The coronavirus pandemic has suddenly disrupted the way most companies work. We already live in an incredibly digital world, and some companies already have remote staff and offer digital products and services. Unfortunately, many other companies are having to play catch-up, fast. Some businesses are simply not set up to operate remotely, yet countless have had no choice but to adapt during recent weeks. For small businesses who have never run remotely before, or who aren’t used to running operations entirely online, there are a lot of adjustments to make. Whether you’re used to operating remotely or this is all new to you, consider these five rules for running your business remotely during COVID-19.
1. Build your toolbox
You may not be needing as many paper clips as you did before, but you’ll still need to get your hands on some valuable office supplies. This time, they’ll be digital though. There are plenty of options out there for file sharing, hosting video meetings, and creating custom chat threads to help your team work efficiently. And the best part is, some of these platforms are free to use or are being offered for free during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, WeChat, and Slack all offer text or video chat based communication programs that are currently free. While large corporations will likely need to pay for any project management software they use, smaller businesses with close knit teams can often use tools like Asana, Teamwork, and Project.co for free.
2. Master proper digital etiquette
A 2019 survey from Messenger found that 75% of respondents felt that a certain digital etiquette is generally expected when it comes to business. In personal circumstances, emails and texts can have a casual tone, but in a business setting it may be more acceptable for your communications to be professional and respectful at all times. The following etiquette rules are worth following if you don’t want to ruffle any feathers from afar.
Don’t leave anyone hanging. The ease of digital communication can add unnecessary pressure to respond quickly, but you don’t have to respond as soon as you get a message. If you know it will take a while for you to respond to a message in full, sending a quick heads up to acknowledge that you received the message and will get back to the sender will go a long way. If you need a break from checking email, texts, or instant messages, let your colleagues know that you’ll be taking some heads down time and won’t be responding for a set period of time.
Don’t be a multi-messenger. Cut your colleagues some slack during this hectic time and try not to message them repeatedly if you don’t hear back from them right away. Ideally, you should be messaging as little as possible to get your point across. 37% of the survey respondents deemed it bad etiquette to over-reply to digital messages.
Read the room. In this case, you’ll need to read the chat room. Before you suggest a video chat meeting or keep things friendly with texts, make sure you carefully consider who you’re communicating with. While texting is suitable for reaching out to a teammate, most clients would probably prefer a call. Proceed with caution when using massive communication channels with messaging threads that all of your coworkers can view. Before adding a comment to a thread, double check that you’re chatting with the person you think you are. The same goes for large group threads. Confirm that the person you actually want to address is in the group and that your message is appropriate to be seen by multiple people.
3. Face tough talks head-on
In these challenging times, there is no shortage of difficult conversations to have, and business owners and managers have no choice but to face them. One of the most professional and respectful ways to have sensitive discussions (such as HR or client related matters) is through a phone call or a video chat when appropriate. While working remotely may not enable you to let an employee go or tell a longstanding client you’re canceling an important order face-to-face, you can call them. A call can feel more respectful than receiving an email or instant message. It will also give you a chance to have an interactive conversation and potentially come to an amicable solution.
4. Set solid expectations
If you’re running a business remotely for the first time, it will be important to agree on clear expectations with both your employees and clients. First, what goals or key performance indicators do you expect your team to meet while they are working from home? Are there set hours they need to be online? Are there certain tasks that must get done and others that they can pause right now? Do you need your employees to check in with you every day or once a week? On the flip side, you also need to help meet your employee’s expectations regarding work life balance, job security, and salary. Have open and honest conversations with your team about what they can expect from you as a business owner or a manager for the time being.
Similarly, you should set some expectations for your customers or clients. If your customer support staff is fielding more calls than usual, let customers know they may experience longer wait times than usual. If their shipment of goods is going to experience a delay, let them know that at the time of ordering or as soon as you become aware of any imminent challenges. People mostly understand they cannot expect business as usual right now and the best way to keep everyone calm is by communicating clearly.
5. Be compassionate
Ideally, you are always managing your team and running your business with compassion in mind, but during these times it is even more important to be flexible and thoughtful. If you know your workers have children at home right now, you may want to consider their surroundings and offer them scheduling options before asking them to hop on a video chat at a moment’s notice. If a colleague is caring for a sick relative, you may also offer to extend their deadlines. If a client can’t pay their bill in full right now, try to work out a payment plan. Everyone is feeling strained and stressed during this pandemic, but your business can run smoother if you take time to lead with compassion.
Hopefully these recommendations will make the transition to remote operations during COVID-19 precautions easier for your employees, you customers, and yourself.