Over the past few weeks, I spent quite a bit of time spotting trends of how businesses in Malta and Internationally have responded to this pandemic. In all this fear and uncertainty, many businesses have taken great steps to safeguard the wellbeing of their employees and customers. I’m generally, an optimistic person and tend to see the silver lining in things, and I strongly believe that this Covid-19 pandemic, once resolved, will also be a learning experience for businesses all over the world. Learnings that can be implemented to prepare the business for times like these, ways how to improve efficiency, improve customer experience and save costs.
2020 so far is turning out to be totally different from what anyone has ever imagined. Who would have thought that many countries would end up in an almost complete stand still and with most companies unable to go about their usual business? Many countries have paused travelling operations to the most affected countries. People have been asked to cancel un-necessary travel, schools and universities are on shut down, major events have also been cancelled and various private companies such as restaurants or busy offices have elected to suspend their operation or ask employees to work from home until the situation is resolved.
Yes, it’s an awful time. It is important that we all work together to beat this and return to our normal lives as quickly as possible. It’s important that all basic hygiene rules are followed as closely as possible and following the advice of health professionals and any new government directions. This applies even more to those who have been travelling, as they may have been in the highest risk bracket for transmission. Of course, you have heard all of this many times over. But it’s worth keeping all of this at the forefront of every day-to-day activity that we do, which will ultimately be the key to avoid spreading the virus.
Here are some of the things I have noticed and my points how I think businesses can take up and consider in their day to day operations.
A big chunk of my work time is spent in meetings. Love them or hate them, they are important to discuss projects, ideas, planning, implementation progress, issue resolution and so on. Over the past few weeks, I have faced zero resistance when suggesting setting up meetings over video conferencing (Skype) as an alternative to face to face meetings. To this day, I am still very surprised why some people still resist video conferencing so much. I have over the past few years suggested Skype meetings many times to speed things up, but the majority, still prefer the face-to-face.
Video conferencing is not the solution to everything. Especially at the initial stage of a working relationship between two businesses. Face to face meetings can be essential at the initial stages so that both parties get to know each other a little better, however, a few weeks or months down the line where one simply needs to discuss some basic items, a video call is in most cases more than enough to settle the task at hand.
- Save commuting / parking time – I would personally easily save 1 to 1.5 hrs per meeting
- Save fuel and parking costs – driving in traffic wastes fuel, and if these drives are reduced, the fuel costs are dramatically reduced.
- Save the environment – all the used fuel would be saved from our atmosphere – polluted air is killing more people annually than the Corona virus, so it’s like hitting two birds with one stone, right?
- Shorter meetings – During the past few weeks engaging in more skype calls rather than physical meetings, I have noticed that most meetings were shorter and more to the point.
- And of course, no physical risks of passing on disease – this applies not only to Covid-19, but also the dreaded seasonal colds, flu, gastric flu or any other nasties lurking around us all year.
- Finding the right platform for you – Skype works in most cases, where you just need to discuss and issue and perhaps some basic screen share. If your needs are a bit more complex, you will need to find the best tool to match your needs. This is really just a one-time hassle, which once resolved will greatly improve your efficiency.
- The right hardware – if you have an older machine or even a newer one with bad quality video and audio input and output, you will generally not have a great video conferencing experience. Investing in better video conferencing hardware may be suggested.
- Bad connection – this is the #1 reason for most failed video calls. If your connection is slow, or you are a bit too far away from the wifi router or maybe even using an overloaded network will cause the video/audio broadcast to slow down and ultimately fail.
Here are some of the video conferencing products that I have been using.
A basic, great quality video conferencing webcam.
Same great camera, but with a privacy shutter for those who are more security concerned.
Top of the range solution with higher framerates and improved quality.
