When COVID-19 first became a buzzword and governments first started shutting down businesses, everyone talked about how much time they would save by working from home – without a daily commute or constant interruptions by co-workers.
And it’s true, employees and business owners alike are finding more hours in the day since telework and down-to-business virtual meetings have become the norm.
But instead of filling our found time with cooking lessons or family game nights, we're simply doing more work. A study from Stanford University revealed that employees spend more than a third of their former commuting time on their primary jobs.
Perhaps your business (and your employees) could benefit from being productive in ways that are not as routine as cramming more work into an already busy day. Here are 10 ways businesses can make the best use of their downtime during the pandemic:
Follow the lead of incoming U.S. presidents, and spend some time planning the first 100 days of the new year. Choose a set of reasonable, doable goals. Create action items, deadlines and rewards for achieving them. Focus on what your business and employees could do differently or could add or improve rather than doing more of what they have always done.
Involve your employees in the planning, and you could reap some out-of-the-box ideas that only those on the front lines could have come up with.
It used to be that employers would pack up the executive staff once or twice a year and shuttle them off to a remote location – perhaps in the mountains as the leaves were turning or on the beach when it was just a bit too chilly to be tempted by the sand and surf. There, they would strategize, brainstorm and refresh without the day-to-day distractions of a busy office.
These days, everyone is working remotely, and those traditional, in-person meetings have become futuristic. Why not enlist the help of a focus group leader to get the team together virtually and focus on planning, innovating, and making changes?
Even if your business relies on a cleaning service, some parts of the office never seem clean. Maybe certain equipment is too sensitive for ordinary cleaning products or some files are too private for the housekeeping staff to see.
Now that you have the time (and only your essential staff is physically at work), declare a day of spring cleaning. Pick up papers, shred the ones that aren't needed, clean the equipment, rearrange the furniture, fix whatever is broken.
Give your remote employees the day off to clean their home office stations as well. They probably set them up in a hurry – forced telework came as something of a surprise, after all. They could probably use some free time to organize, set up files, order missing equipment, and figure out a way to have quiet and privacy while working in a houseful of other teleworkers and remote learners.
What do you have the time to do now that you were putting off until you found the time? This is your opportunity.
Are you using outdated sales management software because you haven't gotten around to doing the research and placing the order? Order an upgrade and the training sessions that come with it now that you have some free time. Is your staff working on outdated desktop computers? Negotiate a good deal for state-of-the-art ones with your tech vendor.
Spending time now on building more efficiencies into your business can save time later when everyone gets back to the office.
You probably send your sales staff out to training sessions every so often to help keep them motivated and their skills up to date. But have you ever considered sending your entire staff to sales training?
The fact is that every job is a sales job, even though not every employee is called a salesperson. Consider the sales value of a receptionist who is courteous to clients and visitors, or of a help desk troubleshooter (or repair shop tech) who finishes every client job with the question, "What other repairs can we schedule for you?"
If you teach sales strategies to your non-sales employees, they are more likely to recognize – and act on – an opportunity to sell when it's right in front of them. And they will feel empowered and prepared to grab that opportunity and make the sale, or at least get the potential customer in front of someone who can.
Telecommuters put in fewer hours of hard work most days than employees who spend their days in a workspace outside of their homes, according to a Wall Street Journal report. But instead of pressuring them to hunker down, business owners might encourage them to embrace their downtime – to the point of doing nothing, at least in small doses.
It turns out that boredom is good for innovation. In a 2017 TED Talk, speaker and podcast host Manoush Zomorodi revealed that a bored brain often defaults to creative problem-solving.
Ask employees to jot down the ideas they come up with when they daydream or space out for a while during the workday. It could lead to innovative ideas that will save (or make) your company some money.
What have you always wanted to learn about but never got around to it? Do you lack a particular skill that you believe would make you a more successful entrepreneur or bring more money into your business?
Taking college classes, earning a certification, and attending industry conferences takes much less time and money than it used to now that those educational opportunities are online. You can skip the travel time and hotel bills and simply tune in while sitting at your kitchen table, or in your empty storefront.
Offering employees the opportunity and paying for them to brush up on skills and learn new ones can get their creative juices flowing, and it can bring unlimited new ideas and enthusiasm into your workplace.
In the rush of business, business owners may not pay as much attention to cash flow as they should. Make a point of devoting some of your downtime to scouring your books.
If your business has taken a hit, a long, hard look at the books can help you discover where you can cut spending and what marginally profitable products or services you can cut loose. You might also get a glimpse at revenue trends that you never noticed before but that you might be able to capitalize on in the future.
Becoming hyperaware of every dollar in and dollar out also could help you create a realistic budget for the lean times. And it could make you more confident about moving forward because you understand exactly what you can – and should – spend.
Products, services and businesses always have a brand, something customers and the public know them by, like their logo and their reputation for customer service. The business owner, as an individual, needs a brand as well.
What's your personal brand? Don't answer that. Instead, ask your customers, vendors and employees to answer it for you.
We often believe we give one impression when we actually give another. We try to personify a brand that doesn't suit us. If you're a shy person, but you want your brand to be viewed as outgoing, confident and in charge, you'll have a hard time pulling that off. If you're a formal, by-the-book kind of business owner, but you want people to see you as casual, flexible, and easygoing, that’s not sustainable.
Spend some of your downtime taking a realistic look at your strengths. Then, leverage them into a brand that you can wear effortlessly, consistently and proudly.
The last thing your regular customers will expect when they're not ordering from your business or coming around to see you is a friendly phone call. Surprise them by reaching out just to say hi.
If their businesses are sluggish, too, they might not be in a position to buy anything from you. Don't make this an overt sales call. Instead, just tell customers you're checking in to ask if they're OK and to shoot the breeze.
People can get lonely when they're working from home all day or spending time at their empty offices and storefronts. A call from someone from the same industry who understands the business and is largely in the same circumstance financially and saleswise is likely to be a very welcome gesture.
Touching base with your customers when they're not in a position to buy is not just kind and friendly. It's a gesture that could translate into customer loyalty, gratitude and future sales.
No company owner wants business to be slow. But when it is, you can make the most of it by making your downtime productive, planning for the future and being creative in a way that you and your staff rarely have the time to do.