business matters
Lisa Guard, owner of Specialized Staffing, said both businesses and employees must put thought into their telecommuting strategies.

An 'out-of-the-ashes' moment

Judy Watt thinks of her staff at Lash Expressions as family.

So after her business' federal Payroll Protection Program loan arrived, she was devastated when she called in her team, “and they told me to pound salt.”

Watt said all but one of her five employees initially refused to come back on the clock because they said they were making more — while enjoying time with family — receiving unemployment compensation.

“They are looking at this as a hit-the-jackpot moment,” said Watt, who this year celebrates her business' five-year anniversary in the Greater Butler Mart.

“This is a really rough time. There's been not one dime of income since March 19,” Watt said. “(In order to get forgiveness on the loan) I must spend 75 percent on payroll. But my staff doesn't want to come back because they are getting paid a very significant amount to stay on unemployment … more than I made when I was a (Butler) county employee. … This young generation is awful to get to work. There's a sense of entitlement. And that extra $600 in unemployment didn't help those ethics.”

Short supply

Even prior to the pandemic, good employees were hard to woo. The county — and the entire country — for months had been experiencing historic low unemployment rates. It was a job seekers' market.

“Heading into this there was a severe labor shortage, and I believe — regardless of the yellow or green status, there still will be a labor shortage,” said Lisa Guard, owner of Specialized Staffing. “There's a misperception out there that (when businesses reopen) the labor pool will be flooded with candidates.”

First off, Guard said, many companies still are hiring.

Second, the increase in unemployment benefits and duration incentivizes some potential employees to stop job hunting.

“We are reaching out to nonworking candidates about immediate opportunities and are being told quite plainly that they are quite happy working on projects at home and collecting unemployment,” Guard said.

And on the flip side, some of the best qualified candidates the recruiter contacts, “are still working. most remotely, but still working. We are not seeing an increase in available top talent.”

“We gradually replaced all of our desktops with laptops. And in January we went to the Cloud and put our server to sleep,” said Guard, whose full staff is working remotely on several projects.

“We are still reaching out to candidates, interviewing candidates … the complete process,” Guard said.

Something new

Another business owner, Lisa Snyder, said pandemic conditions gave her an opportunity not only to try new things, but also rethink her business model.

“This is an out-of-the- ashes kind of moment,” Snyder said.

Moving forward, Snyder's company “True North” will offer the interior design remotely to customers by way of Internet conferencing and interactive design applications.

The remodeling and construction side of True North, which was run by Snyder's partner, Brian Celender, for the past six years, split off under pandemic pressure.

Snyder and Celender agree that their design-build concept was a good one. But a struggle for employees weighed heavily on the entire plan even before the pandemic.

“I have been losing money so I decided to change my direction,” said Celender, who also is proprietor for Steadfast Custom Construction.

“We had struggles finding good workers. Anybody with abilities went off to become their own contractors.”

Snyder, who can run her leg of the operation solo, said it was too difficult to find employees who were reliable.

“They would be spending weeks in a person's home so they had to be vetted to be trustworthy,” Snyder said. “But often the candidates didn't even show up for interviews.”

Celender, who had an exemption to continue working during the pandemic because he had unfinished kitchens and bathrooms under way, said he lost even more employees when unemployment started offering more than he could pay.

When the dust settles, Celender said he will instead offer outdoor work, like roofing, siding, doors and decks.

“We are all just trying to find our way,” he said.

Uncertain path

Watt, on the other hand, isn't sure how she will proceed.

She said she started her eyelash extension business as a one-woman show. As her waiting list grew, she selected team members and believed she'd found just the right group.

Her product requires regular maintenance and her customer list was still on the grow. She'd foreseen plenty of eager clients and a potential for a second location as soon as the state gave the green light. But now she needs to woo her staff back or hire and train new people in order to accomplish this.

“I don't know what I am going to do,” she said. “This business is my life … my baby,” she said. “But at this moment, I have one staff member.”

Going remote

Guard offers this advice to employers heading into the “new norm” work force hunt:

“A hiring manager and hiring team need to determine if the position you have can be done remotely. If it can, will your company equip employees to work remotely? Or will you require employees to use their own equipment like phones and laptops? And, finally, how will you onboard and train remote employees?”

Guard said companies that never before offered telecommuting are learning to lead remote teams. But they also need to work out the logistics of collaboration and performance monitoring.

On the employees' end, Guard said, workers should ask themselves: “Do I like telecommuting? Do I want to keep doing it? If my company doesn't offer it, should I look for anther job? Do I need a company to equip me or do I have equipment to do it myself?”

Specialized Staffing last year started an initiative to go partially remote.