Coping with Covid with Michael Chalmers
Michael Chalmers operates four Spherion Staffing Services offices in Alabama and Georgia. He’s not only seen how the pandemic has affected his business, but also how it has affected the companies he works with, matching job seekers and employers. While his own business is down around 20%, he says about 60% of the businesses he helps staff have not had to lay off any employees. He and his 16 employees, who have been working from home since early April, are staying close with twice-daily phone calls.
How has Covid-19 affected your business?
As the owner of multiple Spherion offices in Georgia and Alabama, two states that have stay-at-home orders, it has certainly had an impact. My offices have seen of drop of about 20%. However, we do work with several businesses that are essential. Overall, about 60% of the businesses that we help staff have not had to lay off any employees. Everyone is doing everything in their power to keep their workforce employed.
What are you doing right now to get through this?
Our four offices have been working from home since April 6—which is about 2 weeks before the mandated stay-at-home orders. Recruiting is a very personal industry. This is new to us, but Spherion has provided a plethora of virtual tools to make it easier. For any on-site work our team has to do, we’ve been working to provide PPE where needed. Before Covid-19, I had 16 employees and have successfully worked to keep all 16. Beyond working remotely, we’ve been strategic in how we are working together to make sure we’re supporting one another. Since there are peaks and valleys in terms of employment and job markets, our staff members have been split into pairs in different geographies to make sure everyone is set up for success and to spread out the business. This cross-collaboration has allowed team members to rely on one another for resources, share best practices, recruit with each other, and support the others’ needs to fill customer orders, onboarding, and hiring needs.
We’re staying close as a team with two daily calls, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. We use this as an opportunity to share solutions, ask questions, and stay engaged with one another. For example, someone is assigned to be the “DJ” every day, and that person is in charge of the theme song for that day. We also have a “Bring Your Pet to the Call Day.” It’s been a fun way of staying connected, engaged with the team, and making sure everyone feels comfortable and secure in their job. This year marked our 10-year anniversary, and we were planning to do a large community giveback campaign to celebrate. While we definitely were disappointed about having to put the anniversary campaign on hold, we’ve instead invested in our employees, and keeping them employed has become the first priority. Once we’re through this, we do plan to invest in our community again as we all rebuild.
Is your franchisor helping keep you afloat?
The Spherion leadership team was very proactive and began voicing its Covid-19 response within a week of concerns about the impact of the virus on the U.S. The franchisor’s support goes far beyond the financial concessions. This has been a beyond stressful time for small businesses. I’ve always had plans for every situation and scenario, but a health pandemic was never something I anticipated. Since the start, Spherion has held weekly calls for owners and has poured so much time into helping us navigate the legislation and resources available. They’ve truly held our hand through this and have gone above and beyond to be a strong, supportive partner. I can sleep at night because of them.
What are you doing to help your employees through this?
The employee bonus deferral has been pushed to the end of the year. Also, I took a cut to my personal salary so my employees’ salaries could remain the same. Through all of this, my employees have remained my first priority, and we will continue to do everything in our power to keep them employed through this crisis. We’re trying to extend our support to employees beyond their professional duties right now as well. We’re trying to keep them engaged and keep morale up, while also acting and communicating with full transparency. For example, we hand-delivered our team members cookies last week to show them our appreciation—while remaining 6 feet apart, of course. As their employer, I’m also making personal calls to make sure they’re doing okay, feel supported, and reassured. In addition, I am working to provide them with the guidance and resources necessary, as well as making accommodations for them when needed. For example, since several of our team members are mothers with children still in school, we began working from home to ensure they did not have to pay for childcare costs when schools shut down. Simple things like that go a long way.
What are you doing for your customers?
We’re staying in constant contact with both clients and candidates right now, and are trying to be reassuring. In those industries that are deemed essential and are having trouble meeting the staffing demand, we’re working hand-in-hand with them to help them fill their needs. We’re providing PPE to those essential employees to keep them safe and are also providing our clients with resources to keep them informed. They are navigating Covid-19 as a business, just like we are. Our value to our clients and candidates isn’t inherently tangible, so we’re making sure they stay informed by providing resources on proper hand washing protocol, guidance on navigating financial relief resources, etc. As we go through this, the most important thing is to know that Spherion cares—we care about our customers, employees, and community. We are local and we are human-focused. We will carry that same approach with us into the next phase of our business beyond Covid-19. As a human-focused business, we will use this experience to continue our relationships and build strong foundations.
How are you working with your suppliers?
Luckily, we have not yet had to make any changes to our supplier relationships. Spherion went through a crisis planning session to develop a course of action for each office at the local level—my plan is percentage-based. Thankfully, I have not reached that number yet, but if I were to, ceasing our advertising and asking our landlords for rent forgiveness would be two of the next steps.
What are you doing about cash flow, PPP?
In addition to receiving a 90-day deferment through our bank, we’re also reviewing and evaluating the government programs to see what makes the most sense for our business and employees.
What else would you like to see from your franchisor or government?
From the franchisor perspective, I’ve been truly impressed with their response thus far. All I would ask is for their continued perspective and support. In terms of government, I do feel that they’ve done the best they can to support small businesses with such a strong demand and quick turnaround. I think we all want to get back to business as normal, and Georgia appears to be heading in that direction. There’s no perfect way to navigate this pandemic as a business or as a government. But one thing that would make me feel much more secure as a small-business owner is having access to testing to ensure that all of my employees, candidates, and clients are safe and remain healthy when they get back to work.
How are you planning to reopen and rebuild your business post–Covid-19?
One thing we’d like to implement as we reopen is to make sure PPE is available and provided to protect our people. We want them to feel comfortable knowing they can get back to work safely. With the help of Spherion, we are partnering with our clients and employees to ensure a ready supply of proper PPE as they enter back into the workforce or begin to follow necessary county or state requirements. We have restructured our offices to include a smoother flow, allow for social distancing, and have added hand sanitizing stations, regular office sanitation, and are requiring facial coverings. Spherion also created a robust “Back to Work” process and protocol for franchise owners to leverage, which has been a valuable resource for us to ensure that we are keeping our employees safe and following the mandates of local and state governments.
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