As we’re a little further into the COVID-19 pandemic, a shift is occurring for those who are new to working from home. Initially, there was adrenaline and chaos, trying to figure out all the moving parts. Now, routines are emerging within this new normal–fueled by intentional efforts to stay sane, productive, and centered.
But how do we sustain and build on our business relationships, remotely? These are more crucial than ever for your business and for the extra strength and support needed for/from your extended community. We are all navigating this transition in our own way and it’s important to give teammates/clients time and space to talk about it as needed. Integrating some small relationship-focused habits into your work routine will go a long way during this pandemic and beyond.
Some tips to integrate into your new work routine:
1. Over-communicate. These three small actions will save time and energy for everyone:
– Prior to the meeting, set clear goals and objectives by email or chat tools to be reiterated at the start of the meeting.
– Follow each meeting with a brief email with bulleted summary and action items.
– During or after the meeting, give everyone the opportunity to ask questions and voice opinions.
2. Stay consistent with communication methods to keep projects organized and streamlined – a key to remote work.
– Learn teammate/client preferences.
– Once a routine is in place, switch it up once in a while for a resilient relationship:
– Emails and chat tools help projects stay on track
– Phone calls bring tone, clarity, and context sometimes missed with emails
– Video calls help with eye contact, body language, and strengthening the feeling of being connected.
-During this COVID-19 time, video calls may increase feelings of connection, even for those who don’t typically do them. However, if either party has a tricky internet connection or does not have privacy, save added stressors and skip the video call.
3. Weekly or bi-weekly check-ins help boost morale, reinforce the connection, and increase productivity:
– 30 to 45-minute video calls are ideal, especially for small teams and more hands-on projects
– Use the first 10 minutes for checking in. Ask how everyone is doing. Now more than ever, acknowledging our mental health is vital to productivity
4. Chat tools such as Slack are key to keeping projects on track, reducing emails, and staying in touch – jokes and daily wins included.
– Whatever your team/clients like to geek out on, dedicate some time to it each week. If operating on your own, include an informal, social note of encouragement in your email or call – a reminder that we are all in this together.
– Some quick, fun approaches to lifting the mood through chat tools:
– On Mondays, each team member shares a photo highlight of the weekend
– For parents working from home with kids, create a Slack channel dedicated to sharing age-appropriate activities/links/inspiration
– For food lovers, create a Slack channel for home-cooked meals + recipes to inspire others
– For folks living in one area: create a channel on local businesses to support, including virtual yoga and exercise, food and special celebration deliveries
5. Build on your most valuable and established relationships. Outside of group check-ins, take the time to check how individuals are doing – the introverts and the extroverts:
– Generally, we hear more from the extroverts, so it is especially important to actively keep the door open for all voices, insights, questions, and needs.
– Whether it’s a 5-minute Slack chat, text or quick email, be sure to connect privately with at least one team member a day.
– For consistency, set a calendar reminder for yourself to check in every few weeks.
At the end of the day, building remote relationships takes a little more effort from the get-go but the overall impact is worth it. Focusing on communication, managing expectations, giving extra attention to logistics, and being flexible – these are great traits to build on whether virtually or in person! Feel free to share recent successes and solutions in your own efforts around this, we’re happy to hear from you.
About Jossie Auerbach
Jossie has worked on distributed teams, built global partnerships and initiatives, and worked remotely for local and global clients, often without ever meeting her collaborators in person. In recent years, Jossie’s family decided to work remotely while traveling for months at a time (with their toddler in tow!). COVID-19 has them grounded in Denver, listening and sharing insights with clients, colleagues, and friends who have all had to transition quickly into the world of remote work.
Just hit American soil after “vacationing” in Barcelona to visit my daughter studying abroad. Needless to say, our vacation turned into evacuation. During our cobbled-together plane trips home, we repeatedly watched flight attendants run through safety shpiels. You know them – how to put on oxygen masks in case of cabin decompression, etc. They always include the phrase; “make sure your oxygen mask is secure before helping anyone else”. CFO’s – we’ve lost corporate cabin compression due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s time to make sure we put our oxygen masks on first.
