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Instead of letting people go, company retrains staff for new roles

(BUSINESS NEWS) Ad tech company Mediaocean prioritizes employment in a crisis, and as a result saves jobs while bolstering business capacity. An example for all.

Mediaocean idea

When times are tough, layoffs are often employers’ first line of defense of their bottom line. Human capital is by far the most expensive in-house cost, and is an obvious solution to immediate, large-scale savings.

However, human capital, despite its terribly misleading name, is in fact, comprised of humans. Humans are people with individual needs like employment, but are also people with skills and the ability to learn new things.

That’s why Mediaocean sought to find creative ways to keep all of its employees employed when the coronavirus pandemic moved business online. The New York City ad tech company sent employees to work from home on March 16. After roughly a week of analysis and a company-wide hiring freeze, Mediaocean discovered that 23 of their nearly 1,000 current employees had job functions that would be rendered obsolete during remote work.

Rather than furlough or layoff these workers, Mediaocean retrained all 23 employees for different roles. The company worked with the employees to assess their skills and interests and match them with areas of need in the business. For example, the office receptionist Brandon Stewart moved to customer experience and support and is also serving as an assistant to Stephanie Dorman, Mediaocean’s SVP for Client Services.

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Although the company was financially impacted by the downturn in the economy, the software company did see an increase in customer support tickets as more of their clients moved online as well. There was an increased demand that could be met by training those 23 employees.

Of course, the process was not as simple as reassigning employees to new tasks. After the careful process of skill and interest matching – an essential step to ensure buy-in – each had to be trained in their new area of work.

Some were able to complete task-based work that required little oversight, but more training would be needed when those tasks were completed. Furthermore, some areas like customer support require months of experience and training for employees to be fully autonomous in those roles.

Instead, they were able to train new additions to this team to conduct ‘triage-level’ work, where a script and FAQ sheet were sufficient to get customer support tickets started and direct their issues to the correct team. As a result, experienced customer support specialists save time and effort, and customer needs are satisfied in a more efficient and customized manner.

Many companies have reacted quickly to the economic impact of the pandemic by laying off swaths of employees and assuming or requiring that remaining employees will pick up the slack of lost staffing. The solution is an obvious answer to the problem of saving money.

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Mediaocean identified a different problem: the need to keep people employed. In as little as three weeks, Mediaocean preserved jobs, re-trained employees, and responded to increased consumer demand. In the process, only one of those 23 employees decided to leave the company rather than be reassigned.

Of course now imagine how many people would still be employed if employers priorities were centered on their people, and not just their bottom line.

Heather Buffo is a Cleveland native, a recovering Bostonian, and an Austin newbie. Heather is the Venture Growth & Partnerships Lead at Republic where she works with partners in private investing to democratize access to capital for entrepreneurs. Heather studied neurobiology at Harvard University, and is a City Year Boston AmeriCorps alum. She likes to write for AG, drink Austin beer, and ride around town on her road bicycle. His name is Pippin. Say hello if you see them.

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