NEO small business trends that are defining 2021
The business environment in Northeast Ohio has certainly had to shift over the last year. As a provider of human resources services to local companies across the business spectrum, we’ve had a front-row seat to how companies are adjusting to survive and even thrive. What do the companies making it have in common? Here are the top seven trends we see impacting small businesses throughout Northeast Ohio. How companies are responding provides insight into what the Northeast Ohio small business landscape will look like as we move further into 2021.
1. Are you functional, not optimal?
Recently, a small business client described his company’s current situation as “functional, not optimal.” While the big corporations fairly easily transitioned to remote work, the vast majority of workers in Cleveland work in small businesses for whom remote work is not a good fit. Small business owners are being extremely cautious as they grapple with this “interim model” of functionality. Recognizing this is the first step toward optimization.
2. Flexibility is de rigueur
The pandemic has pushed companies into rethinking their stance on flexibility to the point that it is practically a requirement. This does not only mean working from home. It might mean staggered work schedules so not everyone is in the office or plant at the same time. Or for manufacturing shifts, it may mean longer days with Fridays off. Or perhaps flexibility is demonstrated by paid online training days. Be creative. The opportunity to make some attempts at flexibility is now.
3. Lockdown your technology
With so much of our day-to-day business taking place in the virtual world, right-sizing your technology and locking down cyber connections is essential. Just look at the online unemployment hacks costing millions. Unsecured tech access can be a liability. Bump up IT security to safeguard your operations. It’s an investment worth making.
4. Communicate constantly
Companies faring well are communicating more than ever before. You really cannot overcommunicate. As things change, employees need to hear, “This is what we’re going to try now, and here’s why.” Often, it’s not change that causes consternation; it’s ambiguity and lack of clear communication. Remember that communication is a two-way street. Be sure to solicit employee feedback.
5. Boost morale
Make an effort to inject some fun into the workplace and boost morale. Remember those office birthday lunches? How do you do that virtually? Find ways to continue to build relationships and feel authentically connected. Host a virtual cooking class, play games online, start a company book club. Find what works for you.
6. Find a balance
For many, working from home during the pandemic is more like “living at work” and they have a hard timing shutting things down. Talk to employees about setting boundaries and realistic expectations. Help your employees understand what it means to take care of themselves — both when working and not.
7. Address the training gap
Many of the workplace issues we see result from a lack of management training. Front-line managers need to be trained on the basics of handling human resources issues as well as new protocols related to the pandemic. The age of your managers can also be a factor. Those who are 50-plus were likely not trained to execute business like it is being executed today. Properly training your managers is one of the most important things you can do for your employees and your company.
Throughout 2021, we will inch closer to returning to the way things were. However, the above trends show how much has changed along the way, particularly for small businesses. Flexibility, communication, technology, and morale will continue to be crucial. But the most important thing small businesses can do is to train supervisors and managers so they are in lockstep with top leadership. This is the best way to successfully navigate whatever 2021 has in store.
Mark D’Agostino is president and founder of ConnectedHR in Cleveland.
Letter to the editor:
Time to rethink talent acquisition strategies
Your Oct. 26 article about the toll COVID-19 is taking on global talent acquisition echoes what’s happening in Northeast Ohio. The study cited raised some interesting points. But it’s important to also think about what companies can do now to “rethink their talent acquisition strategies.”
The study stated that “more than 60% of those surveyed reported that their top priority is filling open positions quickly.” We’re seeing that, too, and it’s presenting a challenge. Since May, we’ve seen companies steadily searching for replacement employees at two different levels: entry-level and professional level. And they’re having difficulty finding people to fill these existing positions.
Faced with this difficulty, companies are turning to recruiters for help. As the pace of business continues to pick up, it’s going to be a battle to get the right people into your organization. This could turn into an opportunity to bring new, higher-level talent on board. People not content with how their company performed during a stressful time may be looking for new opportunities. Or, after experiencing the stress of the COVID economy, companies may decide they need stronger team players, and this is a good time to build that team. We’re seeing lots of hiring going on, with the common theme being hard to fill entry-level positions. This in itself may be an argument for outsourcing the recruiting function. After all, if you are going to post a position, you better be ready to act immediately, because applicants have so many more opportunities.
We’ve also seen companies who had laid off internal talent acquisition teams due to COVID begin to slowly rebuild their teams to support massive hiring. But employers don’t know for sure what the future will look like — so they’re proceeding cautiously and supplementing with outsourced recruitment. There is stiff competition for talent. What companies need to do now is position themselves in the market to be able to secure the talent for the future. So whether they turn to a recruiter for help or build an internal recruitment team, they need to prepare now for when the pace picks up. If you’re not doing it now, your competition is.
Mark D’Agostino, President, ConnectedHR
Three C’s for business owners this COVID-19 holiday season: Mark D’Agostino
CLEVELAND — Typically, during the holidays, business owners do special things for their employees – parties, bonuses, what have you. COVID-19 has dramatically changed the status quo. As we continue to deal with the ramifications of COVID, especially during the holiday surge, there are three essential things business owners must do. I’ve seen this time and again.
Throughout Northeast Ohio, the businesses managing best build their COVID-19 response around these three basic tenets: being calm; being consistent; and communicating. Call it the “three C’s of navigating COVID,” if you will.
CALM – Keeping calm is always a good idea, but being very intentional about keeping your employees calm is essential. You need your team to work optimally. If they feel safe and supported, they’ll do that. In the news and on social media, we frequently see stories of employers doing the “wrong” things related to COVID-19. Often this is the result of managers not being trained properly to handle situations that are brand-new to the work environment. So, an important part of maintaining “calm” in the workplace is preparing and training your managers to deal with these situations.
CONSISTENT – Being a leader often means having to hold the line and answer the hard questions. And COVID-19 has certainly posed some difficult questions. Be careful not to let your frustration show to your employees. And, as you deal with COVID-19 regulations, you have to put your personal opinions away and do what needs to be done. Employees want consistency and fairness. And when I say “be consistent,”’ I mean be extraordinarily consistent. Companies simply have to be consistent – now more than ever before. Oftentimes, what an owner thinks about the handling of the pandemic and what an employee thinks may be at odds. If you’re weak at setting expectations and inconsistent, it breeds resentment. If you’re consistent, however, you’ll have better buy-in. Employees want consistency and fairness.
COMMUNICATE – Clear communication is how you set expectations. With COVID-19 regulations and guidance changing almost daily, communication must be ongoing. Focus on making sure employees feel safe and build their trust. They need to know what is expected of them. For example, if they have a child who is on remote learning, does the employee have the flexibility to work from home? What is the process to follow if they’ve been exposed to COVID? They need to know, especially as these are not just human resources issues, but they have become safety issues as well. As a business owner, you have the responsibility to not only set expectations for these scenarios but also to immediately address them.
Be open to individual needs – within set expectations – and make sure employees understand what’s needed of them. Being calm, being consistent, and communicating (along with being respectful and kind) will help you to get through this very rough period. Yes, it’s scary, but a calm approach, extraordinary consistency, and stellar communication can eliminate that fear.
In this very different holiday season, give your employees consistency and fairness. Make them feel safe. And your business will be all the stronger for it in the new year when we hopefully begin to put COVID-19 behind us.
Mark D’Agostino is the president of Cleveland-based ConnectedHR.