What does this mean? All routine activities – yes, all routine activities – are stopped until you develop Pro-forma Financials for the next year. Run through your YTD financials line by line and create an action plan for every major category that can be restructured to protect free cash flow. Then formulate a team to research and suggest new cost cutting assumptions for the year ahead.
The Key is protecting Free Cash Flow.
Restructure Using YTD Balance Sheet Categories:
A roll forward based on retooled cash requirements.
Accounts Receivable –
Identify risk-prone receivables and immediately negotiate new payment terms. Get these customers obligated to you early on (similar to dealing with a bankruptcy). Make sure your negotiated payment plan is in place before others start negotiating.
Just in time or stocked, you need to understand your sell-thru and/or price fluctuations for this highly important piece. Any changes will roll into projected COGS numbers and impact GPM. Make sure the senior team agrees on assumptions for this piece.
If you have them, walk away and move on to the next item. Your energy isn’t well spent here in the first round.
Equity Investments –
You need revised equity projections from your partner companies. Back into the P&L Investment Income/Loss based on this change. If it looks too ugly, decide whether you negotiate a deal to cut the cord in order to dodge an expensive capital call.
What are you financing and what can be restructured. You’ll be making a case with your lenders to restructure so paint the best protective financing scenario you can.
Real Estate –
This is most likely in a separate LLC, but can you restructure the debt to take advantage of lower interest rates? If this is leased real estate, can you negotiate short-term rent abatements and tack them on to the end of your lease?
Accounts Payable –
Negotiate extended payment terms for all vendors unless a cash discount makes better sense. I use the term “negotiate” loosely. You may just need to stretch disbursements out as far as possible.
Ok, here’s a big one. The pro-forma financials are used as an internal roadmap out of the crisis. But, they have significant value in establishing how much additional cash is required to hit your target free cash flow and profitability. Credibility with your lenders is key and you’ll use the pro-forma financials to establish what you need and demonstrate why you need it. Then you can confidently negotiate a LOC over-line increase, lowed or abated interest, loan payment abatements on collateralized debt and debt covenant waivers.
Make sure your lender sees exactly what you see. To earn their buy-in produce reliable numbers based on good assumptions. Look at numbers through their lens and anticipate areas of push back. Lenders don’t want to foreclose on your business, but you need to make it as easy as possible for them to help you.
The board needs good information to re-evaluate authorized equity distributions/dividends to preserve cash. Make your recommendations based on the pro-forma numbers and get the board to vote on a restructure. Take into consideration revised tax liabilities based on estimated tax abatements.
Restructure Using YTD P&L Categories:
Impair projections for pipeline cancelations. Be conservative. Review you current backlog and test for revenue that might not close or will be delayed.
Roll your inventory projections into COGS and make sure your new GPM is defensible.
Generally the largest operating expense category. Develop a bunkered compensation structure. Do you need to cut bonuses and base compensation for a period of time to fortify corporate finances without layoffs? If layoffs are inevitable, put a plan together and swiftly execute – triage moves quickly. But please, make sure you’re not cutting sales compensation that might lower revenue. You must continue to incentivize your sales force.
The U.S. Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service are allowing corporations to defer tax payments – both for 2019 taxes and Q1 2020 estimates – until July 15 with no penalties or interest. Work with your tax advisors to estimate your tax deferral. You’ll also need this in estimating equity distributions to cover tax estimates for S-Corp designations.
These are the major financial categories for most companies. Other expense categories can be reviewed as time allows for additional cost savings. Remember, it’s all about protecting Free Cash Flow.
Once you have working pro-forma financials you’ll be breathing oxygen and have your wits about you. You can do the fine tuning at time allows. Next, work with teams to execute the restructuring and move into the new normal. .
