Christen Perry, owner of Classic Travel Connection in Birmingham, Ala., had many of the reservations other business owners shared when they were forced to close up shop one year ago and retreat to their homes. Would her team still work effectively from their own homes? How would she know when things were done? Would they be less focused?
It wasn't exactly new territory. Perry founded Classic Travel in 2008 after managing another local agency, and she had a home-based model. But she was having trouble juggling work and life, so she decided to open a storefront in 2011.
Since then, she and her team of six full-time and one part-time employees have been going to the office Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., working to support Classic's network of several dozen independent contractors (ICs).
It worked for Perry. The team gelled well in person, and "it just helped keep me much more focused and organized."
But then the pandemic hit last March.
"I realized that this might not be just a couple of days situation," Perry said.
On Monday, March 16, 2020, she sat down with her team and told them to prepare to spend a few weeks at home by packing up their computers and client files.
They would never return to the office, save to clean it out and sell the furniture.
"It became very apparent that our income was going to take a huge hit," Perry said. "Just knowing that, I want to keep my staff on. I don't want to reduce their salaries. I don't want to reduce their time."
That was her No. 1 goal: Come out of the pandemic with a strong, and fully intact, staff. And rent was an expense she could save almost immediately.
Perry quickly put in her two-months' notice with her landlord. Classic has been completely home-based since then, and Perry is happy to report it is working and that her earliest concerns were unfounded.
"They're working harder than they ever have," she said of her staff. "We are seeing more results than we ever had. And I don't see us ever going back to an office -- I just don't see that happening."
Classic's move was made a bit smoother because the agency had already begun to use Basecamp, a project management and team communication tool. The team is still in touch all day, every workday, she said.
Perry has also found a way to keep the team connected in person on occasion: Once a month, she and her employees get together for a day of meetings. In February, they got together in the Turks and Caicos for their meeting and to celebrate making it through a year of the pandemic.
She was also happy to report that sales are on the uptick. Classic's February 2021 was bigger than its February 2019, which was its best year on record. In the first two months of the year, her agency sold a little over $2.5 million in travel.