For those of us who run businesses, these are really tough times. There is worry about how will business continue, how will teams operate during work-from-from times, how will we survive clients dropping out, how will employees and other expenses get paid. In short, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a scenario which is simply daunting on many accounts. While the situation is far from ideal, let us figure out what we can do to protect your business from the worst effects of the virus and also come out on top.
Build a remote work policy
As a small business, you may never have had to exercise this option before. But having a remote work policy in place now could very well save your business without compromising the health and well-being of your employees.
There are a number of tools that you can use to implement a work from home policy. From email to Slack to Zoom — each of these tools makes communication between remote workers much simpler.
Apart from getting the right tools in place, you also need to get a proper plan for deliverables in place. This means making sure that every employee knows what they have to deliver — whether it’s on a daily basis or on a weekly and even monthly basis.
If implementing a remote work policy seems intimidating to you, it’s important to remember that there’s no better time to do it. Your clients, vendors, and partners are all trying to do the same thing now, so there’ll be an unprecedented level of cooperation. Who knows, you may even be able to implement a policy that could serve you well even after the Corona scare goes away.
Give flexibility to your employees
It’s not enough to just establish a remote work option — you also need to be mindful that there are many demands on your employees’ time at the moment. Schools and colleges are closing down, and many parents are struggling with childcare. Even grocery shops are starting to limit how many hours in the day they will stay open for it.
In such a situation, you will have to make room for contingencies in case your employees aren’t available at all hours. Also remember that in a global crisis like this, compassion counts above everything else. Your employees will really appreciate the consideration and flexibility you show them at this juncture, and you may even be able to build employee loyalty in a big way.
Communication with clients is critical
Be transparent with your customers about what your business is going through. The one big advantage of this crisis is that everyone is going through it together— so your customers will be able to empathize. Chances are if they’re bigger companies with deep pockets, they will even cut you some slack till the situation gets better.
But it’s very important that you communicate transparently with your clients. If they feel like they don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, they will tend to resent you— especially since they are going through a stressful time themselves. Complete transparency and honesty is the need of the hour.
Reduce meetings and travel
Travel is simply not an option at the moment— you need to figure out innovative substitutes. Completely cut out all non-essential meetings and conferences from your and your employees’ schedules. If it’s an important meeting, try to figure out if it can be done virtually. If your employees get sick because of travel or meetings, you will end up dealing with a major situation in the long run.
Establish clear guidelines around cleanliness
The basic guidelines from the Health Ministry are loud and clear — just make sure your office policy supports them to the maximum extent possible.
- Avoid handshakes and other kinds of contact
- Encourage employees to wash hands with soap as frequently as possible
- Remind employees that they shouldn’t be touching their faces to avoid spreading of the virus
- Keep disinfecting surfaces like doorknobs, handrails, tables, desks, etc.
All these guidelines should be followed in the office if you’re still keeping it open. If your staff is working from home, keep reminding them about it through communication channels like email, Slack, and Whatsapp.
Think from a long term perspective
It’s true that there are many unknown variables when it comes to COVID-19. Hopefully, these unknowns will work out in India’s favour and we won’t suffer from the widespread devastation that has happened in other countries. However, there’s a chance that we might get hit for a long time. While economies like China are slowly starting to recover, one never knows how things will change once the strict restrictions around self-isolation are lifted. So it’s better to be mentally prepared for the long haul. As per SmallBizTrends, 27% of business expect the coronavirus to have a moderate to high impact on their revenue.
Take your sales strategy online
As offline sales become harder and harder, smart business owners across the world are shifting to an online sales strategy. People are setting up simple, easy-to-use websites that allow their customers to transact online — they’ve also been setting up a solid digital marketing strategy to support this initiative.
You need to realize that customers (whether it’s end consumers or business buyers) are also isolated in their homes now. This means that they are spending more time than ever before on their devices— using the internet to take care of most of their needs. Which is why a shift to online sales is the best way going forward.
For example, in Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus, cosmetics company Lin Qingzuan had to close 40% of its stores. However, the brand engaged 100+ beauty advisors who went on digital platforms like WeChat to increase online sales. In fact, the company’s sales in Wuhan increased by 200% as a result of this.
If you feel overwhelmed when it comes to implementing a full-fledged online strategy, hire a digital marketing agency who can get things started for you. It may seem like a lot to do right now, but it will not just pay off in the time of Corona but also in the long run.
The bottom line
Understand that it may take a while before it’s business as usual once again. In the meantime, we have to strike a fine balance — protecting our businesses from heavy losses while also prioritizing the health and well-being of your employees, vendors, partners, and other stakeholders. With the right spirit, COVID-19 may just prove to be a blessing in disguise. Implementing people-friendly policies like flexi-time and remote work, and shifting a large part of your sales strategy online, will both have long-term benefits for your business.