Pandemic Business Lessons
Let me start by saying that this isn’t about whether covid was, or is, a real danger. I’m not taking a stand in order to have an argument. But there are common sense lessons to be taken away from the past 2 years that will prepare you for the next crisis, no matter what form that crisis takes, real or imaginary.
When I was young I imagined that in wars, famine, droughts, and plagues that I would be heroic. I would protect my family and friends. I would make a last stand. I would give a fantastic, inspirational speech and everyone would come together to succeed.
I didn’t imagine combing stores for toilet paper and hand sanitizer. I didn’t envision arguing over masks and watching political speeches for clues and errors and conspiracy fodder.
The reality of a crisis is unimaginable and ridiculous and scary and a lot like a mockery of itself because people are unpredictable and scared and distrustful and selfish. The only guarantee is that most people will do everything possible to self-destruct while believing that they are, in fact, doing everything possible to thrive.
In the military I took the opportunity to watch people as well. Honestly, when we showed up, it was the worst crisis that many, civilians and combatants, had ever experienced. People were also unpredictable at that time. Some would ignore everything going on around them and pretend life was normal, at any cost. Some would run away from danger and some would run toward it. Some would be heroes and some would be cowards and none of them knew which category they’d fall into before the moment of truth.
Lesson 1 Remain Calm and Deliberate
Always true. If you react out of fear or anger your decisions will be wrong. Also if you react out of misplaced bravery or an exaggerated hero fantasy you’ll make decisions that aren’t the best for everyone.
Practice now, when times are good. Don’t snap to decisions, give yourself time to think things through. Common sense is simply taking the time to think about the worst outcome and avoiding that result. Think about what can go wrong before you fantasize about what can go right.
When I have an important decision to make, I’ll take a long walk with my dog, Jedi. I’ll talk it over with him and while he sniffs and lifts his leg on everything interesting, I’ll get to talk things through without agreement or disagreement. I’ve found it’s the best way for me to come to terms with choices.
When an employee comes to you with a crisis, speaking with either euphoria or anger, slow the conversation down and ask a lot of questions. Even if it seems like a quick and easy answer, come up with some questions. Why? Because spending a bit of time helping them think it through shows them, and yourself, that what they are concerned about is important to you. No matter the outcome, they’ll know you didn’t minimize it for them.
Lesson 2 Keep Spares
In college I took some business and accounting classes that touted an inventory method called Just In Time. The argument was that you should only keep enough items on hand to last you a few days. If you have to store materials and goods, that costs you money. The professors and textbooks were enamored with cutting costs to the bare bones with the belief that global supply chains were so strong, no matter what you need, you’ll be able to obtain it with very little notice.
I didn’t believe it then and I still don’t.
When the pandemic hit, I had enough supplies to keep my team working for a
year. I had enough personal supplies that I never rushed to the grocery or big
box store for paper products.
I once knew a window cleaner who was never prepared for work. He ran out of squeegee rubbers and towels all the time. He’d be late to jobs because he had to go to two or three hardware stores just to get supplies to keep him working for a day or two. I can’t even imagine working like that.
For every piece of equipment I own, I have a repair kit with spare parts. My best tech spent this winter assembling repair boxes for every vehicle. Not only can we fix our own stuff, but if we encounter a screen or window with a problem, we can likely fix it on site for the client.
Lesson 3 Take the Opportunity to Improve
I learned to sew. One of the first things I
realized when the pandemic was underway was that mask requirements were going
to last a long time. So I had our logo screen printed onto company-colored
fabric and I proceeded to take a couple weeks to make custom masks. It was more
fun and relaxing than I expected.
I also beefed up my shop with some better tools and have been working on benches and cabinets. Improving my woodworking skills has been a goal of mine.
With every crisis comes opportunities. Don’t sit around and mope. Figure out how to improve your position in the market and set yourself apart with your current skills or learn some new ones.
Lesson 4 Don’t Argue with Customers
I got a call from a prospective customer several months after the lockdown in my area ended.
"If I hire you, will your crew wear masks when they are doing the work?" she asked.
“Yes, of course,” I answered.
“I hired a different contractor, but when he showed up he refused to wear a mask. When I asked him, he argued with me, repeating himself many times about why the pandemic isn’t real and why he refused to be a sheep. He was loud and angry. It made me scared and very uncomfortable.”
I told her that we would do the work, wear masks in her house and outside if she wanted and that my crew would not argue with her about anything social, medical, or political.
You know what? It doesn’t hurt to wear a mask if that’s what the customer wants. It doesn’t take any effort to not argue with your client. I’m not saying the customer is always right, but I am saying that trying to force your opinions on them isn’t going to get a good result. You get to choose to not work for people if you don’t want to. Just pass and let them find someone else. Or do what they want and take the job. None of that involves a confrontation.
In a time of crisis, people have strong emotions that are boiling at the surface. Respect that. Make their lives easier, not more difficult.
These lessons aren’t just for a time of crisis. These lessons are going to make the next difficult time a little easier.
I’m here if you have questions.