What a difference a year makes.
Going into Labor Day weekend 2019, many small businesses in South Florida were looking to close out the year strong and budget for a growth year ahead. They were hiring in a tight labor market, with the unemployment rate hovering below 4%, and they were looking to ramp up marketing in 2020. Some were outgrowing their offices.
Offices. Remember those?
A look back at GrowBiz’s posts last year illustrate a different year. There were posts about growth in the manufacturing sector and tips for scaling your small business, revving up your marketing and PR as well as hiring better and training new employees. A sad reality: a couple of small businesses I wrote about last summer and fall are no longer in business.
Now we are heading into Labor Day 2020 and who could have foreseen the ways our businesses would change when COVID-19 spread to our state. While struggling to survive, small businesses have had to take a hard look at cash flow and make sometimes painful cuts. They have used their agility to pivot their business models to better navigate the realities of 2020. Some have added revenue streams while others did 180 degree pivots. In short, many are doing everything they can to not just survive, but thrive again.
And for workers and business owners alike, one of the biggest changes has been a pandemic-induced work-from-home model, and the reality is that at least a partial work-from-home model is here to stay for a long time. Yet many businesses have not changed their playbooks to keep up with the challenges posed by remote work, says a recruiting expert.
“Many companies have addressed this on a month-by-month basis, hoping to return employees to their workplaces as soon as possible. But as is becoming increasingly clear, the virus and its effects are not going away anytime soon, and companies are scrambling to create a vibrant workplace and a positive culture to ensure that remote workers are successful,” said Andrew Challenger, VP of global outplacement and executive and business coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. “Employers need to be creative … Employees are a company’s most valuable asset, and a positive culture is needed to take care of those employees.”
In a Challenger online survey of HR executives in June, a third of them said all of their employees were working from home, while 40% said most or part of their workforce was working remotely. Small business surveys have echoed this trend. So in order to make remote working work, small businesses, like their big business brethren, must build the right culture to boost morale and increase productivity, which leads to increased profitability. What’s more, you want to retain your best employees through this tough period and set yourself up for better days ahead.
As you head into the fall season – and many families are now juggling virtual schooling too – here are a few tips to build a culture that will serve you well in the new normal.
- Offer flexibility. Many workers are juggling so much – talk to them about what is going on in their homes. Offer flexibility with schedules and meetings. For some that may mean shifting some hours to early mornings and late evenings. Emphasize that productivity counts more than adhering to an exact schedule, yet be clear regarding final deadlines.
- Communication is critical. The business owner and/or front-line managers must make sure they are in contact often with their workers to answer questions, understand needs, clarify goals and deadlines, and manage expectations. Set up regular times for one-on-ones as well as team meetings via Zoom. Communicate more often by phone rather than email – it’s more personal. If your team is large enough, distribute a regular survey. Take time during virtual meetings to congratulate strong individual efforts and team successes. Welcome everyone’s feedback.
- Share experiences. Working from home can be isolating and trying. Employees need to feel they are part of a team. Virtual employee gatherings should not only be about business. Team leaders should be creative and encourage people to connect by scheduling trivia nights, coffee gatherings, cocktail chats, or birthday celebrations – and by the way, invite family members to these. Some companies are also allowing the first five minutes or so of a business meeting for some virtual chit-chat as would happen in the office while waiting for everyone to gather.
- Set up mentorships. For some newer or less-experienced employees, or people who struggle with technology, set up a network of employee volunteers who can offer mentoring services. If you do hire while remote, try to pair the new employee with a more experienced co-worker.
- Encourage learning. If you can, allow your employees to take virtual courses or workshops that will improve their skills or teach them more about their industry. These don’t have to cost big bucks or take a lot of time; here are some free offerings. What’s more, industry conferences are often going remote, allowing more people to attend cost-efficiently. They can bring their learnings to the team in a virtual brown bag lunch.
- Encourage cross-training. To facilitate employees fully understanding what others are doing, employers should cross-train their workers. This can lead to improved efficiencies by allowing a fresh set of eyes to assess how work is being accomplished and suggest improvements. It can also open up job opportunities by employees learning skills needed for other positions.
No matter the size of the business, a strong culture can help during these tough times. Like our small businesses, GrowBiz has pivoted too in the last five months. While we have always been about growing your business, we have been offering more stories about how small businesses are adapting and more useful resources, including coverage of COVID relief loans and grants. We’ve added more stories that will hopefully help for the times we’re in now – from cash flow strategies to communication tips to how to manage a remote workforce. You’ll find tips on government contracting because the government is still buying, and a Q&A on franchising because interest is actually up right now. We have pointed you to free and useful webinars, many of them offered by Florida SBDC at FIU.
Below are a few recent Growbiz articles with useful advice for navigating the times we are living in. Find much more on Growbiz.fiu.edu:
Have a safe and relaxing Labor Day weekend, everyone. Thanks for reading.