Local Business Leaders Share How Their Companies Implemented Virtual Strategies for Success
By Arielle Patterson
In the face of coronavirus, many businesses were challenged with the task of adapting to a socially distanced workforce. COVID-19 has acted as a catalyst, allowing management to restructure their business operations and develop a more innovative workforce.
Pete Colbert, senior business development strategist at Spark451, and Jarrett Stanley, vice president of marketing at Southern Trust Mortgage, share how their companies were able to digitize the employee-to-employee relationship.
CoVa BIZ: How would you describe your business model or mission?
Pete Colbert – Spark451: Spark451 is a full-service marketing, communication and technology firm specializing in higher education enrollment marketing and strategy. We partner with colleges and universities across the country to provide opportunities and foster connections between our partner schools and prospective students.
Jarrett Stanley – Southern Trust Mortgage: Since 1998, more than 70,000 families have partnered with Southern Trust Mortgage for their home financing. We are a modern mortgage lender, committed to making the home buying experience simple, creative and consistent.
CoVa BIZ: What software, technology, processes or programs do you use to facilitate a mobile or remote workforce and why?
Colbert: We utilize Slack as a primary means of one-to-one, as well as group communications among our teams. This has been the case for years but has become even more prevalent and necessary in recent months since we’ve been 100% remote, as opposed to just being in separate offices.
We also work from a cloud-based server for permanent file sharing and storage, but we do a lot of our in-process work in Google Docs for easy collaboration and record keeping.
Specifically, during the current COVID-19 crisis, we’ve implemented use of Zoom technology for company meetings, as well as webinar hosting.
Stanley: Even before our current climate, Southern Trust set up the right technology and communications platforms to succeed in remote and mobile environments. Our team members are empowered through having company-provided hardware and software solutions that are cloud-based, meaning they can take their work with them and be productive wherever they are.
The operations teams stay in touch with real-time text, video and audio chat, shared HR and data warehouse, mobile-responsive learning platforms and regular all-hands video conferences. Birthdays, work anniversaries, new hires and even holidays and lunch breaks are all shared collectively on a virtual stage through our tech platforms.
Our sales team is able to manage their pipeline and run their business directly from their phone with our STM Connect mobile app. All phases, from start to finish, of the homebuying process are done with ease through the app, making our loan officer’s lives that much easier and providing the peace of mind our partners and home buyers are looking for.
CoVa BIZ: What’s your strategy for keeping your internal teams engaged and effectively communicating and collaborating from afar and how has it changed due to the COVID-19 crisis?
- Beyond our standard operational use of Slack for business/client-related communication, we have multiple non-client-related chat rooms/channels for folks to share random thoughts, interesting articles, funny videos/memes and inspirational content. These channels have been working overtime over the past few months as everyone craves the personal co-worker interaction that we no longer get around the office.
- We’ve always had monthly company-wide meetings to allow management to keep everyone abreast of what’s going on across all teams and in the industry at large. When we made the move to work 100% remotely in mid-March, we also began having twice weekly “town hall” Zoom meetings to keep everyone plugged in and in the know. It’s been great to get to see everyone at least a couple of times per week, and while these meetings don’t always entail major new developments, they serve as a good engagement tool and provide a new sense of normalcy among the craziness of the current reality.
- As a marketing firm, we’ve also used the current situation as a means to inspire creativity among our teams. Our digital media team has made a habit of reaching out to the whole company to ask for Instagram fodder based on a new theme each week. (i.e. images of Sparklers’s home office setups, images of our favorite coffee mugs, images of our latest food creations and my recent favorite—in honor of Earth Day—images of our favorite nature views from our travels).
- We, like many folks, have taken advantage of Zoom technology to organize occasional “virtual happy hours” at 4:51 p.m. (of course) to allow everyone to share a laugh and some camaraderie at the end of a long day/week.
Stanley: Southern Trust has always excelled at communicating with our employees and utilizing feedback. As for COVID-19, it hasn’t changed our mentality on communication as much as it has focused the outworking of our communication efforts from the time before it. We’ve regularly used company-wide polls to get a pulse on how our team members are feeling about our initiatives. We’ve also bolstered our video production capabilities, online presentations and our marketing and origination platforms to continue moving towards an efficient, safe and connected team. This comes on top of internally focused content schedules for our executives and team leaders to provide market, health and company status updates. The conversation is very much a two-way one, and we’re always listening to how we can do better for everyone who calls Southern Trust Mortgage home.