The coronavirus pandemic has meant businesses across the UK have had to rapidly embrace remote working. The scale and speed that businesses have had to adapt to employees working from home has meant a steep learning curve for many small business owners.
So what has the process taught us, and how can business owners make the most of the shift to remote working? Hugo Tilmouth, CEO of ChargedUp, shares his experiences and the lessons he has learned.
ChargedUp, Europe’s largest phone charging network, employs 30 people in the UK, most of whom were based at our offices in Shoreditch.
Since 10th March, the team has been working remotely and I am pleased and proud to say that it works. The key driver for moving to remote working early was the safety of our team. We have invested heavily in creating an amazing team and it was important to prevent any of them, or their family members, from becoming ill.
We started the process with a team meeting at the beginning of the day and had the building blocks in place to enable the team to transition to remote working by the time everyone left that evening. We haven’t needed to go back to the office since that date.
Small start-ups have very little redundancy and often have one person per key task – therefore losing any one of our team would be very disruptive.
It’s now more than a month since we moved from actual office to virtual office – and I am glad to be able to say that the team is well and working successfully. We’ve learnt a lot along the way. Here are my thoughts which I hope will help you and your teams to navigate this crisis and maybe build a stronger and more resilient team while working remotely.
Make remote working work by facilitating the shift
Many businesses are waking up to the known, but often ignored fact, that most businesses are successful because of their staff.
I have always been acutely aware that as a small business our success depends on having great people who are willing to go the extra mile to build a great business. So make sure that your people are well equipped to work remotely.
Deal with the logistics first – provide guidance on;
- Creating a quiet space,
- Setting a schedule,
- Limiting interruptions from social media and other members of the household.
It is also important that you can ‘leave’ your remote working desk at the end of the day, to join the family or housemates.
Something we released is that people often have difficulty creating a practical workspace at home. I myself tried working from a coffee table but after a few days I recognised that this wasn’t a viable option.
I went onto eBay and after some searching found a second hand desk that big enough to work at and also small enough to fit into my room. This investment was well worth it as it allows me to organise my stuff and keep my working space separate from my home space.
We coached the team on good working practice for the new remote working environment. This includes keeping regular working hours, scheduling appropriate breaks, etc.
Our team is very committed and we don’t want any of them working 24/7 and getting burnt out. It’s never too late to start this type of coaching. Even if your team has been working remotely for a few weeks already it’s a good idea to review how they are working and help them to improve their working practices if necessary.
Tap into available resources
Don’t try to re-invent the wheel. There is a wealth of online resources out there to help you and your team with optimising remote working. I would recommend https://www.notion.so and particularly Notion’s remote working guide as a source of excellent information for startups.
Notion is a wiki where companies share best practice and their experiences to help other startups. Startups often do not have the resources to produce extensive guidelines and policy documents, so Notion has been invaluable.
To take one example, in preparing for remote working we mined Notion. I would particularly recommend the video Zapier’s Guide to Working Remotely.
We also used the Free Coronavirus Workplace Policy from https://seedlegals.com to help navigate through the swift planning and preparation stage.
Maintain the working day structure & discipline
The lack of a daily routine can quickly affect team spirit and lower productivity. It is therefore vital to establish a working day routine from day one.
To facilitate a structured approach, I suggest starting each day with a 15 minute team stand-up at 08:45. I would also encourage you to introduce a progress tracking tool such as https://clubhouse.io It allows you to create templates so that people can report what they did yesterday and what they intend to do today.
We use the https://slack.com automation tool to prompt everyone at 8:30 each morning to complete this form. This is then visible to all team members. This is so important to keep our team focussed and to keep projects moving in the right direction.
Check out the inexpensive tools that can help
Like most companies we already use collaboration software for file sharing, audio conferencing, and communication. We chose Slack but there are many options available to you.
When we want full video conferencing, we turn to Google Hangout. This enables us to share screens, presentations, etc.
We use https://Loom.com to record processes, new code, etc., to then share with the team. For example, the operations team have recorded all of their policies and processes via Loom. This is so useful for on-boarding new employees.
Online meetings require discipline
Our experience suggest that you should implement a robust meeting policy. This will make sure that meetings are productive and that you can complete them in the allotted time. Make sure every meeting has a clear agenda and that outcomes, actions and owners are agreed so that there is no confusion.
I found an excellent article on ‘How to run a more effective meeting’ in the business section of the New York Times. I recommend reading it; https://www.nytimes.com/guides/business/how-to-run-an-effective-meeting
Support your team’s mental health & wellbeing
The wellbeing and mental health of our team is of major importance to us. We want them to stay well so that we can ramp up the business when these difficult times are over.
A feeling of isolation and loneliness is one of the key issues that habitual remote workers regularly report that they experience. Because of this we make a significant effort to help colleagues to socialise together online. It is all about creating the opportunities.
We all meet for an online lunch every day at the same time. The aim is to encourage some downtime and to provide the opportunity to share ideas and have a natter.
We also encourage team members to have one-to-one coffee breaks which they can arrange using https://www.donut.com. Experience tells us that many of the best ideas emerge when people are having an informal chat, so this is time well spent.
Quizzes are great fun and help build team working. There are lots of quizzes available online, so it is easy to give this a try.
Praise can go a long way
Cash may be limited right now but you can always make sure that you give praise where it is due and that you go out of your way to take every opportunity to celebrate successes.
We have always had a Friday night beer before we start our weekends. So, to carry on this tradition I organised for a local brewery, to deliver a case of beer to each of our team members. We meet online at 5pm on Friday and remotely share a drink, have a toast to celebrate our successes and enjoy a few jokes. This is good for morale and we also support a local small business in the process.
Planning your business development
We fully expect to have an uplift in our business when the current crisis comes to an end. Because of this we are using some of our time to plan for the next phase of our business expansion. The fact that it is quieter at the moment means that we are able to develop our capabilities, review and update our processes and improve our application.
Like us you may be finding the switch to remote working a bit of a challenge. However, there is plenty of help available for startups and small businesses as I hope I have shown. We are proud of how our team has adapted and we are looking forward to continued business success.
About the author
This article has been written for ByteStart by Hugo Tilmouth, CEO of ChargedUp, Europe’s largest phone charging network. ChargedUp gives customers power on-demand through its network of portable power banks and the ChargedUp app now has over 200,000 users.
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