For many business owners, having a remote workforce has been a very personal decision until now. Some owners prefer their team to collaborate face-to-face, while others prefer to use technology and give their team the opportunity to work from home or while on the road. Unfortunately, with the recent coronavirus pandemic many business owners have been faced with some tough decisions regarding their businesses and their teams in terms of social distancing. Which has led to some very important discussions between you and your staff. 

So where do we go from here? Maybe you want to start building up your systems and controls to give your team members the ability to work from home or adjust their work schedules during an emergency? Maybe the majority of your staff is already working remotely, and you want to get a better grasp on what they are doing and how best to serve them during this transition period. 

Time Is of the Essence

The worst time to have a discussion about contingency planning is when the building is on fire. Ideally, you want to think and plan ahead to decide how your team will handle various emergencies. Now, the specifics will of course vary from case to case, but having a system in place to allow employees to work from home is always a good starting point. If your employees must come into the office, consider creating an alternative scheduling option that can be put into place should the need for social distancing arise. 

You might also take the opportunity to think about things like stock levels and supply chain interruptions when working on your contingency planning. Can you say "toilet paper shortage"? 

If the crisis has already arrived and you haven't properly planned, there are still things you can do to help during a transition. These include:

1. Communicate With Your Team

Hiding your head in the sand and thinking that the current situation won't affect your business isn't the way to go. Instead, sit down with your management team or other key employees and discuss ways to handle the task at hand. Be prepared to listen and ask questions. 

The clearer you can paint this picture the more likely you are to be satisfied with the way your team handles a particular obstacle. The biggest mistake I see from business owners is that they have a fuzzy or incomplete understanding of what their team members (remote or otherwise) are responsible for in times of crisis. By focusing on clear success criteria, you empower your remote team to understand what they are working to accomplish.

Once you have these key points worked out, sit down with your workers and make sure that you all understand what is expected of one another. Only then will you have the freedom to really do your best work. 

2. Have Solid Reports

One of the big stressors to having a remote workforce (or in times of crisis) is not knowing the status of projects and deliverables. Thankfully, with a little planning you and your employees can relax and focus on getting your most valuable tasks completed during uncertain times.

Ask yourself:

  • What "key performance indicators" (KPIs) should they report on? How often? 

  • What updates should they submit? How frequently?

In my company, our remote workers check in once a week through our "Big Rock" app. There, we document our big tasks completed for the week, key victories, and tasks for the following week. You can also use a spreadsheet, task manager, or even email to document your victories and to-do lists.  

If your team is new to remote work, you want to encourage weekly check-ins until they become part of the company culture. 

3. Check In Face-to-Face (Virtually)

There is a lot to be said for remote work and social distancing during times of crisis, but when it comes to brainstorming and creative projects there is nothing that competes with face time. So explore using conference lines, video meetings, and other tools to keep your team connected when working remotely. 

We get together once a week as a team virtually to stave off feelings of isolation. It is usually a 15-minute quick huddle via conference line. Once a month, we upgrade this huddle to a videoconference for 30 minutes. One of the best parts of the video huddle is the chance to see our team in their home offices and make a connection. 

Changing the way you do business is stressful, but with a little communication and teamwork the transition doesn't have to be a painful one. How does your business handle social distancing in times of crisis?