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Expert: Layoff alternatives Houston businesses should consider in a downturn

Here's what you should consider if you need to make some sort of cuts to your business this year. Photo via Getty Images

Preparing for a potential economic downturn can be unsettling for employers and employees. As payroll is typically one of the largest expenditures for a business, no matter its size, layoffs seem like the quickest fix. While this may offer short-term relief, they can severely impact operations and workplace culture.

When staff is reduced, culture can suffer. Employee morale can decrease and distrust may build, especially if layoffs are not communicated properly. This can lead to the remaining employees feeling anxious about their own future with the organization and spur them to look for employment elsewhere, which can affect an organization’s overall productivity and day-to-day operations.

Business owners should get creative and consider the impact and the many alternatives before resorting to workforce reductions.

Analyze salaries

If the organization’s downturn is short-term, senior leadership and upper management could accept temporary salary reductions until business improves. However, if the situation is more dire, leaders might consider an option such as cutting overhead with job sharing. Employee numbers then remain the same, but two positions become one and it is filled by two part-time employees to support a function or role. Furloughs for non-essential employees give employers time to consider if permanent layoffs are necessary. Of course, this requires an understanding of each performers contribution within the organization to determine overall impact and level of “necessity.”

Look at schedules

Permanent remote work could save on operating costs, such as leases and travel expenses, which gives more budgetary leeway to avoid layoffs. Another approach is implementing a four-day workweek to reduce hours and salaries by 20 percent. The added benefit to a shortened workweek is better employee work-life balance.

Scale Back Benefits

When finances are in a critical state, and leadership is looking to avoid layoffs, employers can scale benefits and perks for all employees. Temporarily pausing the 401(k) match, relying more on virtual business meetings instead of incurring travel expenses, and cutting employee bonuses can help ease the economic burden without letting people go. As with salary reductions, scaling back on benefits should begin with leadership before expanding to others.

Streamline Systems

When auditing the company, employers should also evaluate company processes and workflows for efficiency. It’s possible an employee could be more productive in a different role or a process may be found to be more laborious than necessary. Digital software is another alternative to help streamline systems. Employee feedback is another great resource to help identify gaps and streamline processes. A good practice is to have performers look for ways to make tasks within their role more efficient and productive.

Every decision has its costs. The most important thing employers can do is to be open and honest with employees, including transparency about the state of business. This communication style can increase employee buy-in during economic uncertainty and encourage employees to rally and be part of the resiliency of the organization.

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Karen Leal is a performance specialist with Houston-based Insperity, a provider of human resources offering a suite of scalable HR solutions available in the marketplace.

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Building Houston

 
 

Ben Jawdat, CEO and founder of Revterra, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

With more and more electric vehicles on the road, existing electrical grid infrastructure needs to be able to keep up. Houston-based Revterra has the technology to help.

"One of the challenges with electric vehicle adoption is we're going to need a lot of charging stations to quickly charge electric cars," Ben Jawdat, CEO and founder of Revterra, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "People are familiar with filling their gas tank in a few minutes, so an experience similar to that is what people are looking for."

To charge an EV in ten minutes is about 350 kilowatts of power, and, as Jawdat explains, if several of these charges are happening at the same time, it puts a tremendous strain on the electric grid. Building the infrastructure needed to support this type of charging would be a huge project, but Jawdat says he thought of a more turnkey solution.

Revterra created a kinetic energy storage system that enables rapid EV charging. The technology pulls from the grid, but at a slower, more manageable pace. Revterra's battery acts as an intermediary to store that energy until the consumer is ready to charge.

"It's an energy accumulator and a high-power energy discharger," Jawdat says, explaining that compared to an electrical chemical battery, which could be used to store energy for EVs, kinetic energy can be used more frequently and for faster charging.

Jawdat, who is a trained physicist with a PhD from the University of Houston and worked as a researcher at Rice University, says some of his challenges were receiving early funding and identifying customers willing to deploy his technology.

Last year, Revterra raised $6 million in a series A funding round. Norway’s Equinor Ventures led the round, with participation from Houston-based SCF Ventures. Previously, Revterra raised nearly $500,000 through a combination of angel investments and a National Science Foundation grant.

The funding has gone toward growing Revterra's team, including onboarding three new engineers with some jobs still open, Jawdat says. Additionally, Revterra is building out its new lab space and launching new pilot programs.

Ultimately, Revterra, an inaugural member of Greentown Houston, hopes to be a major player within the energy transition.

"We really want to be an enabling technology in the renewable energy transition," Jawdat says. "One part of that is facilitating the development of large-scale, high-power, fast-charging networks. But, beyond that, we see this technology as a potential solution in other areas related to the clean energy transition."

He shares more about what's next for Revterra on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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