As the coronavirus pandemic is starting to become a new “normal”, small businesses are learning to adjust and some are even taking steps to open up. While many small business owners are concerned about the long-term implications of the situation, they also feel an immense sense of responsibility for ensuring the safety and wellbeing of their employees.
COVID-19 has compelled us, like many, to react quickly and since the situation is an evolving one, I thought it would be helpful to share some of the steps we took at the beginning, how we are managing, monitoring and tweaking the day-to-day, what strategies we are putting in place for the future and takeaways from each one. I hope this will provide some ideas that you can implement in your business, with the necessary adjustments, of course.
Ensuring our team’s health
This was first and foremost in our minds and as much as it pained us we had to make some hard decisions to assure that our team was as safe as possible. This included cancelling events and activities that we had planned for months, even before the limitations and social distancing policies had been published. We made these decisions with our team’s best interest at heart and it was obvious to us that we couldn’t take any risks.
Each business has their own unique set of circumstances, however putting your employees health at the forefront and adopting the necessary precautions required for your environment will give both you and your employees peace of mind. Your employees will notice your efforts.
Transitioning to work-from-home
We made the decision to move to a WFH environment before any government instructions were published. We came to that decision on a Friday, meaning we left the office on Thursday evening and haven’t come back since. During that weekend, we came up with procedures and decided how to best communicate it to the team at two separate locations. The biggest challenge was the fact that we still had no guidelines, so this was all based on trusting that we know our employees and understand their needs, and the main driving force was, as mentioned before, our employees’ health and well being. So what did we take from all this?
Sometimes you have to work with the information you have, use common sense and establish a flexible infrastructure so you can pivot if needed.
Employee Well Being
From the moment the decision was made to start working from home, our goal was to make sure everyone has whatever they need to be able to create an effective work environment and routine as soon as possible. Some of our employees didnt even have desks/chairs to work on.
For that purpose, Tal, our Office & Employee Experience Manager, created an operation which included keeping in touch with our team, understanding their needs (we sent chairs, desks, cables and even a flamingo shaped pillow…) and communicating the process to them so that they don’t feel left out. Tal found great professionals to work with, so in addition to making sure we kept our team’s equipment safe and delivered it in a timely manner, by doing that we were also able to support some local small businesses, which is, after all, our company’s mission :)
We did an initial round of deliveries at the end of the first week. After a few days passed, we realized that as people settled in, they were better able to assess their needs and make more focused requests. This also validated our suspicion that some of the team may have not felt as comfortable asking for things during our initial reach out. So we organized a second round of deliveries and also kept the door open for ad-hoc requests.
Check in with your employees regularly to assess their work needs - as they become acclimated to this new situation, their requirements change so they may not be able to pinpoint everything all at once. Inform them about their options and that you, as their employer, want to ensure they have everything they need to be productive. Also communicate the process in detail so they know what to expect.
Feeling connected to the FaMelio
FaMelio - a play on words of Family and Melio is a concept that we try to bring to the company everyday. Melio is a family. In that spirit, one of the things we try to do is find excuses to share fun experiences and pictures. At the beginning we organized a shipment of small gifts to our employees and as each got their package, they shared pictures of their families and pets on our company Whatsapp group.
We also make a point of wishing each employee a happy birthday or work anniversary and commemorate special occasions on the company’s channel. We encourage humorous posts, GIFs, family stories and more. As employees begin to feel more comfortable they have also started initiating posts showcasing their work-from-home adventures. Every week we have a company meeting where we not only focus on updates, but also have some sort of extra activity that involves everyone - like a virtual pajama contest. We have game nights where employees play online games together and we are continually thinking of ideas that keep people connected.
People are social creatures, start a channel for employees to share not only work related updates, but personal or fun stuff. You might have to be the initiator at the beginning until your employees feel comfortable, but it will help lift morale and keep them connected to you and each other.
As an HR Manager, my main challenge during this time is reaching all employees. This means knowing what they are going through, if a family member is tested positive for COVID-19, if someone they know is hospitalized, if they are quarantined, if their children are getting on their nerves or if they're just having an off day.
