THE PANDEMIC HAS A LOT TO TEACH THE INDUSTRY, BUT ONLY IF COMPANY LEADERS ARE WILLING TO LISTEN.
LIFE LOOKS a lot different today than it did when the calendar flipped to reveal the first day of 2020. It feels nostalgic now to look back on days when masks were reserved for medical dramas on TV, and passports were for gathering stamps instead of collecting dust in the drawer. Those daily reminders of life interrupted extend into every corner of our lives, and work is no exception.
By now, most of us have learned how to run or attend a Zoom meeting, collaborate over GoogleDocs and connect with co-workers through a screen. We’ve managed to construct make-shift desks in the one room of our homes that offers both quiet and WIFI, and have learned that the mute button is everyone’s friend. There have been some humorous hiccups along the way, as we’ve witnessed pets and kids meander through the backgrounds of video conference calls, the once guarded home lives of our co-workers now on display. But as the chaos and confusion of those early days settled, a rhythm began to emerge that has allowed us to find success in spite of it all. And while the upheaval of this pandemic will surely be temporary, the lessons it has taught the industry and the external brands it commingles with will likely linger long after the lockdown subsides.
BUSINESS AS USUAL IS A THING OF THE PAST
The way we work is different now. Even people who relished working from home found themselves chafing against the restrictions that lockdown introduced. Bustling coffee shops were no longer a safe haven for creative work or casual meetups with colleagues. Independent distributors who relied on large or small gatherings to share products or demonstrate training concepts were forced to rethink their processes and go to methods. Company headquarters and office buildings had to close their doors and pivot to virtual. In a matter of days or weeks, work as we know it drastically changed.
In the process, the typical working hours of most businesses have shifted, and with them, the way work is accomplished. But collaboration hasn’t stopped, and innovation isn’t on a break. Many companies report launching even more products and at a more rapid pace than normal, like Elepreneurs, who typically launches two products annually but by summer of this year had already launched three. The strategy sessions and creative teamwork behind what makes successful brands tick hasn’t been eliminated but has instead been heightened as this unusual time requires more of teams than ever before.
Face-to-face meetings can be highly productive and will surely resume when it is deemed safe to do so, but the lockdown has taught us that most meetings can be emails, creativity isn’t limited to the four walls of an office, and teams who were effective and efficient during the nine-to-five grind can almost surely be trusted equally when released from the boundaries of that schedule.
AMERICA IS RECLAIMING ITS WORK-LIFE BALANCE
Eight-hour shifts and on-the-clock lunch breaks have not been eradicated, but companies that have lagged behind in embracing flexible working schedules are now catching up out of necessity. Now more than ever, employers are realizing that their teams can be made up of talent from around the globe and work seamlessly across time zones.
It’s a lesson that younger, cloud-based direct selling companies have been preaching for quite some time, championing the idea that the best and brightest can only be found when the applicant pool is not limited by location. There’s a difference between searching for the best chief financial officer in a specific metro area and searching for the best chief financial officer located anywhere in the world.
By liberating the employee pool from geographic limitations, companies will likely boost employee retention in the months and years to come. We know that employees who work from home are more satisfied at work. In a 2019 Owl Labs study reported by Inc.com, employees who worked remotely full-time reported being happy 22 percent more than employees who worked on-site full-time. Of those who chose to work remotely, 91 percent cited a better work-life balance as their reason.
The lockdown has proven what we already knew to be true but were too reluctant to enforce: that work is not one-size-fits-all. Gen Z and the young professionals that follow will be heirs to the fruits of this strange season and will enter the workforce with a shared understanding that work can be arranged to accommodate life, instead of the other way around.
BRANDS ARE ONLY AS STRONG AS THEIR DIGITAL GAME
When almost the entire world pivoted to virtual at the same time, it became glaringly obvious who had done their digital homework and who was trailing behind. For the last decade, direct selling companies have applauded their own technological advancements, pointing to back-office improvements and the introduction of mobile apps as their edge over the competition. But it was those who made digital the foundation of all of their processes which truly outperformed their competitors when face-to-face operations ceased. Instead of an ornamental app that served only as a tool for checking inventory and metrics, these leaders in the digital space offered distributors the ability to run every aspect of their business from their phone. Their broad functionality meant samples could be shipped at the touch of a button, educational training resources could be accessed on the go and new customers or team members could be entered without missing a beat.
As the ability to meet in person stopped, the demand for training, product demonstrations and mentor relationships did not. If anything, the need for distributor support increased. Under the pressure of a global pandemic, the strengths and weaknesses within each company’s digital strategy proved inescapable. Moving forward, the capacity to operate entirely virtual will be essential. Digital is no longer a fringe benefit or cherry on top—it’s the lifeblood of any company that endeavors to succeed in a post-lockdown reality.
THE A-TEAM (& C -TEAM) IS NOW OBVIOUS
This time working separately has served as a sort of truth serum for many companies, determining what—and who— works well without the hand holding that comes from an in-person work environment. And although there are certainly still org charts and office cliques in place, advantages like proximity to the boss’ office or the special treatment that comes from being invited to lunch with the decision-makers in the room is on hold for now. In some ways, remote working has leveled the playing field.
Who works well with others, who has a talent for leadership, who is a self-starter, who delegates without micromanaging—all of these character traits have been clarified by this condensed and distilled work model. Any lackluster performance that could be hidden under the veil of group work is now visible, and the true visionaries who ignite original ideas have been given more room to run.
This brief moment in history, although it feels enduring, has offered leaders uncommon insight into the assets and shortcomings of their team’s composition. Utilizing this awareness moving forward means leaders must be ready to shift people into new roles that are better suited for their gifts, promote the often overlooked, recognize the leaders that this period of adversity has created, and provide support for the underperforming.
BRANDS MUST STAY AWARE OF AN ALL-TOO FAMILIAR CYCLE: CLAIMS
Direct selling has long been the answer to people desiring to exit the corporate world in search of a more flexible and sometimes a more profitable opportunity. But now, more than any time in recent history, people are turning to direct selling as a result of unemployment. As of June 20, nearly 33 million Americans were receiving jobless benefits. That number is five times that of the peak of the Great Recession, according to a July CNBC report.
Recessions have historically been growth years for the industry, as was proven during the Great Recession, when distributors increased from 15.1 million to 18.2 million in number from 2008 to 2014, and the same is proving to be true during the current pandemic. In early June, the DSA conducted a study of 51 companies, of which 51 percent described the pandemic as having had a “positive” impact on their 2020 revenue. That number grew to 59 percent in a later survey.
With such a rapid influx of new faces, the direct selling industry is confronting an increased demand for education and training in a time when interactions are limited. Earnest new recruits, on fire to sell the products they are passionate about, can put companies in hot water with the FTC through false or exaggerated claims about products and earnings.
This explosive distributor growth followed by unsanctioned online behavior is an unfortunate cycle the direct selling industry knows all too well, but one it can learn from. More training and education will be essential, and a more rigorous policing of these unauthorized claim will be necessary to survive in the future.
As each month leaves our nation hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel, this unanticipated pandemic and its accompanying lockdown likely still has many lessons left to teach. And just like new distributors, companies and the executives who lead them could have a lot to learn—if they’re willing to listen.