The global coronavirus pandemic is unlike anything we’ve experienced in recent times and is likely to leave a world fundamentally different to the one that we knew before. As we enter uncertain times, it is important that businesses unite to minimise the human and economic effects that this deadly disease will have. The long lasting effect can be minimised the faster we act to contain this pandemic, which will lead to a quicker return of consumer confidence.
By being proactive we can all contribute to the collective safety and welfare of our employees, ensuring that we do our utmost to stem the spread of this virus and protect our communities. You can read the advice from the World Health Organization, but hopefully you are already putting their advice into practice – hand washing, social distancing and avoiding touching your face.
Last week the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) published a report on how behavioural science can be used to fight the coronavirus. Some of their recommendations for dealing with self-isolation are staying in contact with others and keeping up a routine. As businesses, we are well placed to provide support to employees, keeping everyone productive and maintaining collaboration, even though work dynamics might have completely shifted for your business. Looking at how our own business has been affected we thought we might share some of the practices we’ve put in place and resources we’re relying on to support employees, the business, and keep things ticking over during this difficult time. There’s no point in sugar coating how difficult things have become in the last week, particularly for small businesses, especially those that are public facing, but hopefully we can provide you with some useful and practical ideas to keep soldiering on.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Working in a sector that facilitates and promotes communication we know how important this is. In this current climate, good communication has taken on an all too serious note, and is more important than ever. In your business you need to keep all your stakeholders up to date – your team, your customers, your network, your suppliers. By being informative, calm and confident you can help avoid panic.
We are all being subjected to a lot of misinformation, and over the past week it has sometimes, if not often, been difficult not to feel anxious or confused. As business owners, managers and team leaders we have a responsibility to minimise the damage this does, mitigating fears though good, informative and reassuring communication. To implement this, and because we suddenly have so many remote workers at Smarter Surfaces, we have a remote daily morning huddle so everyone gets direction on the rest of the day and how we are handling these unique times. It sounds simple. It is simple. And it’s also effective.
Many businesses that can, have been thrown into allowing employees to work from home, and, it seems, most of these businesses are coping well with this changed dynamic. If you haven’t allowed your employees, but can, there’s really no reason not to; your business will continue to function and your employees will respect you for putting their safety first. There are many articles covering this topic. If you need a bit more convincing here’s a great Trello guide covering all the benefits, considerations, and best practices of remote working.
As mentioned, a considerable amount of our office is now working remotely and helping each of our employees build a daily routine has benefited them greatly. Make sure they are getting out for some social distant fresh air! When thrown into this unanticipated remote working scenario, there can be a tendency for employees to prove they’re working. This may lead to sacrificing breaks and working right through the day, which isn’t good for productivity, so you need to ensure they know it’s okay to take breaks.
Review Internal Processes
Some of the issues we face with remote working can be down to not having the right processes in place. This might be a good time to look at other areas of the business where your approach might be outdated or misguided. With employees having more capacity, you can use this time to identify not only problems but also solutions and put new processes in place so you’re more efficient when you return. If you’re looking for a step by step guide, this ProofHub post is a great place to start.
Similar to reviewing your processes, you may have internal systems or physical apparatus needing maintenance which you postponed due to potential disruption. With the external disruption we are now facing, it might be a practical time to carry out any maintenance that you were intending.
Think About Diversifying
As business owners, this crisis has pushed us into survival mode, thinking of any way we can to keep our staff, suppliers, and businesses going. Looking at how we can diversify the business can throw up opportunities that can at least sustain the business during this time of turmoil.
In a Financial Times article on this point, Brendan Greeley writes about a Seattle bakery owner specialising in pastry, having to put her “15 contract workers on standby, but still has 53 people working in her bakeries, including all of her full-time employees. In addition to converting to bread baking, she has shifted her catering staff and food truck into a delivery service, and will soon be able to take online orders directly from her website.”
