How can you make working from home work for you and your small business? While we’re all muddling through self-isolation, life—and work—must go on, which means businesses big and small are looking for ways to boost their productivity while away from the office.
Some companies have landed on one forgotten, but tried-and-true strategy for keeping the work-at-home blues away.
Working from Home is Hard
Your clients are panicking. Your employees are confused. And you have to leave your desk to let your dog out, again. This is your small business workplace in the time of Coronavirus. If it feels like you’re spending all day putting out fires, you’re not alone.
It’s a rough transition to go from having your team on site to having them scattered across your hometown, distracted by everything from very happy dogs to very loud children. When a team member has a question, they can’t stop by for a quick chat—instead everything has to be explained digitally or in writing, making working from home even more unproductive than it already is.
And, even more frustratingly, you can’t be in there in real time to approve the work you see or provide quick feedback. Projects that normally take an afternoon end up taking days, just because of all the back and forth.
This can lead to unhappy clients and a much worse final product. And, in these uncertain times, this could lead to lost business.
However, lots of successful companies rely entirely on a stay-at-home workforce. What’s their secret to success? How are they able to keep their employees on track and maintain a high standard for their deliverables?
Well, some of them are small teams that work incredibly well together. But most successful companies with remote workers rely on a set of comprehensive standards that ensure high-quality work across the board.
A Successful Virtual Workplace Thrives on Order
Yes, it might help to implement a No Pajamas Policy or hold tons of online meetings, but the true secret to a successful virtual workforce is organization of information.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but what does organization in a virtual workplace really look like? For most successful virtual companies, it means that employees have a way of figuring things out on their own.
Having a centralized resource for employees to look for the answers to their questions or reminders of how to perform certain tasks saves hours and hours of time for management, and this is especially important for small businesses, where the founders handle almost everything.
An often-overlooked way to organize commonly-used information in your virtual (or any) workplace? SOPs, or Standard Operating Procedures.
You may associate SOPs with giant corporations or the military, but SOPs are a totally under-utilized organizational tool that instantly adds value to any company, no matter the size.
SOPs provide concrete guidance for your team and are custom-designed to facilitate the unique work processes that your company uses most, anticipating any questions that might pop up as your employees complete their tasks.
Streamline Every Work Process Through Common Resources
Moving your entire workforce online in a matter of days meant that you had to put out a lot of fires—from reassuring nervous clients to teaching your employees how to install Zoom.
Imagine having a set of guidelines already available that empowered your employees to figure things out on their own, rather than sending you “How do I do this?” emails every time something new pops up. Imagine never having to answer one of those emails ever again.
With comprehensive SOPs in place, this dream becomes a reality: your employees have a one-stop resource for all of their questions, which frees up your time and energy. You can put your focus where it needs to be: the everyday business of running your business.
Something as simple as a checklist or a sample finished product can work wonders in keeping your employees on track and preventing errors. We all know that no one is perfect and that mistakes happen (especially when we’re all a little stressed). SOPs help catch those errors before they reach your clients.
In general, SOPs help your employees solve their own problems and answer their own questions—sometimes they even include a handy FAQ section. Even in their most basic format, SOPs act as simple reminders for your employees on how to get things done.
Not only do SOPs ground and guide your workforce, they protect your time. You can focus on everything else you have going on, making your business more efficient overall, whether you’re all working from home or back in the office.
And, with your entire work process systematized, the value of your business immediately goes up because SOPs make your business—your specialized brand of knowledge and product creation—transferable.
Your expertise is valuable; you’ve built your business from the ground up. SOPs codify and protect the knowledge base that you’ve built. And they make building onto that foundation even easier.
Building and Implementing SOPs that Work for You
The best SOPs are created to respond directly to your business’s needs, and their format should reflect what your employees need the most.
Some SOPs are image-driven and contain tons of screenshots or videos, while others might look more like a step-by-step guide. Some SOPs are detailed, while others might be designed to give employees more room to do their own thing.
As the company leader, you know what your workers really need to be successful. This is why it’s so important for SOPs to be custom-designed. Using a template may seem like a quick and easy fix. Read on to see why that’s not always the case.
To create a solid set of SOPs using a template (which are widely available online—some for free, some for a fee), you’ll need to comb through all of your work processes, interview your team about their needs, figure out what the most relevant and important info is, and then fill in the template accordingly. Anyone who manages people can see that this would easily add hours and hours to your workweek.
And, templates can be hard to work with. Often, their one-size-fits all approach means that they are too general, or too specific. Usually, it’s more of a case of one-size-fits none.
Even if you tweak the template to meet your needs and spend hours outlining your work processes, you might end up with a final SOP that isn’t truly optimized to instruct and guide others. Because that’s not your area of expertise—running a business is.
So, rather than going with a template, business owners might bring in an expert to evaluate their company’s work processes and design SOPs to meet their needs.
Typically, these experts will come to your office, examine your work processes, conduct interviews, and put together some guides based on what your office needs. Or, they may gather information from you and your employees virtually, depending on the complexity of your work processes.
Small business owners may even be able to send in some video or voice recordings of their process and leave the organization and formatting entirely up to the expert creating the SOP.
There are tons of options out there for ways to implement SOPs that help streamline and systemize your business. You can create them yourself, use a template, or rely on an expert for help (usually the fastest and easiest option).
Once You’re Organized, the Rest is Easy
Keeping your employees on track from afar doesn’t have to be a struggle. If they have common resources, complete with best practices and even sample final products, you can be sure that your team will be turning out consistent and high-quality work.
While SOPs aren’t the only way to increase efficiency and productivity while everyone is stuck working at home, they are one of the easiest and most direct routes to solving problems before they start and to streamlining your work processes.
Once all of your information is in one place, you can approach your virtual workplace—and managing your virtual workers—without fear or frustration. And that’s something we all need right now.