Like most companies, MarketStar has been forced to make significant changes to the way we do business because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Times like this can undermine time-tested process, break leadership, and whither the attitudes of the most ardent worker. But it can also be a time when we rise to the challenge in ways we never thought possible. It’s a time to put our values into action, not just to keep our business running, but to keep our people safe, secure, and healthy.
When COVID-19 finally became the storm we could not ignore, these values helped clarify what we needed to do. One of those values “We Care” became the rallying cry for a global company of hardworking sales professionals. With early and intensive planning, MarketStar was able to move nearly 900 Utah-based employees to a work from home solution. We also moved our Dublin, Ireland workforce to work from home scenario in the same timeframe – bringing our total work from home workforce (including existing field reps in 27 states) to around 1,200.
The task was no small undertaking. Every facet of the organization worked together to make a smooth transition in a challenging and frantic climate. The caring attitude of everyone involved made it possible to do what had to be done — and quickly. Not to mention the company HQ experiencing an earthquake right in the middle of our work from home deployment! The key to this successful transition was a caring attitude, quick action of our leadership team, and the dedication to building a business continuity plan that was flexible, actionable, and ready to put into play.
Putting Values in to Action
When you create a set of values for a company, it can be easy to print them out on a few handsome posters and hang them up in strategic locations for all to see, and then call it a day. At MarketStar, we had been planning to roll out our new values at an event scheduled for March 17, 2020. This first ever “Growth Summit” would be our workforce’s first opportunity to experience our new values and learn how to put them into action. As the COVID-19 pandemic began taking shape, we knew we could not proceed with the event and give the values the launch they deserved.
We postponed the event, but we moved forward on releasing one new value: We Care. This value was vital to showing the humanity of a company whose greatest asset is its people. It became the guiding light for our actions, as we knew we would need to move a workforce into uncharted territory. We care about our people, so we let that guide how we would continue the business and keep our people protected from the oncoming threat.
Assembling the Team
The first key element of our business continuity planning was having a team ready to go. This team consisted of the full executive team, supplemented by leadership in human resources, information technology, legal, operations, client services, and communications. Each person played a key role, not just in providing information about their key operational areas, but in helping the team as a whole make the right decisions. Each person on the team was given the ability and responsibility to question the decisions being made by all other groups. While individuals were experts in their craft and lead in unique areas of the business, this promoted an equity in responsibility when it came to making decisions that affect the entire company.
Our Business Continuity Planning team stills meets daily and works hard to assess all current situations that affect our people and our business. We believe, empowered leadership responds admirably in tough times, especially when you have a group that knows, respects, and trusts each other and truly cares about every person we work with, directly and indirectly.
Setting the Ground Rules
The first and foremost rule when launching the business continuity plan, especially in relation to the COVID-19 outbreak, was to build a plan that focused on doing what was right for our employees. This was job number one — build a response that was solid in providing a safe and healthy environment while keeping our people productive and focused. The second rule was to build the plan enabling a strong response for our clients that showed we remained invested in their business. We wanted them to be confident that we were leading in this area, not just reacting to a news cycle. It presents a fine balance for any business, but it is possible to show the caring necessary to calm your workforce, and at the same time, keep them focused on what drives business. For MarketStar, that is client performance.
Putting the Plan in Motion
The Business Continuity Planning team met for the first time on March 3 and began daily briefings on March 6. We had full policies and procedures in place for employees and clients on March 4, which centered on a custom-built, internally focused web page on our website. This page was determined to be the best option because we could update quickly and from any location. It also gave us the ability to track usage and views. The page has been updated several times since it went live and serves as our “single source of truth” for employees and clients. The page features policies and procedures on:
- Employee Health Guidelines
- Group Meetings Policy
- MarketStar-sponsored Travel
- Client Communications
- Facilities and Office Closures
- Work from Home Guidelines and Timelines
- Valuable Information (links to internal resources, World Health Organization [WHO] updates, The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention [CDC] updates, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control [ECDC], key definitions, etc.)
We began our work from home staging on March 16, staging our teams over the following four days. The staging was accelerated on Wednesday, March 18 when Northern Utah was struck by a 5.7 magnitude earthquake. We maintained consistent and timely communication during this period through our emergency employee text system, regular email updates, and through our corporate instance of Workplace (our employee intranet provided via Facebook).
We instituted a daily morning manager meeting (via zoom) on March 17 and have had all domestic managers on the call each working day since. The meeting is run by Paul Grant, our Chief Customer Officer and supported by Joel Rackham and Michael Ray, our Client Services Senior Vice Presidents. The meetings cover service delivery updates, human resources updates, messages from our leadership, and exchange of good things/challenges that are coming to the surface. It’s also a time to banter, tell a few bad jokes, and provide a face-to-face (virtual) connection so we can continue to see everyone. We always bring the humanity back into the work day, and give our managers a chance to just talk, and be seen, and get the support they need.
Since the work from home solution was launched, we have seen increases in our call volumes, email activity, and overall employee engagement, as measured by our internal systems. We have also seen a measurable uptick in social interaction via our Workplace platform — which is also used by our teams to stay connected moment-by-moment via chat and direct video calls. MarketStar is happy to confirm that business remains solid through this most interesting time in our history.
The New Normal
Roughly four weeks into this “new normal” we have encountered challenges — both personal and operational – but have also observed many silver linings. We have found a deep camaraderie amongst our team managers in a way that was not observed before. Exchanges of ideas, cross-linking of client needs, and many of our field managers acting as knowledgeable instructors to our stationary mangers, sharing best practices on how to stay connected to a team scattered in different locations. The exercise has been extraordinary and humblng to observe. Our people continue to rise to the occasion through such an unprecedented human trial the world has not seen in generations.
The strength of the human spirit cannot be discounted in this case, but a solid plan set into motion by a team of experts made everything else possible. The foundation that has supported this team is the rallying cry of “We Care.” It’s a testimony to MarketStar as a company, but also to a group of people who care about the people they work with and the business they operate. MarketStar will be a different company when all of this subsides. But with a new set of values and a business continuity plan that has proven to be solid and effective … it will be a better company.