Five years ago, an F5 tornado seriously affected our region, and that single event was cause for some deliberate strategic rethinking. We started implementing a stronger disaster recovery plan that included providing services remotely. The silver lining? When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we were able to react immediately.
Members never experienced a lapse in service or communication from the moment the HomeTown staff left its brick-and-mortar offices in the spring of 2020. We were completely “open,” but operating 100% remotely. We thought it would just be a few weeks before things got back to normal but soon realized that wasn’t going to be the case.
Association executives are used to thinking strategically and altering tactics suddenly when necessary. Fortunately, member engagement increased as the pandemic raged; members relied on us more than ever, and we were there for them every step of the way.
As we navigated remote operations, we realized that the majority of our members had already been working more remotely with us, using the website, phone, email, and video. They came to the HomeTown offices physically only for lockboxes, meetings, and continuing education.
Budgeting for Change
We decided that even after the pandemic subsides, HomeTown will continue to offer a mostly remote work environment. Line by line, we looked at the budget, overhauling it to offer the best virtual options for members and staff.
Our philosophy is to bring every member the services they need, wherever they are.
When the pandemic emerged, we already had a phone system that allowed us to forward calls to cellphones, and we invested in additional tech tools that would allow staff to operate effectively in a remote environment. We upgraded cellphones and laptops, bought Wi-Fi hotspots to make distance work possible from nearly any location, and signed up for a professional Zoom subscription. We informed members about going virtual and new methods of participation; most embraced the changes and continue to favor them today.
Virtual platforms are inexpensive to access, and that worked in our favor. We now offer education entirely on a virtual platform, and members prefer to take advantage of these offerings from the comfort and safety of their own homes and offices. We provide all virtual meetings and education at no additional cost to members, except for certain professional designation courses. Business partners are happy to sponsor trainings and recommend guest speakers.
The ‘Now Normal’
HomeTown’s website is now a one-stop virtual dashboard for all member needs. Members can send a message through the website to make a virtual appointment or reach staff 24/7. New member onboarding and account updates are also 100% virtual and processed within hours.
We make communications clear and concise—often short enough to be above “the fold” of a single screen. And what did we do with the last remaining service that requires in-person interaction? We now offer lockbox pickup and delivery, and members think that’s pretty cool.
Socialization is still important, of course, and solid, trusting relationships help people work better together. So we offer live networking events to those who want them and virtual forums for those who don’t. Our philosophy is to bring every member the services they need, wherever they are.
The association staff can also work from anywhere, and that allows us to leverage remote staff. Travel expenses have dropped, and we invest more money in professional development for the staff and enhanced member benefits.
We think that HomeTown’s 100% virtual environment—well, 100% with the occasional in-person option—has improved the member experience. Our association thrives in the “now normal,” and we look forward to servicing our members’ evolving needs.