Handling COVID-19 as a Small Biz & an Optimist

By now, if you’re like me, you’ve received a notice from the government, every vendor under the sun, Chipotle, and your local bowling alley on what they’re doing around COVID-19: Increased cleanliness, safety training, and all of the reminders about washing your hands.

We figured it was our turn. I also thought it might be helpful to share with other small business owners (and our clients reading this) how and why we’re changing our policies to ensure the safety and success of our staff, and our many clients. If that’s you, I hope this is helpful as you consider what policies you might want to put in place at your own organization.

Just like everything else at Online Optimism, we’re handling it by applying our values to the situation. Well, every value except Screens Will Not Replace Handshakes (value #4). That one’s pretty much going in the trash for the next couple of weeks.

Be Open and Honest With Your Team

I think journalist Garrett Graff put it best:

Our first value at Online Optimism is Build on Trust, and I’ve been very honest with my team when I say that we don’t know how this will turn out. No one does. So what’s going to be key is ensuring that we’re talking with each other and our clients to keep everyone in the loop as a swiftly changing situation evolves.

If You Can Work From Home, You Should Work From Home

My own staff knows that I’m usually not the most flexible on work-from-home policies. It’s actually the one benefit that I confidently tell people when they’re interviewing for positions at our agency, that we’re not flexible with.

And to be upfront, our staff (at the moment at least) is mostly young and unlikely to be in much health danger:

That being said, everyone can do what they can to slow the infection rate of the disease, which means everyone’s new favorite phrase: Social Distancing. With that in mind, we began working toward putting in place policies for all staff to work remotely.

Our work-from-home questionnaire.
Our work-from-home questionnaire. If you’d like to copy and adjust for your company, you can find it here.

The first thing we did was send everyone a checklist to discuss their previous work-from-home experiences, and what we could do specifically to make it easier for them. This also gave our staff a chance to request external mice/keyboards or second monitors.

You might not initially think that this is the time to start purchasing more things for your staff – after all, cash flows are about to start getting pretty wonky for a lot of industries. But, I believe that anything you can do to help make your staff feel more capable and comfortable working at home for prolonged periods of time seems like a pretty economically-smart decision to me.

Next, we tested out our work-from-home capabilities. A very fun half-hour of “can you hear me, I can hear you” from every corner of our office later, we came to the conclusion that Slack would be our best bet for teleconferencing, and a schedule was set for our Morning Huddles to continue to take place, with everyone at their own homes.

In addition, we discussed at length how we could work from home and stay productive, which lead to a few tips we’ve put into the helpful infographic below:

Once We Put on Our Own Oxygen Mask, It’s Time to Help Others

We have a handful of clients that require special-care in this situation. First, we spoke with the people who are truly about to face the most difficulty out of anyone: Our healthcare clients. We assured them that we’re going to continue working, and would be happy to increase the amount of posting / messaging needed to get things done. For some clients, we also made sure to Be Exceptionally Helpful (value #2) and offer additional services and staff members to assist, like having our content team craft perfect messages to communicate information about COVID-19 in an informative, and useful manner.

For other organizations where, like it or not, a severe slowdown is about to happen — looking at you, Hospitality — we’ve made sure to reach out and offer to do what we could to keep things going. We’ve also had numerous internal discussions about what we could do to Better Our Community (value #6) and support the local businesses in our city that may face a struggle, but more on that coming later.

Understand That This Isn’t Going to Be Easy

Not everything is so smooth, and we’re adjusting some policies to fit the new (temporary) work-world we’re facing. We removed our flexible work hour options for staff, so that everyone will be working 9-5. This gives our Directors a better understanding of where their Optimists are, and our clients assuredness that we’ll be available during normal hours. In addition, some of our more fun policies, like catered Friday lunches, are on hold for a bit. We’re aiming to keep the conversations on Slack positive, something that’ll be important next week to Remain Youthful and Optimistic (value #9).

Looking Ahead

Finally, we Always Optimize (value #5), and when coming up with these policies, we informed everyone that these will be our policies for just next week (at least for now). We plan on discussing and revising these policies every Thursday for the following week, in order to adjust to a changing world.

A Caveat: Online Optimism is Extremely Lucky

I’ve been calling it “Digital Industry Privilege”. I’m incredibly thankful that being in digital marketing means we can work pretty much entirely at home, without much confusion or difficulty.

But many businesses are not. The service industry, hospitality, manufacturing, and a lot of other companies could likely be in trouble. If you’re a chef, there’s no such thing as “remote work.”

If this continues for months, rather than weeks, those businesses will struggle. Their employees will be in trouble. And we’ll all need to help. In that case, it might be valuable to turn back to that initial value we were going to disregard: Screens will not replace Handshakes. Let’s look out for each other and do what we can to keep everyone going.

Just make sure you wash your hands afterward.