Reopening Your Small Business

As of May 28, 2021, the Paycheck Protection Program has run out of funding. You can learn more about the PPP with our COVID-19 resource hub.

Remember the days before work from home transitioned from the exception to the rule. Or, when face coverings and other personal protective equipment (PPE) were best known as props in that operating room scene on TV.  And, juggling the responsibilities of childcare while keeping small business doors open was challenging but so much more manageable.

Now that local governments are enforcing social distancing and business occupancy requirements worrying about pandemic case counts and whether non-essential businesses could be forced to close again is becoming the new normal. As new orders from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention loom, we’ve put together a list of our favorite ways to bring joy back to the workplace.

Here is how you can improve employee morale and productivity in today’s challenging times.

Since reopening after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic  work may not feel so fun anymore. Even enjoyable perks like business travel have been curtailed or shut down completely because they’re considered high risk healthcare hazards.

Here are our top tips for keeping employees happy and even improving employee morale during the coronavirus crisis. A small investment in the well being of your workers will pay off big time. It could make all the difference as to whether your business makes it through the pandemic. It’s also the kind and compassionate thing to do for the people who work for you when they’re being force to handle difficult and complex situations.

Prevent staff from feeling overwhelmed.

Everyone is dealing with a lot of tough stuff right now. Educating kids at home, helping out sick friends and relatives and handling unprecedented financial pressures is making it challenging for people to get to work. Add to this the fact that many workplaces are short staffed, employees are forced to do more with less and new COVID-19 related policies and procedures are being added all the time. All this is making it harder than ever for people to work effectively.

Research shows that this is leaving people feeling overwhelmed, unproductive and frustrated at work. Don’t make things worse by asking your employees to do more than they can handle. If you sense that someone is stressed out, it could be smart to cut back on their workload. It will prevent incidents that could have a negative impact on your business.

Your operation doesn’t have to suffer when you do this and you don’t have to add staff, which could be too costly when things are tight financially. Invest in cost-effective software and systems that make the people on your team more efficient.

  • Find ways to automate repetitive tasks.
  • Implement bookkeeping and billing software that makes tedious accounting practices faster and simpler.
  • Move more of your sales and customer service operations online so people can serve themselves.
  • Upgrade antiquated systems and equipment that force people to do time consuming workarounds.
  • Update your human resources software so people don’t have to document their time or waste time filling out forms.

All of this will eliminate a lot of the busywork people do everyday. It gives them more time to focus on important work that makes better use of their skills and talent — the things you hired them for in the first place. It will also eliminate some of the pressure they are dealing with now. They’ll appreciate that you care enough to make doing their jobs easier and better. This will pay off in greater efficiency, improved service and performance, along with loyalty to your business long after the pandemic is over.

Keep employees connected.

Studies show that people working from home are generally more productive than when they do their jobs at work. This means the work-at-home concept could continue long after the coronavirus crisis is over. What business owner could say no to enhanced productivity while saving money on real estate?

The move to remote working is leaving many people feeling isolated due to the lack of human interaction and connection they would normally experience in the workplace. These feelings can harm employee morale. The best way to combat this is by keeping employees connected. Make communication easy by setting up a video conferencing service across your organization.

Videoconferencing platforms like Zoom and Skype make face-to-face interactions between coworkers simple when they’re working remote or are splitting their time between home and the workplace. Seeing coworkers regularly and talking through projects — like in the good old pre-pandemic days — helps employees feel connected and more “normal.” Emails and text messages are fine for handling certain work related issues. However people are more likely to discuss what’s going on in their lives at the end of a video chat. This could make a big difference to people who are feeling lonely or disconnected.

Don’t limit use of videoconferencing to virtual meetings. Encourage virtual meet ups for coffee, remote happy hours or game nights. If you’re not sure how to set these things up, professionals can be found online who can help you out. Some craft liquor companies or wine stores can plan a happy hour with a theme. Coffee shops are able to supply coffee and treat packages that make a virtual coffee meet up feel more like a company breakfast in the office. Underutilized conference professionals might have ideas for fun and work appropriate game nights.

Whether your company is a big one or small, there are a variety of affordable and free video conferencing options out there. Even if you’re already using one, you owe it to yourself to check out alternatives that could be better for your organization.

Celebrate everything!

You probably celebrated birthdays, anniversaries and other life and work milestones prior to the pandemic. Don’t stop doing it now. It’s more important than ever. It makes people feel special and cared about at a time when they need it most.

Remember how people used to schedule “fake” meetings in the conference room to set up surprise celebrations? There’s no reason you can’t do the same thing via Zoom today. Instead of decorations, get the group to use a festive fake background. Consider having different types of cookies, cupcakes or balloons delivered to the honoree during the “meeting” to make things even more special. Make sure you include everyone in celebrations, those at the workplace and working remote.

Add mental health coverage to your insurance.

Many people are finding it difficult to make sense of all they have to deal with during the coronavirus crisis. Sometimes it helps to talk things out. If you can afford it, add mental health coverage to your employee insurance offering. If this is too costly, make arrangements for the people who work for you to have access to discounted online counseling. It could make all the difference in keeping them healthy and productive when dealing with personal problems.

Make some of those tedious COVID-19 chores a little more enjoyable.

Do morning temperature checks have to be a grind? Does disinfecting have to be a chore? Why not make these things less pedestrian and a little more fun? Have a joke or riddle ready for employees when they go through their daily temperature checks. Maybe you can post a “quote of the day“ over the disinfectant to make people pay attention and use it more often. All it takes is a small change in mindset to make those little things you have to do to limit the number of COVID-19 cases a little less mundane.

