Episode 291:

The last year has been one for the books as an agency owner and the HR issues we’ve had to deal with have been off the charts! We’ve faced the pandemic, working from home, layoffs, furloughs, understanding what employee assistance was available for our people and been put in the role of mental health counselor to boot! There’s also been a call to build a more inclusive workforce during a time of incredible racial tensions. All of this has challenged us to truly think about what kind of an employer we want to be.

Molly Eyerman owns an HR consulting company that does a lot of work with agencies. She’s here to help us try to figure out how to navigate all of these new challenges so that we can be proud of the way we treat our employees and how we handle some of these hot topic issues in a way that benefits both our team and our clients.

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Molly and I discuss a wide range of human resource related topics, including how to best embrace diversity, inclusion, and equality regardless of an agency’s size, the new demands of work-from-home policy considerations, and ways to create and implement boundaries as far as how employees discuss delicate topics and present themselves on personal social media platforms.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

Human resources

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • What it means to be an agency invested in diversity and inclusion
  • The importance of looking at diversity in mentorship and internships
  • How to have difficult conversations within your agency
  • The proper boundaries for political discussions in the workplace
  • What is human resources allowed to dictate as far as employee expression outside of the office?
  • Things some agencies aren’t thinking about in regards to work-from-home policies
  • Some positives that have come from the demands created by the pandemic
  • Where to find information on requirements for remote employees working in other states
“Diversity and inclusion doesn’t mean ‘we only think liberally.’ It means that we’re all respectful.” @mollyeyerman Click To Tweet “When we hire just to check the diversity box, I think that defeats the whole purpose of diversity, equality, and inclusion.” @mollyeyerman Click To Tweet “You’re allowed to do what you want on your personal time but just remember that the world we live in today means that what you intend as a personal experience might represent the company.” @mollyeyerman Click To Tweet “The more that owners can figure out how to let people create a home from home and work in the office balance that works for the business and works for the employee, the more they’re likely to have happier, more satisfied employees because they will… Click To Tweet “Thinking about how you can be a business owner and still run a profitable agency while also encouraging the Total Person will continue to be the thing that drives the most successful agencies.” @mollyeyerman Click To Tweet “Maybe some owners who thought that some of the HR things didn’t matter as much as far as policies and culture and connectedness are now seeing how important it actually is.” @mollyeyerman Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Molly Eyerman:

Additional Resources:

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Agency Management Institute Community, where you’ll learn how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money, and keep more of what you make. The Build a Better Agency Podcast presented by white label IQ is packed with insights on how small to mid-sized agencies survive and thrive in today’s market. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Before I tell you about the episode and our guests, I do want to remind you that the survey is open for the 2021 salary and benefits survey. Just a reminder, we do this every year. We ask a bunch of questions about salaries of different positions in different parts of the country. We also ask questions about the benefits and what kind of benefits you offer, who pays for what, all of those things.

We’ve got a special work from home section and remote work section in the survey this year to ask questions about how you’re going to handle all of that? We normally sell the report that comes out of this salary survey for $100, actually $99, but you can get it for free. All you need to do is participate in the survey. If you head at surveymonkey.com/r/amisalary21. Again, and this will be in the show notes too, but surveymonkey.com/artisanrooster/amisalary21. It’s going to take you about 15 minutes to do.

For many of you, your CFO, or somebody who handles payroll can do it for you if they have access to everybody’s salary ranges, and understand how you handle benefits. But anyway, if you take the 15 minutes at the very end, we’re going to ask you for your email address and we will send you the survey results for free if you participate. It would be awesome if you do that. The more people that participate … We usually get about, I would say 800 or so people who participate and that’s super helpful for making the data valuable and useful for all of you. I would appreciate it if you would do that. 

Speaking of salaries and benefits and work from home, if there has been an insane year for the HR side of owning a business, it has been this last year. I mean, when you think about all the HR topics and issues that we have faced as agency owners, we’ve faced the pandemic, we’ve faced figuring out how to work from home, oftentimes in the second quarter, we’ve faced layoffs or furloughs and learning about furloughing employees, and whether or not our country or county or state had programs that would help us augment the pay of some of our employees that were reducing their hours. 

We had all of that. Then we had the racial tension around Black Lives Matter and the call to build a more inclusive and diverse of workforce in our industry. Many of us had to deal with some very uncomfortable questions from employees, and many of us felt very personally that we needed to do more to help our industry and our own company be more inclusive. Then we went right from there into the political strife that not only in the US, certainly, we were on the world stage for that. But a lot of other countries were also having their own political challenges, and divisions, feelings.

It’s been a crazy year. Then, by the way, our employees are exhausted and tired and mentally stressed and we’re dealing with all of that. We have really earned our MBA in HR this year. We have faced any one of those would have been outside of the norm of what we do every day. But to have all of them in a single year while we are trying to work from home and deal with client cutbacks and all the other things that the pandemic brought, very, very challenging. I have a guest today to help us think through as of now, as of today, what do we do moving forward with all of those issues? Because none of those issues are going away. 

