From a two-week original slowdown to the current over two-month shutdown, employers and managers are trying new and innovative things to keep employees engaged as their teams assume more responsibilities and fears about what will happen next. Working from home is not a new concept, of course; but being forced into this situation very quickly and to have massive numbers doing it certainly is. Which begs the question, what do leaders and managers need to do to ensure their employees stay motivated, engaged, and supported during this time?
To begin with, managers must remember that their employees are likely working while stressed, scared, and concerned about themselves, their families, and their financial future. They may fear catching the COVID-19 virus itself or are working under less than ideal circumstances… or both. Some may have taken on too much work while others are struggling to fill up their days. Managers may not be able to assuage all stressors, but being sympathetic and showing support will go a long way to helping their employees survive this challenging time. For example:
Convey Job Security
The first step in improving morale is to reassure employees that their jobs are secure (if this is true). Fears surrounding money and an inability to care for their families can hinder the most productive employee and impact the company. A good manager will reassure their employees and answer any questions as truthfully and fully as possible which, in turn, will help abate these fears and instill a sense of security.
Address Employee Needs
The pandemic caught almost all companies off-guard and under-prepared for their change in operations. Moving overnight to a remote workforce sent employees and managers scampering to set up suitable office space within personal homes, and in this transition, frustrated employees may have found themselves without all of the tools they need to adequately perform their jobs. It is a manager’s responsibility to address any job-related needs that could impact that employee’s ability to perform his or her job.
Conduct Regular Team and One-On-One Meetings
Shifting to a remote work environment does not decrease an employee’s need for ongoing interaction at the team and individual level. While most team meetings are meant to get the work done, managers may find that more and more of their team meetings are useful as “check-ins” on how employees are doing. These meetings can be beneficial to keep the team engaged together. Setting aside a little time for social interaction increases team connectivity and builds trust.
Employees benefit from one-on-one check in meetings. Without crossing any lines, managers can ask about how the employee is handling their remote status Individual employees may be feeling isolated, dealing with schooling their children, caring for a parent, having challenges with family members out of the area, or even dealing with an illness they cannot get treatment for right now. These are all real-life problems that a good manager can and should help the employee deal with during these times. Empathy is an important skill for every manager and leader right now.
Now more than ever it is important to give employees positive feedback and praise regularly. Since a a remote workforce manager cannot walk into an employee workspace to say, “good job” or “thanks”, he or she needs to make an effort and offer praise and feedback virtually. Small tokens like gratitude emails, recognition within the team, or rewards like gift cards or delivered items can show a team member working alone that he or she is a valuable part of the team.
Fun As a Motivator
So, what can a remote manager or team leader do to help keep employees motivated and engaged? Why not try out some “fun” things, even during regular work hours? Activities such as using a team meeting to do “trivia” contests, share employee pet stories (or their pets on camera!), wine tastings, or other happy hour events, are all positive team building steps. Cooking is a popular quarantine activity and managers could suggest virtually sharing a meal or whipping up a dish together. For employees who have children who are graduating this year without a ceremony or have a birthday or other eventful celebrations, the team could host an impromptu live celebration. The options are endless but all have the same goal: having fun together.
Now may be a good time for employee skill development and training. Managers can encourage employees to seek out Continuing Education opportunities or take courses through industry or job-relevant associations and organizations. A manager could bring in a trainer or subject matter expert to virtually present to his or her team. Whether a solo training session or group session, adding skills or knowledge can be an effective, interactive, and fun learning experience.
It appears that remote workforces are here to stay, pandemic or not. Savvy managers know that employees who are disconnected, stressed, and worried about their futures will be far from productive. No matter what activities are chosen, remaining empathetic and putting employee needs at the forefront will provide long-term rewards to both the manager and company.
This member post written by C. Michael Ferraro, President of Training Solutions, Inc.
Dear Chamber Members,
As the pandemic’s weeks have settled into months and what was once odd has become our new work and life normal, you can rely on the stability of your Chamber and our ongoing work on your behalf. I’m proud to boast that we have not missed a beat and continue our member advocacy work, including leading the creation of coalitions advocating for a safe return to work, and weekly share valuable and relevant content to our members via online seminars while seeking new ways to engage and connect our business community.
We are on the forefront of organizations communicating at the local, state, and federal level to ensure a safe return to work while urging policymakers to continue making investments that will support business, retrain and retool employees, and support what we all recognize will be a period of business recovery. Our Back to Work Leadership Task Force meets regularly to address the fast-moving developments in this crisis, ensuring that our elected leaders understand what our members need to speed that recovery.
