Coping with COVID-19: N.O. Business Leaders Share Their Insights
NEW ORLEANS – We asked more than 500 local business leaders how they are dealing with the challenges of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some of their insights and observations:
How are you coping during the coronavirus crisis?
Rebecca Rau, M.S. Rau: Without the ability to welcome clients to the gallery or to go to our clients (on home visits, at art fairs, etc.), we are relying more heavily than ever on our marketing and sales departments to conduct business virtually and over the phone. We are well aware that our clients share our concerns about the economy, but trust they understand that tangible assets like fine art, jewelry and other luxury goods are a great way to diversify an investment portfolio. Times are uncertain, but we feel optimistic that we’ll bounce back.
Michael Lester, MDL Homes/MDL Luxury for Keller Williams Realty: My better half and I have made sure to keep ourselves inside our home and have had extremely limited contact with society. Melissa is five months pregnant, and we have been taking all measures to ensure neither of us gets sick. We have supported local restaurants we love by ordering takeout and tipping extra. We stay up to date [on the news] and try to make sure all our friends and family are kept up to date each evening. Every day we take our dogs for a walk on West End and go for a drive down to the lakefront. I’ve found a new morning hobby: playing the stock market. Also, the app “House Party” allows family and friends to get together and play games over video chat.
Jude Boudreaux, The Planning Center: Personally it’s a struggle. I’m a people person, and phone calls and web meetings help but they don’t really do it for me. Business-wise we can do everything we do for families remotely so that’s been a real positive and we’ve continued to build on that capacity over the past few years.
Dale Pinney, Olaf Solutions: We are doing fine. Our company supports software, hardware, internet and phones for small to medium businesses. We are still able to support these customers as over 90% of our work is done remotely under normal circumstances. We have put off new installs and repairs to non-critical issues. If we do go on-site we are enforcing the six-foot space between us and our customers and wiping down keyboards, mice and touch screens with disinfectant.
Jeremy Jacobson, The RBI Group: We are spending as much time with our families as possible. Prayer and kind words are helping.
Did your business continuity plan work or were there surprises?
Michael Lester: Things have slowed down but not to a halt. I have slowed down on buyers who are wanting to be shown houses, but the amount of sellers wanting their homes listed has grown not only in number BUT also in price range. There was definitely a surprise! With the low interest rates (historic lows), whoever is brave enough to actually still go out and see homes can only do so if the seller is allowing showings.
Elizabeth Meneray, Meneray Family Law: My law firm was very dependent on person to person interaction. As a domestic practitioner, our clients rely on being comforted and counseled in a very personal way. However, we have managed to adapt quickly to meet client expectations and our business continues to grow.
Ali Swidler, Bart’s Office Inc.: The surprises were some of our clients shutting down operations for the next month and pausing our services. Today we are an essential business, but the day-to-day city mandates continue to keep us in check
David Lachin, LACHIN Architects: There are always surprises but we put procedures into place that allowed us to transition to working remotely as soon as possible. Our office made sure everyone was set up with either tablets or laptops from which they could remotely log-in to their office desktops. We also set up some refresher sessions for programs like Zoom, Skype and/or Webex where we could continue to have weekly staff meetings and meetings with clients as necessary.
Have you found silver linings during this time?
GiGi Burk, Burk Brokerage: Family, neighbors, faith and my home have always been my sanctuary. My team at work have not stopped working.
Barry Hays, Joval Manufacturing: Because our volume of business is really good, we have made some strategic hires of talented people that found themselves suddenly unemployed
Rebecca Rau: My garden has never looked better. … But, in terms of the business, all of us are grateful to be part of a financially solvent organization that cares about its employees. I anticipate that employee engagement will be at an all-time high when things get back to normal(ish) – especially since we’re all aware of the vast number of individuals being laid off locally and globally. [Another] silver lining is that this collective “pause” allows us to reevaluate our priorities and think about how to strengthen our expertise and/or strategies to tackle important goals that sometimes get swept under the rug.
Jeremy Jacobson: The silver lining is being able to spend time with our family and focusing on our clients. Listening to them. Being a shoulder to lean and cry on… over the phone and through teleconference.
David Lachin: There’s been a real sense of community within our industry and of course across other industries too. People and other businesses are looking to help each other and lend support wherever possible. On a personal level, this is a time where we really get a chance to reflect and appreciate the things we have like our families, health, opportunities, etc.
Michael Lester: Fortunately, I have been using Matterport to do 3D virtual tours of all my listings. These allow me to advertise on an international level because people looking to buy a home can sit on their couch or lay in their bed and “walk” through the entire home step-by-step. This method has been quite a lifesaver during this pandemic transition.
How are you maintaining your company culture?
Jude Boudreaux: We have an active slack channel called “Watercooler” where people can come and just post silly things about what’s going on at home with them, their kids, etc. One of our other team members also set up a virtual happy hour every Thursday which has been great for hanging out to chat without work on the agenda. I think we’re all getting to know each other a bit better and in different ways than we did before all of this.
Barry Hays: Morale is a concern because everyone is overly stressed. We are trying to protect our employees in every way possible to keep fear down. We are increasing communication through frequent check ins.
Ali Swidler: We have daily video chats that start by introducing our dogs, then follow an hourly agenda to discuss current operations and briefings, ending with talks of “quarantinis,” our happy hour libation recipes. We will start promoting our #drinkwithbarts campaign to keep up employee spirits (literally but off work hours of course!) and hopefully will drive involvement citywide to bring a little excitement in a time when people need it the most.
Do you have advice for other local companies?
Dale Pinney: Watch your cash flow. Receivables payments are already slowing down and I expect that it will get worse before it gets better.
Jude Boudreaux: Keep your clients in the loop and find ways to be of service to your clients. There may not be any sales to be made right now, but everybody still has challenges to solve and we can use our time to be there for each other. Continue to find ways to do that and good things will be on the other side of all of this.
Elizabeth Meneray: Law firms can be so entrenched in old ways of doing things. For many of them change never comes because there is no motivation to try a new way. When disasters occur, as in this pandemic situation and in Katrina before it, opportunities to grow our knowledge of making our workloads less heavy have arisen, and those that have taken advantage of the newer technologies have prospered because of it.
GiGi Burk: This will end! It will be different. Let go of what was and embrace the future. It will rebuild itself. We are the hope and the driving engine!