Trends & Insights

4 lessons small business employers can learn from the pandemic

Discover lessons that business owners can learn in light of the pandemic, including using tech to improve workplace wellbeing,

As restrictions ease, many of us might find ourselves automatically returning to the routines of our pre-pandemic lives.

While some of these habits and ways of thinking are welcome, others are ripe for change. It’s important to recognise that we don’t have to pick up exactly where we left off before coronavirus. The pandemic taught employers many lessons about work and it’s important not to forget them.

Four of these lessons, which we cover in this article, are:

Focus on results, not the schedule

We are more than our work

Stay flexible

Technology can improve your workplace wellbeing

In the pre-pandemic work world, it sometimes seemed that more focus was placed on presence in the office and looking busy versus results.

In many workplaces, those in upper management were treated like grown-ups. But trust in an employee’s ability to work without oversight diminished with each step down the organisation chart.

In her recent presentation for TED Salon, Patty McCord, the former Chief Talent Officer at Netflix, says that if the great home-working experiment taught us anything, it’s that many workers can be productive even without the boss constantly looking over their shoulders. Everyone in a company is an adult, not just upper management.

This is great news for managers and employees alike.

Managers no longer have to monitor people by walking by their desks to see who is working. Instead, they can put the focus where it should be, on results. This change in attitude can reduce anxiety for the employer and employee alike.

As an employer, you can have more confidence in your employees, who in turn feel better about their jobs because they are trusted. They can stop trying to look busy and instead focus on completing their tasks in the most effective way.

During the pandemic you probably saw numerous live interviews carried out over videoconferencing tools such as Zoom or Teams where the interviewee was suddenly interrupted by their child bursting into the room.

Maybe you’ve experienced something similar, though on a less public scale, during your own video meetings.

As one Sky news reporter said: “That’s what happens during lockdown.”

These disruptions, though inconvenient and a bit embarrassing, have served to make you aware that your employees have lives outside of work that you were not always aware of when you only saw them in the office.

The video meetings that helped keep businesses running during the pandemic have also humanised us and make us realise that there is more to our employees than work.

Going forward, try to remain empathetic with and understanding of them by remembering these four tips:

  • Listen to understand, not to respond.
  • Be genuine.
  • Try to use positive non-verbal communication.
  • Avoid judging others and question any biases you have.

A few months ago, the news reported that hybrid working was here to stay. Now, some business leaders are declaring that full-time work in the office is inevitable and necessary.

The changing news probably has you feeling a bit confused and a new McKinsey report suggests you’re not alone.

Its recent survey revealed that a large majority of executives felt their core employees should return to the office three or more days a week, whereas employees felt the opposite and preferred to work from home at least two days a week.

These numbers reveal a jarring disconnect between upper management and employees.

Understandably, many employees are feeling ignored and 40% of employees globally say they are considering changing jobs by the end of the year.

Although the work from home experience was largely successful, there are valid reasons to return to work in the office including:

  • Easier collaboration
  • The opportunity for chance encounters
  • More effective mentoring of new employees.

Additionally, hybrid working can be complicated and requires more coordination. Even so, it isn’t beneficial to simply spring back to office working without a second thought.

McKinsey recommends three actions going forward.

  1. Remain flexible and acknowledge that it will take some time to formulate a new working model. Make decisions about your future work model using evidence and explain these decisions clearly.
  2. Listen to the concerns of employees. During the pandemic, it became clear that communication was vital for business success and workplace wellbeing. It is no less vital now. Make sure that your employees and team members feel heard. It will lift their morale and help you craft a more positive work model.
  3. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Try new technologies, redesign your workspace, rethink how meetings are run. Embrace experimentation and you might come upon a new more productive way to work.

Workplace wellbeing came to the forefront during the pandemic. We realised the necessity of looking after ourselves at work by embracing technology that eased our workloads.

Services that automated routine tasks, saved time, and made it easier to work remotely were all welcome additions to the workplace toolkit.

Restrictions are lifting and some things will return to normal, but don’t let a return to normal mean an increase in stress. If you discovered software packages or services that reduced your stress, and that of your employees, while working from home, see if there is a way they can be implemented in the office.

For example, carry on using technology that automates repetitive tasks. These services will reduce stress because they not only save you time, but also can result in fewer errors.

Additionally, it’s likely that remote working will be part of our lives for the near future, so continue to use tools that work equally well for office staff and home workers.

If you take payments, find a software solution that integrates with your bank accounts and accounting platform, that reconciles the payments into your bank account for you and allows you to easily track who has paid you and who has not.

SMEs spend nearly 10 hours per week on accounting and payment tasks – that’s time you could spend growing yourself, your business and your workforce, so find and stick to the small business software that helps you.

Finally, some of us will be happy to get back to face-to-face meetings, but video conferencing advances have made meetings more accessible for many who may have had difficulties participating before.

Continue to take advantage of the inclusivity offered by some virtual meeting services.

Final thoughts

It’s easy to rush back to old ways of doing things because of a desire for the pandemic to be over, but let’s not forget the important lessons we learned.

By focusing on results, empathising with your employees, remaining flexible, and using technology that makes work easier you can create a more positive and productive work environment going forward.

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