Maintaining Employee Morale While Working Remotely

If you were fortunate enough to maintain your business operations the past few months while allowing staff to work from home, you know that transitioning an entire workforce from the office to remote work presents more than a few challenges. One of the biggest challenges business owners and managers face right now is how to maintain employee morale while everyone is separated.

Employees are scared, uncertain, and likely pulled in a lot of different directions while they try to balance work, children, and life at home. On top of all that, they’re disconnected from their colleagues. Giving your staff a morale boost to help them maintain their drive is absolutely essential to the success of your business and the health and happiness of your team. Use these tips to keep morale high and maintain a strong company culture while working remotely.

Maintain clear, consistent communication

One of the most important things you can do during this time is communicate with your employees as often as possible. Many things are up in the air, and employees fear cut hours, layoffs, reduced benefits, and more.

Be honest and transparent with your staff about how the pandemic is affecting your business and how that might affect them. Make it clear to them you have a plan of action to combat the effects of an economic downtown. You might even want to ask for their suggestions and encourage them to contribute ideas for the business’s continued success.

Ask your team questions, either one on one or within a team discussion. Request their feedback and, more importantly, ask how they’re doing on a personal level.

Overall, try to reduce uncertainty as much as you can. The more open you can be, the more your staff will trust you and understand you’re there to take care of them.

Use creativity to prevent burnout and bolster engagement

Working from home all day, every day is enough to cause burnout for many staff members. Add to this the stress of homeschooling children, worrying about finances, and managing uncertainty, and employees are likely to check out of work quickly. To combat this, you’ll want to flex your creative muscles to come up with unique ways to keep employees engaged.

It’s important to stay connected with meetings and conference calls, but too many meetings can reduce productivity and make people less engaged. Rather than host the same dreaded bi-weekly virtual call, spice things up! Host a weekly virtual happy hour or trivia challenge that gives your workers a break from the monotony. Get everyone involved in remote team-building games or exercises to help them connect interpersonally. If someone is celebrating something, host a virtual get-together to acknowledge it!

When you do need to focus on business matters in team meetings, make sure to keep things light and avoid falling into a bland meeting routine. Let your employees chat at the top of the meeting to socialize a little before kicking things off. Try to minimize the amount of time your staff have to dedicate to meetings each day to avoid burnout.

Additionally, give your team the freedom to work without being micromanaged or under significant pressure. Your business still needs to operate but giving employees a little extra space, and grace can go a long way in helping them adjust to remote work and discover their own methods of staying productive. Encourage your team to take real breaks and give them a space for “water cooler” conversation in a dedicated Slack channel. Giving them room to breathe will show that you trust them to get the job done.

Recognize individual efforts and successes

When you’re in the office, you’re able to quickly pop by an employee’s desk to congratulate them on a job well done. But when everyone is working remotely, it’s easy to let acknowledgments fall through the cracks.

A simple compliment can make a huge difference in employee morale. Pay close attention to individual contributions by members of your team, then make sure they know that you notice their hard work. A simple Slack message or email thanking them for completing a challenging project or stepping up as a team leader lets them know they’re doing valuable work. You might even want to call out stellar performance on a team conference call or email chain to encourage other staff members to follow suit.

Beyond personal praise, you could acknowledge your employees’ efforts through incentives, prizes, or giveaways—even something small like a virtual gift card for coffee would do. When something special is on the line, your staff will be motivated to work extra hard and can have a bit of fun and build comradery through playful competition.

High morale will keep your team strong

The importance of positive employee morale cannot be understated, especially when your team is separated and working remotely. In order to keep your business on track and push through the uncertainty of the situation right now, you must prioritize your employees’ wellbeing. In doing so, you’re sure to see great results and come out the other side with a team that’s stronger than ever before.

7 Activities to Do with Your Kids While at Home

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The global health crisis has disrupted almost every aspect of our lives, but it has also affected our children. With schools closed, sports and clubs paused, and social events canceled, our kids are also struggling to cope with the changes.

But COVID-19 has also given us a unique opportunity to spend extra time with our families at home. We normally don’t have this much time in our regularly busy lives to dedicate to trying new activities with our kids. With some creativity, we can turn this time of disappointment and uncertainty into one full of love, joy, and learning!

