Aug. 2—As COVID-19 variants spread, inflation rises and summer commerce heats up, businesses around the world and Cobb are itching to get back to a post-pandemic daily grind.
Each month, more businesses across the country have reopened. In July, 86% of small businesses surveyed report they are either fully (52%) or partially (34%) open, up seven points from 79% in May, according to the latest MetLife & U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Coronavirus Impact Poll. Now with most businesses reopened, the question remains: Is it business as usual?
David Swales, senior VP of ITS at Lumin8 Transportation Technologies, LLC, an electrical contracting company based in Marietta, was the owner of his company before selling it in July 2020.
"It was easy, honestly," he said. "I was surprised; [selling the company] was probably the only thing that was easy over the last 12 months."
Lumin8 Transportation Technologies, located at 27 N. Fairground St. staffs more than 150 people, according to Swales. During the pandemic, quite a number of changes occurred.
"We've actually hired people," he said. "We've probably added 10 or 15 people to our staff."
Some of those changes included how the electrical contracting company conducted business in the morning.
"Most people come and get items (and supplies) in the morning, with only about 10 of us in the office," Swales said.
When the pandemic first began, no one but the 10 office workers at Lumin8 were allowed in the office, Swales said. Remote meetings via Microsoft Teams allowed the company to communicate with field guides, he said. Now, the company's office is fully open.
"We have allowed more remote working since then," Swales said.
Swales said despite major changes, he noticed that Lumin8 employees adapted to the changes pretty readily.
"There's a lot less hanging out around the office lately, which is kind of more of a positive to me," he said. "Productivity for us has gone up."
Today, Swales said there's no need to necessarily be sitting in an office all the time.
"I think there will be a more relaxed atmosphere about being in the office," he said. "I think it's good ... Especially in my industry, people kind of felt compelled to go to the office. It can be stressful."
One stark change that's stayed pretty constant is the difficulty in hiring, Swales said — a phenomenon that businesses across the country are experiencing.
"I would say probably since about January of this year, it's been almost impossible to find people," he said. "We do have some hiring bonuses. One of the things we've done, in September of this year, we've started an apprentice program."
Stewart Carlin, owner of Accounting Consultants of Cobb in Marietta said they had not experienced any hiring difficulties.
"We have been very fortunate," he said. "I know others have, but we have been fortunate right now."
When the pandemic officially began, Carlin said his business did initially close but was deemed an essential business by Gov. Brian Kemp.
"We were able to stay open throughout the pandemic to assist our clients," he said.
The company's eight employees were able to work remotely thanks to the IT department, Carlin said. Today, the office is fully open and all employees have returned. Carlin said some procedures and protocols were changed to incorporate more technology.
"Everyone worked diligently to make our office environment safer," he said.
The constant since the start of the pandemic has been the company's response to clients, Carlin said. The firm tried to be very accommodating to the needs of clients to assist them in navigating the various challenges of the pandemic, he said.
"This included working with our clients to provide the resources needed for the PPP loan application process, PPP loan forgiveness, the SECURE Act, American Rescue Act, along with various federal, state and local grants."
When asked if company culture had changed, Carlin said because of the pandemic, they were able to become much more understanding of clients and their situations.
"Not that we didn't before, but we realized in essence ... some of our clients really suffered during the pandemic, especially in the hospitality industry," he said.
Rob Fuller, senior manager for communications at Lockheed Martin's Marietta location, said most employees at the Marietta location, clocking in at just under 5,000 people, could not work remotely during the pandemic. The aerospace and defense company are divided into four categories, he explained.
"Category one employees, who are those who have to be there every day, have been working there through the pandemic," Fuller said. "It would be pretty difficult for them to telework if they're building an airplane."
Category two employees work four 10-hour shifts a week, with three days off, Fuller said. Category three employees need to be in the office at least one day a week and category four employees telecommute, he said.
"I can tell you that the vast majority for our facility are category one — the folks who are diligently out there building the aircraft and preparing those aircraft for the customer," he said.
While Fuller said he could not speak to any new precautions in place due to privacy, he said if anything, operations have gotten a little less restrictive.
"I would say the category two, three and four employees spend a lot of time on Zoom and Skype doing their daily work," he said.
Fuller said the organization has excelled in continuing to provide for its customers and creating a safe environment and support for employees.
"It's been an interesting challenge, but I think the team really rose to meet it," he said. "I think a lot changed over the last year and how we engage and we learned to do it differently and in some ways we improved our engagement. The team has been very positive and the work continues to get done, so that's great news."