The Chamber PAC has launched its Policy Lunch series with notable Virginia leaders and invites participation from all members. These Lunches gather members in robust numbers for energetic business discussions and will continue through the summer into the Fall. If you haven’t participated in the past, this is a unique opportunity to hear information first-hand and ask questions, if you like. The PAC welcomes all members for these events—all you need to do is register! If you haven’t attended a Policy Lunch before, I urge you to try this new engagement opportunity with the Chamber.
Collaboration is a part of our organizational DNA, and we rely on collaboration with members to develop relevant and shareable content, policy positions that we then advance to elected officials, and guidance on what we should consider and advocate for as investments in workforce, education, and business. In that same spirit I have been asked to join the Connected DMV COVID-19 Strategic Renewal Task Force. The first meeting of this task force is later this week. Our objective is to develop a strategy and actionable recommendations to regional governments that will help us all build a resilient and sustainable economic recovery. I’ve spoken with many of you about what it is that you see as critical for both near-term and long-term economic recovery. If you have ideas you would like to share, please email or call me. I want to hear from you! We are all in this together.
I trust that you, your colleagues and family remain healthy and safe as we navigate this uncertain time—and move forward to economic and personal recovery.
President and CEO
It may be difficult to recall in today’s environment, but pre-pandemic business was far from simple. Almost all organizations faced myriad challenges in terms of fierce competition, discriminating customers, longer sales cycles, and difficulty in differentiating their offerings, which were all compounded by tremendous advances in technology and a demand for greater transparency.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, these business challenges multiplied exponentially while unforeseen—and at times unprecedented—challenges demanded our attention. Ensuring business survival has become an ever-present concern while we watch our business as usual processes lose effectiveness.
One day we’ll be able to look back at how the pandemic accelerated forces already in play, changed the way we all live and work, and its devastation of certain industries and business models. However, until that day comes every organization should be aggressively looking to innovate…or prepare to go extinct
While every organization carries a unique set of markets, customers, and business drivers, the innovation process can be universally applied by addressing the following 5 questions:
How congruent is the way you innovate with your vision and appetite for innovation?
Those who embrace creativity and boundaryless thinking are essentially building innovation into the way they operate. Why? Because core to a company's ability to succeed as it iterates and pivots is connecting its vision with an appetite for innovation. The innovation must be an imperative part of your company’s DNA for it to be successful.
How effectively do you articulate your vision and appetite for innovation to your stakeholders?
It’s not enough to just think in a vacuum. To achieve true innovation you must be able to articulate your vision to others. In other words, you need to evangelize the need for different thinking and change for the better. The most innovative organizations do not hesitate to share their innovation goals and progress with their teams, shareholders, customers, suppliers, etc. “Walking the talk” brings it all together for stakeholders and, through group participation, everyone will help your company innovate.
Is innovation a crucial part of your team members’ job descriptions?
We’ve all heard the mantra that “everyone is in sales” and embracing this mentality has benefitted countless companies and their employees. The same holds true with innovation. The companies who are most innovative maintain the mindset that “everyone is an innovator.” They actively engage all team members in exercises and conversations designed to spark ideas on organizational self-improvement.
Do you have the right processes to create and bring innovation to market?
Innovation isn’t a single step process. It takes leadership from the top and support from resources to execute on the innovation imperative. The most innovative organizations create and implement innovation processes, measure results, and iterate off that feedback. It’s from this set of processes that a company develops its playbook for the ongoing development of its best and most creative ideas.
How do you measure ROI and your ability to meet customer expectations?
The best kind of innovations have a direct and measurable ROI (Return On Investment). Some will not be measurable, but will have benefits (such as improved employee morale, increased retention, customer lifetime, value, etc.) and should therefore be undertaken. The discipline of calculating ROI by itself is extremely useful, as it forces a closer examination of various business drivers.
Having ready answers to these five questions will form a good foundation from which any organization can start looking at things differently and innovating its way to greater success.
By Tien Wong, Founder, Big Idea Connectprenuer Forum
For most, recent weeks have been a fog where awkward distancing, conference calls, and decisions-on-the-fly have run together with seemingly no end in sight. As business leaders, we’ve reacted quickly to challenges and made decisions in a period of hours or days that, in pre-pandemic days, we would have analyzed and deliberated for weeks or months before making a move. Have we been perfect during the pandemic? No, but we’ve made some good moves and learned lessons from actions we’d do-over with the benefit of hindsight.
What is clear is that we cannot stay in reactive mode. While a steady stream of human, financial, and safety concerns will keep us occupied for the foreseeable future, we’ve reached the point where we, as business leaders, must begin to plan for the next stage, using what we’ve learned during the pandemic to improve and strengthen our businesses.
