How SME’s can respond better to the return to work and make the most of this opportunity

As industries and businesses start to re-open and plan to return to work, SME's can reap the benefits of their agile and responsive culture.

How SME’s can respond better to the return to work and make the most of this opportunity

As industries and businesses start tore-open and plan to return to work, SME’s can reap the benefits of their agileand responsive culture.

Larger organisations are normally slower to respond to change as they have layers of infrastructure, management systems, and often internal politics to navigate. With their business strategy written in stone and their rigid KPI’s driving the focus of the business, it is harder to change direction.

One example of this is where a large international company failed to recognise the successes of a project team during Covid-19 because the team had deviated from the standard operating process.

The team had worked together to focus on achieving the project goals and to do this had to think outside the box. Despite not completing the company checkpoints they achieved their goals, on time and on budget. The larger company missed the point!

As SME’s we need to consider the same questions when planning to return to work, but it is our ability to respond effectively and efficiently that will set us apart from the larger organisation.

Just launching back into business as though nothing happened won’t serve you, your staff or your customers.

Here are three opportunities you have, as an SME, to generate a positive from a negative and for you to get ahead of the game when you re-open for business:

  1. Having an open and honest culture with your teams
  2. Swiftly implement the lessons learned and have a clear transition plan
  3. Motivate your people to follow the new path

Let’s look at each in turn.

1) Creating an open and honest culture with your teams

Covid-19 has put humanity to the test. Our health has been threatened, and we’ve had to deal with difficulties such as being apart from loved ones. Transitioning out of lockdown will mean each person will have the dilemma of how to balance personal safety and job security. 

This can especially affect SME’s and start-up businesses that may not have the cash reserves in the bank to ride out the uncertainty. Second guessing this can make your people fearful and anxious, wondering if they will have a job to go back to.

Hopefully, the nature of an SME has helped you instilled a culture that means you are generally open about your performance, recognising that there is no reason why employees shouldn’t know the vital signs of the business

This is no different during these difficult times, and the best way to engage with your team and help allay their fears is to talk to them. Even with employees on Furlough it is important to keep people in the picture so there are no surprises. Conference calls are a good idea, particularly a pre-return-to- work conference call.

When engaging with your team effective communication is of vital important. This is especially the case during times of change.  Often listening, then responding clearly and definitively to the majority of questions are the most important parts of your communication. This of course needs to be followed up by putting anything which has been agreed into action.

Your staff will need some time to reflect on what you have told them during the conference call. Give them couple of days and then their line managers can have one-to-one calls to follow up and deal with any questions and concerns.  The managers will need a more in depth understanding of the back to work plan and be clear if they can make any adjustments or not. You don’t a member of staff coming away from this call with additional unanswered questions. 

With SME’s the small changes can make the biggest impact. Upskilling your managers and team leaders to gain learn to use their emotional intelligence can have a dramatic and positive effect on people’s anxiety and behaviours in what could otherwise be an emotional time. Many managers and team leaders have had little formal management training. If this is the case they may find it hard to ask for support (or even know they need it). An excellent way to handle this is to arrange access to eLearning platforms that will help them develop their skills.   

2) Swiftly implement the lessons learned and have a cleartransition plan

Returning to work is going to be anything but business as normal for some time yet. Changes businesses need to make may lead to a drop in productivity, the need for training, and the ability to deal with the frustrations that are felt during any period of change.

From conversations with our clients, we’ve noticed that people have ended up working longer hours through uncertainty, fear and sometimes boredom. A proper work-life balance will need to be restored. This may involve reviewing and amending your processes.  Holding a ‘lessons learned’ workshop is an excellent way to do this. You may well discover that not everything during the lockdown has been negative.

SME’s generally have an environment where people feel they can share their experiences and opinions, use this to your advantage, have candid conversation with your teams and listen to what worked well during this time. During this process you will identify changes that were efficient and allowed a simpler way of doing things to flourish.

Following your ‘lessons learned’ review, you may find that you have updated some of your processes. These changes will affect the people returning to work, and the people who took on additional tasks Your Back to Work plan clearly needs to communicate these changes clearly and embraces them positively.

Treat returning to work as a project in its own right. As with any other project it is vital proactively manage the change and plan for the transition.  You need a well-defined and concise plan, that is clearly communicated to your team, and managed with an understanding that given the unusual times and we won’t have all the answers we’d like to have. By telling your team that you have a plan, are working with them and taking their challenges into account, you can transition smoothly and keep your team united.  

3) Motivate your people to follow the new path

It is here that SME’s have the advantage, with individuals often employed because of their energy, their can-do attitude, and their motivation to achieve shared business goals. Team dynamics play a vital part in any SME’s success.

As you prepare your team to return to work, it is important to ensure that they embody the behaviours you want to see and that they focus their efforts on achieving the team’s goals.

The beauty of smaller teams is that you have the ability to include everyone within your team in the lessons learned review exercise and the agility your business to implement these changes will demonstrate your commitment to get it right and set the onward and upward direction of the business in the new world.

The team with the best players wins and when companies win, their people grow and thrive. Empowering your team to make these changes will not only demonstration that you have listened to their concerns and their ideas but will also motivate them to embrace the necessary changes much quicker.

By definition high performing teams work well together. During the fragmentation caused by lockdown motivation and team spirit will have been put to the test.

If you recognise this in your team, you will need to focus of rebuilding your team as you plan to return to work, you may want to consider a team exercise.  There is no need to make this complicated. Something as simple as a quiz or an icebreaker that will be fun can work well.

Another way of reengaging your teams is to allow them to development their skills, this will not only build knowledge but also motivate them to achieve high levels of success. In turn, this will deliver you your return on investment. 

Joanna Strahan
Joanna Strahan

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