Implement an instant messaging system.

Sometimes a video conference is the best option for connecting with coworkers. Other times, something short and sweet like an instant message will do. There are a lot of instant messaging platforms available that allow you to create groups or channels where employees can discuss work or their personal lives. Look for something that will help people work more effectively and share things like videos and memes that might lighten their days.

It could provide small distractions that may result in big jumps in productivity. While this may seem counterintuitive, it’s true.

Here’s why: When employees form strong relationships with their coworkers, feelings of seclusion are reduced and group engagement grows. If people feel like they’re part of a team, they’ll be more committed to doing top quality work and contributing to the success of your organization. People don’t want to work in sterile factory-like environments anymore. A little levity, within reason, will help people love work again, which will make them more productive and committed.

Play games.

Gamification is a way to make even the most tedious business tasks fun by turning them into games for people to play. If tasks are turned into something amusing, the more people will want to do them. Some ways you can implement gamification at your business include:

  • Power hours. Do you have single tasks or initiatives that need to get done? Power hours will help you accomplish them fast in a fun way. Set aside a defined time for everyone to work on the same project. Get everyone together remotely or in person, ensuring they’re taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Shut off all forms of outside communication and distractions. Then go. You’ll be amazed at how much can get done in an hour. Award prizes as incentives for people to work fast and do the work well.
  • Trivia challenges. Do you need to complete some training that no one enjoys? Make it a part of a trivia challenge. Learning can be more enjoyable and effective when it’s turned into a gaming experience.
  • Competitions. Need to up your sales during the pandemic? Most businesses do. Turn your sales goals into a friendly competition. It will help recreate that sense of rivalry your sales team had when they were able to work more closely together.

Update your sick leave policy.

Nothing stresses people out more than knowing they should stay at home because they don’t feel well but aren’t allowed to take a sick day with pay. Find a way to update your sick leave rules so they align with current public health requirements while also serving your business needs.

Encourage social interactions.

You probably have social media sites for your customers to connect with your business online. Why not do the same for your team? Set up a Facebook, Instagram or Twitter channel where they can share news, images and videos. It will help everyone feel like they’re part of an exclusive family.

Provide training.

Studies show that employees feel valued when they are allowed to learn new things on the job. If you had a training program at your workplace before the pandemic, make sure you continue it now. If not, it’s the perfect time to implement one. Don’t limit your offerings to job related skills. Include components that educate people on how to cope with living and working in a pandemic.

Surprise!

The coronavirus pandemic has made every day seem the same. Do little things that surprise and delight your coworkers. It can be as simple as changing out the default settings and updating backgrounds on their computers to something colorful and fun or having an unexpected video launch when they log in at the beginning of the day.

Say thanks.

People are working harder than ever during the pandemic. They’re going above and beyond every single day. Make sure you say “thank you” regularly. Emails and text messages are good, but personal notes mean much more.

While you’re at it, consider implementing an employee recognition program. It encourages coworkers to acknowledge and thank each other for the awesome things they do. If you’re a startup or small business with a limited budget, it can be something simple, like setting up an online thank you site where people can post messages. If you have more of a budget, contract with an online service that allows people to acknowledge each other with gift cards and other things of value.

Start a newsletter or blog.

People are craving news about each other. It may seem a little old school, but why not start a company newsletter or blog? Encourage people to share personal information and stories. It could be a popular forum for bringing people together.

Plan themed workdays.

Themed workdays can take almost any form, within reason. Just make sure you align them with the comfort level of your employees and their consent preferences. Set up Hawaiian shirt Fridays, ugly sweater Tuesdays or costume contests on the first workday of the month. Make sure everyone participates, whether they’re in the workplace, doing on site work or working from home. It’s a good way to make people feel a little silly when there isn’t a lot of silliness in the world.

Spruce up your work environment.

The COVID-19 crisis has left many workspaces feeling bland and antiseptic. Do little things to brighten things up like putting a fresh coat of paint on the walls, improving your signage and turning mundane things like your hand sanitizer containers into attractive displays. You don’t want to make things like disinfectants or hand washing seem unimportant. But you can make them more a part of the everyday environment. While you’re at it, make sure your workplace meets the latest physical distancing requirements and includes as much touchless technology as possible to help employees feel safe.

Don’t cancel the holiday party.

Year end is fast approaching. One of the highlights of the employee calendar for most businesses is the holiday party. Sure no one wants to get together in a big group these days for dinner, drinking and dancing. It’s dangerous. Still you shouldn’t give up on the holiday party. Plan something that’s right for your organization. It could be in person, virtual or a combinations the two. Make it special. People have been through a LOT this year and it could be a great way to celebrate all that’s been accomplished during challenging times, reminisce about what went well and celebrate a year no one will ever forget.

Think different.

During “normal” times, whatever those were, you were primarily focused on business. During tough times like these, it’s critical to put people first. Take time to think about what will make others happy. It will help people feel better about being at work, increase employee engagement and make them more productive.

If you’re not sure what will work with the people on your team, ask! They’ll certainly tell you what you can do to make the workplace a better and happier place. Just taking the step of asking will show that you care about their well being.

Check in regularly.

The simple act of checking in with coworkers can make a big difference when things aren’t going well. Take a few minutes every day to ask people how they’re doing. It’s another simple and easy way to show you care.

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