Small businesses are having to adapt quickly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s an uncertain time for owners and employees alike as even the best-laid contingency plans may need to be updated at a moment’s notice.
It’s therefore essential that business owners recognise the important leadership role they play in navigating their business and their workforce through the situation. Part of that role is to keep employees abreast of relevant goings-on in the business.
1. Be flexible
Flexible and remote working practices have been on the rise in the UK for several years. The spread of the coronavirus, however, has meant many businesses have had to roll out remote working for the entirety of their workforces almost overnight.
For other businesses, such as training providers or event organisers, which rely on face-to-face human interaction, COVID-19 has meant that they have had to create and offer remote and virtual options for customers instead. Using new technology can be an exciting opportunity for some employees but also a steep learning curve.
With the spread of coronavirus, health and safety training company North American Training Solutions (NATS) decided to minimise travel and focus stead on regional or remote training.
“It is critical to inform and align your entire team in your response to the evolving situation,” says Ed Carpenter, CEO and president of NATS. “Understand that everyone on your team is impacted in some way, whether it be professionally or personally. An open line of communication will help alleviate stress and ultimately increase resiliency to continue to perform effectively in their role.”
2. Talk about the elephant(s) in the room
The almost daily changes to how businesses can operate and interact with customers are added complications for business owners who are wondering how and when they’ll be affected.
Given such a volatile situation, it’s important for business leaders to remain upfront about the unknown. “Uncertainty breeds terror” says Samantha Ettus, founder and CEO of financial tech startup Park Place Payments. “Let your team know how you are thinking about the climate and what it means to your business and their future” she says.
In many businesses, employees and bosses feel like family, and that can make it easier to have candid conversations as changes arise for different scenarios from supply chain management to childcare for employees.
Carpenter adds that when possible, business owners should include employees when making decisions right now. “As a small-business owner, I understand the importance of incorporating the experience and expertise of our team members to best address situations regardless of their size or anticipated outcome. No one alone is better than all of us together. This mantra has served us well as an organisation, and continues to do so as we prepare ourselves to successfully deal with the unknown.”
3. Be clear about your illness policy
Some businesses are taking proactive measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by explicitly stating their sick policies.
Information on how to self-report if they or members of their household have experienced any symptoms of the coronavirus serve to encourage employees to be honest and upfront.
Rather than saying "please go home" to an employee who feels unwell, the emphasis could shift to "please stay home" so that employees don’t put colleagues and customers at risk.
Understanding the risks regarding exposure of employees to the virus can help business owners make decisions that not only keep their own teams safe but also contribute to flattening the overall curve of COVID-19 spread.
4. Keep calm
It’s important for business owners to remember that their staff often look to them as an example of leadership. “Stay calm and continue to run your business,” says Paris Chanel, CEO of modelling, talent and marketing agency The Paris Chanel Agency. “If your employees see you in a state of panic, then they will panic. That’s no good for anyone.”
In fact, businesses often take on a parenting role in laying out the rules and expectations and even more so during a crisis. Leaders are expected to act calmly and provide factually-based information where they can.
While it’s true that times are uncertain, entrepreneurs are well-placed at dealing with change. The hope for small business owners is that if they can overcome adversity and communicate clearly with employees, they will come out stronger on the other side.