Part of our You Belong in Business podcast

Photo of business owners talking about how COVID-19 has changed their business models.

Getting better, not just getting by: Business innovations in the pandemic

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As a personality type, business owners tend to be a proactive bunch.

So it’s no surprise their entrepreneurial spirit shined forth when we surveyed dozens of small businesses about how in the face of the pandemic they’re adjusting their operations—and often liking the results.

The challenge: The pandemic has disrupted businesses and may force or inspire permanent change to operations.

We spoke to many of these businesses (and Principal® clients) nationwide. Some of them already had been contemplating profound changes that the pandemic accelerated.

For instance, employees of Sterling National Bank in New York City were spending as much as two hours daily in city traffic to circulate among three main offices and various branches. An 18-month study to ease a portion of its staff into work-from-home routines was quickly implemented on a wider scale to cope with the pandemic.

We shattered some long-standing myths, especially in financial services."

Javier Evans, executive vice president and chief human resources officer for Sterling National Bank

“We shattered some long-standing myths, especially in financial services,” says Javier Evans, executive vice president and chief human resources officer for the bank. “We all felt certain roles were anchored and had to be done in the office.”

But even critical back office functions turned out to be more adaptable to remote work than assumed. The bank has been so pleased with results that it continues to explore how it might digitize even more legal documents, overcome snail-mail roadblocks, and partner with vendors to enable even more flexibility.

Remote work was less of an option for Nebraska Truck, which sells and services big rigs along the busy Interstate 80 transportation artery. The family business and its three locations welcome drivers from across the nation. As an essential business, Nebraska Truck didn’t close during the pandemic but did reduce points of contact throughout its showrooms and service counters.

Kent Brown, president and co-owner, continually adjusted his operating plans to successive waves of guidelines from government health agencies.

Taking a cue from local car dealerships, he and his staff also implemented a stricter cleaning regimen.

“We just need to do a better job of what we were already doing,” Brown says. And he intends those changes—including a thorough cleaning of trucks as they enter and leave the repair bay—to be permanent.

Polina Engel, advanced solutions director for Principal®, says her conversations with businesses such as these have long since moved on from planning for a return to pre-pandemic “normal.” The new mindset among business owners is the realization that they continually must adjust to the next normal—and then again after that, and so on, from one month or year to the next.

The goal is to be as prepared as possible for any type of pivot point."

Polina Engel, advanced solutions director for Principal

“The goal is to be as prepared as possible for any type of pivot point,” Engel says. “To be able to effectively respond to changing situations outside your control as a business owner.”

Brown always has considered his business—and the small business community in general—to be agile and resilient. But he sees 2020 as a wakeup call for business owners like him that an entirely new level of adaptability may be necessary to continue to thrive.

“Everybody used to say the only constant is change,” Brown says. “Now the only constant seems to be uncertainty. You can plan, but those plans may change in an instant. That might be the ‘new normal.’”

What's next?

This podcast provides educational information only with the understanding that Principal® and its employees are not offering legal, accounting, investment or tax advice. Business owners should consult with their counsel or other advisors when making business decisions.

Guests are not compensated for their appearance and Principal does not endorse the businesses of its guests. Some guests may own Principal products or use our services. Unless noted otherwise, none of our guests are affiliated with Principal, Des Moines Iowa.