COVID-19 has caused unprecedented disruption to many Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs) and large businesses across the world. In a bid to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, many governments globally have mandated the practice of social distancing.
Resultantly, remote working has become the new norm. While it might be easier for sizable businesses to weather the storm and adjust to the changed mode of working, SMBs are at the worse end of the curve — primarily due to the unpreparedness.
The world — and business — has never seen anything like the COVID-19 virus. Yet, we need not despair — it’s not too late for SMBs. You can not only survive — but thrive in such uncertain times. Here is a 3-step guide that is simple yet effective for SMBs to ensure business continuity.
1. SMBs need proper Infrastructure
Infrastructure is the first thing that leaders and managers need to address to get their employees ready. Likewise is the case for SMBs. Given below are specific infrastructure requirements that must be put in place in specific situations:
Situation 1 – Remote working already implemented.
- Equitable and thorough distribution of work is necessary. Employees with access to laptops and mobile devices should not be unfairly overburdened with work.
- Employees with laptops must be able to dial into their organizations easily
Situation 2 – Remote working yet to be implemented.
- SMBs must make sure that they provide functional laptops and mobile devices to employees who do not have their own.
Soft Infrastructure – Common to Situation 1 and 2
Technology has an indispensable role to play in the successful execution of remote working. Hence, based on the specific needs and requirements, all SMBs must encourage the use of such tools.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) meeting tools such as FreJun that enable teams to have effective conference calls and provide detailed meeting minutes
- Messaging tools such as Slack
- Project management tools like Asana to help achieve team outcomes
- Apps such as Trello to help organize data
Every SMB must understand that putting the infrastructure in place is just the first part. What is more important is preparing the employees to smartly and effectively use this infrastructure towards efficient delivery of end goals.
Listed below are 5-must do things to leverage infrastructure most productively.
- Figure out the preferred mode of communication, be it video, phone, or any other messaging platform.
- Use platforms that all employees are familiar with or are easy to access even for first-time users.
- Invest smartly – Nothing comes for free, and good things bear a price. While it is understandable that managing finances is tight in times of this pandemic, SMBs must make smart investments in soft infrastructure. SMBs must consider buying premium subscriptions of software as additional features will only help improve the work experience.
- Keep backup plans ready for any contingencies that might arise due to failure of infrastructure at an/any employee(s) end.
- Gather feedback – SMBs must proactively take feedback from employees about the infrastructure provided to them so that necessary amendments can be made promptly.
2. Ensure Effective Communication
The key to achieving success while working from home lies in effective communication. Communication can be of two types: Internal and External.
i. Internal Communication
Communication can prove to be one of the most critical factors in determining the success of a remote team. When information is not appropriately dispersed, there will be confusion among team members regarding accountability and collaboration. Hence, effective communication between all teammates is an absolute necessity to foster effective coordination of efforts, fix responsibility, and achieve desired end goals. Following are some quick tips to overcome internal communication barriers in remote teams:
- Plan and communicate workflow – All managers must plan the workflow well in advance and communicate the same to their team members in a time-bound manner. Managers must prioritize the projects which need immediate delivery and accordingly schedule time slots for the responsible team members.
- Follow up on the progress – Any activity is as good as not done, if not followed up promptly. Hence, managers must follow up with their team members regularly to ensure timely completion of critical tasks.
- Conduct periodic meetings – Managers must interact with their team members regularly. This will help employees to remain motivated and connected to the organization. Further, this will also provide a platform to the team members as well as the managers to address concerns, if any, whether on the work or personal front.In a recent Q&A session,Tsedal Neeley, a professor at Harvard Business School, stated that – Managers need to communicate what’s happening at the organizational level because when employees are at home, they feel like they’ve been extracted from the mothership. They wonder what’s happening at the company, with clients, and with common objectives. The communication around those is vital.
ii. External Communication
What is an SMB working for even in the times of the virus outbreak? Clients. Any SMB will be committing its biggest blunder if it fails to deploy effective external communication chains. Here again, the nature of external communication will be with two types of parties:
- Clients – In the times of a global pandemic, when the number of physical interactions has dropped significantly, every business is encountered with the most pertinent question – How to have business calls and conversations that are as productive as face-to-face meetings? It is in times of such crisis that one realizes the need for remote working video calling/meeting assistant tools. There is a rise in virtual sales calls and client engagements. More than ever before, it is now when SMBs must use visual media to stay connected with their clients.
- Vendors – In today’s reality, no business works in isolation. Every business and more so, SMBs are dependent on other vendors/businesses for supplies of goods or services, depending upon the nature of business. SMBs must maintain an uninterrupted and smooth flow of information with their vendors so that the final output can be delivered to the clients as per the pre-decided timelines. SMBs must communicate their requirements to the vendors/suppliers well in advance, which will also allow them the time to conduct operations at their end.
3. Ensure Mental and Emotional Stability
This is probably the most crucial thing required at such turbulent and stressful times. SMBs must understand that these are unprecedented and testing times that no one was prepared for. Lack of mental and emotional stability among the leaders, managers, and employees will lead to a systemic failure at the SMB, irrespective of whether infrastructure and communication are in place or not. How can SMBs practice and propel mental and emotional stability?
- Talk to the employees. Try and understand if there is anything that is troubling them.
- Encourage employees to develop rituals and have a disciplined way of managing the day.
- Do not rush. Give time to employees to adjust to the new regime.
- Arrange casual catch up sessions. Fix up a day in the week and have a general chit chat session with the employees. That will help them stay connected and avoid burnout and loneliness.
Times are tough. But who said life is not challenging? No business is successful if it doesn’t have to go through the headwinds of unprecedented challenges. Hence, SMBs must take this as an opportunity to learn.
It is a time for SMBs to experiment and adapt to virtual work. No one has to adopt this new format of work permanently, but this experience will expand everyone’s capacity. The only light at the end of the tunnel is that these times will help SMBs to not only survive the mess but develop critical skills that could be helpful in the future.