COVID-19: Business innovation key to staying ahead of the coronavirus

Business innovation is key to staying ahead of the coronavirus

CORONAVIRUS lockdowns might have been a military exercise in logistics for some businesses, but for others initiatives already in place made all the difference.

Sourcing enough equipment to allow staff to work from home was an immediate problem for the Morse Group.

"We really struggled with getting enough laptops for everyone, it was like trying to buy toilet paper, you just couldn't buy one," the company's HR consultant Tracey Holdsworth said.

Morse Group, an accounting, business and taxation service company, has 25 staff located in offices in Bathurst, Orange, Oberon and Sydney.

"In Bathurst around 50 per cent of the staff begun working from home, while the staff at the smaller locations in Orange and Oberon continued to work from the office," she said.

While some Morse staff already worked from home prior to the virus, others quickly became familiar with video conferencing to keep in touch and undertake training.

"The biggest challenge for all of us was trying to keep up with all the [federal government] stimulus measures and keeping clients up to date with all of that," Ms Holdsworth said.

TECHNOLOGY: Morse Group HR consultant Tracey Holdsworth said it was difficult to find enough laptops for staff to work from home. Photo: JUDE KEOGH

TECHNOLOGY: Morse Group HR consultant Tracey Holdsworth said it was difficult to find enough laptops for staff to work from home. Photo: JUDE KEOGH

Flight cancellations had an impact on some Morse Group staff who regularly fly to Sydney and Melbourne for work.

Ms Holdsworth said she was unsure if staff would resume flying to meetings or decide to move them to video link permanently.

"From a cost perspective, after all we are accountants, they'll have to weigh up the benefits," she said.

Looking towards the future, Ms Holdsworth said some staff are still working from home, but said the flexibility was "always there" to allow this to occur.

Staying ahead of the game was vital

PLANNING PAYS OFF: SJ Shooter managing director Laura Shooter said early investments in innovation paid off during the COVID-19 crisis. Photo: AMY MCINTYRE

PLANNING PAYS OFF: SJ Shooter managing director Laura Shooter said early investments in innovation paid off during the COVID-19 crisis. Photo: AMY MCINTYRE

WHILE some real estate agencies were stumped by the government's partial lockdown as the pandemic worsened, Dubbo's SJ Shooter Real Estate were already prepared.

For 18 months before coronavirus, the agency had already provided 3D virtual tours of properties for sale and they continue to do so today.

And, far from being a deterrent, SJ Shooter has just recorded its "best quarter ever" with 21 houses sold from April to June.

Managing director Laura Shooter said the agency's initiative "buffeted us against COVID".

"Being a newer business we were fortunate that most of our business was born in the cloud so most of our software was already there," she said.

"It really highlighted to me that investing in innovation previously has worked for us, it seriously paid dividends when the crisis hit."

It really highlighted to me that investing in innovation previously has worked for us, it seriously paid dividends when the crisis hit.

SJ Shooter Real Estate managing director Laura Shooter

Ms Shooter said staffing has been a logistical challenge with some working from the office and others from home.

Some of her staff who have children were now trying to juggle working from home while conducting home schooling.

"It was a bit of trial and error. We found some roles were more suitable to working from home, others we needed to have them back in the office," Ms Shooter said.

"As a manager it was difficult to have different rules for different people ... but as a manager you've got to think of the business first or there won't be any jobs."

Ms Shooter said the past few months have opened her eyes to the possibility of flexible work arrangements for staff.

"It's definitely given me a trial run of what it would be like having some people working from home," she said.

Supporting workers at work during pandemic

SUPPORT VITAL: Skillset general manager Jane McWilliam said hundreds of employees needed to be supported during the lockdowns. Photo: SUPPLIED

SUPPORT VITAL: Skillset general manager Jane McWilliam said hundreds of employees needed to be supported during the lockdowns. Photo: SUPPLIED

WITH hundreds of apprentices and trainees spread across the region, managing the fallout from COVID-19 shutdowns was a huge effort for Skillset.

Based in Bathurst, Orange, Dubbo and Mudgee, the organisation offers recruitment, apprenticeships, traineeships and group training.

General manager Jane McWilliam said many of the businesses that host Skillset apprentices and trainees continued to operate during the lockdowns.

Industries including health, construction and mining were considered essential services and she said it was important that employees continued to be supported.

"It was important for Skillset to continue to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic to support all of our clients," Ms McWilliam said.

"We had four of our host businesses affected by COVID-19 whereby apprentices were temporarily stood down."