Basic Hygiene – Everywhere
This one is baffling. To this day, I cannot understand why the authorities still have to explain to people how to wash their hands, how to behave when sick and the proper use of sanitising products. I am a bit of a germaphobe, and I take these things a bit to the extreme… Don’t do that. What you must do, is to ensure that you follow some really basic hygiene rules and ensure that your hands are washed frequently, use of a good hand sanitiser gel or wipes, cover your mouth with disposable paper napkins when you sneeze or cough to protect people around you etc… One thing that a lot of people seem to forget or ignore is to keep your work spaces clean. How long has it been since you have cleaned your desk, keyboard and mouse and other devices that you use daily? Think of the years of germs and grime accumulating in your keyboard. It gives me chills really. So, get cleaning! And make that a part of your schedule.
Quite a sensitive topic here unfortunately, but I have seen this too many times to be ignored. When you are sick, especially if it’s something contagious, stay at home. This is the only way that virus spread can be reduced – if fewer people get infected, the risk of the dreaded winter flu and other contagious diseases is heavily reduced. Business owners need to be part of this as well and enforce this as a company rule. Would you rather have one or two employees sick, or the entire office? It could bring the entire business operation down to its knees! The employees who are sick at home, need to also do their part and stay at home until fully recovered to contain virus transmission – there is no point containing the transmission at work, but then transmitting the viruses to your entire neighbourhood or your supermarket of choice.
There are people that love this idea, and others that hate it. I have been working from home for a few years now, and it has truly changed my life for the better – in many aspects. I really hated it initially, I hated the idea of not being at the office or being stuck at home all day. But eventually I realised, that the only thing that had kept me wanting to be at the office was the day-to-day office banter, and the social times that happen at the office. I didn’t hate working from home, I just hated missing out on the fun at the office. Once my team over the months and years started changing (as it always does), and my old colleagues were no longer there – I started realising that working at home, was the way to go for me and I was infinitely more productive.
Working from home has several pros and cons. Here are some of the points that I think are the most important.
- Time flexibility – working from home allows you to work with a more flexible schedule and allows you to balance your work/home time. It’s really convenient when you have for example deliveries being dropped off to your home and can just stop for a few minutes to settle the delivery and then go back to work – or when one needs to go for a quick errand.
- Reduced commuting & stress – Working from home also means, that you do not have to spend your daily 1 to 1.5 hrs travelling back and forth to the office everyday. It’s great to have an extra hour available daily to be able to either sleep that extra hour, go out for a walk or jog or anything else that you enjoy. For people with families and kids, it could mean some extra time in the morning to prepare things calmly and enjoy some extra family time.
- Cost savings – Travelling less, also means spending less on your commute – either in fuel costs or even in some cases the daily cost of the overpriced coffee or lunch that you may be picking up before work or during your lunch break. You can save so much money by making your own lunch at home, where you probably already have the basics, and can make a quick sandwich or anything else that you like to have for lunch at a fraction of the cost.
- Productivity – Working from home, with less office distractions, may also mean higher productivity. In most cases, you will not have your usual office interruptions and you can focus on getting your work done.
- Comfort – In most cases, working from home you may also probably be more comfortable, as there is no need to dress up in shirts and suits, you can simply just wear comfortable indoor wear. You will also be in full control of lighting, temperature and background sound/music or complete silence as you prefer.
- Productivity – even though in most cases, many people experience a productivity increase, some others experience the opposite. They may end up even more distracted and unable to finish a task from A to Z in the usual time. Not everyone’s home is suitable for home working, especially if the house is being occupied by other members of the family during the working time. Pets can also be a huge distraction especially if they are big attention seekers. Cute, but not if you need to finish that report asap!
- Discipline – working from home, requires a great deal of discipline. If you are mean to start working at 8:00am, and you oversleep daily, or wake up in the ‘I don’t feel like doing anything’ mood, and are not able to snap out of it, you are most likely not going to be able to work from home. You need to take this very seriously, and work like you would be working at the office.
- Not everyone can work from home – That’s the simple reality, most people don’t just feel comfortable. One cannot make this decision just by the first week or two of this experience. It took me probably around 2 to 3 months to fully get used to it. Now, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
- Change of scenery – you will need to make an extra effort to change the scenery. You will at times feel like a recluse, and spending the day and night at home at all times may at time feel quite depressing. You will need to make the conscious effort to change the scenery from time to time. Even if it’s a simple shopping trip, a drink out with friends and colleagues in the evening would be enough to provide a bit of separation from your home environment.
