After demonetization and hit and miss the implementation of GST, it is COVID-19 that has impacted small businesses in India.
With cities across the country under lockdown, the stock markets plunging, people subject to home quarantine and social distancing, COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t have come at a time worse than this.
It has left the already bleeding SMEs in India in a state of further distress. Small businesses are trying hard to figure out ways to mitigate such a risk, safeguard their employees and support customers amidst such a disruption.
While governments and international healthcare organizations are encouraging businesses to allow employees to work from home, not many businesses are prepared for such a shift including SMEs.
According to a webinar snap poll conducted by Gartner, 54% of the HR leaders in the snap poll indicated that poor technology and infrastructure for remote working is the biggest barrier to effective remote working.
Nevertheless, it is not too late for the SMEs to come up with a remote work policy and other measures that can help them survive the COVID-19 outbreak.
How small businesses to sustain amidst the Corona Virus pandemic.
Plan Your Finances
- Manage Cash
The first thing that small business can do is to manage their cash inflow and outflow. Since small businesses remain cash strapped for most of the times, they must think on cutting expenses or boosting sales by coming up with alternative ways of doing so. Thus, having cash in hand is what you should aim for coming six to eight months.
Wherever possible, negotiate with various stakeholders including your landlords or suppliers asking for cooperation. This could be in the form of extending time to make payments, waivers like reduced rent or pricing etc.
- Control Employee Expense
Further, SMEs can curtail employee expenses by controlling travel and event costs, hiring freelancers, contractual employees or interns in place of full-time employees.
- Optimize Your Marketing Expenditure
SMEs should spend less money on marketing and think of alternative ways for promoting their products and services. These could be relying heavily on your network for business, word of mouth marketing, organic social media promotion etc.
- Shift Sales Online
The Coronavirus outbreak is bound to impact not just customer behavior but also the way work would be carried out in organizations across the globe.
Social distancing and self-quarantine would boost e-commerce sales in the coming few months. Customers would now prefer digital alternatives over physical shopping, a behavioral change that is bound to have a long term impact.
Likewise, remote working is seen as a mandatory requirement for any business to equip itself for future workplace and employee needs. With governments across the globe mandating or advising remote working to employers, many employees would be seen working remotely or from home, in flexible shifts, traveling less and avoiding in-person meetings.
This being the scenario, selling via e-commerce platforms would play a crucial role in the growth of businesses in times to come.
Set Remote Workforces And Policy
One of the important lessons COVID-19 outbreak has brought for SMEs is to work on their technology infrastructure and remote work policy in order to get prepared for future digital workplace needs.
The biggest challenge faced by many SMEs since the onset of COVID-19 pandemic has been (i) to allow their employees to work from home due to lack of technology infrastructure and (ii) their reluctance to welcome the new way of working.
Thus, its now time for SMEs to come up with a remote work policy that would act as an important part of a contingency plan to survive the Corona Virus pandemic.
This could include:
- Effective internal and external communication strategy based on foundations of honesty, accountability, transparency and consistency. This would mean putting in place cloud-based communication channel that allows you to communicate with employees, vendors and other stakeholders. Furthermore, devising ways to reach out to potential customers via blogs, emails, newsletters, webinars, virtual meetings etc.
- Flexible work options based on the nature of work. For instance, knowledge workers, workers employed at the site, sales persons, assembly line workers, etc.
- Plan for implementing technology infrastructure to support remote work.
- Defining roles based on nature of work so as to decide if such workers could be given work-from-home facility.
- Setting guidelines for managers to place trust in remote employees by concentrating on performance results and productivity reviews.
Create an Effective Communications Strategy
In the time of crisis, communication becomes all the more important. This is because you need to protect your employees and vendors, support your customers and ensure that you handle the crisis in a way that enables you to survive.
As mentioned above, the foundations underlying an effective communication strategy involve:
- Revealing the truth
- Not hiding any information
- Not accusing anyone for anything
- Being consistent with what you can do and what you communicate
Accordingly, there are various measures that you must adopt to communicate effectively with different stakeholders.
