Rethink, Reimagine, Restart – Preparing to Reopen

Leadership Profile
Written by Megan Woodruff

Mindy Geisser

Chief People Services Officer


June 2020

Safety and health top the list of priorities for HR leader Mindy Geisser.

The Chief People Services Officer at Savers, a for-profit, global thrift retailer, is acting and reacting to help her organization pivot in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to stay-at-home orders and out of an abundance of caution, Savers closed all its nearly 300 North American stores in March.

Like all businesses, we’ve needed to quickly navigate the challenges and uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 crisis. In a 24-hour period, we made the difficult decision to close all of our retail stores to ensure the safety and well-being of our team members, our customers and the communities we serve.


Now the company is strategizing about how to safely re-open stores across the U.S. and Canada and reengage its workforce. Geisser says the company is implementing a phased approach to store reopening preparations based on ongoing guidance from health and governmental officials, and a focus on two main priorities. The first, ensuring Savers’ team members and customers feel safe when shopping and working in its stores. And the second, maintaining effective communications so team members re-entering store environments and workplaces remain engaged and informed during these unprecedented times. 

As long-term strategy planning continues, Geisser reflects on some of the more lasting impacts of this crisis, including a cultural shift and desire for employees to embrace working remotely.

As an HR leader, how are you communicating with a severely reduced workforce?

Prior to the health and economic impacts of COVID-19, Savers employed nearly 22,000 team members across our retail footprint and corporate teams. Today, 700 people are currently supporting our global business operations. Given this significant and almost immediate reduction in staffing levels, communicating to our team members in a consistent and transparent way has been imperative to building confidence and clarity during such a challenging time for our business and our employees. We are committed to timely and frequent email communication, and weekly calls led by our CEO and members of our leadership team to keep team members informed about our business decisions and key priorities. We also host town halls and have been building training materials to help all managers talk with their teams and answer questions, which we make available on our internal website for future reference. 

You’re hoping to bring back the majority of Savers’ team members on temporary layoff, but how are you reaching out to them while they are unemployed?

In addition to communicating with our active employees, we recognize there is a significant opportunity and responsibility for us to stay connected with the valued team members we’ve unfortunately needed to lay off. We’re optimistic that we will be able to bring a significant percentage of our workforce back when it is safe to do so, and when that happens, it is important they continue to feel appreciated and connected with our company. We’ve been focused on building toolkits so that people managers are in the best position to thoughtfully reach out to their impacted team members to let them know we care about them and their well-being. We also work to provide as many updates and details as we can on our intended path forward to reopening. 

How are you keeping team members who are working remotely engaged and productive?

Over the years, we’ve developed significant internal training resources within our Savers University, which provides access to helpful tools and information our teams can reference for professional growth and development opportunities. Recently, we've been adding new content every week and have created multiple special resources, including courses on managing remote workforces, working remotely effectively and some management capability course work. We also have some wonderful external partners that have been very generous and extended to us some additional courses we can now cascade further down into our organization to keep people engaged and motivated. These newly accessible resources have been popular because the content is interesting, educational and inspiring. People really like it. 

Going forward, what policies and/or priorities do you see changing for your organization at-large?

Two priorities immediately come to mind. We’re working extra hard to create the safest possible experience for our customers and for the team members in our stores. Initially, we will likely limit our store hours in an effort to limit the amount of foot traffic. We will also be enhancing our cleaning procedures, such as increasing the frequency of cleaning commonly touched surfaces; like check-out areas and shopping carts, and we’ll be adding sanitizer stations for further convenience. And when customers walk in our stores, they’ll notice we’ve widened our aisles to further support social distancing and we’ve added floor decals throughout our stores and check-out lanes, making it easier for people to judge proper physical distance from others. Team members will also be wearing protective face masks and gloves, so people can feel safe.

Second, working remotely has taken on a whole new meaning. As a company, we are embracing this concept as the new norm. While challenging at times, one of the benefits is that it gives employees permission to have more of a work-life blend. They can be hard-working and professional in a remote office setting while also prioritizing elements of their personal lives into their workdays, which leads to a greater sense of balance. Working remotely has also created a need and desire to stay connected – to help one another get through difficult times. There is more personal sharing on webinars, seeing your team members in their home environments, talking about their kids, family members or pets. People have a personal life and it's ok to share a little of that with your colleagues. It is bringing people together.  This is one of the positives coming out of this challenging time.

Special thanks to Mindy Geisser and Savers.

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