Molly Eyerman owns a HR consulting company that does a ton of work with agencies. I’ve invited her to come on the show just to help us figure out how to navigate all of this stuff and how we can, A, be an employer that we can be proud of the way we treat our employees, we can be proud of how we handle some of these hot topic issues, and how we create a great work environment for our team. But also, how do we run our business in a way that is profitable and takes care of clients and all of that. Complicated stuff. I’m looking forward to this conversation. I know Molly is going to have some great answers for us. Let’s get to it. Molly, welcome to the podcast.

Molly Eyerman:

Thanks for having me, Drew.

Drew McLellan:

Give the listeners a little sense of your background and how you come to know as much as you do about the HR side of our world.

Molly Eyerman:

Sure. Early part of my career was in accounting and finance and then I pivoted into the people side of things eight or 10 years ago, and have almost exclusively worked with small businesses since I did that. Initially in another company where I started building an HR outsourcing practice, and then five years ago, I spun off into VIVO Growth Partners. We’ve really focused on being an HR partner for small to mid-sized companies. Many of our clients are PR agencies, branding agencies, and the like, and we work in other industries too. We’ll do everything from updating an employee handbook, just as a one off project, to being the everyday HR partner which is our HR outsourcing model for clients.

Drew McLellan:

Before we get into the topics that I want to talk about which is all the HR stuff that we’re all facing today, how does it work with an HR outsource partner? What would that look like?

Molly Eyerman:

Sure. When we sign up for an HR partnership agreement, what that means is we’re going to be your HR team. We set up an HR email, that’s an [email protected] If you’re in Slack, we’ll get in your Slack group, and we’ve really handle 99% of the HR and talent issues that come our way. Certain things, maybe a payroll stays with accounting, maybe your team mostly does recruiting, but for the most part we’re pretty involved in the day-to-day processes. 

We’ve really tried to embed ourselves and make it feel like we’re part of the team, unlike there’s some other HR adjacent businesses like PEOs will often say they’ll do that, but you’re calling 1-800 number, you might not get a phone call back for three days. We just find the way that we really build our relationships and are really integrated with email, Slack and the like really helps us for people to feel like we are actually an HR team member, even if we’re not an employee.

Drew McLellan:

Make sense. Well, I’m sure you’ve been busy lately, because boy, it seems like the world is being faced with all kinds of HR issues that have raised their ugly head lately. The first one I want to talk about is the whole issue of diversity and inclusion. I think a lot of agency owners, and a lot of small businesses I think in general, but as the Black Lives Matter issue cropped up this past spring and summer and as agencies really all over the globe are struggling with this issue of what does it mean to be an agency committed to diversity and inclusion?

How in the world do I do that? I think it’s a lot easier to have a diverse workforce when you live in Austin, Texas, than it is when you live in Tiny Town, South Dakota. How are you helping your clients and how should we be thinking about diversity and inclusion? Because a lot of the agency employees are really looking to the agency owner to say, “What are we doing about this? This is an issue that’s important to me. I want to work at a company that embraces diversity and inclusion. What are we doing?”

Molly Eyerman:

Sure. I’m going to be clear for the listeners. I’m going to speak primarily about how this relates to the employee experience and talent acquisition because there’s a whole other side of it related to how you deal with clients and what your stances on that. We’ve talked about that a lot and some of the CEO groups I’m in. I’m just going to focus on the employee side of things. There’s a couple of things really that we’re talking with clients about because this comes up a lot. One of the biggest challenges is when you’re a 25 person company, and you might hire three people in a year, right? 

How do you … What if you can’t find someone who’s diverse and you say, “Gosh, no one with diversity applied to our job posting? There’s just no one out there.” I think to some extent, that can fly when you’re in a smaller business, but what we’re really encouraging clients to do is a couple of things. One is to think about how you’re sourcing candidates for open roles. If you’re looking at just receiving applications, you’re only evaluating candidates who apply to you, chances are good they’re probably going to be candidates who are a lot like you are a lot like people on your team.

You might need to do some things like spend time on LinkedIn and actually go out and actively search for people who maybe have a different background, meaning maybe they’ve got different work experience, maybe they’re not currently your network, just start to expand that. We’re also encouraging people to think about how we can we all as leaders now … because what I hear a lot is, “Well, I need to hire a VP and there’s just not a lot of diversity at that level for what I need.” Part of that goes with the systemic problem that we have, right? 

That there’s not been a lot of mentorship and sponsorship of people to grow up throughout the levels of the organization. To help combat that and really to be part of the solution, we’re urging companies to think about how they really focus on diversity inclusion across the board, but especially when you’re looking at an internship model, what groups are you reaching out to? A few universities you recruit from for either entry level roles or internship roles, there’s tons of different organizations. There’s Blacks Accounting Students Organization. There is Asian Marketing Association, right?

How are you reaching out to maybe some of those groups to say, “Hey, we’re hiring for an intern for this semester. Please, is there anyone who’d be interested in applying? We’d love to talk to your students.” That starts to build your pipeline. Then you’re starting to build that diversity and inclusion organically as opposed to just making, “Oh, we made one diversity hire.” That doesn’t really solve the problem, right? Because we also want to help sponsor people to grow and develop them so they can move on and can be a VP at another agency or your agency, and then you’ve got a great success story.

