ON THE FLIP SIDE: HOW ONE SMALL BUSINESS TURNED THE PANDEMIC INTO AN OPPORTUNITY, ONE WORD AT A TIME.

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Read time — 10 mins |
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Peninsula Speech Plus is a Victorian-based small business that specialises in children and adult speech pathology, occupational therapy and other allied health services.

Although part of the business plan for over two years, it wasn’t until the coronavirus pandemic that Peninsula Speech Plus adopted telepractice and realised its full potential to the business.

“We were going to adopt telepractice some day! We had even written a policy around it, and done the odd ad hoc session for people living in remote areas,” explains co-owner and speech pathologist, Margo O’Callaghan.

“Initially when we first heard the risks of COVID-19 to Australia, we were in denial about the impact it would have on our team and our clients. We hoped it would just go away and be contained overseas before posing a threat to Australia. But we quickly began to realise the reality of the situation.”

As the pandemic began to affect Australia, and restrictions grew, Peninsula Speech Plus remained an ‘essential service’. But they became increasingly concerned about their ability to preserve the health and safety of their team and clients according to the social distancing protocols

 

The moment of truth

Many people were also choosing to self-isolate, so it quickly became apparent they needed to find an alternative way to continue to support their clients, without the need for face to face consultations. 

“We quickly set up telepractice services. Initially it was an ‘option’ for families who had chosen to self-isolate. Within 10 days, after following global trends, we decided to shift completely.”

“We had to onboard an entirely new model of service delivery. Whilst some things could transfer easily, there was a huge amount of new learning to digest in a very short space of time.”

While making the shift to online happened quickly, it didn’t come easily.

“At first we needed to address IT. We needed assurance that our platform and internet service had the capacity for us to shift services online. It also meant we had to snap up headset microphones, additional monitors and develop policies and procedures around occupational health and safety for our employees, when working from home.”

“The wellbeing of our staff needed to be prioritised in an environment where we couldn’t physically touch base every day. We set up daily zoom meetings, trivia nights, weekly team meetings to ensure the team culture was maintained and support at hand if needed. We encouraged staff to touch base and buddy up with each other to share resources, ideas and boost morale. We also sent care packages to all to show our appreciation.”

“We communicated constantly and clearly to staff about what was happening and any potential changes, so they felt informed and ready. This made a big difference in allaying fears about job loss and keeping everyone optimistic despite the massive task at hand.”

“We also had to reassess our finances and cashflow. We calculated what we needed, knew limits and funnelled energy into what we could do best.”

 

Turning challenges into opportunity

Peninsula Speech Plus also engaged human resources to help them through the legalities and options around maintaining jobs for their staff and ensured they began marketing they were ‘online’ and accessible Australia-wide. 

“For us, adopting telepractice now means our business can be “Australia Wide” as we now have interstate clients. It has also enabled greater efficiency and visibility around our meetings with referrers, collaborators and other stakeholders.”

“Telepractice has also created more flexibility our staff in terms of their working arrangements. It’s actually preferable to many of our clients whom have found it more manageable in their circumstances.”

“Telepractice has also provided us the opportunity to rejuvenate and invigorate our clinical practice because we had to be ambitious, think outside the box and get creative about how to make targeted, clinical concepts tangible and accessible to people from a distance.”

 

Peninsula Speech Plus’ top tips for SMEs:

  1. Have a game plan: Preparing for a worse case scenario led us to a more rapid acquisition of knowledge. From how to attend webinars, liaise with similar businesses, search and evaluate IT platforms, purchase necessary IT and adapt resources to be online, friendly and effective. This got the team ‘pumped’ because they could see a plan and it being put into action at speed when it became necessary.
  2. Embrace a ‘can do’ attitude: We had to be open minded and embrace a ‘can do’ attitude in a situation that changed daily. We took the forward foot and actively prepared, self-educated and acted with full transparency with our team - including them in our decision making.
  3. Have money for a ‘rainy day’: Our business has always taken a conservative financial stance. This meant we had funds already quarantined for recreation/ compassionate/long service and sick leave requirements.
  4. Walk beside your team: our leadership took on a ‘unified’ quality where we walked beside our team. We were always open and accessible and never entertained the thought of failing. This motivated and bound the team, so we were committed as a group. As Directors, we were supporting our own clients via telepractice so our team could see us learning, making mistakes, problem solving and sharing the same experiences as them.
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