Shifting to a remote work model is challenging, but it offers an opportunity to continue operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here's how to make it work for your business.
The rapid spread of COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, has required dramatic shifts in the way businesses operate each day. Many have limited operations or suspended them entirely for the duration of the crisis. However, others have transitioned to a work-from-home model, with many employees shifting to remote work.
For these businesses and their employees, work from home has been a saving grace; although the crisis has already exacted an economic toll, for the moment, these businesses continue to drive revenue and pay their workers.
However, remote work in a time of crisis carries unique challenges tied to productivity and management. Further, staying in touch with your employees and customers alike when your physical location has been shuttered can be an immense challenge.
To help you address these concerns as you continue to weather the coronavirus pandemic, business.com reached out to our expert community members to discuss how entrepreneurs should approach productivity, remote work, communication and marketing in this difficult time.
Work from home during COVID-19
While many businesses have been forced to close their doors, many have been able to sustain operations by shifting to a fully remote work model. Unfortunately, drastic changes to working arrangements often lead to concerns around maintaining productivity and meeting job requirements. In a time where employee morale is likely to suffer due to mounting public concern, it is incumbent upon managers to reassure and support their workforce while promoting a healthy work-life balance.
Here's what business.com's experts had to say about remote jobs and productivity during the coronavirus outbreak.
Q: How can businesses remain operational if they have been forced to close their physical locations?
A: "First and foremost, a website is an amazing tool for communication, and letting people know the status of your business is really helpful … Websites can also support sales in a number of ways, and e-commerce does not have to be limited to products. For instance, maybe your operations are suspended, but you decide to offer gift certificates [or] vouchers at a discount that people can use at a later date. You might also presell products and services to allow customers to be first in line when operations resume." – Nicole Krug, founder and digital strategist at Social Light
A: "Businesses can offer the same services online as they did in-person, if possible, either through phone or video conferencing. Businesses can also email clients with a merchandise selection carefully tailored to them, and offer contactless delivery and free shipping. Facebook Live or Instagram Story videos can show merchandise that clients can then contact the business to buy." – Lani Inlander, owner and chief stylist at Real Life Style
Q: How should small business owners ensure productivity when allowing employees to work from home?
A: "Don't be nervous about having employees work from home during the COVID-19 outbreak. Working from home leads to a 13% performance increase on average, and there are other working-from-home productivity statistics I've outlined that should quell any anxiety about losing productivity from your workforce while they work from home. It's going to be OK!" – Jayson DeMers, CEO at EmailAnalytics
A: "Set them up for success. Establish clear guidelines, expectations and a communication cadence. Provide team members with the metrics and KPIs which they will be measured by, and make it easy for them to keep track of. When moving to a remote environment, team members must know how they will be measured. This will eliminate unnecessary uncertainty in their daily work." – Lil Roberts, founder and CEO at Xendoo
Q: How does the COVID-19 crisis impact the future of remote work?
A: "Based on how the crisis carries out, workers who prefer an in-office environment will need to adjust to remote work. This will leave opportunity for new innovations to help bring those professions remote, as we've seen done with other industries that are already well operating in a remote environment. We may also see an overall drop in interpersonal communication skills. As we've seen with the rise of social media, the younger generation is reliant on texting and nonverbal communications. On a professional level, managers and teams will need to have a heightened awareness on maintaining strong interpersonal relationships." – Lil Roberts, founder and CEO at Xendoo
A: "I think businesses will realize that remote work can and should be a part of every employees' work plan now that they have been forced to get over any technical or mindset hurdles. This will lead to more flexibility for working parents, a softer footprint on the environment, and in the end, lead to higher employee satisfaction and retention." – Lani Inlander, owner and chief stylist at Real Life tyle
Naturally, staying in regular communication with both employees and customers is crucial. During a crisis, it can be easy for information silos to form, but regular communication guarantees everyone remains on the same page. Remember to update your employees and your customers every step of the way. Our experts advise entrepreneurs to err on the side of over-communication as a way to reassure and support customers and employees alike.
