The business landscape has seen rapid change over the past 14 months as economies have adapted to the immediate and challenging changes brought on by a global pandemic. From supply-chain disruptions to statewide shutdowns and an unprecedented need to accelerate to a digital client base, few industries were spared. A year after things came grinding to a halt around the U.S., Regions Bank gathered a panel of Commercial Banking clients in Birmingham, Alabama to talk about what worked, what didn’t, and what adaptations they will continue as they look to the future of their respective businesses and organizations.
With an introduction by Brian Willman, head of Commercial Banking at Regions, the panel was moderated by Jonathon Studstill, Regions Bank Human Resources business partner, and included local business titans Drew Langloh, president and CEO of the United Way of Central Alabama, Mike Kemp, president and CEO of KMS, and Christy Thomas, CFO of Milo’s Tea Company.
“As with many businesses, Regions had to quickly adapt as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic,” noted Willman. “Our focus on our clients remained and we’ve taken that very seriously as we’ve worked to support them through these challenging times. To date, we’ve been able to help 75,000 small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program, and rapidly adopted technologies that allowed our bankers to continue to provide world-class customer service in a largely virtual environment.”
As the panelists talked, they shared their own individual experiences in hopes of providing insight learned over the past year. The following are key takeaways and excerpts from the discussion.
To date, we’ve been able to help 75,000 small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program, and rapidly adopted technologies that allowed our bankers to continue to provide world-class customer service in a largely virtual environment.
Brian Willman, head of Commercial Banking at Regions
Covid disruptions impacted business around the world, ushering in wins and challenges
For Mike Kemp, the biggest question going into this was how to continue cultivating a strong company culture when you are in a virtual environment. At Milo’s Tea Company, they had recently run scenarios putting the business in a remote environment, so they were better prepared than many to weather the early part of the storm. The business also experienced some key internal wins.
“We were in the midst of building our Tulsa plant and worked very closely with Regions to keep the planned opening on track,” said Thomas. “It gave me such an opportunity to get to know our people on the plant floor better as I spent a lot of time at that facility to keep things moving.”
All panelists shared a personal win from the event, which largely centered around the opportunity to spend more time with family – near and far – in the ‘bubble’ and virtually. They also addressed early concerns over the potential impact a remote environment would have on their businesses, employees and customers.
“My biggest challenge has been being an extrovert. Losing the personal touch in going virtual has been tough as a leader,” said Langloh.
Communication, technology and safety as top business priorities in a crisis
Panelists emphasized that no matter what type of business or organization you are running, when crisis hits, especially one on a global scale, some key decisions need to be made around priorities.
“As a consumer product manufacturer, we had to ensure safety for our products/consumers and employees,” said Thomas. “We had to switch to digital terminal logins rather than a login pad on-site.”
Technology and communication were top of mind for each of the panelists as they navigated getting information to employees.
“We were pretty well-positioned in this space, but we had to be very intentional with the information we pushed out – and ensuring we had a stable connection with the network and employees working at home,” said Kemp. “Keeping the team engaged. That was something we knew we had to keep focus on – it is easy to lose focus on the work with so many outside activities going on. We had 30-40 active projects going at the time and had to keep everyone in the game, so to speak.”
United Way of Central Alabama runs on mission – its employees are tied to the organization’s mission and culture – so the focus was on what happens to these things when employees are working remotely. Langloh noted that keeping regular contact with employees became a key priority. Managers set a cadence, pace and tone, trying to retain the personal feeling that comes with the workplace.
“As senior centers closed, our homebound senior population doubled and we needed to keep them and the volunteers and employees safe as they delivered critical services,” noted Langloh. “We shifted employees to different roles to manage the work. The community needed different services and we had to focus on the data showing what community needs were as they evolved with layoffs and other challenges.”
What does the future landscape of business look like?
As vaccinations roll out and we edge closer to a ‘return to normal,’ many businesses found efficiencies and pivots that made them leaner, stronger and more resilient. At Milo’s Tea Company, they made the decision to close the corporate office and put the focus on the plants rather than office space. The company is looking for a smaller space that will allow for small group collaboration and flexibility between remote and hotel space.
KMS opened a new office in late 2020 and moved to a two-days-per-week-in-office schedule with a rotation to maintain adequate spacing to keep safety protocols in place. The United Way of Central Alabama launched its reopening plan and will gradually be bringing employees back into the office through September, when they hope to be back fully staffed.
Businesses see different challenges ahead in the post-Covid world, but a few things resonated among the panelists. Recruiting can be tough in a virtual environment, but it also has benefits, such as desired flexibility and even, for some businesses, increased efficiency.
“The talent challenge – our secret recruiting weapon is the offer of flexibility,” said Langloh. “We do a lot of federal contracting and we find CPAs who may be moms that had stepped out of the workforce and we can offer part-time opportunities and flexibility that may work for them.”
Whether moving to a more flexible work environment or the accelerated adoption of digital and technology capabilities, each of the panelists note that their business or organization has benefitted from changes made during the past year.
You can watch the full session here to hear more from these leaders on how they faced the pandemic challenges head-on to ensure their business, their employees, and their customers could safely and successfully weather the storm.
The event was put together by local Regions Bank Commercial Banking team in Birmingham led by Duke Hinds and Kelly Peace. To learn how Regions Bank can help your business, contact your local Commercial Banking team.