Let’s consider a few business positives that could benefit business as we prepare for our inevitable recovery:
“Business as usual” changed dramatically once we received our March stay at home directives. With much of the professional workforce telecommuting, our IT and management skills were stressed to capacity (and beyond!) overnight. Once that initial shock wore off, many businesses found that at least a partial remote workforce has actually benefitted their business and could be both a recruitment perk and cost-savings tool moving forward.
Other process changes have surely emerged, which prompts the questions we should all be asking ourselves: what changes to business processes have we made out of necessity that might make sense to incorporate into ongoing operations? Conversely, what have we stopped doing that we don’t need to resume?
Competition: It’s a Different Marketplace
Unfortunately there will be business collateral damage from the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in a competitive landscapes that may look very different in the near future. Keeping tabs on our competitors has always been a business priority, and now it has become an investigation of potential growth opportunities. How will our competitors fare? Is there potential for a partnership or buyout in the near future? Now is the time to begin gathering that intelligence.
To date, more than 30 million of our fellow Americans have found themselves unemployed, mostly due to circumstances beyond their control. It’s a buyers’ market for employees and we can find ourselves staffing up from a large talent pool. Now is a good time to evaluate staffing models and how targeted investments could position our businesses for future growth.
The pandemic will have a longer reaching impact on our community’s office and rental spaces as our business landscape changes. Landlords and brokers will be eager to fill newly-available space, be it a recently constructed building or a newly vacated office. Now may be an ideal time time to renegotiate existing leases, explore better deals, or trade-up to a higher-quality property.
Invest in Business
While we can only speculate on how deep our emerging recession will be, we can be fairly certain of two things: interest rates will remain low and businesses will be eager to move product. In other words, the pandemic’s aftermath may present an opportunity for you to invest in the equipment or technology that will move your operation forward. Now is an ideal time to identify potential service, technology, or equipment needs and weaknesses, and correspondingly list what businesses could fulfill such requirements. Having that list on-hand will allow your business to prioritize purchases and act on future opportunities.
Finally, reflect back on the past weeks. You will likely be able to identify a handful of people in your business who stepped up in an extraordinary way. Positive attitudes, extra effort and supportive words have gone a long way in recent times and can be the difference between surviving and thriving. Thank these individuals now, reward them when you can, and know that you can count on them the next time you’re faced with challenges that seem insurmountable.
It may have seemed like it at the pandemic’s peak, but the business world has not ended. With a little effort now, your business will be poised for future growth in our post-pandemic world.
Richard A. Duke is the executive director at Hirschler. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's difficult to imagine a topic more top-of-mind with business owners and executives today than revenue and, more specifically, capitalizing on credits provided by our Federal and State governments. Chief among these opportunities is the CARES Act that provides assistance to employers who have experienced significant declines in revenue due to COVID-19.
On its surface the CARES Act seems straight-forward, yet many in business have recently discovered that understanding who can apply for what is not always clear. The following breaks out some of the CARES Act's highlights with a goal of providing clarity around who can apply for what:
The Employee Retention Payroll Tax Credit
The Employee Retention Credit is a fully-refundable tax credit for employers equal to 50 percent of qualified wages (including allocable qualified health plan expenses) that Eligible Employers pay their employees.
What Wages Qualify?
This Employee Retention Credit applies to qualified wages paid after March 12, 2020, and before January 1, 2021.
The maximum amount of qualified wages taken into account with respect to each employee for all calendar quarters is $10,000, so that the maximum credit for an Eligible Employer for qualified wages paid to any employee is $5,000.
Eligible Employers for the purposes of the Employee Retention Credit are those that carry on a trade or business during calendar year 2020 that either:
If the Eligible Employer averaged 100 or fewer full-time employees in 2019, qualified wages are the wages paid to any employee during any period of economic hardship described in (1) and (2) above.
For employers with more than 100 full-time employees, qualified wages include wages paid to employees when they are not providing services due to a governmental order related to COVID-19. If an employee is performing services on a reduced schedule, wages paid to the employee are only treated as qualified wages if they exceed what the employee would have otherwise been paid for the services performed. In that case, employers will receive a credit for the difference between the total wages paid to the employee and the amount the employer would have paid for the reduced hours or services actually provided by the employee.
The tax credit may be claimed against the employer portion of employment taxes, including Social Security and Railroad Retirement payroll taxes. To the extent the credit exceeds the employer portion of employment taxes due, the credit is treated as an overpayment and is refundable to the employer.
The IRS has issued a new Form 7200 to claim those credits.