If your family is feeling the stress and boredom of being stuck at home, try these seven activities to bond and have some fun.

  1. Build a fort: Gather up all your spare sheets and blankets, pull out the camping gear, assemble your dining room chairs, and get creative with kids young and old! Make a blanket fort in your living room that’s big enough to fit the entire family (and don’t forget your pets!). Pop some popcorn and fill bowls with snacks to have an extra-fun family movie night.
  2. Learn something new together: With schools closed, most children are getting a combination of homeschooling and virtual learning. But by being at home, kids have the opportunity to learn other kinds of things aside from English, math, and science. Talk to your child about their interests and see if there’s something you can teach them—or, better yet, something you can learn together! Download Duolingo to challenge each other while learning a new language, follow an online cooking class, or pick up a new crafting hobby together to expand both of your horizons.
  3. Have a dance party: With limited access to parks and playgrounds, energetic kids might feel a little stir crazy. When they start bouncing off the walls, you might struggle to stay calm. To help everybody shed some stress and let out all that pent-up energy, ask for your kids’ help in putting together a playlist of their favorite music. Then, clear out your living room and hold a dance party to release those jitters!
  4. Take virtual tours: Many families aren’t able to travel the world, regardless of a pandemic. However, many famous museumsnational parks, and landmarks are available to “tour” on your computer screen! Connect your computer to the TV or gather around the monitor, and use Google Earth or specially designed virtual touring websites to experience everything from the Louvre to the Great Wall of China. This also makes for a great educational opportunity, since your kids can learn about history, art, nature, and culture!
  5. Host family game night: Board games and card games are the perfect solutions to otherwise quiet nights indoors. Have your children pick out their favorite games, then play a round of each with the entire family. This is a great way to have some fun while stimulating your brains. If you want to bring even more family and friends into the fun, there are tons of virtual board games perfect for playing while still social distancing! Fire up a virtual call and play together from your respective homes.
  6. Give their rooms a facelift: If you’ve been on a cleaning kick at home, get your kids involved by having them reorganize their bedrooms and playrooms. Make it fun by offering to redecorate their space with a new coat of paint or some simple décor once they’ve cleaned it out. Assemble a donation pile of old clothes and toys, then see how you can spruce up their space. Adding just a few new storage bins, a cute rug, and a lamp can transform their room and make them feel like they’ve accomplished something great!
  7. Start a backyard garden: With spring weather finally here, now is the perfect time to head to your backyard. Order some new pots, soil, and seeds from your local hardware store, and have your kids help you build a backyard garden. Let them choose a few things they want to grow—whether it’s flowers, herbs, or vegetables. Gardening will get you all outside for some sun and fresh air, and it will help your children learn a new skill.

The pressure to teach your children and keep them busy at all hours of the day can be immense. However, think of this time as an opportunity to help them learn new things, expand their horizons, and get a little extra one-on-one time with you. You can still get things done around the house and be productive with your children in tow!

Bonus idea! Inevitably, you and your kids will want some alone time to rest and recharge. Download our free coloring book for your kids to enjoy during their downtime! Not only does it give them a creative outlet, but it encourages kids to stay safe and healthy.

While everyone should have some quiet time alone for their hobbies, engaging your kids with activities the whole family can do together is sure to create some fond memories for all of you and relieve the stress of quarantine.

Keep Your Mind and Body Active from the Comfort of Your Home

With businesses closed and jobs transitioned to remote work, most of us have been stuck at home for weeks on end. Worse yet, there’s no telling when this pandemic could end, which can add on to feelings of stress and anxiety.

While sitting on the couch and binge-watching movies or your favorite TV shows might have sounded like a dream at first, lounging around probably got old pretty quickly. Now, you might be pacing your living room, itching for something to do.

To relieve some quarantine stress and help you feel productive while stuck inside, it’s best to engage your mind and body each day. Here’s a helpful list of ideas on how to keep your mind and body active – all from the comfort of your own home.

