As the coronavirus brought global travel to a near halt in March, St. Petersburg-based Squaremouth, which operates a travel insurance comparison website, saw its sales volume plunge from more than 500 transactions a day to fewer than 20, a 90%-plus drop.
In response, Squaremouth dipped into cash reserves and cut costs to keep all employees on staff at full pay and got a loan under the federal government’s new Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
Meanwhile, it became busier than ever with calls from travelers asking about coverage for their canceled flights and hotel stays. The number of claims related to the pandemic nearly tripled over the firm’s usual rate, says spokeswoman Kasara Barto. The company shifted employees around to handle the influx of customer calls and began planning for its post-coronavirus future, she says. “We had travelers whose trips were canceled and travelers who were still looking to travel and buy coverage. We were able to jump in quickly and answer as many questions as we could,” she says.
Squaremouth gets a cut of each sale when customers go on its site and buy travel insurance from a host of providers. The company says it’s working on the rollout of new products to address travelers’ changing needs, including policies that specifically cover virus outbreaks. Most policies sold through Squaremouth have not covered COVID-19 claims, Barto says. “For an event to be covered, it has to be written into the policy, and pandemics, epidemics and outbreaks typically aren’t written in because they weren’t a concern before,” she says.
Three years ago, Squaremouth bought an historic church building in St. Petersburg, hoping to create a millennial’s dream office, with a badminton court, snooker table, video games, napping couches, a bar and tree houses for meeting spaces. The company planned to move into the building once the renovations were completed. But in the wake of stay-at-home orders and mass telecommuting, Squaremouth has decided to let employees work from home indefinitely, even after the pandemic ends. The company will keep its leased offices in downtown St. Petersburg for when employees “need to get out of the house,” Barto says. “We’re not required to come in.”
The old church building is now up for sale. “Employees really aren’t looking for that hip new office space anymore,” she says. “The focus has shifted to workplace flexibility.”
Read the full Florida Trend article online here: https://www.floridatrend.com/article/29602/pandemic-responses-at-floridas-best-companies