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Tips for maintaining business operations in times of crisis

By University of Phoenix
June 16, 2020 • 3 minute read

It’s a hot, 100-degree spring afternoon and University of Phoenix Chief Human Resources Officer Cheryl Naumann is working from her Phoenix backyard, fielding a phone call while walking her Australian Shepherd, Kirby.

Like many employees across the country, she works remotely, balancing life and family with working in the same space. Unlike others, though, Naumann helped create the framework for the University’s roughly 3,500 employees’ pivot to working from home within a week of the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders—a task that many businesses regardless of size had to do as well.

Mandatory social distancing rapidly changed how businesses operate from the employer perspective as well as the customer service perspective. Naumann said it’s important now, several weeks into the “new normal,” for businesses to have a working plan for supporting both employees and customers to better position themselves when the pandemic is over. Start by asking these questions: What have you learned? What has been successful? How can you integrate these changes into your business processes so you are more resilient in the future?

“I think business will now look materially different for all of us. I think any business not asking these questions is going to find themselves behind,” Naumann said. “I think we have all grown through this process and there are things that will benefit our employees and our businesses if we’re brave enough to make some changes.”

Support for employees

Naumann credits the rapid transition UOPX made to an organizational culture that embraces agility. But primarily, she said the University’s employees followed the lead of their students, the vast majority of whom were already juggling work, family life and remote learning.

“Our students live and breathe this life that we are living in right now, and we are just now joining them in it,” she said. “That realization has been the most powerful thing.”

On the employee side, Naumann said the University had to pivot quickly to ensure all staff members had access to the appropriate communication devices, voice and IT solutions to be able to do their jobs. A primary initiative was making sure employees felt prepared and connected.

Authentic engagement with employees should be a priority, but take care not to cross the line into micromanaging, Naumann said. UOPX uses internal media platforms, encouraging employees to share experiences, successes, photos of pets and family, and even host virtual dance parties. Letting teams know they are a trusted, integral part of the business can go a long way.

“People will usually deliver to your expectations,” Naumann said. “They will make you proud, they will want to be right there alongside you in making your business successful during this virtual time.”

Support for customers

While businesses are reorganizing their workforce to meet the new COVID-19 restrictions, they also need to adapt their services, products and messaging to meet the changing needs of their customers, says Ruth Veloria, chief strategy and customer officer at UOPX.

“There is nothing more important than putting yourself into the shoes of your customers — what struggles they are having, what things they need right now,” Veloria said. “Meet the customer where the customer is going to be.”

Veloria has put together a webinar to give small business owners tips for how to best serve their customers during this crisis. It is one of several webinars in a series UOPX is offering in response to the pandemic.

Veloria said the webinar is intended to help small businesses and entrepreneurs who don’t have the resources to develop a crisis response team, like large corporations do. She said she hopes it helps the roughly 10 percent of UOPX alumni who run small businesses.

In addition to rethinking service offerings and products, she recommends business owners pay careful attention to their messaging during this time. The webinar offers several tips for how to ensure your business communications are hitting the right note.

While these are difficult times for businesses, Veloria said this crisis can also be an opportunity for businesses who are able to come up with creative solutions for customers’ changing needs, communicate authentically and sensitively and strengthen relationships with your customers.

“What is it you can do for your community right now that will continue to position you as a brand or partner in their mind?” she said. “If you can grow those loyalties, there Is a high chance people will continue to work with you when the crisis is over.”