You will get through this. Be swift and confident in what you’re doing. Bring in as many stakeholders as possible for input, but don’t hogtie the process. And please don’t downplay the role of common sense and gut feelings in this process. You know the numbers better than anyone.
All stakeholders look for your leadership – leadership you can demonstrate once your breathing is stabilized.
“Experience breeds wisdom, and wisdom breeds vision – Dalai Lama”
We know from mental health and personal development experts that what we say to ourselves matters. In short, we are what we think. The same principle applies to business wording—we are what we type, and what we write to our customers matters.
When communicating about COVID-19 and its impact to your organization, here are four ways to ensure that your writing is in the best interest of your customers’ psyche and your bottom line.
1. Be a Leader
As individuals, we are challenged to find our power right now, but as a business, you have a built-in role as a leader. Communicating that you are in control will assure customers that they can count on your business, adding short-term and long-term value to your brand.
Before: We are doing our best to maintain regular operations.
After: We are committed to delivering first-class service during this time.
Before: We are considering our options to postpone or reschedule…
After: Our amazing team is working quickly to reschedule…
2. Be Solutions-Focused
With all of the COVID-19 content that’s being created right now, it’s easy to adopt wording that is negative and fear-based. Instead, choose wording that is pragmatic and solutions-focused to help ease the collective anxiety and to create positive associations with your brand.
Before: As we learn to adapt to new levels of uncertainty, turmoil, and disruption…
After: As we learn to embrace new levels of challenge, change, and flexibility…
Before: Our hearts go out to our staff and everyone impacted by this global pandemic.
After: We are prioritizing protecting the safety of our staff, their families, and the broader community.
3. Be in the Now
Jumping ahead to the distant future isn’t helpful. In fact, it’s likely to invoke more worry than confidence. Instead, stay in the present by focusing on the next few weeks and months—time frames that people can see on their calendar.
Before: Due to these unprecedented times, our team has made the difficult decision…
After: Due to the changes and shifts we are currently experiencing, our team has decided…
Before: Now, as we all face an uncertain future…
After: Today, as we look to the coming weeks and months…
4. Be Specific
Providing details about what your business is doing will give people a clearer picture of what’s working, what’s in the works, and what’s still being defined. Gaps and gray areas create space for runaway thinking. Instead, be generous with tactics and tangibles.
Before: We are making necessary changes to address the impact to our business…
After: We are continuously developing creative solutions and applying new tools…
Before: We appreciate your patience with these scheduling changes…
After: These scheduling changes will allow us time to develop more relevant and beneficial…
I hope you find these tips helpful for both your business and personal communications. I encourage you to share with your network of communications professionals and small- to medium-sized business owners so they can put their best voice forward during these challenging, yet highly connective, times.
Erica Younkin is a Digital Marketing Strategist and Founder of BRANDcrafted Marketing. Here is a link to this article on LinkedIn.
“Enthusiasm means there is a deep enjoyment in what you do plus the added element of a goal or vision that you work toward.”
-From “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle
Do you ever attend networking events, business gatherings or one-one lunches where you feel like other people are simply waiting for their turn to talk? Do you ever feel like people ask you a question simply so they can turn around and tell you how they would answer the same one? Painful, right? Makes you want to hightail it out of there.
But, believe it or not, this tendency for humans to LOVE talking about themselves (some more than others) is a great opportunity for growing your business. I am a career sales and business development professional and I have learned a lot about selling strategies and techniques. The single most important skill I have developed is listening with enthusiasm. Listening is not about what you are going to say in response. It is about genuine curiosity and understanding. I am interested in other people’s stories and most people are (that means you!), thus the success of marketing by storytelling. In business, it is easy to take that one step further: Let me enjoy this person’s story with the goal of learning whether or not I can help this person and get paid for it.
If you are trying to find and choose the right opportunities, listening is especially crucial- how do you know if you can help a potential client if you do not truly and deeply understand the whole picture? And, this is important: if you understand the whole picture clearly and from the start, it can save you time in the end if you find you won’t be able to help that person or organization, or you don’t want to. No matter what, you feel empowered and you get to learn something new.
