2020 has been quite a year. From the pandemic to civic unrest, leaders at James River Capital and across the world have had to cope with so many unknowns. As a business leader, you have a responsibility to change with these times, as difficult (and frequent) as that may be.
In practice, that may mean evaluating your own values, culture, and business practices to possibly more align with where the world is going. Savvy leaders already see that change is happening in every industry: 43% of small businesses have started rethinking their entire culture and model. From training employees on new skills and planning ahead for crises, businesses are learning to become agile in turbulent times.
In this article, we’ll discuss how James River Capital co-founder Paul Saunders pivoted his business for the pandemic—and how you can make these much-needed changes in your own organization.
About Paul Saunders & James River Capital
Paul Saunders and his business partner acquired James River Capital in 1995. Paul has worked as James River Capital’s Chairman and CEO since that time, putting his 30 years of experience in finance to work. Today, Paul specializes in managing products to optimize risk and return on their alternative investments.
James River Capital is now operating out of Richmond, Virginia. The company pursues alternative investments. Thanks to this focus, James River Capital offers diversification through its products.
With 25 years of experience at James River Capital, Paul has navigated the business through plenty of difficult situations. However, few companies planned for a global pandemic. In Paul’s experience, cultural pivots equate to agile businesses that will survive coronavirus.
4 cultural pivots businesses should consider in 2020
Your 2019 business performance was probably very different from 2020. Instead of digging in your heels and refusing to pivot, Paul recommends analyzing your business model, employee policies, and culture to stay relevant post-pandemic.
Paul discusses these 4 pivots to be competitive, retain employees, and continue attracting the right customers.
1 – Create robust work-from-home policies
Many businesses were forced to go 100% remote overnight because of COVID-19. But right now, some businesses are forcing employees back into the workplace—often before they’re ready for in-person work.
Remote work is just as efficient (and sometimes more efficient) than in-office work. Some organizations don’t succeed with remote work because their approaches and policies don’t work in this new normal.
For James River Capital, Paul made official policy changes for remote work, like:
- Recommending which workers needed to be in the office: Some jobs just can’t happen remotely. Define what those jobs are and how you’ll keep everyone safe at work.
- Investing in better communication tools: Better video chat and instant messaging apps will go far, but collaboration tools like Google Workplace are also a great option.
- Digitizing everything: Some industries are slow to embrace digitization, but exchanging physical paper just isn’t a safe practice going forward. Digitize your entire business with smart scanners. Don’t forget to train your staff on digitizing procedures, too!
2 – Encourage civic involvement
Don’t make your work hours a barrier to voting or being politically active. Yes, the law protects your employees’ jobs if they need to leave to vote, but you don’t just want to follow the law: you want to actively encourage civic involvement.
Many people don’t have the time to vote because of work schedules and polling times. You can fix that by:
- Providing no-questions-asked PTO for voting purposes, ranging from 4 – 8 hours.
- Calling for a company wide holiday on Election Day.
3 – Prioritize workers’ physical and mental well-being
Leaders should care about their workers’ well-being because it’s the right thing to do. But did you know that wellness initiatives generate up to $3 for every $1 spent? This not only makes employees happier and more productive, but it can significantly decrease medical claim costs, too.
2020 has been stressful, and that means your employees might need extra support. Now isn’t the time to be stingy! Paul points out that many companies are considering the following initiatives during the pandemic, including:
- Generous stipends for home office ergonomics.
- Paying more for employee healthcare premiums.
- Offering coverage for mental health services.
- Rolling out unlimited PTO and encouraging “mental health days” off from work.
However, you don’t want to overstep your boundaries by dictating health advice to your employees. Just offering financial support and access to helpful programs is a great way to improve employee well-being.
4 – Build a flexible culture
Is your culture rigid about performance evaluations, work hours, or dress code? If so, you might have a difficult time changing with the times. That’s because rigidity just doesn’t hold up under ever-changing circumstances.
As a leader, it’s your responsibility to build a flexible culture that supports employees instead of treating them like robots. High-pressure schedules, tight due dates, and aggressive management just can’t work during the pandemic. That’s a recipe for unproductive, burned-out staff.
Become more flexible by:
- Offering unlimited PTO: Employees do better when they have time away from work.
- Switching to flexible hours: Do all employees really need to be at work at 8 am sharp? Now’s the time to give your people more flexibility. Ask for everyone to be online at least from 10 am to 2 pm for meetings and collaboration. Outside of those hours, ask your people to get their work done and complete their 8-hour day when it works best for them.
- Scheduling phone calls: Video chat was fine at first, but now your employees are probably feeling Zoom Fatigue. Switch back to old-fashioned phone calls to give employees a break from their cameras.
- Focusing on output, not hours: An employee can spend 8 hours in front of their computer and accomplish nothing. Time spent at work doesn’t equate to results. Instead of nit-picking your team’s hours, focus on their deliverables. Are they hitting their KPIs? That’s what really matters.
The bottom line
In many ways, COVID-19 forever changed the way businesses operated pre-pandemic. While COVID-19 won’t be an issue forever, it still requires businesses to recognize the importance of flexibility and changing with the times.
Prepare for your future. Use James River Capital’s pivot suggests as an example to evaluate how your organization can adapt to coronavirus. Don’t stay rooted in the past: be willing to iterate fast for organizational longevity.