We will be able to provide our services across a greater footprint to support more people.

Skillset general manager Jane McWilliam

Video calls were used to check in on hosts, apprentices and trainees, while office space was provided to ensure theory based training could continue.

Looking ahead, Ms McWilliam said there were many long-term benefits in how Skillset adapted its work practices.

While face-to-face service is important for apprentices, trainees and others using Skillset services, she said video calls were now used for the first interview with new applicants.

"This will become even more important as more people relocate to regional areas," she said.

"We believe that we will be able to provide our services across a greater footprint to support more people, especially as we move into the economic recovery phase and more and more people need assistance with career development and employment."

Workers adapt to the new normal

FRESH IDEAS: Businesses and employees are innovative and are adopting new ways of operating, Business NSW's Western NSW regional manager Vicki Seccombe said. Photo: SAM BOLT

FRESH IDEAS: Businesses and employees are innovative and are adopting new ways of operating, Business NSW's Western NSW regional manager Vicki Seccombe said. Photo: SAM BOLT

BUSINESSES in the Central West are adapting to the new normal with no new COVID-19 cases detected in the region for almost three months.

While the number of coronavirus cases in Victoria continues to soar with 127 new cases detected on Monday and the border with NSW to close; in Western NSW it has remained stable since April 18.

The past few months have seen significant upheaval for businesses and employees in the Central West and Orana regions, Business NSW's Western NSW regional manager Vicki Seccombe said.

"The pendulum definitely swung to a higher proportion of the workforce working from home during COVID, but it has moved back to some normality over the past few weeks across the region," she said.

"Our hospitality businesses are seeing increased lunch, snack and coffee sales with employees returning to their workplaces, which is encouraging."

Ms Seccombe said one of the positives from the COVID-19 pandemic is how businesses and employees have been able to innovate and adopt new ways of operating.

For many industries such as manufacturing, retail, and hospitality, working from home isn't an option.

Business NSW's Western NSW regional manager Vicki Seccombe

"Many businesses feel that this is a good opportunity to review their workplaces and look for ways of working that will have a positive effect on their employees and their business," she said.

"Regionally, I believe we will certainly see some increased flexibility around working from home for those industries who are able to do this.

"For many industries such as manufacturing, retail, and hospitality, working from home isn't an option."

Ms Seccombe said while online video technology was around long before COVID-19, businesses embraced it to conduct training, meetings and interview during the past three months.

"We've embraced online meeting technology and this will most likely continue, but not to the same extent during the shutdown," she said.

"For businesses who travel regularly for meetings, online meetings are a time and cost saver but you can't replace that connection from a face-to-face meeting. My guess is that we will find a happy medium between both."

Real estate agents across the region reported increased calls from Sydneysiders looking to relocate to the region.

"Not only is this great for our population growth, but presents an opportunity for our businesses to access people with skillsets that were previously not available locally," Ms Seccombe said.

The health of health workers vital during virus pandemic

NEW WAYS: Hundreds of NSW Health workers started working from home during the pandemic, while many more stayed on the front line. Photo: FILE

NEW WAYS: Hundreds of NSW Health workers started working from home during the pandemic, while many more stayed on the front line. Photo: FILE

KEEPING one of the region's biggest workforces safe during the coronavirus pandemic was an exercise in logistics and changing work practices.

The Western NSW Local Health District (LHD) is one of the biggest health districts in the state and it employs more than 6300 staff including casual and agency workers.

Since the virus crisis began, 45 residents in the LHD tested positive to COVID-19, while another two who usually reside in the area were detected while in hotel quarantine in Sydney.

While many of the LHD's health workers stayed on the frontline to treat the sick and continue medical services across the region, some were sent to work from home.

"Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic we had 392 staff who were working from home," an LHD spokeswoman said.

"In the last four weeks we have approved 12 long term applications [to continue working from home]."

The LHD spokeswoman said staff coped well amid the changes and were well supported to ensure they had a safe workplace at home.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic we had 392 staff who were working from home.

Western NSW Local Health District spokeswoman

"The LHD provided a lot of support to both staff and managers on the best way to set up workstations and work from home to ensure the transition was smooth," she said.

The spokeswoman said some employees reported being more productive with fewer distractions, while others reported finding the work life balance more difficult than usual.

"Applications to work remotely are reviewed on a case-by-case basis in line with the requirements of the staff member's position," she said.

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This story Business innovation is key to staying ahead of the coronavirus first appeared on Daily Liberal.