first and most difficult decision in the first 100 days of the pandemic. Nothing that followed came close.
2. Work from home
Like other companies, we shifted our people to work-from-home status. This decision was easier to make than reducing staff, but to be honest, I was worried. For a company that interviews people and puts them to work, we needed to get creative about how we could keep doing our best work, help people find jobs amid massive layoffs and workplace changes, and ensure everyone stayed safe. I wondered:
- Would our people adapt?
- How would I keep the team engaged and motivated?
- How could we keep recruiting associates and putting people to work without people in our offices?
While the change to remote working was awkward at first, our staff members and recruiters quickly adapted. Our IT team enabled the technology to keep the business going from dozens of new locations. Our prospective associates shifted their relationships with us from the office to their smartphones.
The hardest things to manage from a remote standpoint were implementing measures to ensure the safety of everyone we worked with and meeting new hire compliance requirements, like the I-9 form. Our HR team created workarounds that were compliant and safe.
3. PPP Loan
Our third tough decision was applying for a PPP loan. The decision to apply wasn’t hard, but the paperwork and process were. Compounding the situation was the realization that to qualify, we had to hire more people for eight weeks — right after we’d reduced our staff.
I used our PPP loan as an opportunity to bring people back to work, providing them with income to support their families. Among those we were able to hire were a full-time social media manager, a bilingual receptionist and recruiting support person, and two new salespeople in essential industries and markets that remained robust in spite of the pandemic. The PPP loan forgiveness benefit made these hiring decisions easy, with the upside of having each of these people deliver tremendous value to our clients, associates, and brand.
Staying Profitable In The Future
For now, the devastating effects of the pandemic that paralyzed New York in the first 100 days have started to ease. The past 100 days of solitude opened my eyes and lit a fire in me to ensure my company continues to thrive no matter what the future — or Covid-19 — throws at us.
Now, executives like me need to focus on how to stay profitable or come back to profitability. Here are two recommendations:
1. Maximize the remote workforce
We made working from home productive and sustainable for 100 days. I realized how much time working from home put back in my day and how much stress was relieved compared with the grind of getting ready and into the office every day.
We’re conditioned to think we have to get up early, commute to an office, and sit at a desk. Why go back? My employees are more productive, happy, and balanced in their lives today than before the pandemic hit. The time lost in commuting, which in New York can be substantial, is gained back. We all have more freedom.
As the leader, I don’t plan to go back to the office quite as often I did before Covid-19. I’ll be there for productive meetings with the management team, clients, and vendors. I’ll work from home the rest of the time.
2. Sharpen the pencil on your real estate
With more people working from home, businesses can consolidate locations or even give up entire floors or buildings. Consider coworking space as an option, especially for employees who are only in the office part-time or can safely share spaces. These coworking leases are generally less expensive and add flexibility.
Conversely, as the commercial real estate market struggles, it can be a good time to buy a building versus renting for the long term.
You Are Not Alone
I spent the first 100 days of the pandemic in solitude but was never alone. My team, clients, friends, and colleagues were with me virtually. My brain became alive with new ideas, awake to creative business concepts, and populated with a new drive to never let a disaster put my company out of business.
Yes, Covid-19 is horrible for families who have lost loved ones, individuals who have lost jobs, and entrepreneurs who have lost their businesses. Now isn’t the time to put your head in the sand. It’s the time to reflect, prepare, and fight for a more productive and profitable future for your company and for our communities.