  • Journal daily: Journaling is a great way to express your thoughts and experiences in a healthy way. Grab a spare notebook and dedicate a little time to journaling in it every day. Write down your thoughts and fears or a few things you’re grateful for to help you center yourself.
  • Start a blog: Do you have a special skill or hobby you’re passionate about? Start a blog and share your unique ideas with the world! From cooking to crocheting to lifestyle inspiration, anything is fair game. Or, start a “quarantine blog” where you can share your experiences during social distancing and help others understand they’re not alone.
  • Do at-home workouts: You don’t need a full gym to complete a challenging workout! Using only body-weight exercises, small free weights you can store in a closet, or household items, you can get your blood pumping and stay active inside. Make a goal to complete at least one 20-minute workout a few days per week. You can even get the entire family involved!
  • Clean and declutter: Staying inside is one thing, but staying inside a messy house is another. Use your spare time to spruce up your space from top to bottom. Now is the perfect opportunity to clear out that hallway closet you’ve been avoiding or to reorganize your pantry. Break down areas of your home and try to tackle a little bit each day.
  • Practice mindfulness: The world is a scary place right now, and tensions are high. Instead of scrolling through social media, take a break and focus on mindfulness. Short meditation sessions where you focus on your breathing or an encouraging mantra can help you relieve stress and calm down from feeling overwhelmed.
  • Make an inspirational collage: Mood boards or inspirational collages are both creative and encouraging. Gather supplies you have around your house and create a collage of things you want to do after the pandemic is over, as well as some of your longer-term goals. Clip pictures from old magazines, dust off your paintbrush and paint sets, pull out that giant pack of colored pencils from your desk drawer, and get creative!
  • Check books off your reading list: It can be difficult to find time for quiet reading during the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and your reading list might seem endless. Don’t let books collect dust on your shelves! Now is the perfect time to immerse yourself in a fantasy world or fictional story as an escape.
  • Do a yoga challenge: Yoga is a great activity for the mind and body since it blends mindfulness with body-weight exercises and stretches. Look up a yoga series on YouTube or download a yoga instruction app to get started right in your living room.
  • Take an online course: Lots of educational institutions and hobbyists are offering online classes for free right now, so take advantage of them! If you’ve always wanted to explore a particular subject or you’re looking to bolster your resume, now is the time to learn something new.
  • Connect virtually: You don’t have to suffer in boredom alone! Your friends and family are just a video chat away. Host FaceTime or Zoom calls with family and friends, or propose virtual lunch meetings or coffee dates with coworkers. If you can’t video chat, find an online community to take part in, such as a virtual book club or hobby group to have discussions with.
  • Create the perfect playlist: Music can be energizing, therapeutic, and cathartic. And nobody knows your music taste better than you! Put together some playlists that will lift your spirits or get you ready for a workout, then host a dance party in your living room with your family!
  • Tackle a project you’ve put off: Have you been meaning to re-paint your guest room for months? Have your leaky faucets officially driven you nuts? Take stock of all the home improvement projects you’ve been putting off and try to complete as many as you can with what you have on hand, or order parts online.

Don’t squander the extra time you’ve been given! By keeping your mind and body active and engaged, you can help shed the stress of being stuck at home while also improving your skills, your space, and yourself.

3 Steps for Small Businesses to Succeed in Light of COVID-19

It’s no secret that the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus has created significant challenges for businesses large and small. Almost every business entity has been impacted on some level, whether due to federal and local mandates or even a positive diagnosis of COVID-19 within the organization.

Small businesses, however, are poised to be particularly affected by this crisis, largely because of the amount of cash that is flowing—or not flowing—into their accounts. This is causing major uncertainty as to the financial wellbeing of small businesses, their owners and their employees.

Although nobody knows for certain what will happen next, there are steps every small business owner should be taking now to prepare for what’s ahead. Take these three steps to maintain control over as much of your business’s future as possible.

1: Communicate, communicate, communicate

Above all else, communication is critical during this period of uncertainty. Make sure you’re implementing consistent and transparent communication with all critical stakeholders of your organization—particularly your employees, your customers and your financial partners.

