How Small Business Owners are Managing Employees in a “Work From Home” Economy (Panel of Experts)

COVID-19 has presented problems for American small businesses. Unemployment has reached all time highs and US GDP has contracted for the first quarter in over a decade.

With customers disappearing from retail establishments and mandatory lockdowns covering much of the globe, entrepreneurs in many industries have found it necessary to innovate their business. One of the many changes that business owners are presented with is how they should manage a team that is working almost entirely remotly.

Industry experts explain how they are acclimating their teams to a remote work environment.

We asked a panel of established mid-market businesses how they are making changes to their hiring and employee management to cope with many (or all) employees working remotely. Are they asking the employees to return as soon as possible? Are they pivoting their business to an online service model with Zoom calls? How will this change their industry in the long-term and are they ready to cope with it?

Education

Zivadream is a test prep review company in the education space. We are a small, but rapidly growing online business with 3 employees. Having our employees work from home has been a real challenge. Not only have we encountered the technical issues that almost all firms face, but I have also noticed a dramatic decline in innovation and process improvement. Being an agile startup, we are always looking for new ideas and efficiency gains. 

I’ve noticed that since our employees no longer interact in person, and communication is limited to clunky Zoom calls, email and Slack, those improvement ideas have come to a halt. As a result, my long term plan following COVID is to revert back to a traditional butts in seats approach. I expect our innovation and process improvements will jump, and I know that our employees will enjoy being back in the office after being locked inside for months.

– John Ross | President & CEO

Zivadream

Internet Marketing

 As the cofounder of Broadband Search, a largely online-based company, I have seen the benefits of both remote and in-office staff. Once the pandemic is over, I expect many companies will leave at least some of their staff in a remote position, but this will depend on the productivity of staff and the quality of work being produced. There are a number of skills needed for individuals to work remotely successfully, and the simple fact is that not everyone has those skills. While some people can be extremely productive when working remotely, others may need to be managed more closely. I expect that business owners will evaluate these differences, see where they can benefit from keeping different teams remote, and adjust positions accordingly. At Broadband Search, I feel that we had already achieved this equilibrium prior to the pandemic, and once it is over, we plan to return things as closely to how they were as possible.

– Carla Diaz | Cofounder

Broadband Search

Financial Services

My name is Chris Abrams, owner of Abrams Insurance Solutions I help clients around the country with insurance and finances. We have not missed a beat working remotely. There are 2 important pieces of software we use to be efficient and productive.

1) We use Slack to communicate. I can instantly reach out to someone or answer a question through Slack. Talking back and forth through Slack,
typing back and forth actually, is like we are having a conversation across the office. We can also share files and make comments through Slack.

2) We use Ora.pm as our project management software. Our resources which are standard operating procedures are detailed in Ora. We keep lists of
current projects in there and can instantly see who is working on what. It’s also a great way to assign projects, along with the details, to someone.

My team is small. It’s myself, an assistant, a blog writer and a graphic designer. All in all, working remotely has not been an issue and we will continue this way indefinitely.

*Bottom line:* Working remotely is not a problem with the right technology in place. Documenting your SOP’s ahead of time is very important for a smooth transition.

– Chris Abrams | Founder

Abrams Insurance Solutions

Startup Advisory

My name is Brian Mac Mahon and I am the CEO and founder of Expert DOJO, the biggest international startup accelerator and academy in Southern California. Before the coronavirus crisis, my business operations were 50% physical and 50% virtual. Since the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown, my team of 10, startup cohort and myself are all working from home. All of our meetings are held through ZoomRoom. We also update each other via emails, Google Excel sheets, Google Calendar, our Slack group and phone calls. I start every morning with a zoom room meeting with my startup cohort and team. We update each other on our operations, schedule deadlines, exchange advice and cheer each other up. The rest of the day is dedicated to cohort virtual meetings with pitches to VCs and investors as well as workshops with leading industry experts.

