Pandemic responses at Florida's best companies
The pandemic forced firms to reconsider how they do business. Here's how some of the Best Companies to work for are handling the outbreak.
No. 17 Small | St. Petersburg
As the coronavirus brought global travel to a near halt in March, St. Petersburg-based Squaremouth, which operates a travel insurance comparison website, saw its sales volume plunge from more than 500 transactions a day to fewer than 20, a 90%-plus drop.
In response, Squaremouth dipped into cash reserves and cut costs to keep all employees on staff at full pay and got a loan under the federal government’s new Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
Meanwhile, it became busier than ever with calls from travelers asking about coverage for their canceled flights and hotel stays. The number of claims related to the pandemic nearly tripled over the firm’s usual rate, says spokeswoman Kasara Barto. The company shifted employees around to handle the influx of customer calls and began planning for its post-coronavirus future, she says. “We had travelers whose trips were canceled and travelers who were still looking to travel and buy coverage. We were able to jump in quickly and answer as many questions as we could,” she says.
Squaremouth gets a cut of each sale when customers go on its site and buy travel insurance from a host of providers. The company says it’s working on the rollout of new products to address travelers’ changing needs, including policies that specifically cover virus outbreaks. Most policies sold through Squaremouth have not covered COVID-19 claims, Barto says. “For an event to be covered, it has to be written into the policy, and pandemics, epidemics and outbreaks typically aren’t written in because they weren’t a concern before,” she says.
Three years ago, Squaremouth bought an historic church building in St. Petersburg, hoping to create a millennial’s dream office, with a badminton court, snooker table, video games, napping couches, a bar and tree houses for meeting spaces. The company planned to move into the building once the renovations were completed. But in the wake of stay-at-home orders and mass telecommuting, Squaremouth has decided to let employees work from home indefinitely, even after the pandemic ends. The company will keep its leased offices in downtown St. Petersburg for when employees “need to get out of the house,” Barto says. “We’re not required to come in.”
The old church building is now up for sale. “Employees really aren’t looking for that hip new office space anymore,” she says. “The focus has shifted to workplace flexibility.”
No. 9 Small | Delray Beach
Christine Yaged, Co-Founder & Chief Marketing Officer -
Economic Impact: “While we had more web traffic in general, some of our advertisers started getting cautious by the end of March. By April, we saw 50% of our advertisers drop completely out of the advertising space, not even just with us. We had a cash cushion, and we worked really hard to keep everyone employed. The thing that keeps me up at night is the thought of possibly having to lay off employees. I feel super fortunate that we didn’t have to do anything like that. With the help of a banker, we were able to get a PPP loan in April.”
Pivoting: “Prior to COVID, we had been really focused on the travel and credit-card space and were growing nicely there. By the time April came around, almost all of our credit-card issuer advertisers had pulled out of the market completely. The team really hustled to pivot our content strategy from a lot of travel and credit-card content to topics that were more interesting to the larger U.S. population — things like insurance, side hustles and gigs and money management apps.”
Maintaining Morale: “Probably around week three, people started getting a little de-motivated. I know with myself, there were some days when I was like, ‘Man, this is so different. I miss the old life.’ But that kind of thinking is not what’s going to get us through this. So we’ve done things like a daily gratitude challenge — we use Slack for all of our instant messaging — and we’ve implemented a couple of fun games that I’m pretty proud of. One of them was based on the MTV show ‘Cribs.’ We had everyone who wanted to participate take a picture of a room in their house and send it to our assistant, who would do an anonymous post in Slack with a caption, in Cribs-style, talking about the room in some verbose, fancy way, and then the team would have to guess whose crib it was. That was really fun.”
No. 12 Large | Clearwater
Stu Sjouwerman, CEO -
Economic Impact: “We have been in hyper-growth mode for the last eight years. That has topped off or flattened out. One of our VC friends was joking that flat is the new up. We expect Q3 and Q4 to climb back to where we are normally.”
Opportunities: “We’ve hired more than 80 people in the past two months. We’re seeing this as a great opportunity to attack. We’re on the offensive and taking more market share than ever before.”
Telecommuting: “I’d rather have everyone back in the office. It’s much more effective and efficient. You can just walk over to someone and in two minutes get something fixed without having to schedule a half-hour Zoom meeting in your calendar. There is a new normal, and it will definitely be different. But does that mean everyone will work at home always? No. Tons of people want to come back because it’s way more fun to work in the office with the team. Will we be a little more flexible and let people work from home one day a week? Maybe.”
Safety: “We have a whole 60-point list of what we’re doing to keep the office safe. You walk in and fill out a short survey — ‘Are you ill? Were you around someone who’s ill?’ You have your temperature taken and get into an elevator where only two people are allowed. You go to your desk and make sure you don’t get close to other people. There’s no microwave or coffee machine because that’s stuff that everyone touches. If you go to the bathroom, half of the stalls are taped off with big yellow hazard tape, that sort of thing.”