- Home setup – to be able to work from home well, you need to have your own good working space. If you end up having to work on your kitchen table all week, it may not be the best of locations. It is great if you could have your own small area dedicated to work, but not everyone is that lucky. Also, keep in mind that you are likely to have some expenses related to your working from home activity, such as basic stationery that you may need, internet costs that you are using for your work, office furniture, IT costs and electricity and water. Some companies that enable home working, also provide a special yearly or monthly allowance to make up for these extra costs.
Besides all the pros and cons, and your personal preferences, the reality is that not every job is doable from home. This is not possible for physical customer facing staff or jobs that involve processing of paperwork or tasks that require a lot of face-to-face.
Today’s reality is that many businesses with the Covid-19 infections have been imposing or suggesting to employees to work from home. Unfortunately, since this came so suddenly, and many businesses and employees were not prepared for it, I am fairly sure that many people will struggle. How successful this will be, will ultimately be a matter of how employees will quickly adapt, how business owners will be trusting their employees to work as they used to, and the accuracy of the work. We will just have to wait and see.
Physical passing of any objects from one hand to the next, is another big infection risk. Paperwork and money are one of such transmission objects. Nowadays, it is so simple for most businesses to go paperwork and cashless – and I am truly surprised why so many companies have not yet taken advantage of such convenience.
- Quoting – quoting for products and services doesn’t need to involve a physical paper handed to or mailed to a client, it can be simply emailed.
- Invoices and Receipts – sales receipts, can also be emailed
- Delivery confirmations – when a delivery is made to the client, a tablet can be provided to the customer so that they can do a virual signature.
- Same applies for some contracts – though this one may be a little bit more sensitive.
- Payments – sending cheque payments in some places is still a thing. This can be very easily replace with online banking and credit card transactions. There are so many really convenient options for your customers to settle their payments. This applies primarily to the people that waste their precious time waiting at banks and local post offices to settle bills. There are so many ways that bills can be settled with great ease, such as credit card contact less payments, bank standing orders for recurring payments and of course online banking, Revolut and so on, to settle bills.
We have been using all these services since day one of our operation, and it saves us so much time, hassle and it is also the greener option.
Companies that have invested in a digital infrastructure to support their business operation are the ones that will have the edge over their competition. For companies that sell physical or virtual products, e-commerce has surely been a blessing as customers can move into doing their purchasing on the web with very little effort. Yes, a small change of mentality is required, but it’s not a difficult step. From what I have seen so far, all the online shops that we have built, most of them are experiencing a growth in their online sales.
- E-commerce – enabling your customers to purchase your virtual or physical products online
- Online payments – pay for anything online – this is one of the simplest operations and can be used for either buying products, services and anything in between.
- Digital invoicing – invoice your clients via email, a huge time saver.
- Online renewals – if your business deals in services or even products that require a yearly or monthly fee, online renewals are a huge time saver.
- Online quoting – clients can submit their requests, and the business can then supply a quote for the services required via email.
- Online service bookings – customers can book and pay for a service online
- Online scheduling – customers can book your services online via a real time availability calendar. Services can also be pre-paid ahead of time, therefore also reducing no-shows.
- Customer Service – using your website and various customer service tools such as Zendesk to communicate with customers and address sales queries, technical support and general day-to-day queries.
Online services are not only helpful for interaction with clients, but also for interactions between employees. There are hundreds of tools that businesses can use to improve communication and workflows between employees – these include online chat services, video conferencing and remote presentation tools, virtual technical support, cloud file sharing, project planning and management tools and so on. These tools can greatly help the company operate as seamlessly as possible. Tools that we currently use, or have used in the past include:
Business as usual
The most difficult part of a time like this, is to keep the ‘business as usual’ – which let’s face it, it’s almost impossible. But the key here, is to try to use everything that is currently available that can help you optimise your operation in a way that in situations such as the current Covid-19 pandemic, or another large scale event or even the simple seasonal flu could make your business operate as close to ‘business as usual’ as possible – therefore safeguarding your business, your employees, your customers – a win-win-win for everyone.