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing everybody (businesses and individuals alike) to realize that they have to be online. Therefore, I decided to
invest in my team and business operations and incorporate web, computer-based technologies and software to ensure that we can still work
from anywhere. For instance, we are currently creating an online training program for startups which will include lectures, workshops and lessons with investors, mentors and industry experts. About a month ago we launched our ‘project 10k’- giving back to the community- in which we help 10,000 non-venture backed entrepreneurs launch their startups. We give them access to our investors database and industry connections, we coach them and offer them earning opportunities and business training courses on how to grow their businesses and achieve their goals. And lastly, we are working on increasing our investors database and startup investment portfolio as well as expanding the investments opportunities we offer investors beyond startup companies.

Since working from home has made my team and I more efficient and allowed us to expand our virtual services, I will continue to invest in
remote-based technologies. However, the personal and physical connections between investors and startups as well as between my team and the startups are very important for our accelerator program’s success. Therefore, we will go back to work at the Expert DOJO HQ once businesses reopen while also allowing everybody to work remotely when needed.

– Brian Mac Mahon | Sensei

Expert Dojo

Recruiting

The Energist is an executive search and recruiting firm in the energy industry based out of Texas. Remote work has always had some role in our company, which I believe has been beneficial for us as we’ve made this shift. There were some difficulties initially as workers who normally staff the office adjusted to working from home, but within the last month things have stabilized, and our productivity has been on par with my expectations with staff working from the office. Obviously with so many companies temporarily shuttered and the changes in the oil market, we haven’t been able to place as many candidates as we did on a monthly basis pre-COVID. Having said that, these losses seem to be clearly linked to economic shifts more than changes in our company. 

I plan to continue full work from home for staff for the foreseeable future, and am considering making it an option for staff members in the long term. Face-to-face meetings with clients and candidates will likely still happen in the office, but I see no reason to eliminate the work from home option, especially given that some candidates will no doubt prefer to continue interviewing and working with us via video interfaces if that option is presented to them. I see the expanded shift to remote interaction as something that could expand rather than hinder our business in the long term.

– Jon Hill | Chairman & CEO

The Energists

Consumer Goods

I’m the owner and founder of a skincare brand. I have a staff of around 35 that ranges from warehouse to office employees. We’re an eCommerce business and we ship globally.

We went from 100% in-house to almost entirely WFH due to Covid-19.

When this is all over, we hope to be fully in-house again because that’s what works best for our team. We are used to working very closely together as a familial unit and some positions, like warehouse and shipping, require physical presence.

Our business has been busier than ever since Covid-19.

Our challenges have included keeping up with demand with fewer in-house staff, delays in vendor shipments, etc. Luckily, we work really well together and we very quickly learned to heighten our communication skills.

Working with the remote staff was its own challenge that required a lot of pivoting and clear communication.

We’re coming out of this on the other side with sharpened skills and a new appreciation for conveniences we once took for granted.

– Camille Chulick | Cofounder

Averra Glow

Consumer Goods

My name is Saurabh, and I run a travel based startup called Talk Travel We recently shifted to a remote team mode, and it has been going pretty well for us.

I think we will continue to be in the remote work after COVID-19. We might design a flexible policy with the option of either working from home or office. Or may be meet at a fixed frequency in the office, to encourage some team bonding, while mostly working from home.

1) We have done away with counting the number of hours worked and *focus on the output and delivery than the number of hours input. This establishes an underlying trust and builds a stronger relationship and encourages higher level of dedication from the employee.

2) We don’t have a very strict policy on the work that has to be done by a particular individual. They can choose and pick work from any function if they want. Some employees have taken this, and over the period have develop some expertise also.

3) We regularly do team lunches, and sessions with your colleagues, where you share screens, and welcome others into your work station, and daily life. These are generally jovial moments, and helps breaking the ice and builds a good team culture.

4) We have dedicated a time-off slot everyday, where we stop work, and with play games or quizzes or online activities which are fun and enhance team bonding.

5) We have enhanced the annual budgets assigned to each employee.They can spend this on online courses and trainings to enhance their skills.

– Saurabh Jindal | Founder

Talk Travel

Who We Are

At Mid-Market List, we are dedicated to helping small and mid-sized businesses make more informed decisions. We explain what types of loans you should (and shouldn’t) use as well as what investment banks, law firms and lenders focus on your industry.

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin