According to a new Cisco & IDC 2020 Small Business Digital Maturity Study, small businesses who were usually reluctant to implement remote working, now plan to invest to support their employees work at home. 36% of small businesses are planning to invest in solutions that can help their employees work remotely, as well 33% will invest in digital technologies to improve online sales
Many have focused on figuring out a survival strategy around how they can diversify their business to keep things ticking along. For example, many independent cafes and restaurants are now delivering through platforms like Deliveroo and Just Eat for the first time.
Other businesses have gone the other direction and geared up to aid more directly in the fight, such as Brewdog and Silent Pool adapting their breweries to produce hand sanitizer that’s been in high demand.
Unsurprisingly it’s been a massive cultural shift – and in most cases this has pushed small businesses towards a greater online presence and a wider use of technology. The change has begun to mould a new working culture that is adaptive to working remotely and flexibly.
But while this covers the practical side of operating a business it doesn’t necessarily stimulate the employee engagement you’d get from simply being in the same room as one another.
As time goes on, there are likely to be some things that your small business is really starting to miss from not being in an office, such as creativity, socialising, and even conversations with customers.
So, in this article we’ll look at the vital aspects of work-life that small businesses are currently missing out on, and how this can be resolved while working remotely.
1) Relationship building with clients
As the Small Business Digitization and COVID-19 survey shows, one of the top priorities for small businesses when thinking about digitalization is to deliver/improve better customer experiences.
Face-to-face interaction has typically sat at the heart of relationship building, especially for businesses like agencies. A lunch or coffee with a potential client or business partner has always been an easy way of facilitating this. However, now with social distancing in place, it makes it difficult for small businesses to have the same coverage with prospective clients, and this threatens to reduce business opportunities.
Video conferencing technology can make up for this to some degree, but it needs to be combined with creativity to encourage these individuals into (another) virtual conversation.
For instance, I’ve seen some companies conduct virtual wine-tasting as a way to entice customers into video chats. They send some bottles to a client and even conference in a sommelier into the call. Virtual chocolate tasting is also an option, with companies like Hotel Chocolat running online chocolate tasting sessions for business groups. Another idea could be to send a client a take-away and have dinner in a group over a video conferencing call,
Ultimately, video conferencing enables the interaction to happen. But you also need to consider what unique experience you can give your prospective clients or partners to encourage them to join what is possibly their 50th video call of the day. Think about how you can use your tech to get creative and consider how far your can push the envelope.
2) Team bonding
A lot of day-to-day team bonding comes from shared everyday experiences in the office and adhoc chats. Now with the communal kitchen and coffee breaks are nowhere in sight, it can be difficult to dedicate time to speaking to other team members about things other than work. Becoming isolated from colleagues can be detrimental because it leads to a decline in happiness and therefore creativity and productivity.
As a small business there can be a pressure to be ‘always on’ in order to overcome this difficult period. However, time needs to be set aside for ensuring there remains a human connection among colleagues.
For my own team, Cisco Webex has been really helpful in maintaining this connection. Of course, there’s the classic quiz which seems to have become a staple for most virtual team building exercises. But like the unique experiences you’re creating for prospective clients, small businesses should think about ways they can creatively engage with employees.
For example, I sent cocktail making kits to everyone in my team when I held our yearly in-person team workshop virtually instead – Webex became our virtual bar! We discussed the cocktails we made, allowing everyone to engage in a non-work-related topic. However it doesn’t need to be an activity based around food or beverages. How about a group yoga session? Think about what new activities you could bring to your team virtually to encourage group experiences.
3) Brainstorming and creativity
Brainstorming can be such a useful process in developing ideas quickly. Bouncing ideas of each other, building on each other’s ideas, scribbling down considerations, and using post-it notes to see which ideas connect. It’s a fast-flowing process and conducting this over the phone or over video can influence the pace of it drastically.
Webex’s Virtual White Board can help retain this collaborative quality, as team members can still scribble down ideas like they would have done in the office on post-it notes. Screensharing is also another feature which makes the experience less siloed and disjointed. Everyone can see the same thing in real-time, and ideas can be added and seen in real-time.
The 2020 Small Business Digital Maturity Study showed that there are many impacted business areas for worldwide small businesses due to COVID-19, with small businesses in all regions citing working styles (e.g. working remotely) as one of their top impacted areas.
Whist there are benefits to working home, the office helped in drawing a clear line between home and work life. But this line has evaporated, especially for those living in a small space. For example, if you live in a small flat and have a desk in your bedroom (just like mine used to be once-upon-a-time), it can mean you’re spending nearly 24 hours a day in one room.
On top of this is the distraction of other people in the household like children and/or partners who are also now staying at home. Suddenly we’re all finding ourselves competing for not just physical space but head space.
With meeting technologies available on portable devices, colleagues should think of more creative locations to have meetings. For example, why not encourage colleagues to venture outside and have a walking meeting or two?
The road ahead
So far, small businesses have done a fantastic job in adapting to the changes enforced upon them.
For many, it has been a time where you’ve had to grapple with new technologies to serve your customers in a new way, while also staying connected with and helping guide employees. While these new ways of working will certainly continue into the future, that doesn’t mean the aspects of your old working culture that are vital to your operations need to go.
By using technology combined with creativity, there’re easy ways businesses can continue what they do best, in our new virtual environment.
Cisco is helping to support small businesses to recover from the economic impact from COVID-19, explore how here.