I came up with two main ways to approach that:
First, I created a list of employees and hung it just above my screen. I go over that list every couple of days and make sure I send messages to everyone asking how they are doing. While I obviously remember every single one of our team, this list helps me make sure I don’t miss anyone, but more importantly, it constantly reminds me of who I'm here for…
Second thing I do is talk to the department heads every few days. This way I can get more input from them on their team members’ well being as well as their own.
Keep regular contact with your employees, so you know what they are going through. Whether you put it in your calendar or use some other form of reminder, make sure you have ongoing communication not only on a company level but on a 1 to 1 basis as well.
Cross Site Communication
If you have more than one working site, creating one culture between sites is an ongoing enigma both for HR manager and small business owner, but...I found COVID-19 to have (at least) one positive effect: After we started working from home and we began doing weekly All Hands calls (as opposed to the monthly calls we used to have), and we actually get to see each other on the screen. This creates a better connection between sites than I could have ever hoped for. As I mentioned before we also have game nights, and other cross site activities.
Getting all your employees and sites together on digital media is an opportunity to have everyone see and get to know each other. While it may be a given that in “normal” times people can meet each other in person, many businesses take that for granted and don’t necessarily encourage cross-site meetings, digital can help overcome this challenge.
Onboarding new employees
Onboarding employees during COVID-19 is particularly ambitious. We need to make sure that we choose people who can endure this challenge and become an integral part of the team as soon and as possible. This includes ongoing feedback from hiring managers on needs and capacity, and numerous syncs during the process. Tal, our Office & Employee Experience Manager has had to coordinate shipment of equipment that would have otherwise been placed on their desks for the first day.
If you are in a hiring process, assess if the person can adapt easily to unconventional situations. Work closely with the hiree or their hiring manager to understand their capacity and how they are set up to begin their position. Make sure they have the support and equipment they need to get started - remember they cannot just walk up to the office manager and ask for what is missing. Also implement appropriate training for them so they have insight to the relevant processes.
Choose the technology that is right for your company
For us, Zoom has no doubt “saved the day”. Early on, we made sure all the relevant people have paid zoom accounts. We also use Slack in our day to day communication, helping us coordinate different activities but also as a platform for general discussions - we have channels where we talk about work, and channels that are just for fun - where members of the Famelio can share memes, lunch ideas, WFH hacks and basically anything else. Zoom has worked well for us but each company needs to find which technology works best to help them navigate their operations.
Don't choose a tool based on what others are doing, make sure it is the right one for your company’s specific needs.
Work from home policy
Well...we don’t actually have one. Which says a lot, in my opinion. Before COVID-19 When people needed to work from home, they were just asked to inform us ahead of time and make sure the rest of the team was updated. We trust that the team uses it wisely. That means moving to working from home was not an issue, and other than the first week, which required some logistic adjustments, it was pretty seamless. Working from home affects every employee differently, that’s why as an employer, it’s important to show flexibility and match specific employee needs, as it’s crucial to developing a more productive environment.
Have open conversations with your employees, encourage them to share without intruding on their privacy. Offer a wider range of options for flexibility, such as more leeway when assignments need to be turned in or adjusting work hours per day to allow more time to care for children and others.
If you have moved your team to work at home, show them that you trust them and offer them flexibility to find the most optimal set up for themselves.
While we put a lot of effort into making sure we can effectively work from home, we are continuously planning our back to the office strategy and following the latest instructions to make sure we can bring all team members back to work soon, and continue keeping everyone safe and healthy.
While you are navigating your today with your employees, don’t hesitate to keep your exit strategy at the top of mind as well. Hone the details continually according to official instructions and be fluid enough to make adjustments as needed.
HR also needs someone to talk to
An important part of my success in all the above mentioned is Michal, the HR Manager at our second location. Being able to share this experience with her, knowing that i’m not alone, exchanging tips and concerns has definitely helped, and still helps me get through this challenge.
As a small business owner, don’t be afraid to share your challenges with your peers or other business owners in your community or online. This can not only help you relieve your stress but also give you fresh ideas and perspectives on how to cope.
I hope you found this information helpful. Through the sharing of ideas and insights I believe we can better endure these challenging days.