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Lessons Learned as We Come Out of the COVID-19 Pandemic

07/15/2021 by David Septoff Support

There’s simply no way getting around it—the pandemic has been hard on all of us. From upending every aspect of the way we work and live with one another to introducing economic uncertainty around the world, the past year and a half was bad. And for so many people, there’s still a long way to go before we return to any a sense of normalcy.

Still, like everybody else, Zencos kept moving ahead as a business. We adapted where we needed, and learned a lot about who we are and new ways we can work together. Most of all, we learned the continuity of our business plans was good, and we could still function at a high level in challenging circumstances.

Even though the numbers indicate we’ve seen the worst of the crisis, we had to make some tough decisions to get here. But based on those decisions, the leadership that carried them out, and the team that we’ve built, we’ve come out stronger than before.

The pandemic constituted something akin to a 100-year flood. Here are a few strategies that kept us afloat through a difficult time. By applying these approaches to how your organization communicates and stays connected, you’ll be better equipped to weather whatever lies ahead too.

Coming Together and the Importance of ‘Thinking Differently’

For us and for a lot of businesses, we had to adapt to the changes spurred by the pandemic or die. In a modification of a famous ad campaign, we had to think differently about so many things we took for granted in how we work together. We had to think differently about how we maintained corporate culture and, relatedly, how we maintained contact with each other.

With the demands of social distancing, every company that hoped to continue doing business needed to embrace video conferencing tools like Zoom. While we’ve always been a company that’s friendly to remote working, we had more video calls than ever. I live in Maryland, but I have more direct contact with our team in North Carolina than ever before.

At a stressful time, how do we make sure the people on our team are doing okay? At the executive level, we held a weekly meeting that made sure we remained in alignment through every decision. And come hell or high water, that meeting happened.

But beyond figuring out new ways to work and communicate, we also needed to approach our bond to one another differently. We had to figure out a way to keep this company feeling like the same, connected company, even when everything was going against us.

Consistent Conversation Ensures Connection and Alignment

As the pandemic shut down our abilities to meet in or outside the office, we planned alternatives to our way of working. But just as important was planning a new way to connect with each other as people as well.

We hosted happy hours, talent shows, and other get-togethers over video. One of our coworkers organized game days, including a virtual bingo night we held a few weeks back. Sometimes we just sit around and talk to each other and ask questions about whatever comes up.

This is how you end up having deep discussions about “Star Wars” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” with your colleagues. Or finding out someone on your team is a huge anime fan. For those remote members of our team who weren’t based in North Carolina, these conversations helped establish stronger connections with their distant coworkers and collaborators.

We also held interview sessions where someone on the Zencos team would be asked a set of questions so we can get to know each other better. I’m a bit of an introvert, so my turn being interviewed constituted a trip out of my comfort zone. But everyone brought questions, and that led us all down a path to talk about my parents owning a bakery, or that time I threw a no-hitter in little league.

No one forced anyone to be on a call at 5 p.m. on a Wednesday night. But anyone who wanted to show up was welcome—and many people have, week after week. Including me.

Keeping morale and a sense of unity high during a stressful time has been critical to weathering the past year and a half. And when the pandemic is finally over, we’re planning to keep these events going.

Leadership Points the Way Through Difficult Decisions

One of the biggest chances that Zencos took came just as the crisis was beginning. As the pandemic was ramping up in middle of March 2019, we decided to close our office.

This was a controversial decision at the management level. For as much as we value consensus, we had a lot of difficulty agreeing the time was right for this kind of big decision. Frankly, we worried about those who didn’t know about our established work-from-home strategy concluding that we closed the business outright. But at the time, we were dealing with so many unknowns.

Ultimately, it wasn’t worth the risk to us to have our staff coming through our doors and inadvertently getting sick. As the country shut down, our decision was proven right.

At both a personal and business level, we all were facing our mortality in a manner of speaking. We had to keep our cost base predictable and as low as possible. We had to be very risk-averse because we didn’t know what the future looked like.

Throughout those difficult early months, we faced a lot of uncertainty. Fortunately, we had the right people in place to lead our organization through difficult decisions, communicate those decisions clearly, and remain transparent about our plans with our whole team.

We decided to operate conservatively, keep our fixed costs flat and other discretionary spending at a bare minimum. We did our research and saw both big and small companies were operating the same way. From the beginning, we were clear: Our goals were to keep 100% of our staff, with no furloughs, and no salary reductions. And by working together, that’s exactly what we did.

We’re Emerging From the Past Year’s Challenges Stronger

Our conservative, unified and transparent approach worked for us and as a result, we lost exactly zero staff members during this difficult period and are now adding to our team.

One of our greatest gains over the past year and a half was a sense of perspective. We’ve had people on our team and within our families get sick, but they’re still here. We have a lot to be grateful about.

Maybe the biggest lesson we’ve all learned throughout the pandemic is people are resilient. If you tell them the truth, they may not like it. But they’ll understand if you’re clear and open with your communication. That approach has served us well up to now. And I’ll keep doing so in the future, through whatever lies ahead.