Steering a Technology Business through Tough Times

By Susan Bowen

Over the course of my first year as CEO, I’ve learned a lot about leading through transition. The past year has been both exhilarating and challenging as the leader of a growing global business. In 2019, I led my company through an acquisition and a complete rebranding. With our revitalized focus, our new name and visual identity, we had big plans for the future. We recruited top notch executives to build out our team, launched new services and were executing on our aggressive growth plan. And then, of course, COVID-19 hit. It can be difficult when not everything goes according to plan, but leaders need to be adaptable and manage through complex and unpredictable times. Here are some of my thoughts on how to manage a workforce during periods of rapid change.

Communication

Ensuring executives communicate consistently with employees is always important, but especially when the business is in transition. Everyone needs to know the company’s objectives, how those objectives are going to be attained, and to feel like they’re part of a larger team.

Peer-to-peer interaction can help employees pull together. For example, you can hold regular internal forums where people can express their thoughts and create local employee groups and manager communities. These groups can interact with one another, creating a sense of community and teamwork.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, regular, candid communication has become more important than ever. Leaders should understand every employee is dealing with the pandemic under their own unique circumstances and offer support.

Frequent communication is also the key to keeping customers happy during the pandemic. It is vital to reach out to reassure them our operations are continuing 24/7 with no downtime or interruptions, that their data remains safe and secure, and that we’re there to support them.

As with employees, leaders must understand customers are each experiencing the pandemic differently and be flexible by offering different payment options, advice and support to help them through this challenging time.

Remote but united

The CEO of a company with multiple offices is expected to travel to different locations to meet with local teams and share information with them in an intimate setting. The pandemic has put an end to such visits, but you do not want teams to feel forgotten. As an alternative to face-to-face meetings, you can hold virtual tours to connect with each team. This allows for more open conversations with employees and provides an opportunity to listen, share information and talk about regional issues.

Now more than ever, it is important to continue communicating at a local level. As a result of the pandemic, many employees are anxious about issues such as job security, their health and their families. We need to ensure we communicate consistently with employees to dispel any rumours floating within our organizations.

Safety first

Safeguarding employees is always a priority, but it has become more of an imperative since the pandemic arrived. Business leaders must actively monitor pandemic developments and regularly communicate with employees, vendors, and customers. It’s also important to follow the most recent guidance from local health authorities in areas where you operate to keep your workforce healthy and safe. With the number of cases spiking in different regions at different times, companies should take precautionary measures to keep employees and customers safe, while also maintaining services for customers.

It’s also important to protect employees’ mental well-being. The pandemic might cause disruption to your business, but leaders should give their employees peace of mind that their jobs are secure. A worried workforce is an unproductive workforce. To avoid layoffs, you can encourage employees to take annual leave or voluntary furlough. For example, you could offer voluntary furloughs to employees who need a break or some time off to adjust to their changing personal lives. Shorter workweeks – e.g. four-day work week or nine-workdays per fortnight – are also options that can help new at-home parents adjust their schedules to support their families.

Adapt to change

Many organizations – especially those that provide an essential service – may not be able to have their workforce operate remotely or from home. Like many service providers, we’ve had engineers going into hospitals during the pandemic to install connectivity services and we have had to keep data centres staffed and running for government agencies. Technology providers are essential to keeping organizations’ infrastructure running. It has a direct impact on our society and the economy.

Companies should offer hazard pay and personal protective equipment (PPE) to employees in higher risk situations. These considerations may not have come into play prior to the pandemic. But since the technology sector has become critical during these uncertain times, leaders must act quickly to ensure essential employees are protected and compensated for the increased risks they are taking during the pandemic.

Don’t forget yourself

As business leaders, we’re trained to keep our companies on track. It is what keeps us up at night. But every one of us has a different personal life and needs. For example, some of us have children at home who need more care and attention during the pandemic. Others may share parenting responsibilities with separated partners and must handle juggling childcare back and forth while working full-time, and some of us are caregivers for those who are ill.

The advice I would offer is to do what feels right for you. If you become burned out or stressed by your home situation, you won’t be as effective in your job. Don’t feel judged as a result of a decision related to keeping your personal and professional lives in balance. The right way is always what works best for you.

The pandemic has been a serious challenge for many organizations. But by communicating openly, showing empathy, and taking steps to ensure the safety of their workers, business leaders can help guide their companies through this turbulent time and set their companies up for future success.

Susan Bowen is the CEO and President of Aptum, a global hybrid, multi-cloud managed service provider based in Toronto.

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