Those are a couple of the things we’re thinking about. That’s really related to more of the talent acquisition side of things as you think about how you think about it from a total employee experience perspective. We really want people to think about how they’re talking to their team, and remembering that diversity and inclusion doesn’t mean we only think liberally or we’re all only liberals or whatever. But it means that we’re all respectful. Being thoughtful about how you talk about politics or not talk about them, and how you talk about different things and you can still be inclusive without being inclusive in a way that excludes other people’s way of thought, right? 

There are certain things that we can’t tolerate. Discrimination is not tolerated. But, for example, I had a client this year who on Inauguration Day told me that she did a great … That morning on their team call, they did a great discussion around leadership. She just didn’t say anything about her feelings about Joe Biden or Kamala Harris being inaugurated, but just talk to the team about what it means to be a good leader and that she was hopeful that a change in leadership might mean a change for the good for the country. She knows she has some people who are democrats, she knows she has some people who are republicans, and it was a way to be inclusive without being divisive, and without making either group feel like they were left out.

Drew McLellan:

Agency has two candidates. One candidate looks like everybody else in the shop, is better qualified for a job. Other candidate, maybe they’re a B level, but not at the same level as the other candidate. But they would check the diversity box. What does an agency owner do today?

Molly Eyerman:

Yeah, that’s the top question, right? Typically and in those circumstances, the only differentiating question that I would ask at that point would be, is the B level candidate coachable to get to the same level as the A level candidate? Right? They just maybe not have the same opportunities as the other candidate. If the answer is no or maybe, but it’s going to take four years for them to get there and we need someone at that level right now, then I would say hire the person who has the better experience right now. But keep that other candidate in your pipeline and think about how you could mentor them maybe while they’re still on their current role so that they might be able to come in later.

Or maybe down the road when you have a job that’s a slightly better fit for their experience, you could hire them. It’s hard. I mean, but I think when we hire just to check the diversity box, I think that defeats the whole purpose of DENI, and I don’t think it serves the purpose of what we’re really trying to do with DENI. Which is why I go back to that let’s be part of the solution, start building the foundation with our college students, and even high schoolers and even young … Right? 

The earlier you can start that process of really helping to lift up individuals who maybe they don’t have a parent who knows someone in every agency in town, right? Which is how a lot of us have ended up where we are in certain places, and it’s thinking outside the box and thinking outside of your own network about how you bring people in that.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, it’s interesting. I have a couple agencies that are predominantly white and they have reached out to high schools that have more diverse population and asked to participate in career days and things like that to get those kids thinking more about that this is a career path for them and introduce them to what we do and how we do it, to try and get some of them to think about it as they look at what colleges to go to or what to major.

They’re trying to dip into even a younger population and start influencing them to think about marketing and advertising as a career. Because historically, our industry has been very inclusive when we had candidates. I mean, I think, particularly around sexual preference and sexual orientation, that’s always been a part of agency life. But we have not seen a lot of racial diversity, simply because we just haven’t had a lot of candidates, I think.

Molly Eyerman:

Yeah. Yeah, and I think that’s where I think the earlier you can get it started, the better. Help students to see what the path is, that there is a path for them, and it’s where representation matters, right? It’s one of the things Kamala Harris has said. I mean, no matter what, seeing someone who looks like you, whatever your race or gender identification or whatever, in a position helps you to be able to see yourself on that. 

Also, as we have people women or other genders who are in certain roles, as we have people who are not white in certain roles, sending them back to college to help encourage students, sending them back to their model or their high schools to encourage kids to be able to do things. That’s really where we’re going to start to see more diversity all across links of businesses as opposed to right now. It still feels very white at the top for a lot of places. Not just agencies, I mean, that’s across the board, I’d say.

Drew McLellan:

No doubt. How do we have some of these conversations with our employees? For example, I have an agency that’s predominantly white, has a couple African-American employees. They asked the African-American employees if they would talk about what it’s like to work in pretty much an all white environment. The agency owner was telling me some of the things that these professionals shared with them about how they don’t feel comfortable in certain neighborhoods, and how they feel the clients look at them differently.

He said it was really an eye opening experience for him, but also for the entire team because as he said it, he said, “It just never occurred to me that they would be having those feelings and I didn’t do anything to make that better because I didn’t know it was in their head and heart.”

Molly Eyerman:

Yeah. Well, I mean, kudos to that owner for asking those individuals to share about it, and also big kudos to those team members for feeling-

Drew McLellan:

Right. Having the courage.

Molly Eyerman:

… safe enough to share, because I’m sure that that’s a scary thing sometimes. I think having those conversations are really important, just like we saw with the Me Too movement where a lot of men who maybe had never committed sexual harassment in their life but maybe we’re just oblivious because it never impacted them said, “Oh, gosh. I had no idea women dealt with those things.” I think that’s what we’re seeing now with black people and people of color. I think if black and people of color feel safe sharing their feelings and sharing their stories with their team members, that’s great.

They may not always feel that way and in those circumstances. I’d point business owners to have a facilitator who can help guide those discussions and workshops around what racism means. A lot of people have probably read the book, White Fragility in the last 12 months. I did. It was really interesting because the author, one of the things she talks about was some of the workshops she’s facilitated where white people felt, especially white women, were like, “Well, I don’t do that.” The black people didn’t feel safe enough to say, “Yes, you do. These are the microaggressions you do and maybe you don’t realize it, maybe you don’t intend it.” 

