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First Tracks Marketing owner recognizes that office culture might be permanently changed by the pandemic

Granite State News Collaborative
Published: 9/1/2020 4:55:00 PM

In July, Matt Nelson, owner of First Tracks Marketing, was excited to welcome his 11 staff back to their Pembroke office.

“We’re a very elite crew of ping-pong players,” Nelson said. “That’s been tough to not have that camaraderie. You have to work a lot harder to maintain that connection and support.”

Although Nelson was keen to return, the enthusiasm quickly fizzled. People were worried about being in the office, especially since a few team members have second jobs in the service industry.

“People didn’t feel really comfortable,” Nelson said.

He abandoned the plan to bring the team back together. Although he and his partner pop in or out of the office a couple days away, almost all of their work is being done remotely.

“It’s seriously making me question how much office space we need,” Nelson said.

The cost of the office space is about $2,500 — roughly the same amount that a small retainer client brings in each month for First Tracks Marketing. Nelson isn’t particularly concerned about the financial implications —although reducing overhead is always nice — but he sees that the culture around office work is changing on a widespread level.

“I really miss having the team together, but that doesn’t mean everyone really misses that,” he said. For a service like marketing, which can be delivered remotely, it’s unclear whether people will ever return to the office full-time.

“We could do this job on the moon if we had a good wifi connection,” Nelson said. One of his employees even drove around the country, getting his work done at odd hours between travel.

With office work paused for the foreseeable future, Nelson has been developing policies to keep all his employees on the same page. He’s found that little slips that might be easy to catch in the office are harder to identify when everyone is working remotely. Because of that, he wants to set clear expectations around deadlines, workday hours and communication.

“It’s getting to the point, realizing that this isn’t going to change for a couple of months at best, where we have to draw a line in the sand,” he said. “I hate that we have to do that, but it’s being forced by how spread out everything is. You can’t as easily cover up a few people dragging a little bit.”

Although doing business during the pandemic has been an adjustment, First Tracks Marketing is doing well. The company handles online support and marketing for digital retailers, a sector that has benefited from being people more likely to stay at home. Of all their clients, only one is currently struggling with sales, Nelson said — most have seen increases.

Because he has more business, Nelson is trying to be selective about the clients he takes on. Although he’s hired one additional person during the pandemic, he’s wary of clients who are too demanding. He recently parted ways with a client who was acting unprofessionally.

“At the end of the day, it’s about what you’re willing to put up with,” he said. “I don’t like walking away, but those are those hard decisions you have to make sometimes.”

Having plenty of business, even during economic unrest, makes it easier to say no sometimes.

“When we’re coming up against decisions with clients who are more difficult than they’re worth, it’s easy to say ‘I’m ok,’” Nelson said.

This story is part of the 50 Businesses, 50 Solutions series, shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative, that aims to highlight how business leaders across the state, from mom and pop shops, to large corporations have adapted to meet the challenges and disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus in the hopes others may be able to replicate these ideas and innovations. Tell us your story here. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.

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