  • Employee communication: Right now, transparency with your staff is key. Employees are bound to feel uncertain or scared about their jobs and incomes. If you don’t communicate consistently and honestly, they could imagine the worst or grow distrustful. It may be useful to set up a weekly video conference if you’re not able to hold meetings in person to catch them up on new developments. Let them know truthfully what impact COVID-19 is having on your business. What have the financial impacts been so far, and what steps will you all need to take to survive this? Reassure them as much as you can, but don’t give them misleading information or false hope. Beyond that, also make sure to check in with your staff on a personal level. Ask how they’re doing and see if there’s anything you can do to make their situations easier.
  • Customer communication: Aside from your staff, your customers will also want to know what’s going on with your business. Be proactive in customer communication, letting them know the steps you’re taking to protect them, your employees and your business’s products and services. If you’ve altered your delivery model or hours, update them on the changes so they can continue to support you as much as possible.
  • Financial communication: Communication with your bank and lenders is also crucial. Be transparent and open in your communication to ensure you’re getting all the help you can as it relates to your business’s financials. Ask questions and communicate your needs—you’d be surprised at how willing these organizations might be to help. Is your landlord willing to defer your rent? Will the bank let you defer a loan payment or two? Can your equipment supplier find a financial situation that works for you both? Being proactive about these requests can give you the financial support you need to pull through this difficult time.

2: Make cash king

Financial control is paramount during this time of economic uncertainty. Find ways to maximize or preserve your cash flow and reduce operating expenses so your business has a nest egg ready for later.

  • Plug cash leaks: Take a look at where every penny from your business is going. Are there any cash leaks? If you can identify every expense, determine which costs are needed and which are not for running your business. Can you do virtual client meetings instead of in-person appointments over lunch? Is there a way to minimize supply expenses? Every penny counts right now, so don’t spend on unnecessary extras.
  • Reevaluate expenses: Next, take a look at bigger expenses that might be challenging your business’s financial stability. Is it possible to defer employee retirement contributions in order to keep your staff employed? What about healthcare contributions? Temporarily reducing these expenses can free up cash so your business can remain operational without major layoffs.
  • Reduce hours: You may not have the cash to pay employees for their normal hours right now, but you might be able to keep everyone employed by reducing your business hours. This way, you’ll still have the potential for income while maintaining your staff.
  • Minimize living expenses: As a small business owner, you’re in a unique position to help your business on the personal side. If you’re taking a paycheck, consider ways you can reduce your personal living expenses. The less you take from the business, the less strain your cash flow will be under.

3: Revise your 2020 forecasts and budget

You probably prepared for 2020 with a budget and sales forecasts based on last year’s numbers. Of course, nobody could have predicted a global health crisis, so those numbers are likely no longer applicable.

  • Reevaluate new forecasts: Take this time to look at what your sales forecasts were and how COVID-19 might have changed them. The difference will largely depend on how operational your organization is during the pandemic. Set a conservative plan through the rest of 2020 and see how that impacts your business financials overall.
  • Brainstorm sales-boosting techniques: Now is also a great time to implement changes that meet the unique needs of the health crisis. Bring your team together to brainstorm ideas for target markets, products to offer and new sales tactics for during and after the pandemic.
  • Reset your operating budget: A revised sales forecast, reevaluated financials and a new marketing plan can drastically change your budget for the year. Take a look at the numbers and alter your 2020 budget—then stick to it—to make sure your business can weather the storm.

Small businesses that survived the 2008 recession were diligent in all of these efforts, and it’s important that your business follow suit now. Remember, cash is the lifeblood of your business, and communication, cost evaluations and cash preservation will help you conduct business effectively and come out successful on the other side.

12 Ways Business Owners Stay Productive During Uncertain Times

COVID-19 has led to widespread changes in our personal and professional lives. As people self-isolate and cities implement shutdowns, our businesses are feeling the impact.

Although many businesses have closed their doors temporarily to adhere to city and state guidelines, you don’t have to put your professional life on hold! There are many things you can do to prepare your business for when your doors open back up. Thought leaders and entrepreneurs can do these 12 things to stay productive while social distancing.

