2020 was a year that many of us wish to forget. The covid-19 pandemic swept across the world quickly, rendering daily life impossible. Governments were forced to impose restrictions on movement by individuals, plus businesses were closed necessarily to stem the spread of the virus. For smaller businesses, this was a major blow from which many did not recover.
Those that did survive did so by way of adapting their method of working. With office and desk-based staff having to work from home – indeed in many countries this applied to everyone who could perform their role remotely – great changes in working practices were necessary.
In this article we look at how the pandemic affected smaller businesses in particular, the problems – and the benefits – of working from home and how the crisis has shaped the way we work for the future.
The Pros and Cons of Home Working
The requirement for staff to begin working from home came quickly. This led to people having to use a makeshift office in the home in the first instance. IT departments found they were suddenly in demand for more than their usual roles. For many people, the transition from office to home working was simple. Those who perform customer service roles, for example, were able to use a home internet connection to do the job.
For others, there was more to consider. The problem of teams that need to meet to organise and pass on information was one that was rapidly overcome by the use of tools such as Zoom, the video conferencing app, and also a scheduling tool for appointments became a necessity. Modern digital technology suddenly became the saviour for a lot of small – and indeed larger – businesses. The positives of working from home as opposed to going to the office are easy to see, and include:
- No commute
- Travel costs reduced
- Ease of schedule
- Comfort of own home
However, it’s also important we talk about the downsides of working from home. For example, many people enjoy the social aspect of working with others, which while still possible once restrictions are removed is not achieved to satisfaction over an internet connection. Furthermore, working from home means increased heating, light and energy costs. Then there are the distractions from children, pets and other members of the household, and the need for more up to date computer equipment than you may already own.
Let’s consider the problems faced by small businesses that have been forced to work in this way, and how they can be overcome.
Specific Problems for Small Businesses
Small businesses have suffered in terms of productivity, an area that was always going to be problematic. Furthermore, shops and other retail outlets had no option but to go online, although this has not always been possible. For office-based staff, the problems mentioned above are regularly cited as those that get in the day of a good day’s work.
The pressure on team managers to remotely manage a team has also been strong. The answer has been to arrange meetings regularly using the tool mentioned above, and for managers to support their teams as best possible. With multi-user video conferencing available this has become easier, but there are many who find a face-to-face meeting more productive.
However, there is another side to the situation that may influence the way small businesses operate in the future, so let’s close by looking at how the covid-19 pandemic has influenced the world of commerce in respect to smaller and growing businesses.
Remote Working and the Future
The enforced work from home rules led to a lot of turmoil yet, on the whole, when things settled down and the newcomers got used to things, businesses began to pick up where they had left off. It was discovered that business can be done remotely where certain roles are concerned. Telephone jobs, for example, can be performed from the home as can many customer service roles. Accounts and sales roles can also be home-based in many cases.
This has made major businesses consider the future of remote working as well as smaller businesses. After all, does a small business of just a dozen employees, for example, need an expensive office from which to work when most of the roles can be done remotely? The remote workers save money on transport – but add it onto their home energy costs – and the business does away with rent and rates.
In many ways it is inevitable that working from home will become more prevalent and many of the self-employed have been working this way for a good number of years. Smaller businesses have access to the digital tools required to move towards a home-working baseline, and it is to be expected that many remain working this way at least part-time after the crisis is controlled.