Tuesday With Terry

Lessons Learned from COVID

As we look back at the last few years of COVID and continue to come out the other end in some way, shape, or form, I wanted to share a couple of lessons that I learned during the course of the pandemic.

These lessons were so profound, in fact, that I’m still trying to apply them to my business every single day. 

For those of you who might not be as familiar with me and my work, I am an area developer for Orangetheory Fitness, and my business spans across seven different states: 135 total locations with 60 of them personally owned. On March 17, 2020, I had to make the decision to shut it all down. So I picked up the phone, and I laid off 700 employees.

It was probably one of the worst days of my career — my life, even, as there were so many people depending on the business. Depending on me. Depending on the opportunity to put food on their table, pay their rent, save up for a house, enjoy all that life has to offer. Needless to say, it was a decision made with a heavy heart, and it wasn’t one made lightly.

About 45 days later, we reopened a portion of the business… only to have to close it a couple weeks after that. The employees we brought back only to let go again were disappointed — understandably so — and many of them decided to move on and try something new. Perhaps that’s the light in the darkness of COVID: that some of us were given the chance to experiment, to try new things, and discover new passions.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t until January 4, 2021 that we were able to get all our studios open for good, and it was a slow and arduous process to get there. Now, like many other businesses out there, we’re trying to get back to where we were, regain our memberships and revenue, and reinstill confidence in our members.

I have no doubt that we’ll be able to do so — but it’s all thanks to the lessons we learned and the people who helped us push through to the other end.

Whatever the world of COVID looks like for you, I hope you find the following lessons helpful.

During the pandemic, our first and only mission was to survive. 

That’s what you have to do: become a soldier, do whatever it takes to get the job done. So that’s what we did. Employees were reclassified and had to start doing things they’d never done before. Those previously involved with construction were suddenly launched into the world of purchasing. Everyone came together to do whatever they could to get things done and stay afloat — and for that, for my team and their dedication, I am forever grateful.

There was a point in time where we were at 0 percent revenue. 

Not 50 percent, not 25 — nothing. 

SO what do you do when your business isn’t bringing in any money? You become resourceful. You get everyone together and find a new path forward. You get creative. You offer virtual options, mask mandates, temperature checks, and cleaning initiatives. You talk to more people, try new things, and find a way to break through.

There’s always a way. I won’t lie — it’s going to be difficult to find that way sometimes. But it’s out there, and if you keep adapting, you’ll find it.

Next, we found that we had the ability to do more with less.

We streamlined our staff, cross trained many of our team players to do multiple tasks, and found that people could be incredibly efficient when they were given the right tools, training, and guidance.

And what made all that possible was having strong communication. I can’t tell you how vital it was that we had the technology and the means to stay in touch with our team, franchisees, constituents, investors — everyone.

Because you know what happens when people experience a lapse in information? They make things up on the fly, they’re misinformed, and they operate in the worst-case scenario, as they’re saying, “Nobody’s talking to me. Nobody’s telling me what’s happening. It must be bad out there, and that’s why everyone’s gone radio silent.”

Don’t leave your team behind. Make sure you communicate with them and give them what they need to succeed. Their success is your success.

I’ve been personally involved in all of our leases, and I gotta tell you, leases mean a lot.

We had to go back and renegotiate, ask for abatements, deferrals, and rent reductions. It means a lot if you are in default of your lease — you might be thrown out of your business, and you would have to close up shop for good.

This one might be obvious, but having the ability to retain relationships when we aren’t able to see people in person is incredible. 

It’s important to take the time to pick up the phone and make a call. During the pandemic, I used to make regular calls to my associates, and simply say, “Hey, this is Terry. I’m here to give you an encouragement call. I just want to see how things are going over there. How are you holding up? What can I do to help you out?”

A little human connection goes a long way. The relationships you have with your people, landlords, investors, banks, board members — every single one of them is critical. For example, when we were slow to pay some of our bills, the relationships we formed with our landlords gave us some room to breathe. 

Taking the time out of your day to check up on somebody and solidify your relationships might not make you a dollar today, but no matter what life throws at you, having somebody by your side to help you through will always, always pay off. 

Man, I can’t tell you how important it is to have your leaders be visible, to have them get out there in the trenches with their team. 

What I found was that it was good — motivating, even — for the people in the field to see me out there with them, rolling up my sleeves and getting a little dirty in order to make things happen.

In times of strife, don’t sit behind a desk and bark orders. Lead by example, and get out there with your people.

A general is always on high alert.

In times of crisis, you need to think like a general. What that means is you need to look at all the KPIs of what’s happening on the battlefield, what’s happening with communication, what contingencies might occur, how your soldiers are holding up — you need to have a solid grasp on every facet of your business. 

Because if you don’t, who will?

On a personal basis, I was given the opportunity to slow down. 

COVID allowed me to reconnect with my family, to take care of our little nest, to work on myself as an individual. I was able to reevaluate my life, my work, and my beliefs.

I found joy in the simplest of pleasures — not an extravagant night out on the town, but a quiet night in with my wife. I learned to play again. I got back in touch with nature.

I hope you experienced some of these silver linings in your life. I hope you were able to slow down and reconnect. I hope you were able to learn from COVID and apply those lessons. 

Think back on these past years — what did you learn personally? What did you learn professionally? Write it down. Are you getting back and doing some of the things you were doing before, or have you created a new life for yourself? Are you taking the lessons you learned and doing what you can to grow from them?

Whatever COVID looked like for you, I hope you take solace in the fact that we will make it through the other end of all this, create a better environment for each other, and continue to grow in a changing world.

As always, thanks for reading my blog.

If you’re looking for more advice on how to bring fulfillment and accomplishment into your life, tune into my podcast that airs every Tuesday.

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