How to Balance Client and Employee Needs During COVID-19

More than a month has passed since a national emergency was declared in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, industries and populations across the globe have been forced into a state of adaptive change. 

It became evident early on to Evan Nison — founder and president at NisonCo — that attention would need to be paid at this time to carefully and creatively balance the needs of employees and clients. NisonCo staff writer Marissa Smith had a conversation with Nison about being an employer in the time of COVID-19, changes in public relations strategies and maintaining equilibrium during a pandemic. These were the takeaways.

The ability to adapt is key. 

In the world of cannabusiness, adaptability is a necessary skill to usher in success. “One should build businesses that are adaptable — ideally with as many income streams as possible — and try to diversify in every way,” said Nison. 

Often the trick to adapting isn’t being omniscient and knowing the future, it’s instead having a model that can accept significant change and still continue functioning effectively.

For example, NisonCo having a remote workforce already was a boon in that it didn’t need adapting to the modern health crisis. It also eliminates overhead costs, since there is no empty brick-and-mortar office space to pay rent and utilities on while coronavirus is an issue. Most of the NisonCo staff work on a self-regulated schedule as well, meaning those with unexpected children at home or other interruptions to normative life are able to experience broad changes to daily routines largely without an impact to work productivity. 

Each company differs in internal functions, but building an enterprise on the axis of change from the get-go can help minimize the negative impact of any unexpected events and take advantage of unexpected positive events.

Employee health is a top consideration.

When asked the quintessential question of how to balance company and employee needs, Nison responded, “That is the hardest part. That is the question, honestly. The way I considered it was stepping back and realizing this was an intentional sort of coma we were putting the economy in to avoid a health crisis. And when I viewed it like that I’m like, ‘Alright, so the job right now is for all of us just to get through this.’”

For NisonCo PR, one method of adapting to the new state of the economy while preserving the medical interests of employees was to switch all salaried employees to hourly work, and set hour limits for all employees. “It basically allows us to scale our spending more appropriately to revenue while maintaining a staff, keeping everyone on payroll so they have funds coming in and health insurance — which is very important during a pandemic,” Nison explained. 

One of the unexpected results of this change is that employees have gone from juggling multiple larger items to honing in on highly specified tasks in order to maximize hourly focus. Nison agreed. “One of the benefits I’m finding from moving everyone to hourly is that exact thing. It makes you really focus your time and make sure there’s no fluff.”

Cross-train for all-hands-on-deck situations.

The importance of cross-training has become very apparent during this outbreak as well. Make sure all your managers know how to actually do all the tasks they are managing. This is generally important for managerial purposes, but also because in an all-hands-on-deck situation, those managers should be able to seamlessly do any function of anyone in their chain of command.

“Employees who know more than one skill are always a valuable asset — in certain or uncertain times,” Nison said. Hire broadly capable people with diverse skill sets who want to cross-train and learn more. Filling managerial positions from within the organization can also be particularly helpful because “[They] know all the finer functions of the department or multiple departments already. A lot of our account managers worked up the chain, so they can also go backwards,” explained Nison.

The idea of cross-training and cross-utilization isn’t just applicable to management. Using departments for more than their usual purposes to remain agile, as well as having employees in multiple departments allows for further flexibility. For example, many NisonCo writers also do pitching and research work to help various departments with overflow.

Adapt together.

Transparency, communication and honesty always play an important role in the way companies handle crisis situations. 

Employees are aware that every business has a bottom line in a tough time, they just want openness and as much support as possible. “[Employees] understand if there really is a disaster you’re responding to as a company, it’s something that’s not really in your control,” Nison said. “They’re more nervous about losing their jobs and their insurance than anything.”

Clients are luckily in a similar boat with their own employees, and also understand the current economic climate. Like employees, they are also seeking transparency and support. “We want to make sure the businesses we connect with are doing okay,” Nison said. “That’s also how we avoid an economic depression.” 

For NisonCo, making sure clients are doing okay has involved doing all the company can to provide value-added support services in addition to the normal scope of work, such as adding some SEO work for a customer only usually signed on for PR services. “We really just want to help their business as much as possible right now,” Nison said. “We’re happy to help however we can.” 

NisonCo has also been meeting clients on a sliding scale of their needs and current capabilities, continuing to build and strengthen our business-to-business trust and support networks. “One of the benefits of being flexible with employees is being flexible with clients,” said Nison. 

In continuing to be as receptive to and supportive of our employees and clients as possible, we look forward to adapting together.

To read cannabis industry advice regularly from Evan Nison, check in to his Forbes Council page here, and find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

If your company could use assistance with public relations or marketing services, including media relations, customized blogging, newsletters, or Search Engine Optimization, NisonCo’s team is here to help. Contact us today to get started! 

Marissa Smith is a writer and researcher at NisonCo who travels endlessly and questions tirelessly. She is passionate about food, foraging, puzzling and adventuring.