According to a 2019 survey, 81% of onsite workers thought that the ability to work remotely would make them happier. Happiness aside, however, small businesses now must figure out how to make these work-from-home dreams a reality—and on a severely condensed timeline—in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Here is some information I found that I really think you will find very useful and interesting.
With 45 states to date issuing stay-at-home orders in response to the COVID-19 crisis, more of America’s workforce is working remotely than ever before. But what do you do if remote work capabilities weren't part of your company’s DNA before the current public health emergency?
While you work through the financial impact that the current economic uncertainty has on your business and the small business relief programs that are available, you’ll still need to keep your virtual doors open and your team productive even when your physical doors may be closed.
These tips can help your small business quickly establish work-from-home protocols, especially if your company has never operated remotely. You'll find communication best practices, tools for staying connected and tech to help keep your business moving through the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.
In an office or storefront, everything is more visible and accessible. You can stop by a colleague’s office for a quick clarification or rally your team for an impromptu meeting in the break room. Even body language informs your typical in-office day-to-day communications. As phone calls, chats and videoconferencing replace in-person interactions, the ability to “read the room” becomes more complicated for both leaders and their teams. Communication can slow. Intention and interpretation of messages can become muddled. The shift to remote work demands small-business leaders rethink both how and how much they communicate.These tips can help you rethink the ways and the frequency with which you communicate:
Establishing a schedule for the workday helps the entire team show up for work when their living room becomes their office. Consider ditching text messaging in favor of email or a work-specific chat app, so that employees feel they can protect their personal devices and time after the workday is done.
Set clear expectations.
From priority projects, to normal work hours and delivery timelines, don't leave anything to chance. Clearly stating expectations can help your entire team orient themselves toward a common goal.
Trade in-person discussions for phone calls.
Every time you’d typically go see a colleague to resolve an issue, abandon the tech and go old school with a phone call. With a real-time conversation, you can quickly find a resolution while avoiding miscommunications that often can arise with chats and emails.
Since remote work removes the comfort of physical proximity, it’s more important than ever to promptly return your team members’ calls and emails and participate on that chat thread about a pressing project. Prompt replies will help alleviate some of the anxiety that comes from not being able to see your colleagues when a concern arises. Promptness also lets employees know you’re tuned in to their dedication to the company’s objectives.
Invest in virtual connection.
Maybe it’s a video huddle every morning to replace the typical break room chatter or a weekly happy hour to collectively wind down; however, you accomplish your virtual “connections” with your team, know that these routines are important during times where your team lacks a daily physical workspace to gather. Work-from-home orders can’t erase the comfort that comes with seeing the people who show up every day to make your company run.
Double-down on the grace.
Working from home, especially in the times of COVID-19, means more distractions. Kids home from school, pets excited about a favorite toy, the inevitable leaf blowers and other intrusions are going to invade your conference calls with situations you never encounter at the office. Take a deep breath and remind yourself (and everyone on your team) that people are doing the best they can within their given environments. A bit of grace in the face of unexpected disruptions will bring some much-needed humanity to these unprecedented times.
Now that you’re equipped with practical leadership tools to help you rethink your work-from-home communication protocols, you can tend to the daily business of making your business run remotely.
As you establish priorities and craft a plan for your business to continue operations, you’ll need to keep your team connected to keep goals on track. The good news is that several low- to no-cost tools can help you immediately ramp up your virtual communications.
Chat apps, videoconferencing platforms and conference call lines can help keep the communications flowing and offer a wide range of formality to mimic the different ways you typically communicate in the workplace.
Instant messaging and chat apps can help your team stay connected and get quick answers to simple questions that crop up throughout the business day. As you consider which chat or messaging app to adopt, consider your business’s security demands. You’ll want to weigh the security features of each platform with the need for privacy and then establish protocols with your team for topics that should not be discussed via a digital messaging platform.
The messaging apps below are no-cost and among the most widely used among small businesses:
When your team needs some face time, videoconferencing can help you bridge the gap between working in the office and from home. While many chat apps come with videoconferencing features, you may prefer to use a platform where videoconferencing is the primary function for your virtual face-to-face needs. The features are typically a bit more robust than messaging apps and also incorporate chat features into your calls.
