By Tim Boag
The coronavirus lockdown has forced millions of employees to adapt to socially distanced working arrangements and working remotely – a trend many expect to continue well after the pandemic subsides.
Multinational businesses such as Facebook and Twitter have already moved towards making working from home the norm, a shift enabled by technology and telecommuting.
For small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK, who may not have the resources of larger firms, hybrid or blended working is more likely to become the new normal, where employees split their time between the office and home.
Managing colleagues remotely can be challenging. Homeworking can cause mental stress, video call fatigue, burnout and a craving for ‘real’ human interaction.
These factors are exacerbated by the added worry of the pandemic. In this climate, leaders need to establish how they can best manage their workforce, maintain good levels of productivity, and care for their employees’ mental and physical wellbeing.
Below are some useful tips to help manage your business during this challenging time:
Keep in regular contact with stakeholders and customers
SMEs should prioritise frequent communication with key stakeholders, whether they are colleagues or customers. Although face to face interactions are difficult right now, video conferencing tools – such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, and Google Hangouts among others – make it easy to keep in touch with your stakeholders.
Instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Skype offer an even quicker way to communicate updates and information to stakeholders. Finding the right communication tool can often be a case of trial and error but it’s important to find the right one for your business.
Encouragingly, Aldermore’s recent research found that 30% of SMEs had actually increased the amount they communicate with customers and clients during the pandemic.
Of course, while frequent communication is crucial for maintaining employee morale and keeping on top of workloads, it’s important not to go overboard and inundate your people.
Find out what frequency works best for your organisation. If daily calls are causing fatigue among employees, switch to having them every other day or even weekly.
Communicating well with stakeholders from home often relies heavily on technology. Aldermore’s research found that one in five (20%) SMEs wanted more guidance on how to improve the technological capacity of their business.
One simple way of improving capabilities, is to provide employees with the necessary IT tools – whether that means providing training, a sufficient laptop, a monitor, mouse or headphones, they should have the tools they need to work from home effectively.
Technology can also play an important role in improving interactions between a business and its customers. To ensure our brokers and SME customers were backed throughout this crisis we fast tracked the launch of our online broker portal, Asset Backer, to all our intermediary partners. Asset Backer offers an electronic, paperless end-to-end process, which allows businesses to continue working with customers remotely.
Have robust cyber security measures in place
Mass working from home has created more opportunities for fraudsters to target companies and their customers. Since February for example, over 2,100 COVID-19 related scam cases have been reported to Action Fraud.
Given the heightened risk, it is important companies have robust security measures in place to protect their business. Even simple steps such as reminding employees to regularly change their passwords and keeping their laptop locked when not in use, can go a long way to protecting a business.
Employee wellbeing has to be the number one priority
During this pandemic, it is crucial that businesses focus on the wellbeing of their people. Leaders need to be even more conscious of someone’s personal circumstances and show flexibility towards them, for example allowing those with childcare commitments to flex their working hours.
Keeping morale high can be difficult in these challenging times, but organising virtual coffee catch ups or quiz evenings can go a long way towards boosting spirits. As humans we all need that social interaction, sense of belonging and shared identity that has been put under pressure by lockdown.
As the economy emerges from the gloom of the pandemic, businesses leaders must face up to the prospect that a large proportion of their colleagues may want to continue working at least part of the time out of the office.
When managing a workforce at a distance, it is vital that leaders keep in frequent contact with their stakeholders, embrace technology, monitor and respond to the wellbeing of their employees.
By doing so they will be able to reap the benefits, including increased productivity, improved employees’ morale and enhanced efficiency.
Tim Boag is group managing director of business finance at Aldermore