Adapting to change is part and parcel of running a business. But what happens when that change occurs at short notice, and is enforced on a global scale?
The COVID-19 outbreak has put so many small business owners in tough predicaments and, for the majority of us, our work has been deemed non-essential by our governments. The main outcome of this is a simple one: we must now begin to work from home.
The challenges this presents range from industry to industry, business to business. However, while there is no catch-all guidebook to turn to, there are some tips and tricks that can make our new working reality feel a bit more normal.
We spoke to five small business owners from different working backgrounds to hear how they’re adapting to this new lifestyle – and how you can, too.
Meet our experts
- Andy Will, Head of Communications for Notjust Clothing, a fashion-led social enterprise
- Louise Bishop, freelance web developer
- Barry Kennerk, Founder and Managing Director of BSK Plumbing and Heating
- Thea Hudson, Personal Trainer and Founder of TH Fitness
- Matt Buxton, freelance business consultant
1. Keep your ‘work’ and ‘life’ areas separate.
Louise: “Set yourself some boundaries and stick to them. An office provides a natural sense of routine, but that can easily be lost working from home. Your brain needs to be able to differentiate between being on the clock and off it; without this, you’ll end up feeling drained far quicker”.
Thea: “My top tip would be to write a to-do list every day – and not just when it comes to work. It could be as simple as ‘clear out the cupboard’, for example, but giving yourself goals throughout the day will give you routine and structure to break up the monotony of staying in all day.
Andy: “This is also important in the digital space, too. Our primary communication tool is WhatsApp, so we have created different groups with the appropriate people (e.g. Design, PR/Marketing, Strategy) to ensure we’re not clogging up our feeds unnecessarily, and creating anxiety across the business.
As well as this, we’ve created a non-business related thread for general chit-chat (and the odd meme for light relief). It’s the perfect set up for a business as small as ours: quick fire, rapid response, and without the fluff of an email. Perfect for those ‘quick-win’ tasks.
2. Enjoy an activity unrelated to work at some point during the day.
Thea: “As a self-employed Personal Trainer, I’m slightly biased here, but I can really see the difference exercise makes to people’s days. It’s an uncertain time, but I’ve changed my living room into a home gym/studio, and have been doing my classes and PTs virtually. It’s still early days but it is off to a good start, and people are responding really positively.”
Louise: “Go for a walk, have some breakfast (without checking your emails), do some exercise, play with your children – whatever works for you. This replicates your commuting time, and helps segment your day.”
Andy: “All of our team have been known to avoid exercise where possible, but that’s all changed recently. We encourage all team members to get outdoors for a jog or a walk every day to keep the mind fresh and clear. It really does work wonders.”
Matt: “Even when things get super busy, working from home still provides opportunities to break up the day. For instance, if I have a conference call booked in that is just designed to brief the team, rather than requiring massive input from me, I go and walk the dog.”
3. Watch your working hours.
Louise: “It’s easy to work much more at home than you would otherwise. You don’t have to finish everything in one day if you usually wouldn’t. Take regular breaks, and stick to a time limit.”
Matt: “I’ve got myself into a good routine of taking breaks at designated times. This could be for things as simple as watching the news, or having a coffee – it’s good to get away from work from time to time to refocus. Finishing at a reasonable time is key, too; nobody wants to be working into the night.”
4. Keep in regular contact with others.
Louise: “Switching from a busy working environment with lots of co-workers or customers can feel isolating, but it doesn’t need to be. FaceTime, Zoom, Slack, WhatsApp – all of these are tools that help facilitate quick, natural communication.”
Matt: “Our morning calls set aside 30 minutes, without an agenda, to catch up with each other. Sometimes it’s more social than work; other times it’s packed full of updates for the day ahead. It’s good to get in a regular rhythm, regardless of whether there is a specific need for a catch-up or not.”
Andy: “We have daily catch ups throughout the week which, as a small team, is important to continue working in sync.
“We always aim to have a morning call within the first hour of the day to outline tasks and discuss any hurdles, helping maintain a sense of routine, and giving us the best chance to ensure maximum productivity.
Video calls are important for helping you stay connected to the team and the world, especially during the current crisis.
Barry: “The majority of our work is based in people’s homes so, for us to continue working, we’ve had to conduct thorough risk assessments with customers and tenants when arranging jobs.
“This has helped us remain in close contact with those in need of our services – we are only operating on an emergency basis as things stand – and to ensure that no unnecessary health risks are taken both for our clients and our staff.”
5. Maintain your sense of company culture, with both your staff and your clients or customers.
Barry: “As a business that prides itself on serving the local community, we have made considerable efforts to maintain doing so, despite the current situation. For example, where we haven’t been able to provide a service due to COVID-19, we are leaving plug-in fan heaters for our customer to use free-of-charge until we are able to enter their property again.
“Alongside this, myself and a few of the team have signed up to volunteer for the NHS, delivering medication and shopping to elderly and vulnerable people where needed. It’s something that is closely aligned to our company culture, so it felt like a no-brainer.”
6. Keep checking for updates around the support that is available to you.
Louise: “To try and adapt to the sudden change in circumstances, I’ve joined a lot of small business groups online and tried to listen to what people need right now.
“There’s a lot of good advice in these groups around how to access some of the packages put forward by the government, and just a general sense of community spirit. I think it’s important to try to stay positive, and to keep putting your business out there – in the right way, of course.
“New, mutually-beneficial opportunities have arisen from this huge change in circumstance for many businesses. It can be a chance to connect and cross-promote with businesses you wouldn’t normally be in contact with.
NB: Receipt Bank has launched ‘Keep Business Going’, an online portal to help accountants, bookkeepers and small business owners navigate the current situation, with content updated weekly. You can check it out here.
7. Embrace your new-found flexibility.
Andy: “We’re a small team which means helping each other out when needed and mucking in on all tasks. This takes a certain amount of flexibility from every team member, particularly when people are operating on different routines due to the demands of their work-from-home set-up.
“A key to making this a success is knowledge sharing – so even while we’re not sitting in the same room, we can still share new findings and information across the whole team. This helps us stay ready for any (more) unforeseen circumstances that come our way.”
8. Don’t snack too much.
Now that’s something everyone can agree on, right?