Communication, flexibility key for businesses navigating the coronavirus

While it’s unlikely any business will emerge from the coronavirus pandemic entirely unscathed, there are several strategies that companies are deploying to mitigate loss now and in the future.

Business owners are taking stock of how the coronavirus is changing the day-to-day operation of their company, and adjusting communications and workforce strategies in response.

New Berlin-based machine parts manufacturer Pindel Global Precision has contacted customers to help them set priorities regarding parts they foresee needing, chief executive officer Bill Berrien said on a webinar hosted by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

Without knowing what the future holds, Pindel has taken an aggressive approach by addressing prospective orders. The company is also communicating with customers about shipping stock on hand that would otherwise be on blanket orders, Berrien said.

“Communicating with and assessing our supply base and folding into normal redundancy and risk mitigation practices – not being single sourced where we shouldn’t be,” Berrien said. “All those practices from more normal days are bearing some fruit here.”

Milwaukee-based ManpowerGroup, a company with offices and employees located around the globe, has experienced the impact of the virus on multiple fronts. As the outbreak has unfolded internationally, the company has modified its communication strategies to keep up with the evolving narrative.

“Going back to the Italy situation, when the government was changing the law at 3 a.m., we needed to be online and texting, so using SMS to tell our workers whether they could be at work, where and how they needed to work by the time they woke up the following morning,” said Ruth Harper, ManpowerGroup vice president of global strategic communications.

Milwaukee-based Northwestern Mutual has also adapted its communication strategies, particularly related to the company’s transition to remote work. With kids out of school and parents working remotely, it’s important for employees to not get upset about loud children or a barking dog during a conference or video call, for example, said Don Robertson, Northwestern Mutual executive vice president and chief human resources officer.

“We sent a note out saying, ‘That’s kind of the charm of it. We’re all a family and in this together so don’t be upset or worry,’” Robertson said. “That’s kind of the approach we’ve taken and it’s a good balance of the head and the heart.”

While the disruption of the coronavirus presents serious challenges to businesses, Brad Herda, a Sussex-based certified FocalPoint business coach, said it could present an opportunity for those weathering it.

Herda said companies that successfully adapt are those that implement flexible scheduling and remote workforce capabilities, which millennials and Gen Z employees are seeking.

“In that manufacturing and construction space … I think it’s an absolute wonderful opportunity to change their business to support and attract younger talent,” Herda said.

Meanwhile, employers can extend flexibility to employees whose children are at home because of statewide school closures. Switching to a multiple shift model or having flexible scheduling is a way to alleviate concerns regarding child care and the costs associated with it.

“If I can reduce child care expenses three days a week, I immediately give that family a raise without having to pay them an extra dollar out of my pocket from an expense perspective on the business,” Herda said.

Companies with more liquidity are also finding themselves better positioned for the pandemic. Herda cited the example of one of his clients, an older business owner who has three months of liquid operating cash. A month ago, Herda believed that much liquidity equated to missed opportunity.

“From an age perspective, the amount of life experiences and his comfort level and risk tolerance, that’s what he wanted,” Herda said. “Low and behold, here comes this crisis and they’re going to be in a great spot.”

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Brandon Anderegg
Brandon covers startups, technology, banking and finance. He previously worked as a general assignment and court reporter for The Freeman in Waukesha. Brandon graduated from UW-Milwaukee’s journalism, advertising and media studies program with an emphasis in journalism. He enjoys live music, playing guitar and loves to hacky sack.