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What Employees Are Expensing During the COVID-19 Outbreak

covid-19

What Employees Are Expensing During the COVID-19 Outbreak

As the situation surrounding COVID-19 has progressed, more travel restrictions and social distancing practices are being implemented every day. More and more companies are implementing work-from-home policies to adapt to the changing situation.

We’ve been tracking the data since the beginning of the crisis to help your company ensure employee health and safety and make essential decisions around expenses.

Here are a few of the most significant changes we’ve seen.

COVID-19 expenses haven’t shown any sign of slowing down

In our last blog, we noted that COVID-19 expenses skyrocketed, and we expected them to fall as trip cancelations began to taper off. However, these expenses have shown no sign of slowing down. COVID–19–related expenses have doubled from the week ending March 7 to the week ending March 14, with trip cancelation and work-from-home expenses being the primary causes.

Number of claims

Submitted expenses vary by industry

Although changes to travel plans and cancelations still make up over half of all COVID-19-related expense claims overall, the trends change when you look at specific industries.

In the finance and software industries, half of the expenses are related to travel cancelations, and the other half are work-from-home expenses.

In the consumer goods, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries, masks still make up 15 to 20% of expenses but are otherwise in the low single digits in other industries.

The growth in expenses also varies by industry.

Work-from-home charges have increased dramatically; masks have fallen

Work from home expenses have grown the most, increasing 3.5x since last week. These charges are mainly related to “remote office setup” or “supplies for remote work,” and include accessories like printers, ink, headphones, and HDMI cables.

In our own workforce, we’ve noticed that everyone has a different set-up at home, ranging from at-home offices to sitting with their spouse at the dining room table or even sitting in bed with their laptops. It’s essential to employee productivity and ergonomics to help everyone make the best of whatever space they have.

Mask expenses have fallen – there was a peak in mid-February, then another dip, and a second peak at the end of February.

What does this data mean for my company’s expense policy?

We hope this data can help you consider the appropriate response to COVID-19 in your organization and how you can best support your employees. It’s clear from the above data that work-from-home expenses are increasingly common, and will likely continue to increase over the next few weeks as more companies continue to close their offices temporarily. We’ve also noticed that several companies have created specific expense types to track COVID-19 spending more closely. Others have created expense categories for their accounts payable departments to pay temporary workers more quickly in times of uncertainty.

If you’re unsure of what you should allow in your expense policy in response to the current climate, we’ve outlined some best practices on work-from-home expense policies from our peers and customers. In the meantime, we hope you and your company are taking the necessary precautions to ensure the health and safety of your employees during this unsettling time.

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Anant Kale is a CEO at AppZen, the world’s leading solution for automated expense report audits that leverages artificial intelligence to audit 100% of expense reports, invoices, and contacts in seconds.

quarantine

Surviving and Thriving in Quarantine: 3 Ways Businesses Can Turn Time into Opportunity

At this point, the story is global – businesses in communities around our country and world have shuttered, many at the direction of local, state or national governments as we battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

But grim as the picture may be today, millions of small business owners around the country need to grapple not just with the challenge of what to do while their operations are closed, but how to prepare for what lies on the other side of this crisis as the world emerges from quarantine and returns to the business.

In pursuit of a silver lining during this trying time, below are three opportunities to turn a quarantine shutdown on its head and help build businesses stronger than ever before.

Explore creative new ways to deliver your product or service – I’ve watched with fascination as many creative businesses have found ways to continue operating through a quarantine. Novel ways to deliver everything from orchestral music to personal training and therapy/addiction treatment have made the rounds as viral social media videos or popular articles. A similar solution may not be realistic for all businesses, but particularly if you deliver personal services (as opposed to hard goods and products that require in-person consumption), taking the time to invest in and perfect your digital delivery right now could pay benefits down the road.

Imagine a local personal trainer that works via in-person training sessions exclusively. These weeks (or months) may force their training sessions with existing clientele to video-conference, but if that trainer is intentional about streamlining their online offering they’ll be able to tap into a national (or international!) new customer base during and even after the quarantine ends.

Embrace any opportunity to explore an alternative delivery method for your businesses’ product or service, and you may reap benefits down the road.

-Take the time to complete bigger tasks you’ve been pushing off – there are some projects that are just hard to do when you are engaged in the full-time business of helping customers and producing a product each day. Large manufacturing facilities at companies like GE, Ford, Boeing, and more understand this as a fact of life – they proactively schedule dedicated plant-shutdown weeks where assembly lines stop completely to create space for large projects that wouldn’t be possible during normal operation.

Businesses of all sizes suddenly have this opportunity. What can you accomplish during your ‘plant shutdown’? Well, for ideas – there are physical changes (rearranging a showroom, gym, or restaurant seating arrangement to allow more functional usage), periodic maintenance (steam your carpets, paint your walls, organize your warehouse) and business tooling/service improvements you can make. Are you paying too much for your website, your payment solution, or your inventory management tools? Not all of these projects require significant investment, and it’s likely that some leg work today could save you money down the road.

Time and elbow grease could upgrade your physical space. Building a beautiful, more flexible site on Squarespace or Wix could reap benefits as customers experience your online storefront for months or years. Explore whether you’re using the best payments solution. What other tools do you use to run your business that you could evaluate right now?

Most businesses get one chance to make these decisions as you start operation, and the switching cost is very high once you’re locked in -mostly because change requires closing your business for some period. The quarantine might have forced the closure – take advantage!

-Build your skills – In my decade of experience working with small businesses (small ecommerce merchants with eBay, cash-flow solutions with Kabbage, and I currently work with Drum, focusing on providing new ways for businesses to market themselves), I’ve learned people start and operate businesses because they believe in their core mission, not because they’re a magical jack-of-all-trades superhuman.