An Eligible Employer may receive both the tax credits for the qualified leave wages under the FFCRA and ERC under the CARES Act, but not for the same wages. The amount of qualified wages for which an Eligible Employer may claim the Employee Retention Credit does not include the amount of qualified sick and family leave wages for which the employer received tax credits under the FFCRA.
An Eligible Employer that receives a paycheck protection loan cannot claim Employee Retention Credits.
Note: The IRS issued additional guidance for employers who paid qualified wages between March 13, 2020, and March 31, 2020. The employee retention credit for 50 percent of those wages should be claimed together with 50 percent of any qualified wages paid during the second quarter of 2020 on your second quarter Form 941, 941-SS, or 941-PR. Do not include the credit on your first quarter Form 941, 941-SS, or 941-PR.
This blog post provided by member Matthews, Carter & Boyce.
While it remains unclear how quickly the U.S. economy will recover, Virginia should bounce back from the economic storm faster than most. Even as projections vary as to when the COVID-19 virus will peak in the commonwealth, time could be on the state’s side.
In recent days the virus peak infection and death models have widely differed on when the peak will occur in Virginia. One respected model estimated late May or even early June. More recently that same model predicted a peak in late April. One sounds horrible – six more weeks just to get to the top, or apex, of the curve, the other sounds almost soothing – just a few days. This same model or another one may move the peak many times before it actually arrives. Good news will be spread widely, bad news not so much.
However, many experts will tell you that all models are specifically wrong, but the best models are generally useful. Either outcome, two weeks or six-plus, that delays or reduces the peak it’s actually a good thing. The total number of people sickened by the virus notwithstanding, the delay of this peak is exactly what the doctor – Dr. Anthony Fauci that is – ordered. Virginia is not only doing what it needs to in the near-term to weather the viral storm, but because of the demographics of its citizens and the structure of its economy Virginia should also be in a good position to weather the associated economic crisis.
The governor’s decision to lock-down the state when we had only 900 diagnosed cases was correct if not popular. With its ports, military installations, proximity to the Nation’s capital, and heavily trafficked roads with interstate commerce, the alternative for Virginia could have been really bad. I’m no virologist, but the decision should save lives. It should reduce the spread. It should keep our healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed like those of New York City, Detroit, and New Orleans. But it will also allow the Virginia economy to self-isolate with mild symptoms rather than face an economic ER visit or worse. Longer isn’t always better, but less severe is certainly always better. That is great news and reason number one of why Virginia should fare better than some states.
Another reason is the demography of the state. We are generally richer, healthier, and have better health insurance. First, Virginia’s median age is only 38.5 years, which is only 0.2 years older than the US median; therefore, we don’t have the outsized older population like “hot spots” Michigan or New Jersey (almost 40 years old) or Florida (over 42 years old).
Next, based on median household income, Virginia is the 7th highest and nearly 71 percent higher than the U.S. median. Yes, there is a large difference in this statistic from the Urban Crescent to the southwest Virginia coal fields, but it still bodes well for the state.
Third, according to America’s Health Rankings by the United Health Foundation, Virginia is the 20th healthiest state in the country receiving high marks for our behaviors, community, and environment – all very important factors with the pandemic. Virginia is slightly above the national average with nearly 91 percent of Virginians having health insurance coverage. It is also one of the best 10 states with over 75 percent of citizens having private health insurance, and is in the best 5 states with having just over 10 percent of citizens needing coverage from Medicaid. While not the best in any category, at least Virginia, just like the economy as a whole, was in a much better than average starting position going into the viral shutdown.
The final reason the Virginia economy should be more resistant to the economic decline is the composition of employment. Virginia’s employment structure, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is much less sensitive to the economic cycle. With nearly 1 in 8 (12 percent) persons working in a government or public administration position, Virginia has nearly 3 times the national average employment in this sector. Virginia also has 4 times the national average employment in agriculture and forestry, another more economically stable sector.
On the flip-side, Virginia has lower than average employment in some of the more economically-cyclical areas. Only 5.5 percent of Virginians are employed in the manufacturing sector. This rate is just a little more than half the national average of 10%. Virginia also has only 65 percent of the national average jobs in the construction sector and only 70 percent of the average jobs in financial services. Virginia won’t likely receive an economic boost from the virus, as little more than 12 percent of the state’s workforce is employed in healthcare compared to nearly 14 percent nationally.
While this message may offer little solace to the groups and individuals adversely affected by the virus itself or the loss of work, the case can still be made that Virginia is in a position many states would envy. So whether by luck or design, Virginia’s economy and thereby its citizens looks good to weather the storm.
Derek Klock is a professor of practice of finance in the Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business.