Author’s note: This is the first in a new series I am starting on Life after Covid-19 for Small Businesses.
As companies begin to slowly reopen in anticipation of getting back to work many new challenges await business owners. The way we used to work is no longer possible. The business climate has changed along with the economy.
Although it may be tempting to believe that all will return to normal, even after a cure is found for the Coronavirus, the uncomfortable truth for many business owners is that change is inevitable.
Change for many business owners is difficult. Most of the difficulty derives from the interruption of business activities. For example, the VoIP technology is proven to reduce telecommunications costs while increasing productivity and flexibility. Even though the benefits of VoIP is well known, many business owners have been reluctant to embrace the technology.
The arguments against VoIP vary from the large investment already made in the existing PBX system to the disruption of business communications by having to deploy new phones, train employees and port existing phone numbers over.
For many business owners, the difficulty outweighed the benefits, at least in their mindsets.
Change is difficult.
The call for remote work forces have existed for many years. Most workers embrace the idea of having better control over their time and spending more time with family.
Business owners generally feared the idea of having remote workers. Mostly, the idea that workers could not be physically be supervised made many business owners reluctant to consider remote workers.
Even when tentatively embracing the idea of remote workers, the cost for technology and training as well as adopting the work flows put adopting remote workers on the back burner.
Technology companies considered and some implemented remote work strategies. Some decided it did not fit the analog culture of having workers within sight of each other.
Soon after taking the helm of struggling Yahoo, CEO Marissa Mayer ended Yahoo‘s flexible work schedules ordering employees to return back to work at the office. Mayer argued that “speed and quality” were often “sacrificed” when working from home. When a tech company backtracks from remote work forces it put flexible work schedules back years.
The analog belief that working alongside coworkers increased productivity and creativity remained.
Then the Coronavirus came.
Remote workers wasn’t just a thing anymore, it has become a necessity to keep businesses viable.
Stay-at-home orders forced business owners to think of creative ways to keep working even if their workers weren’t at the office. Virtual meetings became the norm, instead of the exception. When the reality hit that the pandemic was going to disrupt business activities over the long term, businesses owners ordered technology for virtual work.
The challenges of working from home are only now starting to surface. For workers it is the challenges of children interrupting the virtual meetings and routines to owners trying to navigate how to keep their work force working together from afar.
Remote working isn’t an experiment anymore - it is now the reality. The resulting challenges will not be resolved through experimentation and tentatively testing the waters, but rather through complete immersion into the new reality.
The debate over how productive remote workers can be is now moot. But the evidence prior to the pandemic showed that workers are more productive working from home.
A 2015 Stanford University study showed that working from home (WFH) showed a 13% increase in productivity.
The debate over whether remote working is feasible has evolved into how to do it efficiently and effectively.
The sudden rush to work remotely has resulted in a mishmash of technology and solutions. Zoom, because it happened to be at the right place in time was adopted as the virtual meeting tool. But is it the right tool?
Microsoft’s Teams argues that it is the better tool.
Small business owners are now struggling to select the best tool while dealing with reduced revenues. Virtual meetings are just the first problem that needs to be resolved.
As businesses continue to get back to work, the problem of navigating the new business reality will need to address legal issues, human resource problems, on ramping existing and new employees and delivering services virtually to clients. Technology will drive the push to the new business reality but the analog issues of worker needs, legal issues and client relationships will continue to be part of the business dilemma, albeit now addressed by technology.