Company leaders spend a lot of time planning for the unexpected — whether that’s a shift in operations or an outside factor that causes us to alter course as a business. Yet, despite all planning, no one anticipated the great disruptor of 2020: Covid-19.

In the early days of 2020, it could have been easy to panic. Express Employment Professionals is a staffing company, and at the heart of it is putting people to work. With businesses ordered to shut down and communities ordered to shelter in place, envisioning ways to continue staffing operations could have proved difficult.

But thankfully, through strategic adaptation and open communication, Express not only weathered the pandemic, it continued to thrive.

Business continuity plan. For nearly 40 years, Express has operated as a franchise model, meaning our leaders across our international network of more than 830 franchise offices must prepare for every possible scenario. At the outset of Covid-19, we activated our business continuity plan, which enabled us to quickly implement solutions across multiple areas of business. This ensured various sectors were operating at 100%, ultimately continuing to staff the businesses essential to keeping our economy afloat.

Our business continuity plan helped us throughout the pandemic, serving as the insurance policy every company should have, but hopes to never use.

Open communication and action. Instead of leaving franchisees to guess how company leadership was responding to Covid-19, I implemented a weekly live stream where we communicated directly with them and their staff. This enabled franchisees to learn what steps Express international headquarters was taking to serve offices, while giving them a chance to provide candid feedback regarding needs in their markets.

Ultimately, this insight led to a temporary altering of our royalty agreement split, from 60/40 to 80/20 on gross margin, among other adjustments. By providing additional flexibility, removing roadblocks and alleviating burdens when possible, franchisees could focus on what matters most — their businesses and communities.

Franchising model advantage. Express offices are independently owned and operated, creating a network of entrepreneurs with diverse business backgrounds that strengthen our company. This franchising model helped us to reach new sales records at a time when many other small business owners, unfortunately, were closing their doors.

By leveraging the scope of the Express system, as a franchisor, we created an infrastructure that protected franchisees when  great deal was unknown, especially as states and cities implemented various closure orders.

Instead of diverting attention to understanding the litany of policies that business owners were left to interpret on their own, Express leadership wanted franchisees to focus on doing what they do best: putting people to work and providing high-quality workforce solutions for their clients. We took care of the rest, such as by researching all new federal and state Covid-related restrictions and regulations.

One of the greatest benefits of our franchise network is the ability for franchisees to learn from and lean on each other. In the context of Covid-19, it meant taking things to the next level through teamwork, encouragement, and sharing innovative ways to conduct business. Many of these tips were discussed during our live streams, giving franchisees a platform and ultimately enhancing how Express does business.

Global expansion. An exciting accomplishment in 2020 was pressing forward with global franchising expansion plans into Australia and New Zealand, adding to our footprint across the US, Canada and South Africa. This endeavor has taken countless hours of hard work and dedication from our talented employees. No doubt this expansion was the result of due diligence and planning that occurred before the pandemic hit, enabling us to continue our growth trajectory despite external factors that could have derailed it.

A key takeaway from navigating 2020 is the importance of hiring the people you want standing next to you in times of uncertainty. Challenges present opportunities for growth and the right team excels when faced with adversity. I am forever grateful to the brilliant minds I am privileged to work with, as they are a vital part of what will undoubtedly be a much better 2021 for all.