What to Communicate?
This involves communicating to your employees, vendors, partners etc. about the various measures that they can adopt to protect themselves against Corona Virus. Thus, ensure that you share safety guidelines released by the government.
Keep them updated with the current situation and latest developments taking place nationally and globally. Furthermore, you also need to apprise them with the measures adopted by your company to handle crisis.
This could include telling them about impact of Corona Virus on sales, layoffs, cut in expenditure and your plan for the future.
How to Communicate?
In order to communicate with your employees, it is important to have a company communication channel where such information can be shared quickly and effectively.
Thus, you can use cloud based communication tools that provide dedicated channels to keep the conversations organized, find important information easily and help your team members to collaborate.
What to Communicate?
Much like the internal stakeholders, it is important to keep touch with your customers and communicate them about the ways in which your company is handling crisis. Sharing such information helps build trust and loyalty.
How to Communicate?
You can use social media channels and conduct live sessions involving experts to discuss about the Corona Pandemic and how to deal with it.
Replace In-Person Meetings With Videoconferencing
With COVID-19 spreading like fire, social distancing is the way out to prevent it from spreading. Thus, having a remote collaboration solution at place is the need of th hour. You must replace the in-person meetings with videoconferencing and teleworking alternatives. Remote meetings are a viable and safe option to help you continue with your business operations under times of such distress.
Thus, make sure you have proper tools to conduct virtual meetings seamlessly. There are various cloud video conferencing applications that allow you to conduct live video calls, conference calls, webinars and online meetings easily and in a safe manner.
Ensure Tech For Working-From-Home
To allow work-from-home to your employees, it is important to ensure that employees have access to certain technologies so as to be able to avail work from home facility. This could include software requirements, proper internet speed, devices such as personal computers or laptops etc.
Thus, to enable your employees to work remotely in an effortless way, you can provide them with desktops installed with requisite softwares. Further, to ensure that they have proper internet speed, you can provide them with guidelines in this regard so that they can have a proper set up at home.
This could include a proper WiFi router, requisite subscription plan from the Internet Service Provider (ISP), secure home network having anti-virus software etc for which you could reimburse them.
In addition to this, make sure that you give proper access to your employees of a support team who could help in case of any technical difficulties faced by remote employees working from home.
This could be implemented with the help of remote desktop sharing softwares so that your support team can have access to your remote employees desktop.
Lastly, you must lay down security requirements to be implemented by the remote employees. These include avoiding public wifi networks while working. Besides this, you can also give them security resources such as a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Such a network will help you to encrypt data and scan devices for any malware in order to avoid hacking risks.
Create A Task Force
In times of emergency like the one faced by global economy, it is important to have a task force. This small team, comprising of the HR leaders, corporate communication managers and experts to deal with crisis at hand, does the research on crisis and devises plan to move ahead.
Ensure that the task force meets on regular basis, keeps track of the latest updates on crisis and provides regular information to various stakeholders.
Be Strict About Hygiene
It is extremely important for SMEs to follow hygiene guidelines issued by WHO to help prevent further spread of COVID-19.
SMEs can advise employees to adopt strict safety measures at workplace. Some of these hygiene tips issued by WHO to ensure that your workplace is COVID-19 ready are as follows:
- Ensure that workplaces are clean and hygienic.
- Ensure that surfaces such as desktops, tables, and objects like phones, printers etc. are disinfected as these are one of the main sources leading to the spread of the COVID-19.
- Promote regular handwashing by employees, customers and anyone coming to the workplace.This could involve placing hand sanitizers at various places, displaying posters promoting hand washing, providing access to soap, hand wash etc to persons visiting company premises.
- Encourage respiratory hygiene at workplace. This could include distributing hand masks, providing tissue papers to people having running nose, involving experts to talk to various stakeholders in the company giving guidance on health and hygiene.
- Asking people having mild fever, cough, flu etc to stay at home.
- Replace face to face meetings with video conferencing or reduce the number of people attending the meeting.
- Continuously monitoring where COVID-19 is circulating.