It sounds simple enough for business owners to send staff home for a few weeks when there is a national state of emergency in response to a highly contagious pandemic. Beyond typical business worries like maintaining cash flow and customer commitments, a top concern of any owner is the safety and well-being of their staff.
However, many small business owners have not performed some due diligence that will ensure their telecommuting policies are ready for such a significant shift for their workers. Here are some exercises to ensure your policies are remote-ready:
1. Who are essential vs. non-essential personnel?
Some of your staff might have to come into the office each day in order for your business to continue to meet your obligations to your customers. Essential personnel are expected to report to work as scheduled unless otherwise notified. Do any of your staff meet the criteria of essential personnel, and have you communicated that to them already and set expectations accordingly?
2. Have you provided your staff a way to securely connect to your network resources from home?
Most businesses have provisioned VPN access and laptops to some people who travel or work on tight deadlines. But do all your staff have VPN access, sufficient computer resources (company laptop, docking station, secondary monitor), and high-speed internet from home that will enable them to readily work from home? Have you tested this with your company yet to confirm everyone has what they need?
3. Do you use modern collaboration tools?
Do you still only have your files on a local server at your office? A pandemic situation that could go on for weeks could make working on files stored inside your local office network challenging for your staff. Consider whether it’s time to transition to robust tools, like OneDrive for Business, that allow real-time collaboration and automatic version control from any computer. Make sure you give everyone on your team access to screen-sharing tools like Microsoft Teams, Slack, GoToMeeting, or LogMeIn.
4. Have you established clear work times and telecommuting policies?
It’s important to try to have everyone work defined days and be online around the same time to closely simulate everyone working in the office together. Consider having your team perform virtual stand-up meetings, at the start and end of the day, to check in on each other and stay on task.
5. Have you considered the additional stresses and challenges that telecommuting creates?
The fun of working from home and avoiding the commute will wear off quickly as your team discovers how many things that used to be easy in the office are far more difficult when everyone isn’t in the same place. Any change or transition comes with challenges, and the mental well-being of your staff could really suffer during this time. Be sure to check in with everyone far more often than you normally would, and try to offer or reinforce EAP or similar services to your staff who might be having additional worries and concerns during this trying time.
There are many things that a business owner should focus on while the majority of the staff works remotely for an indeterminant period of time. Always prioritize the safety of your staff, ensuring they can do their work as smoothly as possible. There will be setbacks and problems, but your job as the owner is to serve your team and ensure they have what they need to succeed: physically, digitally, and emotionally.