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.
Eighteen weeks have passed since we sent our first COVID-19 newsletter to Regis HR Group clients. Looking back, we could not have anticipated the scope of support our clients would need. In addition to inquiries about traditional human resources matters, we received an unprecedented number of questions about general business operations from employers, to the point of, “What can we do to survive?”
From the time I write this to the time it will be published in PEO Insider,® it is likely our company will have adapted again. I cannot recall a time that has seen such rapid change. Even though Reno, where I operate my PEO, is 500 miles away from Las Vegas, both cities are in the Great State of Nevada. And Nevada is currently at the top of a couple of lists: highest unemployment and surging COVID-19 cases.
As have other PEOs across the country, Alcott HR has been assisting its clients with navigating the issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and its financial impact on employers. Headquartered in Farmingdale, New York, with offices in Buffalo, New York, and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, we started receiving COVID-19-related questions in late February 2020, before many areas of the country had any confirmed cases. Working with clients in some of the hardest-hit areas of the country, each department was affected and worked together to develop creative solutions to collaborate and support our clients and employees.
As it has for so many of my PEO peers, the COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for business in ways that we never could have anticipated. As president of Xenium HR, I had to navigate how to lead effectively in a crisis we had not experienced before, take care of my amazing team members, and continue to provide the best possible service and support for our clients.
Think back to the last time you were on a flight, which may have been quite some time ago at this point. It’s strangely hard to forget that one safety precaution before take-off tells you: Ensure that your oxygen mask is on (and working) before you move to help anyone around you. At first, it can seem harsh or almost selfish. But as the thinking goes—when you secure your own safety first, you’re then able to help others in a much more productive, focused, and sustainable way. The same thinking can be applied within your organization. Before a business can help its customers navigate a crisis, it needs to first guarantee the safety and well-being of its employees.
I have always been a planner. I enjoy the process of planning and the work involved in preparing for a goal. I like to prepare for different alternatives and be ready with a plan B, C, and if necessary, Z. Planning comes naturally to me, and a good plan makes me feel secure and gives me a sense of control.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted how business is done. From remote work efforts across every industry to retailers screening customer temperatures, it’s clear that things are different now, and no one is quite sure what normal might look like in the future.
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Although the year of COVID-19 continues to test us in ways few could have imagined, we find comfort in the patterns of the past and must strive to find opportunity. Most days, I jump out of bed full of the optimistic entrepreneurial spirit ready to “take the hill,” but can’t help but let some uncertainty creep in throughout the day as I’m constantly reminded of the world today. With a bit of Zoom fatigue (new term) and the feeling that we’re living one long day as each day runs into the next, I have never wavered—I’m actually more bullish on the value the PEO model brings to our clients and the resiliency of the small business market we serve.
As the United States continues to struggle with the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on health, safety, and the economy, it is likely that many employers will have yet another issue to face as they attempt to maintain and reopen their businesses: lawsuits. These are expected to range from claims from customers and clients relating to COVID-19 exposure, to more focused claims from employees under various federal, state, and local laws relating to workplace health and safety, non-discrimination, and employment termination.
As businesses resume normal operations, reopen facilities, and adjust to a new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic, many are implementing policies and procedures in response to state and local executive orders and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
It is hard to believe that almost five months have passed since the first COVID-19 cases reached Georgia. Walking into a restaurant or business is not the same as it was a few months ago. From hand sanitizer at the front entrance and having your temperature checked, to wearing masks and social distancing, things are not quite the same as before COVID-19 began, but we are steadily headed back in that direction. Over the past few months, companies and communities have adapted to keep their businesses operating while also keeping their employees and customers safe. Georgia, where our company, Impact Workforce Solutions, is located, was one of the first states to begin reopening its doors in April.
As I write this, I am once again surrounded by the hum of the office—that non-descript, almost electric buzz created by a team taking care of business. A few short weeks ago, these same team members were taking care of business remotely, from their homes, while sheltering in place during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. They gathered with their colleagues daily using video conferencing software and telephones. Together, they kept service delivery humming as if they were still in the office next door or just down the hall, instead of in spare bedrooms or working from dining room tables.
The COVID-19 crisis has undeniably sent major shockwaves throughout the PEO industry—not since the Great Depression has unemployment risen as quickly as during this pandemic. For many PEOs, this has been a big blow to profitability and there is still no clear answer to how long it will last. When the dust settles, it is almost certain there will be consolidation. While some PEOs will be acquired or go out of business, many will emerge stronger because of the lessons learned.
The PEO Index plunged when the COVID-19 crisis hit the U.S., as shown in Figure 1. The correlation with gross domestic product (GDP) is interesting in that the PEO industry anticipated the drop in this last very atypical period. COVID-19 affected PEO-serviced companies just as it did all companies. However, the difference is that these PEO-serviced companies had help that other companies did not, especially with the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan application process and forgiveness compliance. I expect the PEO Index to recover far faster than almost all other small companies and the GDP itself.
When COVID19 first hit in early March, we were getting ready for our CEO Forum in Palo Alto, California. I had been there a week or so before and noticed how many people at SFO were wearing masks. Still, we intended to soldier on. As the date got closer, however, more and more of the registrants canceled, concerned for their health. A few days before the conference, we canceled. It was the first casualty of the pandemic.