By and large the most talked about videoconferencing service in recent weeks, Zoom offers small businesses a free version to keep your teams connected. While the free version limits group calls to a maximum duration of 40 minutes, you can have a unlimited 1:1 meeting. You'll also enjoy features like call recording and screen sharing. Before using, be sure to review Zoom’s guidelines for hosting a secure video conference to avoid having unwelcome attendees join your meetings. While Zoom has been in some hot water over this very issue with privacy and unsecured data, it still continues to very popular and they are said to be working out those issues.
The most well-known videoconferencing platform, Skype has everything you need to get your team visually connected. With call recording, file sharing, screen sharing and built-in chat functions, your team can easily connect via group calls with no time limits. A bonus? If your home office isn’t in tip-top shape, Skype has a built-in background blur function to keep the focus on you, not your pile of laundry. Skype is accessible via desktop or mobile app.
(yes, it is still around) Like Zoom and Skype, Google Hangouts offers robust videoconferencing capabilities. At no cost, your team can be up and on video in a matter of minutes, and all it takes is a Google account (you already have one if you have a Gmail email address). To stay in touch throughout the workday, your team can install the Hangouts app from the Chrome Extension Store (Note: You must use the Google Chrome browser) to get alerts for new conversations and meetings. Google Hangouts is accessible via desktop and mobile app. There is also Go To Meeting, WebX and others.
Once you find your perfect videoconferencing match you are good to go but let us look at some other tips that can help as well.
If videoconferencing puts a strain on your at-home internet service, you might discover your colleagues look more pixelated than professional on-screen. If that’s the case, a no-video conference call may be a better solution. These services also can save your productivity bacon if there’s a service outage with your internet provider.
Now that you have the tools to keep your remote team in touch, you’ll need tools to track productivity and keep everyone at home on task. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce offers some simple tips for keeping the work at home teams productive like daily check-ins and a recommended dress code. One of the leading tips for small businesses, however, is to leverage the range of productivity tools designed for small businesses. With built-in tasks, reminders and accountability features, these tools can help empower employees to adapt to remote work and remain productive in their new environments.
Designed to be a simple project management tool, Trello can help small teams track projects (on Boards) and tasks (on Cards). Trello makes it easy to track assignments and keep track of progress in a highly visual, easy-to-read interface. If your business has never used project management software before COVID-19, Trello can quickly get you organized and keep business flowing.
For small businesses with multiple moving parts and clients, Basecamp Business offers a 30-day free trial to help you get up to full speed during your work-from-home stint. With the power to create multiple individual projects for several clients or business segments, Basecamp is designed to help a single business track productivity across multiple projects from a single dashboard.
Box, Dropbox Business and Google Drive.
Remote businesses need collaboration tools, which is where file-sharing comes into play. Box, Dropbox and Google Drive all offer ways to share files with multiple team members without jamming up someone's email inbox with overly large files. Google Drive offers free storage for up to 15 MB of documents. Box offers 100 MB of storage and a 14-day free trial, and Dropbox offers up to 5 TB of storage and a 30-day free trial before you have to choose a paid plan.
DocuSign and HelloSign.
Need customer signatures but stay-at-home orders have your hands tied? Online signature services can get documents out to your customers fast. Both DocuSign and HelloSign offer free 30-day trials before you have to commit to a paid plan.
The above as well as some other out there will help you stay connected and keep previous projects moving. You may, however, want to take a minute to go the extra mile for one of your most valuable company assets: your employees.
Boost Employee Morale
Tips, tricks and tools aside, don’t forget to spend some time during this work-from-home time to nurture your team—even from afar. While you’ll be skipping the cake and candles to celebrate happy occasions, you can take some steps to make sure your team feels connected throughout the week.
Here are three fun ideas to inspire connection while your business adapts to its new work-from-home normal:
If (or when) you find your chosen techniques and tools aren’t working as well as you’d hoped, go back to communication. Ask questions, collaborate with your team and, together, you’ll chart a path forward that keeps you physically apart for as long as necessary but working together in the best ways possible.
Tags: #working from home, #remoteworking, #business, #communications