In February, I interviewed an employee for a promotional video focusing on his company’s volunteer day. I asked him, “Why do you love working at your company?” He replied, “They are like my family. I spend more time with my coworkers than I do with anyone else.” Little did we know that in a few weeks, that time typically spent with work family would face never before seen challenges.
With that said, I have never been one to freak out in national emergencies. When Hurricane Sandy was heading for New York, my idea of preparation was buying 5 bottles of wine and a box of Cheez-Its. However, as news of COVID-19 began to dominate the news, something felt different about this situation. The heightened uncertainty of what to expect seemed to shake not only my personal norms, but a majority of my business norms.
While it can be easy to get overwhelmed with all of the negative news from the last couple of weeks, some lessons for business are becoming clear.
1. It has never been more clear that employees look to their employer for action in crisis. We have written several times about the erosion of trust in historical institutions over the past year. More and more, employees look to their employer to do what is right for their professional and personal life. No more was that evident than in the past couple of weeks. Employees with little clear direction or options turned to their employers to provide comfort and well-being during the crisis. Walmart, Apple, and Olive Garden all made updates to their sick leave policies. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation partnered with companies like Mastercard to start a COVID-19 Accelerator. LVMH started making hand sanitizer. Where uncertainty appeared, business stepped in to provide as many solutions to society as possible.
2. As we become more physically disconnected, we must find new ways to “connect.” I am a believer that we started personal “social distancing” as a society several years ago. The one place where we still had physical connection was the workplace. However, with the office environment going virtual for the near term, our one place left to traditionally develop relationships seems to be at risk. In the social distancing world, we will need to find new innovative ways to humanize our colleagues and business prospects. Providing tools to business professionals in our “new reality” will become even more important to forming authentic connections.
3. As businesses focus on social good efforts during a time of crisis, they must remember the impact to every nonprofit. While we all push to help save local businesses during this time of isolation, business leaders must not forget the local nonprofits in our community. While we believe it is important to help any organization focused on finding a solution for the virus, the business community must also acknowledge the trickle-down effect this will have on other nonprofits who are dependent on volunteers and donations. Over the last two weeks, we have heard countless stories from the lean nonprofits that do not have delivery volunteers to provide food to sick members of the community, supplies for their food pantries, and donations from important annual fundraisers. As we have the discussion of helping small business weather this storm, business leaders must apply the same thinking to nonprofits who align with their corporate values and play a vital role in our local communities.
In 2002, I left my family in Arkansas and moved to Atlanta to work for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. As I adjusted to my new daily routine, those first weeks in my new environment felt uncertain and full of anxiety. The last couple of weeks have felt that way. As we adjust to our new surroundings, it is hard not to feel the stress of being disconnected from our work family. However, this can also be an opportunity – an opportunity to recognize our responsibility to our employee’s well-being, make business connections in innovative ways, and support the organizations that impact our community on a daily basis.
Founder & CEO