I think agency owners, you know your team best and you have to take a pulse on do you think those team members are going to feel safe whatever their differences that you’d like to shed light onto the team? Are they going to feel safe and are you going to be able … are you strong enough as a leader to be able to help guide that conversation? Or do you need someone outside to maybe help guide that? It’s okay if you need someone outside, because these are tough things and the last thing you want to do is have someone, have your three black employees feel like they’re singled out, and then it becomes worse so that they quit because they felt horrible doing it. I mean, you just don’t want to deal with that. 

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah I just think a lot of agency owners are being asked hard questions. I had another agency owner who said they had an all team meeting, and one of the employees said, “How big of an influence do you think white privilege is that you own this agency?” He was like, “Honestly, quite a bit.” They talked about it. But I mean, I just think these are things we have not talked about before. I think a lot of agency owners are like, “I don’t know how to do this.”

Molly Eyerman:

Yeah, it’s tough. I mean, and what a question. I mean, that stops you in your tracks, right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Molly Eyerman:

But it’s true, because you think about … Listen, I am a white female in my mid 30s so I fully acknowledge that I have plenty of white privilege in my life. I didn’t grow up wealthy, but I still have plenty of white privilege. I still have plenty of my own work to do when it comes to understanding that privilege and what I can do to be a better partner to people who don’t have that. But I think when you think about all the systemic issues and the reasons that agency owner probably paused and said, “Wow.” 

Yeah, I mean, I think about I didn’t grow up in a wealthy family. I went to a local public school, that’s not a great school system, but I was able to get into a good college and that opened the door to afforded me a ton of opportunities, and some people don’t have that chance for a variety of reasons. Again, it’s where we’ve got to do the work as people who are successful to give back and pull people along with us.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. One of the other issues, and you mentioned it earlier, that I think a lot of agency owners are struggling with is the political divide. I think our listeners come from 150 or 60 countries, I don’t think the US is unique in this. I think we are on the world’s stage right now in terms of everybody watching us struggle with our great political divide, but I think a lot of countries are dealing with this.

What is the proper boundaries around political discussions at work and political jokes being shared on a Slack channel or whatever? How do we as business owners manage that so that no one feels ostracized or uncomfortable? I mean, everyone’s allowed to have whatever political belief they want, but you also don’t want your agency to be a hotbed of political discussion and argument.

Molly Eyerman:

Sure. Yeah, our advice to clients with this, and we’ve really tried to model it ourselves too, is to make sure that if you choose to allow people to engage in political … There’s a whole spectrum of how you can handle it. You can say, “No political discussions at all in the workplace,” right? That just puts the kibosh on it. You can also say our ask is just that if you feel like sharing something that you say, share it in a respectful way that it doesn’t make anyone else regardless of your belief or their belief feel like they’re … that doesn’t attack them, right?

You can do things like that in different ways. If it’s sharing a link, it’s just … The thing is, the bigger the company as you grow, the harder it becomes because you start to just see people across a variety of different things. We usually veer on the side of it’s best to just [inaudible 00:23:52] The things you learn when you’re younger religion and politics, probably best to just keep those out of the workplace. Unless your team has evolved enough to be able to do it in a respectful way of just saying, “This is an interesting thing. Biden just said that every adult in the US should be able to get vaccinated by the end of May,” and not adding a comment like, “Except the anti-vaxxers,” right?

Drew McLellan:

Right. Right.

Molly Eyerman:

Because maybe someone on the team doesn’t believe in vaccinations, which they’re allowed to. But we don’t have to attack people for feeling that way. We can just make a statement and fact as opposed to adding our own opinion on it.

Drew McLellan:

I’m assuming the exception to that rule is if the agency owner has built a business with a particular political bias, right? We’re a political agency and we only support republican candidates or whatever, right?

Molly Eyerman:

Sure.

Drew McLellan:

I mean, if the business is built with a political agenda or opinion, then you would just be really clear about that in your hiring process, and then I guess it would be everybody can talk about what they want because we are where we are, right?

Molly Eyerman:

Yeah. I mean, I would consider that similar to a church hiring a pastor, right? One of the requirements of the job is probably going to be that that person has that … comes from that religious background or-

Drew McLellan:

Right. 

Molly Eyerman:

… [crosstalk 00:25:14] is okay being around it. Yeah, I think those would be probably the few exceptions. Again, this is also where you get into the whole thing around how much you talk about it publicly. Because you might also be okay with your staff talking about it internally, but you may not want to share it or be super public about it on your social media pages, because you might be concerned about clients who might feel differently. 

Maybe you feel like your whole team feels one way, but maybe you have a client. I know that was something that came up back in the summer with some of my CEO groups around certain people were posting about Black Lives Matter and all of that stuff every day. Then others said, “I was intentionally silent about it, not because I don’t support it, but because I want to be thoughtful about having clients who might fall into multiple camps.” 

Drew McLellan:

Right. That leads to how employees behave when they’re not at the office. Social media posts, being in a protest and being on television. What are the HR boundaries? What are we allowed to tell them they can and can’t do?

Molly Eyerman:

This is a tricky one, right? 

Drew McLellan:

Everything in HR these days is tricky.