Retailers sell things they love to produce and curate. Restaurateurs create amazing dining experiences. Contractors are able to bring remodels and renovations to life. In an ideal world, entrepreneurs should spend as much of their mental and physical energy on the thing they’re really good at and leave the other elements of a business to others.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality that most business owners live with. There’s always more work to be done than there are hands to do it, and any business owner wears multiple hats – you can’t offload everything. I’m sure there’s a hat every business owner wears that doesn’t fit so well.

If your poorly-fitting hat is marketing-related, maybe a few weeks of couch time is great for pouring over free marketing tutorials (courtesy of LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com). If you struggle with keeping your financials straight and organized, maybe this is a great time to dive headfirst into QuickBooks resources. Even better – leverage the collective power of the internet (particularly Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook) to find a subject matter expert. You may find a similarly stir-crazy professional with knowledge you’re looking to develop that’s willing to provide some free/low-cost advice or trade some consulting hours for business services or products.

There are no easy answers – we’re all going to muddle through the next weeks and months together. But business owners are resilient, and they’re resourceful – I’m sure there is no shortage of brilliant ideas floating around. See what these suggestions could do for you, then pay it forward – share your own ideas, whether on social media or directly with your contacts.

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Eric Nalbone is the Head of Marketing for Drum, a company building new ways for businesses to leverage the power of customer and community referrals. He has previously led Marketing for Bellhops, a tech-enabled moving company headquartered in Chattanooga, TN, and held a variety of roles with Kabbage, eBay, and General Electric. Eric resides in Atlanta, GA with his wife and three dogs.

company

Is Your Company’s Bench Deep Enough During Difficult Times?

In the uncertain times that the coronavirus produced, business leaders were forced to face the fact that employees might not be available every day to do their jobs – either because of their own health concerns or because they were scrambling to make childcare arrangements because of school closings.

And, as the economy takes a hit, some businesses may even need to downsize, leaving the remaining workers to take on duties they are unprepared for and weren’t hired to carry out.

That’s one reason why it’s always a good idea to cross-train employees, allowing someone else to step in when circumstances necessitate it, says Bill Higgs, an authority on corporate culture and the ForbesBooks author of the Culture Code Champions: 7 Steps to Scale & Succeed in Your Business (www.culturecodechampions.com/training).

“Ultimately, you want everyone who works for you to broaden their knowledge and expand the scope of what they normally do,” says Higgs, a founder and former CEO of Mustang Engineering who recently launched the Culture Code Champions podcast.

“The result is a more efficient and productive workplace.”

In his younger days, Higgs was an Army Ranger, where the need to cross-train was inescapable.

“If you are on a critical military mission and someone goes down, another Ranger needs to take over that person’s duties,” Higgs says. “Otherwise, the mission would be scrapped.”

The average business day may not be as severely distressing as a military mission, but just as in the military, cross-training comes with benefits, he says. It prevents mistakes. It improves accuracy. It saves time. It saves money.

And each additional duty an employee can take on during uncertain times could make the difference on whether a project or order is completed on time, and whether missed deadlines leave customers unhappy, costing the business money – or even leading to it going out of business.

“Some business leaders may say they just can’t work in the time for cross-training because they and their employees are too busy,” Higgs says. “They probably are busy, but it needs to be a priority and they need to figure out a way to find the time. We’re probably seeing right now just how important it can be.”

A few suggestions he has for working cross-training into harried schedules include:

Make use of downtime. Few people are busy every minute, so take advantage of any downtime to slip in cross-training, Higgs says. “That way no one is just sitting around waiting for the next project,” he says. “At Mustang, for example, if an instrument engineer’s work slowed down, then we moved him or her over to automation or some other functional area that was related to, but slightly different from, the person’s regular job.”

Schedule time. “I’m skeptical when people tell me they don’t have any downtime, but let’s assume that’s so,” Higgs says. “Then I recommend you set aside time specifically dedicated to cross-training. It’s that important.” Figure out who you need to cross-train, he says, and find the areas of your business where cross-training will pay off the most.

Implement “lunch-and-learns.” Nearly everyone eats lunch or takes a break at mid-day, and that’s a great time to set up some lunch-and-learn times when someone in the company can teach others about what they do, Higgs says. “At Mustang, we even had vendors come in and talk about their products and services,” he says.

“An added bonus to cross-training is people who don’t normally interact are brought together and develop a better appreciation for what others do,” Higgs says. “That helps to create an even greater sense of team throughout the organization, which is especially important during difficult times like these when everyone needs to pull together.”

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Bill Higgs (www.culturecodechampions.com/training), an authority on corporate culture, is the ForbesBooks author of Culture Code Champions: 7 Steps to Scale & Succeed in Your Business. He trains companies on how to improve their bottom line by improving their culture, and recently launched the Culture Code Champions podcast, where he has interviewed such notable subjects as former CIA director David Petraeus and NASA’s woman pioneer Sandra Coleman. Culture Code Champions is listed as a New & Noteworthy podcast on iTunes. Higgs is also the co-founder and former CEO of Mustang Engineering Inc. In 20 years, they grew the company from their initial $15,000 investment and three people to a billion-dollar company with 6,500 people worldwide. Second, third and fourth-generation leaders took the company to $2 billion in 2014. Higgs is a distinguished 1974 graduate (top 5 percent academically) of the United States Military Academy at West Point and runner up for a Rhodes scholarship. He is an Airborne Ranger and former commander of a combat engineer company.