And people stayed home … and reviewed their business model and methods to stay relevant

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The first part of the title comes from a poem by Kitty O’Meara, who lives in the Madison area. Her poem by the same name has gone “viral” in recent weeks and appears in full at the end of this article.

It feels like the world has been turned upside down. Every aspect of our lives has been shaken to the core, and there are many unanswered questions and deep levels of uncertainty. All of us as individuals, families, communities, and businesses have been called upon to adapt.

For the most part, it seems Dane County residents are heeding calls by government and health officials to stay home. (Except for our essential workers who are out on the front lines — to them I say THANK YOU for all that you do.) Everyone else is finding new ways to learn and live together, yet separately.

However, many businesses are struggling with ways to stay relevant in these turbulent times. I’ve put together some thoughts about how companies can stay ahead of the curve (as much as possible) during this pandemic and other times of social and economic turmoil.

1. Pivot your business model

Businesses must be willing to change everything about how they’ve operated in the past. Is your offering still needed in the same way today as it was before? Should some aspects remain the same, but others be dramatically different? Look closely at what you’ve been doing in the past for your clients, partners, and employees. If it’s no longer relevant and doesn’t work within the confines of our “new normal,” it needs to change now.

Restaurants have been among the first to adapt. With social distancing measures in place, many have moved to a curbside, takeout business model. For some restaurant owners, this has been a very successful approach because it keeps some of their staff busy (and employed) and it keeps at least some revenue flowing. On top of that, many restaurant customers are looking for any continuation of life as they knew it. The ability to still enjoy the food they know and love from favorite spots is often a small slice of comfort and joy.

As an office supply store, we’ve had to shift gears quickly and dramatically, too. We typically deliver orders of essential supplies to businesses around the Greater Madison area. When we’re not treading water during a global crisis, our differentiator from national online suppliers and big-box retailers is that we go above and beyond to deliver office products directly to companies. We make the ordering process as smooth and easy as possible and remove unneeded packing materials, boxes, etc. so our customers don’t have to deal with it.

Today, many of our customers now work from home and don’t go into an office as they used to. This work-at-home shift severely reduced the need for us to deliver office products to business locations. However, we quickly recognized that many of our clients still need office supplies, but at home instead. For the first time, we expanded our capabilities to deliver needed office items to residential locations, so our customers have what they need, where and when they need it. This pivot was a big deal for us.

2. Take care of your employees

Employees continue to be an essential asset to your company, and they are scared about what the future holds. They have more responsibilities than ever, and they’re all piling up. They have to stay healthy, take care of their families (in some cases extended families), and continue to earn a living, if possible.

As an employer, it’s your responsibility to take care of them and help in every way you can, especially during times like this. Here are a few thoughts on what you can do:

  • Review how you handle sick time/attendance: You may have employees working remotely or you may not. Either way, people must quarantine when any symptoms arise, so make sure your sick time and attendance policies reflect that need.
  • Tap into vacation time: If your company needs to cut employee hours, allow flexibility on vacation time so it can be used to supplement income.
  • Remember all employment laws: Just because we’re in the midst of a global health crisis doesn’t mean employment laws don’t still apply. It’s perhaps more important than ever to be vigilant on this front.
  • Ask how the company can help: Just ask your employees these simple questions: “How can we help you get through this?” and “How are you and your family doing?” It’s often the little signs that someone cares that make the biggest difference in people’s lives.
  • Be transparent in your communications: Businesses are making difficult decisions. Stay open or close? Lay off employees or cut back hours? Approach your process with transparency so your team understands your choices and why you’re making them.
  • Be creative: Now is the time to pull out all the stops to help employees with a reduced-hour schedule make ends meet. We offer our employees an option to continue earning their regular full-time pay if they supplement nonworking hours by (safely) volunteering at a local community organization. It’s a way to both keep employees busy and help nonprofits that are stretched thinner than ever.

3. Tap into external resources where it makes sense

If you’re like us, we are now processing through the PPP, CARES Act, and EIDL — that’s a lot of information to take in and figure out. CPAs are busy working with clients to wade through all the options, and there are many articles and webinars available to all business owners.

All businesses in Dane County need to be aware of the Dane County Small Business Pandemic Support Program administered by Dane Buy Local. This program is available for small businesses experiencing financial difficulties as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Companies can apply for funding to help stay afloat and retain employees. There is $250,000 in available funds to support locally-owned Dane County small businesses in their efforts to retain employees and mitigate losses from the pandemic. Grant awards will range from $1,000 to $50,000. ALL small business owners are encouraged to apply. You can learn more here.

Right now, we’re hearing many people say that we are all in this together — and we are. We need to turn to each other for support as much as we can, we need to find creative ways to help small businesses survive the pandemic, and we need to figure out how we can all be stronger on the other side. When we all pitch in, we are one step closer to a strong recovery.

Stay well and stay safe.


And People Stayed Home
By Kitty O’Meara

And the people stayed at home
And read books
And listened
And rested
And exercised
And made art
And played games
And learned new ways of being
And were still
And listened more deeply
Some meditated, some prayed, some danced
Some met their shadows
And the people began to think differently
And the people healed.
And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways,
The earth began to heal
And when the danger passed and the people joined together again,
They grieved their losses,
And made new choices,
And dreamed new images,
And created new ways to live and heal the earth fully,
as they had been healed.

Rose Molz is president of EZ Office Products.

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