By Lorie Hailey
(Editor’s note: This is part nine in our series about how Kentucky businesses are responding to the challenges presented by COVID-19. See the full report.)
While its mission of supporting Lexington businesses has not changed, Commerce Lexington Inc. has focused its attention to helping its 1,900-plus members get through the rough economic waters of COVID-19.
The chamber of commerce and economic development organization began planning for the impacts of the coronavirus in late February and early March.
“From the moment the first positive COVID-19 case in Kentucky was announced, Commerce Lexington mobilized its personnel toward meeting the evolving needs of our member investors and clients and providing businesses with the very best resources available,” said Bob Quick, president and CEO of Commerce Lexington. “The world changed, and our team had to figure out the most effective ways to adapt.”
Commerce Lexington surveyed members to ask about their major areas of concern. The financial future of their business was the biggest concern of most, followed by employee safety, hours, payroll and layoffs, Quick said.
A section of the organization’s website is now dedicated to COVID-19 best practices and resources, such as small business assistance, job openings, unemployment insurance, links to other key information sources, and more. Commerce Lexington also sends regular COVID-19 email alerts to assist businesses.
“We’ve reached out to as many of our members as possible to connect them to resources, elected officials and their staffs, and ensure that their voices are heard as state and federal assistance programs have been developed,” Quick said.
Commerce Lexington also is assisting the City of Lexington in contacting local companies to find available personal protective equipment (PPE), he said.
“One of the major challenges is staying up to date on the almost daily changes from both the federal and state levels related to small business loans, unemployment insurance, guidance on dealing with COVID-19 from the health standpoint and more,” Quick said. “Commerce Lexington staff has been fielding questions from area business owners/managers, tracking down answers as quickly as possible, and helping them navigate the rapidly evolving situation.”
All of this has been done with most staff working remotely.
Quick shared details of how his staff transitioned to working from home and how COVID-19 has affected Commerce Lexington’s day-to-day operations and mission for our Making It Work series.
The Lane Report: When this situation arose, what steps did Commerce Lexington take to respond and how quickly did you implement a plan?
Bob Quick: Internally, various departments within Commerce Lexington began meeting in late February/early March to discuss possible process changes (i.e. accounting, invoicing, deposits, mail, etc.) that would be necessary in the event that closures were ordered. Our team instituted a “handshake free zone” with signage around the office as a reminder to staff and guests and placed plenty of hand sanitizer in common areas. Once the governor gave the directive to cancel all events and meetings, Commerce Lexington closed its meeting spaces in the office and immediately postponed all events through the end of April – many of which have been rescheduled for later or will be conducted in an online format.
TLR: Are your employees working from home? If so, when did that happen and what were the challenges to getting that set up?
Quick: Once the governor gave the directive to cancel all events and gatherings and encouraged all businesses to allow their employees to work from home, Commerce Lexington Inc. announced that it would be flexible and accommodating to allow for remote working opportunities and would assist employees where necessary. There were minimal challenges, since most work responsibilities can be performed by staff remotely.
TLR: What was required to get your staff converted to telework? Did you have to purchase new equipment or conduct special training for employees?
Quick: It was not difficult for Commerce Lexington staff to begin working at home. For the last few years, most staff had transitioned to laptops for the added flexibility of meeting clients away from our office at their convenience. Pretty much all work for staff can be performed in a home environment. After ensuring all staff had access to VPN from their computer, we had to become more knowledgeable about using the online meeting software, Zoom. We purchased a more robust monthly Zoom account to host meetings with staff, clients/members, and committees. It has been working very well for our needs so far. We can still have face-to-face meetings with people. It’s just in front of our computer screens.
TLR: What is a typical workday like now for your telecommuting workforce?
Quick: The daily workday right now includes a lot of conference calls, Zoom meetings, and online webinars between staff, members/clients, and community leaders.
TLR: What has been your staff’s reaction?
Quick: For a team whose success is built on face-to-face collaboration and networking, the transition was a little difficult and frustrating in the early going, but most staff have adjusted to the new work environment. Those with kids must find a balance between getting work completed, tending to their children, and helping them with homework if they are school-aged.
TLR: What are the best resources for businesses struggling financially or having a difficult time implementing best practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
Quick: Staff is available to support businesses just like always. We’re just doing it from our homes rather than the office. Business owners should feel comfortable contacting any staff member through the staff directory on our website at CommerceLexington.com. Commerce Lexington has resources for both businesses and individuals on its website at www.commercelexington.com/coronavirus-resources.html. If businesses can’t find the information they need or have difficulty connecting to the right people, then they can reach out to the Commerce Lexington team for assistance.
TLR: What tips do you have for other companies trying to make this a smooth and successful transition?
Quick: The transition to remote working requires a lot of flexibility and trust that the necessary work is getting done. Periodic check-ins with department teams and full staff go a long way to ensure everyone is on the same page with projects. That’s really the most difficult part – staying in touch enough to know what each person is working on. Effective teams are also able to maximize the talents and skills of each individual, and most of our employees collaborate on a variety of projects across multiple departments, especially in crisis situations.
Share your story
We want to hear how business leaders across the state have responded to the challenges presented by COVID-19 and the efforts to stop the spread of it. If your business would like to share its story, email Lorie at [email protected].