Stay strong and stay connected

Since founding Top Office Group in 1989, we’ve stood the test of time to survive a recession, GFC and total flood inundation of our Training Academy. But, the breakneck speed of this Corona Virus pandemic is catching us all off guard.  On so many levels, these are terrifying times.

Protecting our elderly in nursing homes is top priority, absolutely.  The economic fall-outs are just devastating. Central banks and Governments are throwing everything at it. But, this thing has a life of its own, and it feels like nothing can stop the tide.

There’s little time to reflect, but it feels like one of those times in history where it helps to look back, before you can go forward. Our hope is to help other businesses in some small way, by sharing our story.

Our business was built in the recession “we had to have” (we just didn’t know it at the time).  It was 1991-92. Youth unemployment hit 30%. Interest rates were 18%, famous entrepreneurs crashed, demand for staff plummeted and Carole Park industrial was a litany of “For Lease” signs.

You had to believe in your business, and stay close to the coalface, absolutely.  People were screaming for accredited computer training to get work, so that was our focus.  As firms slashed overheads, we supported them with flexible staff and subsidised trainees to help ride it out. There were distant rumblings about emails and Internet (we put them down to one-hit wonders).

These core values helped us pull through (hope this helps, in some small way).

  • We had the right staff with courage, resilience and people skills to tough it out and build strong relationships. We invested in their growth wholeheartedly, through training, coaching and sharing ideas.
  • No debt put us in a better position to ride it out (even when temp revenue dropped 60%).
  • We cut discretionary expenses really fast.
  • We upskilled our trainees and candidates to create a flexible talent pool for our clients (incidentally, permanent hiring fell off a cliff).
  • We designed training programs to create local jobs for local people.

This crisis is different, but it still starts with decisive action. What happens if gross profit drops by 60%? How long can we last?  How can we cut costs? How can we recalibrate our business to survive?

Our next big hurdle was the Global Financial Crisis. America’s solution to bank collapses and dodgy sub-prime loans was to print billions from thin air to stimulate markets, to the tune of a $23 trillion deficit (last count).  Their experiment seemed to work, as jobs and the economy bounced back. Europe’s debt crisis was even scarier, with billion dollar bailouts, massive unemployment and social unrest.  

Thankfully, China sheltered Australia from the worst of this, through free trade deals, mining, tourism and education, to chalk up 25 years of growth (without a recession).

We came out of it quite unscathed, but left with a bunch of questions on what happens to the debt if the music stops, especially now central banks have nowhere to go on interest rates (it sure feels shaky).

Who can forget the 2011 floods a few years on, and the panic queues for petrol and food (pre-toilet roll mania).  Belinda had just signed off on a contract to train 350 students. The ink wasn’t even dry, when our training rooms were flood inundated, along with brand new desks, computers, furniture and filing cabinets (even the red tape got drowned, so it wasn’t all bad).  Thankfully, our top floor was spared by the width of a besser block.

There by the grace, we adapted by scaling back to training small groups, with trainers huddled together upstairs (the irony of social distancing’s not lost).  We recruited bulk intakes of personnel to support local and State-wide flood campaigns, rebuilt our Academy and got through it.

This crash feels scarier, because it’s health driven and has no end date. But, if we can stay strong and ride this out, I believe the core value is our service, reputation and brand.

There’s no substitute for being face-to-face with our clients. That’s impossible right now, but we have the technology to focus outwards, and build our brand through engaging content, Skype, videos and on-line chat channels to support each other.  We can use our digital brand to share insights and create a community.  So, if we’re self-isolated, our work can still be interpersonal.

We’re dealing with a complex workforce. Employers will need to balance cost cutting with talent investment strategies. Our edge is our people, and the good times will return.

Working remotely is front and centre of most plans, but this brings its own set of challenges.  What happens if things deteriorate more and get really quiet?  Solitude’s great up to a point (and dogs don’t argue), but social isolation can creep up. Teams can’t bounce off each other in the same way, we can feel disconnected.

This is a time to give back, and it’s catching on (employee sharing with Qantas and Woolies, the Facebook kindness pandemic, adopt a health worker – it’s heartwarming).

It comes back to the value of our community, and how we can help each other. That’s why we’re passionate about Executive Outlook, as a barometer of local business conditions, which we share with you (gleaned through our in-depth research and presentations).  Each year, our clients share their insights and wisdom, to make this a truly authentic study of the region (for our 12th year running).

Most of us face an inevitable drop in revenue, the health of our staff and a new reality.  To get through this as a community, we invite you to join Executive Outlook.  We’re exploring solutions and ideas on adapting to Corona Virus, challenges, confidence levels and our use of flexible and remote work to overcome obstacles. We may have to meet with you by phone or skype (instead of face-to-face), but will still present the outcomes to you as we go. We’re planning our annual Business Leaders’ presentation breakfast in October, as usual (and holding the faith).  If you would like to come on board, please call either myself, Belinda or Roger on 3812 2920.

This is a giant obstacle but one we will all overcome together.  This too shall pass.

Compiled by Jan Gadsden, Founder/Director of Top Office Group Pty Ltd.