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Managers share corporate pandemic strategies

At last week's ERP conference Inforum 2020, managers talked about their pandemic strategies, lessons learned and how COVID-19 may change the way their firms operate going forward.

At Infor Inc.'s virtual conference, the COVID-19 pandemic was an unavoidable part of the discussion. It has changed how firms operate, and corporate pandemic strategies needed to manage the disruption held lessons to be shared.

Remote work has delivered some surprising benefits to Benco Dental Supply Co., a privately owned firm in Pittston, Pa. The company has about 1,000 people currently working from home.

"We might be more effective than we were working in a traditional way," said Mike Burns, Benco Dental's CIO, in an online session at last week's Inforum 2020 conference.

"Folks can focus, and they can collaborate with people with geographic barriers completely dissolved," Burns said. "It's been a really remarkable change for us."

Another pandemic strategy has been an uptick in augmented reality investment, enabling customers to "virtually teleport people" into showrooms, Burns said.

Video conferences are critical, said George Rable, chief culture and people officer at Benco Dental. Video enables people to see and read an audience. "It may not be quite the same thing as being there, but it's the next best thing," he said.

"If you have the right people and people that you trust, it works," Rable said of remote work. "We knew that we could trust people to do what they would have done in the office."

Recreating camaraderie

But "you do miss the camaraderie to some extent" that comes from working in the office, Rable said. Benco Dental tries to make up for some of the lost physical contact by scheduling things like virtual happy hours.

Benco Dental's initial pandemic strategy was to have employees return to the office this month, but remote work may now continue for the remainder of the year. An increase in employees working from home may be permanent post-pandemic and is being viewed as part of the company's recruitment and retention strategies, according to Rable.

"The thought is that we probably won't have more than half the people in the office at any given time," he said.

The work-from-home pieces have worked so well for us that we look at it as a way to attract and retain the best people.
George RableChief culture and people officer, Benco Dental

"The work-from-home pieces have worked so well for us that we look at it as a way to attract and retain the best people," Rable said.

In a separate online session, a manager at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency described his experience with the work changes brought on by the pandemic.

The agency, which employs 5,000 and is responsible for streets and transit in the city, was ready for a rapid shift to work from home. In 2016, Michael Tedrow, the agency's enterprise asset management program manager, switched his team from desktop computers to laptops. Consultants transitioned to new technology, as well as employees.

The firm uses Infor's cloud-based enterprise asset management system, which means the agency didn't have to worry about application access, he said.

When the pandemic hit, "we just went home," Tedrow said. "We were already a mobile workforce."

More employee one-on-ones

Managers at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency use video and Microsoft Teams to keep in touch with employees. But Tedrow said they also contact employees more frequently and he, for one, conducts "more one-on-ones than I used to," he said.

"I tell people, 'Don't stress, relax, take a breath,'" Tedrow said. "I tell my team all the time, 'Guys, get off your chair and go for a walk, make sure that you're not sitting in front of your PC all day long.'"

"We've got to make sure that we're treating our people right and giving them the tools they need and the time that they need in order to make this work," he said.

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