ANN ARBOR – The last few months have brought about unprecedented challenges for America’s small businesses. Between the need for people to stay home and the general economic downturn, these businesses are having to make difficult decisions about how to move forward.

In some cases, relief efforts have provided some help. We wrote an article on ‘LEAD Opens Applications For Emergency Small Business Relief Grants’ to highlight some of these efforts towards the end of March, and more have emerged since. For the most part though, relief is simply about funding. That can be the difference between collapse or survival for a small business, to be sure. But beyond funding, the same businesses also have to determine how best to continue to operate in the current climate.

As part of that process, many businesses are turning to work-from-home practice. While this step can indeed enable some continuity of business, however, it’s not always as straightforward as people might assume. It’s for that reason that we’re providing some tips for how small businesses can support employees working from home, both now and in the future.

Set Up Communications Channels For Them

Needless to say, remote work requires easy-to-use communication channels. As a result, we’ve already seen a boom in video chat software popularity; CNBC called Zoom “the darling of remote workers” and pointed to the app’s soaring stock price as evidence of its rapid adoption in these times of home isolation. But Zoom isn’t the only option. There are other video chatting applications, as well as numerous high-end professional chat and messaging services, all of which can help a business to keep things moving via remote work. We’re not merely suggesting a business should choose a service to use, though. It should also set up and assign usernames and passwords for employees. It’s a small, subtle step, but one that makes it that much easier (and more compulsory) for employees working remotely to get started with a new form of communication.

Recommend A Home Office Setup

A business owner or manager has no way of knowing that employees will be setting up productive workspaces for themselves at home. However, those employees might be more likely to do so if they have some sort of guidance. Recommending a dedicated office space in the first place is a good start — but a business might also benefit by providing a blueprint to inspire employees to prioritize productive space. A piece by HP outlined home office ideas that can bring about a better telecommuting environment, and these can make for a great start. They included tips like setting up a work desk, investing in an ergonomic chair, and establishing privacy within the home, among other suggestions. All of these can lead an employee to work more diligently from home, which naturally benefits the company.

Alter Your Scheduling & Project Management Approach

Expecting workday schedules and project completion to operate exactly as they would in a physical office is generally unrealistic in a work-from-home scenario. However, that doesn’t mean things can’t operate efficiently. Business News Daily addressed flexibility in the modern workplace, and suggested that allowing employees to work remotely can “boost employee morale and reduce stress levels.” That means a company owner might actually find that employees are happier or more productive anyway when working from home. However, to tap into that benefit, the company should really allow the employees to work within their own environments — not on an exactly replicated work schedule that just happens to involve remote contribution. Generally, this means trusting employees to get work done on their home schedules, but providing clear schedules for progress to hold them accountable.

Send Out Regular Updates

These don’t have to be anything particularly formal or comprehensive. But particularly where smaller companies or new startups are concerned, employees tend to have a good idea of what’s happening on a day-to-day basis. They know what progress is being made, what projects are being prioritized, and if any major developments affecting the company have occurred. That sort of transparency can be valuable, but it may also disappear once people are working remotely. So, to keep everyone in the loop, a business owner or manager would do well to send out regular updates (perhaps just once or twice a week) on the general state of things. This would also make for a good opportunity to wish employees well and thank them for their contributions, which can help to foster a sense of good, caring company culture.

Switching to remote work can make for a difficult transition. A company that takes these steps can make that transition smoother though, and may even bring about a surprisingly high level of productivity.