Downtown Sheridan stock summer

SHERIDAN — As individuals, Sheridan area residents have each learned to cope with the effects of COVID-19 in personal ways. As businesses, though, owners and manager must think beyond themselves when considering policies for their staff and customers.

To that end, Peak Consulting and the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce partnered to offer an hour of free, one-on-one coaching to local businesses to help address COVID-19 human resources issues. Peak Consulting offered assistance in areas such as how to maintain business culture through a pandemic; how COVID-19 may be impacting employee policies; keeping up employee morale; employee rights; requirements under the CARES Act; and effectively managing employees working remotely.

In addition to the one-on-one coaching, Peak Consulting has also participated in small groups that help connect local business leaders to talk through issues they are facing.

“Our small business connect groups have been very successful, in large part to the facilitation and most definitely because attendees have remained engaged week to week,” Sheridan County of Commerce CEO Dixie Johnson said. “Some strong business connections have been made, and attendees have shared best practices and worked together to problem solve around business issues. One of the business connect groups even worked together to produce a reopening video a couple of weeks ago.”

Johnson said she’s heard that while many business owners have expressed appreciation for the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loans, they remain concerned about keeping their businesses afloat into the future.

“Many of our local business owners must have a strong tourism season to help sustain their businesses through the winter,” Johnson said.

In addition, businesses have experienced supply chain issues as other portions of the country shut down. Since the human resources service started, Peak Consulting’s Stacia Skretteberg said 20-30 people have reached out, with most questions focusing on adjustments  to policies already in place that needed revisions in the current circumstances.

“People mostly want to know what are their boundaries,” Skretteberg said.

She added that many business owners have expressed frustration with feeling confused due to a lack of direction coming from authorities, especially now, as businesses begin to reopen.

Mostly, though, Skretteberg’s advice and guidance has focused on how businesses can emerge from the current situation with best practices that can be maintained in the long run.

She noted that companies with a strong culture — one that includes respect, transparency and vulnerability — tend to be more flexible and able to adjust to new expectations and parameters. They often meet more frequently and have more productive time when they are together. That process starts with a company’s senior leadership team and its ability to chose and utilize resources effectively.

She also stressed that company culture goes a long way in helping teams navigate uncertainty.

“Maybe we didn’t have to know who we were yesterday,” Skretteberg said, “but we do now. What’s important to us today? Is that different than five months ago?”

Teams must also know how they will communicate, but Skretteberg said sometimes just hearing from leaders within an organization can ease some trepidation, even if those leaders are honest about not having all the answers.

In recent Weeks, Skretteberg said she’s mostly received questions about reopening businesses, though that may change in coming weeks as the Paycheck Protection Program’s eight-week timeline runs out for many businesses who applied for that funding early.

In terms of navigating what comes next, Skretteberg said Peak Consulting advises business leaders to choose three possibilities — two extremes (one good and one bad) and then one in the middle. That process, she said, tends to help individuals begin wrapping their brains around the myriad other scenarios that may fall somewhere else along the spectrum.

The tenor of the conversations between Peak Consulting and clients have often been an acknowledgment of challenges being faced paired with a determination to get through them.

“I’ve had it said to me time and time again, and I truly believe, that Sheridan County is special. It’s our people that set us apart. They are not only resilient but responsible, and if the people continue to work together and support each other, we’ll have a much better chance to minimize the impacts from the pandemic,” Johnson said.

She noted that the Chamber will keep an eye on sales and lodging taxes, unemployment rates and oil and gas prices as benchmarks of how Wyoming and Sheridan County may fare in coming months. In addition, in recent weeks, the Chamber has experienced an increase in relocation requests and the housing market continues to be strong.

“It’s going to be imperative for our economy, though, that we do everything we can to support our local businesses now and into the future,” Johnson said.

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