Molly Eyerman:

Oh, my gosh. What a year it has been, I’ll say that. I told my team, I think last summer, we were about three months into COVID. I said, “I know this has been the most insane year of your life, but I promise, you’ve learned more than you’ll learn in five years-“

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, for sure.

Molly Eyerman:

… “in the last three months.” The best thing you can do at least to protect the company from that standpoint, one of the best things is to make sure you have a social media policy that helps outline things that people are allowed to say from the standpoint of making it very clear if what they’re posting is or is not on behalf of the company. You can’t normally tell people … I mean, if someone has their own personal Instagram page, and they want to say, “I support the police or I support Black Lives Matter, or I support Trump or I support Biden,” whatever they choose to say, that’s their choice.

You just want to make sure that it’s very clear, especially if you’re a PR agency, a social media agency, where their social media handles are probably widely followed by some of your clients, that it’s really, really clear that they’re posting as themselves and not as the agency. I think the biggest thing is also thinking about if they’re being interviewed for a protest or something, being thoughtful about how you have a code of conduct policy that if something happens where … If they’re starting a riot, right? 

That might be something that maybe you think about is that are we [inaudible 00:28:07] them because it doesn’t follow our code of conduct? I mean, a lot of people who started the insurrection January 6 lost their jobs. A lot of it was criminal act, I believe. It violated a code of conduct, because it’s not in line with the company values or what they would believe. Those are some of the policy ways that you can protect the company. Then a lot of it’s about how you talk to your team about you’re allowed to do what you want on your personal time.

That’s a choice that you’re allowed to make, but just remember that the world we live in today means that you might be viewed in a personal experience, but it might represent the company, and so you want to be thoughtful about that. That’s where really having good conversations with your employees to help them make good decisions, because you can’t force them they’re adults, but just trying to make sure they’re doing those things so they’re thinking about that outside of the workplace too.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I had an agency owner call me because one of his employees posted something on Facebook. They live in a state where you can have a carry permit, and this employee posted that they carry every day, even when they go to their clients offices for meetings. The agency owner called me and was like, “I don’t know what to do with this because my clients are having a cow. It’s his personal Facebook page, he has a right to say that but I don’t want my employees bringing a firearm into the office and be [inaudible 00:29:38] they are bringing it into the client’s office.” I mean, you’re right. Some of it has direct correlation to the work.

Molly Eyerman:

It does, because I live in Ohio and we’re a concealed carry state as well. We usually coach clients to put a policy in their handbook that says, “Even if you have a permit, you’re not permitted to bring a gun into … We are a weapon free workplace. If you have it with you, it needs to stay locked in your car,” right? Because it’s locked in your car, you can’t bring it in the office. I would extend that to client sites too.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, yeah. I think that’s what he ended up doing. But he had to deal with that.

Molly Eyerman:

Sure.

Drew McLellan:

He didn’t have that policy. He had to deal with that situation and then very quickly wrote a policy which really changed the person’s.

Molly Eyerman:

Oh yeah. I mean [crosstalk 00:30:27] That the stuff that happens that you never think is going to happen. I mean, there’s so many times where we have business owners who think we’re being crazy because we’re like, “You need these 25 policies,” and sure enough something happens, and they didn’t put it in there. That’s why we coach it, and it comes down to people’s judgment, but that’s a whole other thing.

Drew McLellan:

All right. We need to take a break, but then we’re going to talk about the hottest HR topic, which is work from home. We’re going to take a quick break, because you and I both need to catch our breath before we’re going to dig into that, and then we’ll be right back and we will dig into what’s happening with work from home, what policies and what are the things the agency owners need to think about? Take a quick break, because I have a lot of questions about that. Hey, there. You know I am incredibly grateful that you listen every week.

I want to make sure you get all of the support and tips and tricks and hacks that we have to offer. In every issue of our newsletter, I tell you what’s on my mind, based on the conversations I’ve had with agency owners that week. We also point you to additional resources and remind you of anything we’ve got coming up that you might benefit from. If you are not subscribed to our newsletter now, we can fix that in a flash. Head over to agencymagementinstitute.com/newsletter and complete the symbol form, and we’ll take it from there. All right, let’s get back to the show.

All right, I’m back with Molly and we are going to dig in. If you thought diversity and gun toting employees was hot topics, that’s nothing compared to what we’re going to get into now, which is work from home. As I know you know, we have a lot of agencies are back at work. Everyone’s back in the office. Have some agencies that never left the office. But I still have some agencies that are either in a temporary work from home situation. They’re waiting until the vaccines are more widely distributed, or I have some agencies that have decided that they are going to shift their business model and they are going to permanently work from home.

Besides the whole psychology of that, which we’ll get into, there are a lot of things that agency owners are not thinking about when they move to a work from home environment, when they start letting their employees move into different states, and then they’re still keeping them on the payroll. So talk to me about some of the things that agency owners aren’t thinking about, when it comes from a work from home policy, whether it’s for some employees, whether it’s just a few remote employees, or if they’re all going to work from home.

