How Cannabis Businesses are Managing Internal Communications During COVID-19
© cendeced | Adobe Stock

How Cannabis Businesses are Managing Internal Communications During COVID-19

We spoke with executives in various segments of the market to see how staff are communicating with each other.

Subscribe
May 18, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic and government measures to stop its devastating spread have changed operations in the cannabis industry in numerous ways. One of those changes is how team members at businesses communicate with one another. Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary spoke with executives at a company awaiting licensing in Illinois, an edibles company and an Oregon hemp grower.

Achieving Virtual Security in the Dispensary Market

As it awaits responses from Illinois officials on the awarding of licenses, the team that plans to launch Parkway Dispensary, Helios Labs, Edibliss Collection and other vertically integrated cannabis entities in the Prairie State has been communicating via phone calls, conference calls through Google and events through Zoom.

But they recently experienced an unforeseen mishap. They were on a call talking about dispensary ownership and cannabis with between 40 and 60 “inner circle” colleagues when they were “Zoombombed” May 7, said Chief Marketing Officer Vincent E. Norment. In this case, as in others, the person or people who infiltrated the account inserted unwelcome pornography, and the team hasn’t learned who the hackers were.

The group overcame the immediate issue by shutting down and restarting the meeting, Norment said. They have also been in contact with Zoom.

“Zoom is trying to clean up its security on their platform, so they said that they've been having issues and stuff like that—they're aware of it,” Norment said. “They're just trying to make the experience tighter and more secure.”

With some new protocols in place, the Parkway Dispensary team plans to host another Zoom event on May 21. The panel on cannabis legalization will feature Chicago 20th Ward Alderman Jeanette B. Taylor and cannabis attorneys as speakers.

Ahead of their next event, Norment and Parkway Dispensary Chief Technology Officer Eric J. Ice-Gipson provided the following Zoom security tips for cannabis businesses navigating this same territory.

Edibles Production in the Age of Social Distancing

On March 11, Joe Hodas began his first day as Wana Brands’ chief marketing officer at home. “I started from home that day and have been there ever since,” he said.

His team uses Slack to organize projects and prevent email inboxes from filling up and Zoom calls to hold meetings.

“As the new guy, I felt like it's important for people to see me, to know my face,” Hodas said. “I use my hands a lot, and I gesture. I've been trying consciously to make sure that I use my camera regularly.”

The Boulder, Colo.-headquartered business has adjusted to the pandemic and stay-at-home orders by having its administration, sales and marketing staff—about 60% of the company, Hodas estimates—working from home. The other roughly 40% of team members have still been reporting to their production jobs so far throughout the pandemic.

As Colorado transitioned to a "Safer-at-Home" order April 27 and Boulder subsequently followed suit on May 8, Wana leadership found there wasn’t anything broken in the company’s current way of doing things that needed fixed.

While other companies may feel they need to see their employees doing work, Hodas said the amount of work employees do is reflected in if they are turning around items and assignments within set deadlines.

“The fact that I can't see somebody sitting in their chair working on something—if they get the deliverable to me in the timeframe that they're supposed to, I don't care whether they're sitting in their chair in their office,” Hodas said. “I'd rather them be safer and more comfortable at home doing that work.”

Wana’s production workers use an enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform to enter orders, and hourly employees use an app system to clock in.

The company’s executive team has a call every day at noon to discuss the latest information about the coronavirus, Hodas said. For the first several weeks the pandemic began strongly impacting the U.S., a different executive would send an email to employees each day relaying the information.

“We just stopped about a week and a half ago with the daily emails because there wasn't a whole lot of new information,” Hodas said. “We've all kind of settled into this bizarre, new little world that we're all in right now, so we decided that we were only going to put out the communication when there was something new or something critical. But we're still meeting every day as an executive team just to touch base, make sure that everyone's all on the same page.”

Business Holding Steady for one Oregon Hemp Grower

In Jewell, Ore., northwest of Portland, 8-acre hemp operation Tweedle Farms has held a steady stock of its products, including smokable hemp flower, tinctures and concentrates, throughout the pandemic.

In addition to growing its own product, the farm works with other organic and small farms, said Chief Operating Officer Andrew Gruver. It develops and formulates the products that it sells through ecommerce and works with Good Manufacturing Practice facilities to produce at scale.

Many of Tweedle Farms’ employees continue to work onsite and maintain distances of 10 feet or more, in addition to wearing masks and gloves, Gruver said. Only the farm’s customer service team has been working remotely.

While inventory is up and everyone is healthy, there have been challenges keeping consistent stock and shipping orders quickly, Gruver said. Some team members are feeling the effects of the pandemic outside of work and adjusting in different ways.

“People are generally uncertain about their futures, they're stressed out about this, stressed out about that, they have friends and family who are sick, and they bring a lot of that into the workplace,” Gruver said. “People are taking more mental health days than they ever have before. People are just making it halfway through the day, then being like, 'I have to go home.’ And you're like, ‘Okay.' We're trying to support our employees however we can.”

He continues: “That means that I'm like—full leeway—'Do what you need to do that allows you to feel good about yourself and your situation so that you can then come to work and be a productive member of this team, and if that means you're gone this whole week, that means you're gone this whole week. That's fine.’"