Q: How should small business owners communicate with their employees throughout the coronavirus crisis?
A: "These are scary times. It is important that clear communication is being delivered to your employees ... Providing clarity on expectations for employees will help retain trust in these trying times. There is a lot of change going on in everyone's day to day right now; your business shouldn't be added to the list of things to worry about." – Adem Selita, CEO of The Debt Relief Company.
A: "As an employer, you already know that your employees are your biggest asset, and you should treat them as such! Maintain consistent communication, and be clear and transparent. This could be in the form of staffwide emails, conference calls or messages on a platform like Slack. You should communicate to them the current state of business and what it means for them. Reassure them that you are keeping up with COVID-19 developments and will keep them updated of any changes with the business. At the end of each call or email, you should direct employees to the CDC or WHO websites for medical inquiries; let them know that you are happy to answer any questions they have about the business, and remind them that their well-being and the well-being of their families are a priority. " – Ebony Brown, freelance communications specialist at E. Brown Consulting.
A: "Communicate. The best thing to do to ensure long-term success is constant communication. Teams that are moving remote need to have a set plan in place, including how they will meet, how they will communicate issues, how they will prioritize, etc. This should be built for immediate needs and also flushed out for the long term." – Lil Roberts, founder and CEO at Xendo.
Q: How should small business owners stay in touch with their customers, especially if they have been forced to close indefinitely?
A: "We are personally reaching out to our clients to assist whenever possible and sending out educational resources to aid them in these trying times. In situations like this, the little things can have a significant impact on retaining client relationships, even if it's something as simple as a quick phone call or text message." – Adem Selita, CEO of The Debt Relief Company.
A: "Consumers are hungry for information and a status update about what they can expect from you. While email communications can help, if someone wants information immediately, they'll likely visit your website. It's important to not only have control of your website and know how to update it, but to keep information flowing." – Nicole Krug, founder and digital strategist at Social Light.
A: "Businesses should continue their regular email and social media marketing, although it should reflect the current reality. You need to stay top of mind to your customers by figuring out how you can still serve him/her even if your business is closed. Keep sending out newsletters and posting on social media, letting your customers know you are still there, and that you care about them." – Lani Inlander, owner and chief stylist at Real Life Style
Q: How can businesses use their marketing channels to offer support without appearing like they are trying to take advantage of a crisis?
A: "Right now people are desperate for information and there doesn't seem to be a lot of it, largely because no one knows if this will last a couple of weeks or the rest of the year. This uncertainty is creating panic, so anything you can do to help people feel in control will help. Think about what you know and how that information might help people, then use your website or social media channels to share that knowledge … The real key is to be helpful. Even if you are doing things under the guise of business development, when you help people, they remember you. That may pay off now or later." – Nicole Krug, founder and digital strategist at Social Light.
Q: How can a brick-and-mortar business take advantage of digital properties and tools, even if most of their business hasn't been done online previously?
A: "When you think about the fact that people are going to be stuck in their homes and the internet will be the main source of external contact, it actually creates a big opportunity. Yes, right now there's a lot of panic, but soon enough, you'll have a lot of bored people looking for ways to pass the time … It's actually not terribly hard to set up e-commerce sales, but if that's not something you want to mess with, it may be advantageous to encourage people to call to order products from your videos. When you have a person on the phone, you upsell things to go with whatever they're interested in. That not only brings in more revenue but creates an awesome, personalized experience that people will remember you for. – Nicole Krug, founder and digital strategist at Social Light.
Communication and collaboration are needed on all fronts
Staying in regular contact with your customers and employees – even if digital channels weren't your primary means of communication before – will help keep employee morale and customer engagement high. Especially in a difficult time like the coronavirus crisis, sticking together is what keeps communities strong. For the community of employees, customers and suppliers your business has cultivated, the same is true. By using all the tools at your disposal – your website, social media, email, live chats and collaboration tools – you can ensure that community doesn't fall by the wayside. By offering your support to one another, not only do you help your business, but you help your community as well.