Molly Eyerman:

Yeah. We have people who are all over the gamut too. We have clients who stayed in place, we had clients who were 100% virtual previously pre-COVID and they were 100% adaptable. There’s a couple different areas. I mean, compliance is one of the big things. When you have people who move into different localities or different states, usually you know your own state pretty well or at least I hope you do. But when they start to move into different states, you might find out that state has different requirements, and you also have to do … 95% of the things you had to do to set up your own company when you started it in your own state, you’ve got to do now for the next state, plus local taxes and all that fun stuff. 

Drew McLellan:

Sometimes you have to file taxes in the other state. It’s crazy.

Molly Eyerman:

Yeah. It’s a lot. There’s a lot of times a lot of it you can do in your payroll, HRIS, but some of it you can’t. Some of it … I mean, if you’re in a fairly employer friendly state, you might not realize actually the cost impact of having an employee move into one of the more employee favorable states and it’s more compliance driven such as California-

Drew McLellan:

California is crazy, right.

Molly Eyerman:

… Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts. There’s just a lot of different requirements. Colorado is starting to become that way too. I mean, I have a couple of clients who say, “We won’t hire someone who works in California, because we’re not dealing with all the compliance stuff that comes there,” and that’s fine.

Drew McLellan:

Is it legal for agency owner to say, “Our employees cannot live in these seven states?”

Molly Eyerman:

I think you could make that case. We haven’t had anyone fight it. I’m not an attorney, so I mean, for sure, if you’re dealing with this, I would encourage you to reach out to your employment attorney. But the bigger challenge … What we’ve had not be an issue is we’ve had clients who have just said, “We’re not going to … If someone applies from California, we’re going to just … We’re not hiring in there.” I think you’re going to have a bigger challenge if you have someone … if I had an employee who lives here in Ohio, and they said, “Hey, I want to move to California,” that’s where you have a bigger issue because then you’re looking at the reason for termination, right?

The reason for termination was because they moved locations. That’s where I think you just have to be really talkative with your employees and understand. You might choose to say, at some point, we will do that. But I think it’s important to know what is feasible for your business because there’s just a lot of different things especially in some of those states I rattled off.

Drew McLellan:

But can an agency owner say, “Look, if you work here in the office, you can’t assume you’re going to get to keep your job if you want to move to another state or another country or whatever,” right?

Molly Eyerman:

If everyone’s working in the office, yeah, I think that’s fair. If you’ve let people leave the office and work remotely, I think you’re going to have a harder time making that case.

Drew McLellan:

If they work remotely locally? So where they can-

Molly Eyerman:

I’m sorry. 

Drew McLellan:

… come in twice a week, or whatever? You’re talking [crosstalk 00:36:11] about if they live out of state or out of country.

Molly Eyerman:

If they live out of your … We’re in Columbus, I have someone in Cleveland. Yeah, if you have someone who’s outside of your immediate-

Drew McLellan:

Got it.

Molly Eyerman:

… local headquarter area, I guess, is what I mean. I think you’re going to have a harder time making that case. But I do think if you are … The name of the game right now is really flexibility. That’s what employers are looking for. What we’re seeing is even … I mean, to what you just said actually, we have clients who are talking about bringing people back and the look they’ve got … I have one client who has a bunch of local employees. Most of them are headquartered here, but then they’ve got, I don’t know, 25 people in various different states.

Well, they’re talking about making all the local people come back and a lot of them say, “I want to be able to still work remotely a couple days a week.” People who don’t live here get to do that. I think the more that you can do that, the flexibility is really what’s driving employees’ happiness and satisfaction right now. Some of the other things to think about with different states, there’s the compliance aspect. 

I think because we [inaudible 00:37:23] into a place where most people are vaccinated, and maybe you bring people in your local team back into the office, we’re encouraging our employers to make sure they’re still being really cognizant of how they’re engaging their non-local employees. [inaudible 00:37:40] I’ll use that word, non local. Because pre-COVID, pre-pandemic, that was the complaint a lot of times [inaudible 00:37:48] a company had 25 people here, and then they’ve had one or two people who lived in a different state. 

That was the major complaint usually was, why don’t get brought into the random sporadic off-the-cuff meeting that happens? It’s like, okay, well, all of us working from home has now forced all of us to do that, right? Like, hey, can we three of us hop on a quick Slack call or quick Zoom call? Just making sure you’re still doing that. If you’ve got a new account set that’s starting and two people in the office are jumping, said, “Oh, my gosh, I had this idea. Loop in the out of state team member too, and just ask them to join you via Zoom real quick.” Just keeping some of those behaviors in motion so that’s the culture and connectedness. It’s hard way to say a piece, that we want to make sure still stays in place as we help [inaudible 00:38:43].

Drew McLellan:

I have a lot of agency owners who want everybody in the office five days a week. They think the collaboration is important, they think those fringe conversations that happen as you’re walking by somebody in the hallway matter. They see the business as being very collaborative. So they believe that what’s best for the business and the clients is everybody on site five days a week. They certainly are allowed to say, “Look, if you want to work here, you got to be in the office five days a week,” right?

Molly Eyerman:

Sure. Yeah. I mean, that’s where you make the decision for yourself as a business owner, and I think you have to be willing, just like I think if you said, “Hey, I don’t want to employ anyone who doesn’t live here.” I think the employee then also has the right to say … You have to acknowledge as a business owner, that you might have some employees who say, “All right. Well, I’m going to leave because it’s important to me that I’m able to work from home regularly, one to two days a week. There’s 10 other agencies here or across the country that’ll hire me that’ll offer that flexibility.” 

