August 07, 2020
High-Touch Service, High-Tech Delivery: Successful Transition Leads to Opportunity to Rebalance the Two
Crises are, by nature, horrible events. Oftentimes, they also bring out the best in people and companies. Living in Northwest Florida (aka Hurricane Alley), emergency preparedness is simply a way of life for most people here. While it is a very nice place to live, people understand that living on or near the water is truly a gamble in that their belongings may one day be destroyed by a storm. Past tragedies of hurricanes and the BP oil spill have well prepared LandrumHR for various crises going forward, including the recent COVID-19 crisis.
When the crisis first began, many of our clients contracted slightly, payroll was down approximately 10 percent, and some clients were even forced to close their doors. However, our area of Florida was not nearly as affected by COVID-19 outbreaks as South Florida was. For example, local infections were almost exclusively found in a few nursing home facilities.
Initially, every business was encouraged to operate remotely, restaurants were only open for take-out and delivery, and everyone was strongly encouraged to remain in their homes. However, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been leading the way in opening back up and doing his best to balance the health and economic needs of the state.
THE TECHNICAL FOUNDATION
Looking back, we had been preparing our internal operations (including IT) to scale up in a big way for a couple of years prior to COVID-19. Last year, we acquired hrQ, a nationwide human capital professional services firm that focuses on consulting, providing interim HR talent, and conducting searches for HR professionals. hrQ employees work 100 percent remotely from their homes. While certainly foreign to our established LandrumHR culture at the time, hrQ employees were obviously happy with their working environment while being productive, efficient, and successful.
We have been using Zoom to connect to our remote hrQ employees in San Francisco, Denver, Atlanta, and across Texas for many months. We implemented Microsoft Teams several months ago (mostly for collaboration purposes), so we had other remote tools at our disposal. Our entire staff was trained and transitioned to using Teams prior to the crisis. Teams is the center of our communication with one another, while our CRM houses our client and employee information.
We have been operating out of a Citrix environment for the past couple of years. Our staff has been simply connecting “dumb terminals” at their desks to the massive processing power that resides in the cloud. Our IT staff pre-configured these “zero client” machines1 to boot up and securely connect to our private cloud over the Internet no matter where they are located—whether that’s inside of our office on our own private network, in a hotel room, at a coffee shop, or at employees’ homes. Our internal culture (and IT) was already very familiar with the concepts and challenges of supporting a remote workforce.
When COVID-19 struck, the most difficult part was logistically organizing the transfer of the equipment out of the building in an orderly fashion and accounting for all of the machines and parts. That happened on a Friday. IT did some capacity testing over the weekend and by Monday, all of our employees were fully connected and working remotely. It wasn’t perceived as a heavy lift to simply take our terminals home, plug them in, and connect to each other across town.
BUT HOW DO YOU DELIVER HIGH-TOUCH SERVICE REMOTELY?
Next, we had to understand what our clients were experiencing and how they would react to our newly formed remote operation. Client-wise, many operational changes that we have been encouraging clients to adopt (in some cases for years!) were brought to light when the entire world was forced to conduct business remotely, such as electing direct deposit, discontinuing the printing of paper checks and stubs, ditching paper reports, and paying invoices online instead of by check. One unforeseen benefit was that once the entire nation was forced to deal with working remotely, it enabled our client service and support teams to interact with clients, employees, and applicants in ways many of them were already familiar with at the consumer level, namely using Zoom.
I’m very proud of our team in how they responded to client needs during the crisis. They literally went out on their own to write reports to obtain the required Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan information within 24 hours so our clients did not have to anxiously wait and suffer over the weekend.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE FUTURE
Now that we are over the fence, we are not going back. Our staff has proved to be more productive remotely, therefore we have chosen to remain that way. We are downsizing our facility needs and plan to relocate our headquarters to a smaller space that allows room for various employee teams to meet on an infrequent basis.
Going forward, we will only retain face-to-face contact whenever it is highly beneficial over remote communication, such as business development meetings, relationship building opportunities with our clients, safety inspections, job interviews, and I-9 verifications.
Ultimately, we all must ask ourselves what is truly important. What truly contributes to the bottom line? Is face-to-face contact absolutely necessary for each and every business process? In some cases, the answer is yes, but in most it is no. Except in cases of emergency, I honestly don’t care whether our staff responds to me at 6:00 am or 2:00 am or even where they are geographically located when they answer, as long as work gets done in a timely fashion and at a high-quality standard. It has been said that “necessity is the mother of invention,” and in this case, working completely remotely was the necessity that created an increase in production and a preferred environment.
Personally, I recognize that, for the most part, I am the odd-ball in our company because I prefer to leave my house every morning to go to an office. However, if our staff members are held accountable for their results and are getting them, I am okay with whenever and wherever they prefer to work. As I type this article, Tropical Storm Cristobal is headed our way, and I am not in the least bit concerned.
LandrumHR will continue to focus on finding the balance with remote work and client interaction. Our goal is to have both engaged employees and clients, and I believe the greatest opportunity for success will be finding a balance that allows for face-to-face interaction while continuously evaluating what is most efficient and productive for both our employees and clients.
1 Zero client machines have no local storage and do not require memory or processing components, cutting costs and simplifying IT infrastructure. They are an updated version of dumb terminals, which only display, send, and receive text.
Read in the August, 2020 issue of PEO Insider.