The demand for remote collaboration has seen a huge surge over the years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated those needs for business of all shapes and sizes.
However, this change can be hugely challenging for small businesses. As the global pandemic has forced us to work remotely, smaller businesses can often struggle to quickly pivot and provide the necessary systems and tools for their employees.
Some of this comes down to limited resources; for instance, a recent study by IDG in association with Dell found that only one in three EMEA-based small businesses thought their budget would be able to fund most of their IT needs. Such budgetary constraints can impact how and when small businesses invest in new laptops, collaboration software, IT infrastructure and more besides.
Another challenge for small businesses is mastering how to manage staff remotely while they work from home – especially if these employees are doing it for the first time. Common difficulties can include the lack of face-to-face supervision, home distractions, inadequate technology provisions or Internet connectivity.
“This change in routine may be daunting, but the ability not to be restricted by space opens up all sorts of possibilities for collaboration – both with people inside the firm and those outside,” said Professor Geraint Johnes, professor of economics at Lancaster University in one report long before the outbreak hit.
“While the flexibility is a plus, firms need to be aware of the drawbacks, and put arrangements in to compensate.”
Here, we reveal some tips on how small businesses can master remote collaboration during crisis and beyond:
Successful remote teams collaborate effectively by communicating regularly. This could be on a daily or weekly basis, but having a regular calendar invite which schedules consistent meetings is a good way to manage and support staff.
For smaller businesses, meetings can easily be scheduled as one-to-one’s or as a whole business, while medium-to-large enterprises may benefit from having team meetings.
These meetings don’t have to be long. Approximately 15-30 minutes is usually long enough for regular catch-ups with your staff.
The aforementioned Dell-IDG research shows that technology plays a major role for 35 percent of small businesses based in UK, France and Germany, with others citing it as having a ‘modest’ impact.
For the most part, the Internet economy offers up plenty of opportunities to collaborate beyond the limitations of email – which hardly promises real-time collaboration.
Remote workers are more likely to benefit from video conferencing and messaging applications, which promote fast, real-time collaboration and which also come closest to replicating the ‘look and feel’ of physical face-to-face interactions. What’s more, platforms like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Slack, Skype and Google Meet are relatively easy to use and they are often free too – which means your limited IT budget doesn’t have to take a hit.
Overall, you should consider investing in technology that will benefit your employees, and which will last the organisation for a number of years; that way, you won’t suffer a lag in employee performance or productivity (and with that, customer experience), or be forced to pay over the odds to reinvest again in another solution in a year’s time.
All business leaders need to provide clear expectations and information for staff, particularly as working conditions change in such a short space of time. Many employees will have concerns and queries that they expect their manager to answer, and quickly.
Do your due diligence and give employees all the necessary information, ensure they are capable of working well remotely (this might mean providing the right equipment) and clarify working hours, as well as your business’s sick and annual leave policies.
There is likely to be several changes to your business’ ways of working, but keeping the communication clear and consistent between all staff will help with any uncertainties.
Although your organisation should have had cybersecurity and data protection tools and processes in place long before the COVID-19 outbreak hit, your defenses will undoubtably have to change, especially if more of your employees move exclusively to remote working over the coming months and years.
After all, remote working introduces new threats – especially as cybercriminals change tact to focus less on centrally-stored business data, and more on vulnerable end users who can accidentally give these criminals access to valuable systems and data.
The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre recently warned of cybercriminals that are exploiting the COVID-19 crisis for new phishing, malware and ransomware attacks – and separately has released a guidance package to help small businesses securely move to remote digital working. Within this, the government body urges small businesses to ‘have a clear understanding of what services you are using and who has responsibility for their security’, as well have a good relationship with trusted security providers. The group has also urged small businesses to ask six key questions to understand the risks and understand where they can improve.
Ultimately, small business leaders should ensure that employee devices are regularly updated, protected and secure – and they should work with security providers to stay on top of new and existing threats.
In summary, small businesses should see the current crisis environment as an opportunity to trial remote collaboration, to improve how their employees work together, and to come out the other side of a global pandemic with a high-performance and collaborative team ready to push your business forwards.
To find out how you can be productive in your home office, watch this 30 minute webinar here.
Hosted by Dell Technologies Dave Bystricky, find out how you can use the current situation to your advantage by becoming more productive than ever.
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