No doubt that 2020 has been a challenging year for most of us. In addition to battling the global pandemic, we have encountered event cancellations, unemployment, business shutdowns, wildfires, stock market volatility or heaven forbid, the loss of a friend or family member. I, for one, was done with 2020 since September, and was looking to embrace the unknowns of 2021. But as we roll towards the beginning of 2021, I realized that there are key business practices learned (or made apparent) in 2020 that should be carried forward to 2021 to build a stronger organization.

Key business practice #1: Selecting supplier/partners with strong business resumption plans

Most of us do not examine business resumption plans when we choose a supplier. Generally, when a request for quote (RFQ) is issued, often, the key selection criteria are based on cost and lead-time. Of course, there are other factors involved in choosing a good supplier, however, having a strong business resumption policy is often not taken into consideration in choosing a supplier. At the onset of the shelter-in-place this year, we all witnessed companies struggle to ramp back up due to a lack of a business resumption plan.

At Applied Engineering, not only do we have a business resumption plan in place, but we also review and update our policy routinely, which helped us to ramp back our business seamlessly once we received our essential business status. This is not just an opinion; it is a fact. AE is on track to financially outperform 2019 despite of the pandemic impact and shutdown. Putting our resumption plan in action allowed AE to react, respond, and restart without losing much momentum.

Key business practice #2: Learning to work together, apart

Yes, in business, face-to-face interactions are priceless. The handshakes and eye contact builds trust and a personal connection. At the onset of the shelter-in-place, we quickly realized that working from home will be the new normal for many of us. Online meeting platforms made this transition as smooth as possible given the abrupt announcement of the edict. However, just having the online software to conduct meetings does not displace the need to build trust… at least not initially. Fortunately, at AE, we have a ritual of reviewing our core fundamentals for the week during the first 3 to 5 minutes of our weekly meetings. We took these opportunities to share our thoughts on key fundamentals that will not only help AE survive the pandemic but help us thrive during these difficult times. Some examples of key fundamentals are: Listen to others with the intent to understand; challenge the mindset of “we’ve always done it this way”; keep workspace and personal space clean and organized; and practice blameless troubleshooting. There are many other AE fundamentals. I would be happy to share them in future blogs.

Key business practice #3: Without health, nothing else matters

How many times have we all realize we take our health for granted when we are ill? At AE, staying healthy is not just wishful thinking, it is another one of our core fundamentals. Prior to shelter-in-place was instated, we had anointed a COVID czar and brainstormed safe practices at work to allow everyone to continue to function without jeopardizing their personal health and safety. It was a priority! Policies to wipe down public areas, mask, gloves, social distance, and temperature measurements were put in place swiftly. As an employee-owned company, employee-owners started walking groups and push up challenges to remind and encourage each other to not only preserve health but to stay mentally and physically healthy during this challenging time. I look forward to shedding my mask at work, but why wouldn’t we continue this practice of staying healthy post-pandemic?

For those of you interested, hit me up for a mountain bike ride or a hike. I would be glad to join you on a bike or on foot for a jaunt around the trails of the Santa Cruz mountains.

Reflecting on 2020, what are some of the learnings you would carry forward to 2021 with you? Please share your thoughts with me and others who can benefit from your insight.

Jack Yao