We have to think about how we adapt to survive the coming weeks in ways that we might never have directed the business, like the pastry baker shifting to bread, directly delivered to the door. This kind of change might not be an available shift for your business, but there are other ways to diversify. This might involve partnering with another business where you mutually complement one another. People are going to be stuck in isolation, so look at how your business can adapt to this change and deliver a positive impact to them. At the very least your business might need to overcome the challenges of social distancing – an Irish burger restaurant came up with a quick and clever solution to stay open and keep their customers and staff safe.
Look Out for Other Business Owners
According to Professor Pete Lunn, Head of the Behavioural Research Unit at ESRI, “some of the most important findings concern collective action – we are all in this together… The evidence shows that public-spirited behaviour is much more likely when there is frequent communication of how we can best help each other and strong group identity, not only nationally but also in smaller groups like workplaces, schools and local communities.”
The current environment is difficult for everyone, but we don’t know to what degree this is impacting business owners on an individual level. Reach out to your network. Share anything that you might have put into practice that’s keeping the business going, and keeping staff motivated. This is a completely abnormal situation and it’s vital that as many businesses make it through as possible, so a recovery can be more immediate.
If you know of businesses that are in distress, or if your business is struggling, consider setting up a local group on LinkedIn or Facebook so there’s a support network to fall back on.
Health and Welfare
With so many people depending on business owners, managers and team leaders, it can be hard to deal with the extra pressure of this responsibility, and it’s likely to take a greater effect on your mental and physical health. However, this added pressure can apply to anyone – we are all experiencing this increased pressure knowing loved ones who may be a higher risk to this virus. We all need to ensure we do something everyday that takes our mind off things. We’ve listed a few of our favourites below:
- Don’t read the news – some members of our team have deleted certain apps for a few days just so they won’t check them
- Go for a walk, run, cycle or sea swim, but keep your distance – you may not be able to go to the gym anymore but there are plenty of home exercises you can do
- Relax with some yoga or meditation – some people in the office have been using Headspace
- Get the cards and board games out
- Watch some lighthearted movies or tv, but try to do something active rather than spending the whole day in front of a screen
Prepare to Return to Your Office
Our thinking on this has been twofold. We need to be prepared to return to the office so the transition back is well managed, but for many businesses that have had to quickly implement remote working this should be a slightly easier task to take control of.
But it’s our mindset to get back to the office that is far more important to us. There are far worse off businesses out there, but even for the worst off, let your staff know that everything you are working on is towards returning to the office. This can offer some assurance to your staff. Negativity is going to surround us, but we have to work towards a positive goal.
This is really all about keeping the business going, but when you start to talk about business survival it can become a bit negative, so we decided to make the focus about preparing to return to the office so that we could maintain a positive outlook. It also has us thinking about ways we can make sure there’s an office to return to with all staff thinking about diversifying our business to keep going.
Invest in Employee Development
With greater periods of downtime your staff may be more likely to sit idle. This could be a time to encourage them to develop their knowledge and skillset, so they were able to use this interval for something positive for themselves and the business.
LinkedIn Learning has made some courses free, including tips on how to: stay productive, build relationships when you’re not face-to-face, use virtual meeting tools (Microsoft Teams, Skype, BlueJeans, Cisco Webex and Zoom), and balance family and work dynamics in a healthy way. These might be a good place to start for the current environment, while you may want to move on to ones closer to your area afterwards.
Cambridge University Press is making higher education textbooks in HTML format free to access online during the coronavirus outbreak. Free access is available until the end of May 2020.
We Need to Stay Positive
This is a very tough period we are entering but we are seeing an unprecedented instance of people uniting for a common goal. As businesses, we need to look at how we can help each other so we all hopefully return to the office, even if employers allow just a little more remote working in the future. At Smarter Surfaces, our mission is to promote collaboration, teamwork and productivity – more so than ever, we hope businesses can promote this between one another, because we are all in this together.