I mean, there certainly is something about being in-person, right? I think all of us can attest to that. You can’t completely replace face-to-face interaction with the internet. You still need to have some face time. But I do think that the more that owners can figure out how to let people create a work from home and work in the office balance that works for the business and works for the employee, I think they’ll have happier more satisfied employees because people will be able to feel like they have more control over their schedules and their lives, and also be able to have a few days where they don’t have to deal with the commute and the whole process of getting out the door and just not that chaos that ensues, I think.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, it’s interesting we didn’t have a mass group of people demanding this prior to the pandemic. I mean, this is unintended consequence, I think of the pandemic is now all of a sudden employees think they have the right to decide how and where and when they work.

Molly Eyerman:

For sure. We’ve done a bunch of surveys for various clients that we’re HR partners for as they’ve evaluated different options about bringing people back in the summer or in the fall, and as we head closer. One of the resounding things that we saw across the board, no matter what point in time we did the survey was, I want to be able to continue to do this post-COVID and to be able to continue to not just work from home when the cable guys coming to fix the internet, but once a quarter or once every six months, but I want to be able to have a regular day or two days that I can work from home, but also come in and collaborate with the team.

You have to decide what’s best for you in the business and how to balance that with the cost of running an office and all that stuff. But yeah, I think there’s been a lot of talking. We’re shifting now from everyone yelling at us millennials for everything to people blaming Gen Z for everything now, because they’re the youngest members of the workforce [crosstalk 00:42:07]

Drew McLellan:

Always go downhill. Right?

Molly Eyerman:

It does. It certainly does. But I think the thing we’re seeing … I mean, I think every generation has brought something different to the next phase of the workforce, right? I’m sure the boomers were yelling at the Gen Xers when they were starting out and all that. But I think the things that we saw, I’ve seen in millennials and Gen Xers is they want flexibility and they want … It’s important to them to feel like they don’t just work 24/7, they can do other things. Thinking about how you can be a business owner and still run a profitable agency, while also encouraging that total person, I think is going to continue to be the thing that’ll drive the most successful agencies.

Drew McLellan:

Although it’s ironic, because one of the mental health issues that employees are having because of the pandemic is because they’re at home, they are working 24/7. 

Molly Eyerman:

Yeah. Mental health has been a really big issue. We’ve seen it spike again in the last … I mean, the last few weeks, my leadership team and I have been hearing from them that we’re seeing a lot more mental health crises at some of our clients. I mean, we’re really encouraging people to set boundaries as far as physically closing your computer, pushing your team offline. I mean, we regularly push our more junior staff offline if we see them on past a certain point because I don’t want people to get burnout.

Really encouraging people too to take days off even if you can’t travel somewhere, you don’t feel safe traveling somewhere yet, schedule a Friday off to just have a mental health day or take a week off and do a staycation or just take the week off so that you can actually rest and recharge. So important. Not just working days on end because you don’t have somewhere to physically go. With the mental health stuff, we’re locating all sorts of resources and trying to really remind our leaders that it’s been a year, the pandemic has weighed on every one.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. Yeah.

Molly Eyerman:

Right? No matter what role you’re in or what you do. Mental health issues are just as important as physical health issues. Someone who has a heart condition, right? I mean, that’s very critical, but someone who’s suffering from depression or anxiety or whatever the challenge they might be having, it’s just as important to be cognizant and honor that and respect that they might need to take a day off to deal with that or more time or utilize FMLA.

You want to be respectful and empathetic towards that just as you would a physical need because everyone’s dealing with [inaudible 00:45:00] and everyone handles stress in a different way, and this is a thing none of us have had to deal with before. It’s just creating a lot more than any of us could ever imagined.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I think a lot of agency owners are part time psychologists right now. They’re trying to figure out … There’s this general malaise over their agency and people are struggling and it’s impacting their co-workers and agency owners don’t know how to fix it. They don’t know how to help. They’re struggling with their own mental fatigue and stress. I think this is probably a bigger crisis in a lot of ways for agencies than clients cutting budgets and doing other things. Because it’s so pervasive inside the shop, and it impacts people’s creativity and impacts their ability to work and focus. It’s not something you can fix really.

Molly Eyerman:

No, it’s not. I think the best thing you can do as the leader is to set the example for the team by doing the things I talked about. Take days off, shut down at a certain time and tell the team you’re shutting down and to do the same, physically close your computer, put it in a different room. Whatever little things like that you have to do. But also, if you need to seek help, talk to a therapist, I mean, do the things that are important to you, will help you to be a better more whole person.

Then think about what resources you can offer your team such as … I mean, there’s all sorts of telehealth apps. We have clients who pay for telehealth apps for their teams, so even if they don’t have insurance, they can contact an online mental health professional to help if they need to talk to a counselor. All those things. Fitness apps. I mean, we have clients who do fitness reimbursements because that’s such an important part. Moving is such an important part of it. Those are the things we’re really encouraging. It’s like very much that thing of you have to put your own oxygen mask on first. This is really one of those situations for agency owners.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, this has been such a crazy year as an employer to juggle all the things, whether you’ve had to do layoffs because of clients cutting back, to the work from home, to the political challenges, to the social challenges. It’s been an exhausting HR year I think for most business owners. Because it’s not what most of them are skilled at doing.

