Small Business Tips: Guide to Working from Home

Social distancing has required millions of people across the world to stay home. As businesses face immediate and unprecedented in-office shutdowns in an attempt to flatten the curve from the coronavirus, they’ve been left scrambling to shift their team to a work-from-home setup.

While having your entire team shift to working from home is a transition, there are steps you can take to make this change quickly and effectively. In this post, we’re going to discuss how you can successfully adapt your business, your team (and your customers) to working from home.

Set Up Your Communication System 

The biggest challenge about working from home will be efficient communication, so you want to have a system in place to keep things flowing right away. This should be your first priority. 

Most teams that benefit from in-person office members will want to rely on immediate, chat-based solutions like Slack or Microsoft Teams. These allow you to have conversation threads with relevant team members that need to see them, and people can read and respond to the messages in real-time. 

The idea is to be able to communicate with your team quickly, preventing employees from working on tasks that need urgent attention from another to have to rely on emails, which may take hours to be seen or responded to. 

You’ll also want to look for a video conferencing solution. Google Hangouts can work, though it can be glitchy for some members. Zoom is a great option that’s also free, and you can also try Skype business accounts. 

You’re also going to want to think about how your customers and potential customers will communicate with you. Are your phones covered? The last thing you want is your customers thinking you shut down your business because your phone is ringing to voicemail. Forward your calls to your personal number in the meantime, or you can set up a live answering service to help offload the ringing phone altogether. 

Create a Standard Operating Procedure 

Once you’ve got your communication channels set up, it’s good to consider your new normal.

If your team was mostly an on-location team and is now purely remote, normal has kind of gone out the window. You can’t see who is physically at their desk and make rounds to see how they’re doing, for example, or have staff see that you’re available with an open office if they need to chat.

Create a standard operating procedure for how you want work from home to go. You may ask that your team checks in for a quick morning call for a brief recap of what they’re working on to ensure everyone is on the same page, or that everyone send you a message on Slack.

You might also make certain individuals on your team more responsible for being a “point person” than they were in the office so that you aren’t slammed with too many phone calls and requests all at once. 

Decide if you want your team to work relatively typical hours, or what sorts of work will wait until they’re back in office if this is a relatively temporary arrangement. 

Adjust Your Expectations

Under normal circumstances, you may not have to make many adjustments for work-from-home team members outside of asking that someone calls into a meeting instead of walking into a conference room.

It’s worth pointing out that right now, circumstances are different. Not only are employees thrust into working from home for the first time when they may not have otherwise made that choice, but they may also be doing so with a roommate, spouse, or children that are all now desperate for entertainment.

Be patient, particularly for those with young and school-aged children who need significant oversight, or for those taking care of a sick family member. You may want to let your team work more flexible hours, knocking out tasks after their kids are in bed. Or, you may need to accept that even using Slack, it takes a few minutes to get a response.

Again, while people are in self-isolation or under stay-at-home orders, hang in there, and consider what reasonable accommodations you can make. Expect productivity to drop, especially at first, and prioritize mission-critical tasks. You can give employees lists of what they should be accomplished daily or weekly if needed. 

Communicate With Your Customers

Just because you’re not in the office anymore doesn’t mean you have to stop providing great service to your customers. It also doesn’t mean that your business has to slow down. Even with social distancing in place, you can still delight your customers, and in some ways, even more so.

Communicate changes to your customers such as hours, service offerings, special deals or discounts. For example, let them know if they should expect longer service times and they’ll likely be understanding about it.

You can even post helpful tips like ways to use extra time during quarantine or your limited-time promotion. Post on your social media profiles and within any local groups, you’re a part of. 

Update your customer base regularly, let them know we’re all in this together. Great communication during times of uncertainty can serve as a fantastic long-term relationship builder between your business and customer base.

Remote work is an incredible asset and it’s beneficial to many companies. Most of those companies, however, have plenty of time to shift to a fully- or partially-remote system long in advance, however. It is more challenging when you have teams and employees who may not have ever intended on-going remote to suddenly be forced to change directions with extremely little notice.

The good news is that working from home is definitely possible for a large number of office jobs. If TV anchors are able to deliver the news from their homes on Skype, trust us when we say your office can tackle the challenge, too!

Be aware of what these changes will require, and get ready to be adaptable; this is unprecedented for everyone right now, so a little trial and error might take some time. That’s okay; this is one time where we can all afford to be a little more patient.

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