- -are fully present. It sounds kind of trite. Who doesn’t work on “being present” these days? Well, it applies to listening too. So, namaste.
- -practice active listening. If you don’t already know about this, it means repeating back to the person with whom you are speaking what you understood her/him to be saying. Sounds like “ok- so this is what you are you saying….” or “ What I am hearing you say is……
- -are truly curious. It is a hard thing to fake. So if you really aren’t, politely excuse yourself from the conversation and move on to another person. Sounds like “Really? And then what…..” , “Tell me more about….” or “Give me an example of …..”
- -Look you in the eye.
An exercise: Next time you find yourself among others, try listening for 70% of the time and only talking for 30% of the time.
And when you are at a loss for words, go with it!
Let’s face it. The people that hire CFO’s are not CFO’s. It’s usually various members of the executive team pulling the trigger on the hire. Hmm…executive team – CEO, CRO, COO. A group of people that need to work with the CFO, but may not be completely sure what a CFO should and shouldn’t do. Their decision making rubric is most likely skewed based on their individual roles in the company.
Here’s what I’ve observed:
- The CFO role is very often confused with a Controller role.
- Executive teams are confused about their own roles in conjunction with the CFO.
- Misperceptions about the CFO role are supported by hiring the wrong person into a CFO role – someone who is not working at a CFO level.
- Paying less for a CFO is not really saving money. Paying more for someone that works at the right level can pay for itself many times over.
Let’s use a car as an example. Each component of an engine plays a very distinct role in making that car move. Cars that are prized for their engineering and performance have component parts that are very specific to high performance and cost more than lower performance vehicle parts. And each part works independently at a very specific task to produce the overall effect of high speed with stellar handling and comfort. That car wins the race – gets there faster – is revered by professionals that recognize the gold standard performance.
Let’s jump to the four points outlined above and run them through the engine test:
- The CFO has a very distinct role that doesn’t involve producing financial statements, although they supervise the staff that does. They generally hire a CPA for financial reporting and use financials to paint a picture of the greater financial whole.
- Executive teams may have proficiencies on the financial side. There are lots of MBA’s that end up in non-CFO executive roles. Will they stay within their own roles (roles and proficiencies are different – hiring issue) and give the CFO proper control.
- Hiring a Controller for a CFO role may feel OK to the executive team because the Executives continue to bleed into the CFO role when they should be focused on their individual roles.
- Good CFO’s can restructure, optimize, educate and even save your corporate bacon. But you have to be willing to pay for it. Generating financials statements is valuable but doesn’t keep you shooting straight.
Executive Team and an Engine:
CEO: Determines what the car looks like 3 years down the road and how the parts change to accommodate the new vehicle design.
CFO: Makes sure the computerized alert system works. Constantly compiles diagnostics generated by the system and decides when to give off warning signals when the engine starts to fail. Warning signals have a suggested path for fixing the problem as suggested by the CFO. The CEO can decide whether to adopt the suggested “service” or not.
CRO: Generates enough fuel to make that car run. Also plans for future fuel needs based on the CEO’s vision of the car of the future and new components that will run at even higher efficiencies (but need even more fuel?).
COO: Make sure the engine has what it needs to operate day-to-day. Is the engine maintained so it doesn’t break down. Is there scheduled protocol for preparing maintenance logs, making sure there is enough oil, spare parts and snow tires for the winter season (higher seasonal volume).
Some of you learned the hard way…saving a buck or hiring someone who’s fun and will play well with the team. This is an engine, folks. It’s about component performance so the car MOVES. Believe me, when you’re #1 at the finish line, everyone in the company is happy.
Action items: make sure you’re hiring for a pure CFO role within the company. Hire a CFO professional to help you hire your CFO. Educate the executive team on the role of the CFO and then let the CFO do what they do. If the “part” starts to fail, find a replacement – fast.
“Experience breeds wisdom, and wisdom breeds vision – Dalai Lama XIV”