The coronavirus pandemic has shaken the world, and even the self-storage industry has shifted dramatically. As employers and employees navigate these rough waters together, it’s interesting to contemplate the supervisor-staff relationship and how that might also be changing.
As a member of my company’s leadership team, I’m one of the people responsible for helping staff through all the adjustments driven by COVID-19. Following are some of the things we’re doing to keep everyone informed and safe, and how other self-storage owners and supervisors can better support their own employees during this time.
COVID-19 hit our country so quickly, it was truly frightening. Our company leaders deliberated the safest course of action and how to roll out the necessary operational changes. There were lots of unknowns at first, especially when we considered the many employees our decisions would impact. It became clear the No. 1 thing we could do was to communicate—early and often—with every update.
Luckily for us, we were already in the habit of hosting monthly company broadcasts using Zoom video conferencing. When we needed to host meetings about the coronavirus, our employees were used to accepting the invite and joining the webinar format. But what really changed for us was the frequency of these meetings. We went from once per month on a preset schedule to almost once per week, sometimes with only one or two days’ notice. Our staff graciously “rolled with it” and joined us without fail.
An important component of supporting your self-storage staff during this time is to gather and really pay attention to their feedback. We want to ensure we were doing everything we can for our employees, so I sent an informal survey to ask how they feel about the level of communication and support we’ve provided throughout the pandemic. Their responses are overall positive. Below are a few samples. I’m grateful to the facility managers who’ve allowed me to directly quote them in this article, because their insight is impactful.
- I felt that, as a manager, I was informed on policy and procedural changes quickly, effectively and timely. Updates were specific, and with a solid control set on the messaging so there was little to no confusion. I felt it was necessary that communication came through frequently for us to make sure times and dates for changes were implemented. It did. [JR Rochester, First USA Storage, Newton, N.C.]
- I feel as though we have had constant communication and immediate answers to all our concerns when we have a question. Our company is above the rest in keeping us all informed and ahead of the curve with regard to all issues, and the level of communication was just right. [Steva Clontz, StorAway Mini Warehouses, Winder, Ga.]
- I liked the fact that [communication] was done with frequent Zoom meetings and they were recorded, so when I was not at work, I was able to play them back when I checked my email. It kept us all on the same page, which was very helpful due to so many of us being in different states. [Kelly Petleski, American Store and Lock #5, Charlotte, N.C.]
Health and Safety
Another aspect of the employer-employee relationship is concern for health and safety. It isn’t lost on us that our staff is one of our company’s greatest assets. Without them, our stores couldn’t open or operate efficiently. So, it’s imperative to take every precaution we can to safeguard our people.
Not only did we identify important safety precautions and procedures and implement them rapidly, we made sure all employees had access to the personal protective equipment they needed to be safe. We also knew we would need to be there for them throughout this pandemic and beyond. We implemented the “Corona Crew,” consisting of our top company leaders and human-resources manager, who remain available to answer questions or help as needed. Our team appreciates this transparency and availability.
Ways to Strengthen the Bond
In some companies, the employer-employee relationship may be different now. People tend to grow together in a crisis. When I asked our staff if they felt their relationship with their supervisor and/or corporate staff had changed, many said it has improved. If you’d like this to be true at your own self-storage operation, here are several ways to strengthen that bond:
Communicate early, often and consistently. Provide updates on ever-evolving best practices and issues so everyone is aware of changes and can enact the newest procedures. There’s no such thing as too frequent communication, but it must be clear and concise to avoid confusion. If a policy changes, note it. If a procedural step is removed or added, make everyone aware. Also, be open to questions so employees can seek clarification if necessary.
Provide safety tools. This includes masks, gloves, disinfectants and sanitizers, sneeze guards for desks, stanchions/ropes, and directional signage. Also, use signage to inform customers of the precautions being taken, the changes to their customer experience, and the requirement or request for a mask to be worn before entering the facility. Nothing says “we value you” like the protective measures you provide to keep people safe.
Empathize with frontline workers. Put yourself in their shoes. Do they have to work around kids’ school cancellations? Do they have underlying health issues? Do they have at-risk folks at home? Will they feel comfortable coming to work every day with the level of protection you’re providing? Are they scared? If you were in their situation, what would you need? What else can you provide to help them during these strange times? Identify these things, then act on them!
The best thing any company can do is actively support employees’ needs. We made it a policy to never force anyone to report to their facility office. We made a back-up plan so if a team member became ill, had to care for someone who was ill, or was otherwise unable to report for duty, we could still open the store or operate it remotely.
We haven’t fully closed a single location throughout the pandemic. All stores were on a temporary lockdown in the beginning, but we were able to operate them remotely thanks to technology. This was even more important considering all our employees have a payroll bonus tied to their facility-income numbers. Simply put, our staff would suffer if we had to close, so we didn’t. For their sake, we couldn’t.
By following these steps, every self-storage employer can step up and create a place where staff are proud to work, one to which they’ll remain loyal even after the pandemic passes. If your company isn’t ensuring that employees know they’re more important than the job, you may want to rethink your management tactics.
This pandemic won’t last forever, but I hope your business does. Indeed, we have a long way to go. One of the best things you can do now is foster a healthy, empathetic and supportive relationship with your team, so they can, in turn, support your business efforts. You’ll be stronger for it, with experienced employees who trust in you and willingly invest their time and energy in helping your operation thrive.
As vice president of marketing and training for Universal Storage Group (USG), Stacie Maxwell oversees the branding, design, marketing-program planning and implementation for the company, including all offline and online marketing for the portfolio as well as marketing and internal/public communications for USG corporate. With more than 19 years of experience in the industry, she also works closely on the company’s facility-development projects, and is responsible for driving the company’s manger-training program and new-store startup teams. For more information, visit https://universalstoragegroup.com or connect with Stacie at www.linkedin.com/in/staciemaxwell.