1. Reorganize your files

During your everyday hustle and bustle, you probably didn’t take time to organize important files appropriately. Take this opportunity to get organized! Open up past-due accounts, reorganize your internal file structure and shred outdated documents. Now might even be a great time to transfer paper files to a digital archive so they take up less space in your office.

With tax season around the corner and business financials likely in need of reexamining, there’s no better time than the present to go through your files and create a system that works.

2. Work through backlogs and old emails

When emails and requests come in faster than you can answer them, an overwhelming backlog can form. Now is the perfect time to sit down with your emails and backlogs and take care of anything you haven’t addressed.

Are there quotes you haven’t gotten to? Do you need to communicate with your customers? Are there A/R or A/P that have slipped through the cracks? While now might not be the best time to send out bills, you can organize these items so you’re ready to follow up when business returns to normal.

3. Organize your desktop

Take a look at your computer desktop. Is it a mess? Now’s the time to clean it! Delete old or irrelevant files, create a new digital filing system and do a malware check to ensure nothing is slowing you down.

4. Streamline your business

As a business owner, you know exactly where your organization’s inefficiencies lie, but you may not have had time to correct them. Identify ways you can streamline these inefficiencies to minimize hurdles in your operation.

For example, are your sales and marketing plans not leading to the returns you want? It might be time to reevaluate with the help of a concept-to-creation team like AlphaGraphics. Taking care of these inefficiencies now will help you be prepared for what’s coming next.

5. Start a blog

If your business doesn’t have a blog, now is a great time to start one! With extra time on your hands, it’s easier than ever to create new content that displays your expertise.

Research and create a list of topics you can position your brand as a thought leader in, then put content together for the rest of the year. By focusing on this now, you can get ahead and prepare two to three blogs per month!

6. Improve SEO

Along with your blog, you’ll want to tie in search engine optimization (SEO). If you don’t understand it, take an online course, watch YouTube videos on it or look into organizations that can take the burden off you.

Once you have a handle on SEO, start improving it by optimizing your web pages and blog with related keywords. You might also reach out to complementary businesses and ask to post your content on their blogs with backlinks to bolster your rankings.

7. Get on social media

Is your business reaching customers where they are online? If not, now is the time to start! Set up social media accounts and start pushing content.

Aside from consumer-facing channels, LinkedIn is a great social media tool for growing your circle. Find groups related to the business (or just things you enjoy!) and start interacting. Ask questions, post in forums and put out thought-provoking topics to engage with others. LinkedIn is a great place to learn what other business owners are doing during self-isolation and how they’re planning for the future.

8. Learn something new

The internet is full of paid and free courses that you can do from home to improve yourself. Think about the skills you and your team have and what you might be lacking. What have you always wanted to learn about or get better at? Check out some courses and turn your weaknesses into strengths!

If you find a course that would be good for your team, create a learning path and encourage them to complete it. Doing so can increase your human capital and take your business to new heights.

9. Call your contacts

During this time of uncertainty, people are feeling scared and alone. Reach out to your employees and business contacts and extend a helping hand as a friend. Everyone can use a listening ear and some encouragement right now.

You have no idea what these small gestures could do for others or how they could impact your business for the better.

10. Clean

When was the last time your store was deep cleaned? With no customers or employees around, grab some supplies and refresh the space!

Have your machines been collecting dust for months? What about the space underneath? Move machines, sales racks and desks to rid your space of every ounce of dirt or grime. When your doors are ready to reopen, your business will feel brand new!

11. Rearrange for effectiveness

Think about the way your office or sales floor is organized. Is your merchandise cluttered or your desk arrangement causing disruptions? Is there a way to rearrange things to improve employee workflows or customer experience? Move things around and see how you like it.

When everyone returns to work, it will be nice to have a fresh start and a refreshed workflow to tackle new opportunities.

12. Keep busy!

As tempting as it is to lounge around and binge TV during self-isolation, staying busy is your biggest ally in working through this time of change and uncertainty. Nobody knows how the world will be different after the pandemic, so stay vigilant. Encourage your team members to do the same and take time to train them from a distance.

By using these tips to look after your team and your business, you’ll be more than prepared for whatever lies ahead!