Molly Eyerman:

No. I mean, we had to become COVID experts overnight, because none of us were COVID experts, right?

Drew McLellan:

Sure. Right. Right.

Molly Eyerman:

But yeah, there’s just been so many things in the last 12 months that we have … because we’re coming up in the next week or so really on a year ago when the world shut down. There’s been so many things we’ve dealt with the people are just in disbelief that it’s something that’s been an issue. I hope that things start to calm down and people can [inaudible 00:48:06] focusing on their business a little bit more than dealing with so many of the people things. 

But I do also think, perhaps a slight positive is that, maybe some owners who thought the HR things didn’t matter as much, so how you think about policies are how you think about really, culture and connectedness, and the focus on that, I think that’s really driven home how important that actually is. How do you stay connected and keep your culture alive when you’re not all together and you’ve got hop on Zoom to do video stuff? How do you have to be more intentional about checking in with people on Slack because you can’t walk by their desk and say hi and chit chat the same way? Hopefully, that’s a positive at least that’s come out of it.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I hope so. One question I want to ask you and is going all the way back to the people living in different states.

Molly Eyerman:

Sure.

Drew McLellan:

But before I forget, if somebody has an employee who’s thinking about going to a different state, where do they go to find out what those state requirements and regulations are? Is there an office at every state that they can call? Or is there a website? Where do they go to find out, is this a hot mess state or is this a state where I’m going to be happy my employees moving into?

Molly Eyerman:

Yeah, there’s a couple different things you can do depending on what professionals you work with. You’re accountant or you’re HR professional, they certainly usually can advise on these sorts of things or look into it for you if they don’t know off the top of their head. Then of course, like every state pretty much, if you Google setting up your business in Minnesota, I just had an employee start in Minnesota, we knew there were four or five things we needed to do. Register for payroll tax withholding, register for an employment, get a worker’s comp policy for her, but they all operate a little differently so you do have to go through the paces.

Depending on the level of access of which HRIS or payroll system you use, some of them will do that stuff for you and actually tell you the things you need to do. Some of them will say, “You need to go do these things and then bring the numbers back to us.” But generally speaking, I mean, every state has a website or an office you can call and say, “Tell me the things that I need to know if I have an employee here.” 

Drew McLellan:

Okay. Awesome. We have covered a lot of ground in an hour. Thank you for being willing to jump all over the board with me. I appreciate it.

Molly Eyerman:

Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me on. I appreciate it too. 

Drew McLellan:

I suppose this is your job every day, though. Right? Jumping from topic to topic to topic?

Molly Eyerman:

Yeah. You never know what text message or phone call you’re going to get from a client, and what the issue is going to be. But honestly, that’s the thing that I enjoy about my job and what I do. I like to help with those quickfire issues and to help people feel like we can help them figure out how to handle this situation.

Drew McLellan:

If people want to get in touch with you, learn more about your business, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Molly Eyerman:

Yeah. Again, our company is VIVO Growth Partners. Our website is vivogrowth.com. You can email me at [email protected], or find me on LinkedIn.

Drew McLellan:

Okay, awesome. Thank you so much for being with us and sharing your expertise. This is a year when we definitely needed to have you on the show to help us sort all this out, because it’s been a crazy one.

Molly Eyerman:

It sure has. Thanks again, Drew.

Drew McLellan:

You bet. All right, guys. This wraps up another episode of Build a Better Agency. Molly has given you a lot of things to think about. I think some of the things that are takeaways for me in terms of you putting this into action are, number one, are your policies in good shape in terms of political conversations, in terms of social media activity, in terms of … A lot of you have had to rewrite your work from home and remote employee policies. Where do you stand on employees moving to different states? 

Do you want your employees to assume that they can keep their job if they move anywhere they want? If that’s not what you want, then what do you have in place to protect yourself from that? I think there’s a lot of change in terms of how we interact with our employees, what our employers are looking for from us, all of this as a result of this bizarre moment in time. No matter how buttoned up your handbook was, my guess is it needs some revisions. Take some notes from this conversation and make sure that you’re protected and covered.

I think it’s an opportunity for all of us to rethink about how we want to work and how we want our teams to work. Remember, this is your business. You get to decide how you want to do this. You just need to make sure that you have the rules in place and the expectations are clear so that everybody understands what your plan is and what your rules are. Lots to think about from this episode. I hope you put it to good use right away to protect yourself and your team. I will be back of course next week with another guest. Just a quick thank you to our friends at White Label IQ.

As you know, they’re the presenting sponsor for the podcast. If you need White Label Dev design or PPC, they are knocking it out of the park for many AMI agencies, and you can learn more about them at whitelabeliq.com/ami. I’ll be back with another guest next week to get you thinking a little differently about your business. In the meantime, I am always around, easy to find at agencymanagementinstitute.com. All right? Thanks for listening and I will talk to you guys soon. That’s a wrap for this week’s episode of Build a Better Agency. Visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to check out our workshops, coaching packages, and all the other ways we serve agencies just like yours. Thanks for listening.