How can SMBs make their Employee Effective in the Era of remote work?

How can SMBs make their Employee Effective in the Era of remote work?

A Goldman Sachs survey of 1,500+ US Small Businesses in March 2020 revealed that only 47% of them  have the ability to function in a telecommute mode.  A Freshbooks survey of 400+ US Small & Medium business in the same month revealed similar trends – only 22% of them were able to work remotely then.

So how do American SMBs get quickly ready for remote work – which is mission critical for today?

That’s what we will cover in this article today. To help you get through, we have put:

  1. A checklist of areas you need to plan & execute through the entire gamut of remote work
  2. Some ideas & steps to get your employees effective in the remote working model
  3. Ways to overcome the skill gap


The first step of solving a challenge or problem is to understand the big picture and the areas you need to work on.

Understanding the stages:

The crisis has been going through various stages:

Stage 1: The beginning of the crisis - March 2020

Stage 2: Survival - Getting ready for remote work - April till now

Stage 3: The new normal: Getting ready for re-opening - now

Stage 4: The new & old normal: Getting ready for the future – now

Understanding the stages

While organizations stride into this new era of remote work, we have created this checklist of essential stuff you need to think through while making plans to reopen / close down again / open again  - in a radically new work environment.

checklist of essential stuff

How to make the best of a crisis – reap monetary incentives through Govt. Financial Relief Programs
Governments around the world are rolling out financial relief measures and programs to support small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Below, you'll find a link of available programs in the United States.

Government Relief Programs for Small Businesses Affected by COVID-19 in United States


Getting your employees productive, wherever they are:

Numerous companies have made hard choices and explored the delicate balance between wants of their business and the requirements of their workforce. Right from constant communication on  setting & managing safety + hygiene protocols to getting the teams ready from the HR perspective to considering work portability. Here’s how they can do it:

a) Consider Work Portability

With more and more employees now considering remote work, significant progress in day to day activities has been observed by considering work portability in organizations. Here's how to do it:

Enable mission critical work first:

It’s more important now than ever to move people to the most mission critical work as fast and as efficiently as possible.  Bank of America converted more than 3,000 employees from across the bank into inbound remote call-center to handle a blitz of calls from consumer and small business customers.

Break down rigid job roles & hierarchy:

By breaking down rigid job constraints and roles, the right talent and work can be matched to solve evolving business challenges in real time. Using such marketplaces, organizations can also quickly backfill a sick employee, add extra team members to mission-critical projects and cope with sudden hiring freezes.

Cisco – post Covid19 , set up internal project marketplaces that broke  down work into tasks and projects that could be matched with people from anywhere in the organization with relevant skills and availability. These marketplaces enabled people who suddenly found themselves bereft of their normal job tasks to quickly and easily find different work using their core or adjacent skills.

b) Reorient ‘business as usual’ towards remote work

Help employees succeed remotely - scheduled check-in, virtual meetings, increased communication, stress & energy, remote work culture:

In response to the uncertainties presented by Covid-19, many companies have asked their employees to work remotely. While close to a quarter of the U.S. workforce already works from home at least part of the time, the new policies leave many employees — and their managers — working out of the office and separated from each other for the first time.

Although it is always preferable to establish clear remote-work policies and training in advance, in times of crisis or other rapidly changing circumstances, this level of preparation may not be feasible. Fortunately, there are specific, research-based steps that managers can take without great effort to improve the engagement and productivity of remote employees, even when there is little time to prepare.

Common challenges of remote work & how companies can work on them:

To start, managers need to understand factors that can make remote work especially demanding. Otherwise high-performing employees may experience declines in job performance and engagement when they begin working remotely, especially in the absence of preparation and training. Challenges inherent in remote work & how they can be alleviated is mentioned below:

Common challenges and Solutions

Managers should expect these distractions to be greater during this unplanned work-from-home transition.

How Managers Can Support Remote Employees:

How Managers Can Support Remote Employees

C)Reorient HR policy to the new normal

Getting employees productive & happy wherever they  require making some fine but not very difficult changes in your HR policy.

I. Be liberal in administering leaves & breaks and proactive in claiming benefits from the G

  • Prepare to respond to more employee leave / work from home requests
  • Continue to monitor regulations regarding leave of absence and update tracking accordingly
  • Understand applicable job protection laws and ensure adherence
  • Don’t forget to look for all federal & state government grants

ii. Offer more flexibility 

  • Enable remote working options as not all employees may feel comfortable or be able to return to the workplace
  • Consider allowing flexible work schedules to accommodate employee family care obligations
  • Emphasize policies that promote physical, mental, financial and social well-being

III.Communicate HR elements proactively

  • Review new and existing policies and procedures with employees
  • Establish safe and secure channels for employees to voice questions and concerns to management
  • Proactively promote an inclusive working environment

d) Don’t just over-communicate, walk the talk on hygiene & safety

Most organizations’ first priority in crisis response has been talking about the health and safety of workers.  Communicating the importance of safety, their related protocols and encouraging employees to follow them is important & crucial. However – it's what you do & how you walk the talk that is equally important.

Apple Inc.  handled this well. When employees were heading back to work at their Cupertino facility, Apple instituted optional testing for the virus, closed kitchens and had a “mandatory masks” policy.  Soon they offered a nasal-swab test to check for the virus and temperature checks  were made mandatory – giving employees the feeling that they were cared for while returning to work.


In a McKinsey survey conducted in February 2020, 87 % of executives said they were experiencing skill gaps in the workforce or expected them within a few years. But less than half of respondents had a clear sense of how to address the problem.

The Coronavirus pandemic has made the skill gap starker with less companies being able to afford employees & large companies mopping up the hard to find skills. Here are some smart ways wherein you can play offence & make the best of existing employees & newer talent pools.

a) Reskill your employees for the future

Businesses are operating in the world of remote everything. As Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft put it, “we’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”

And reskilling can’t escape it. COVID-19 is transforming lasting employment-landscape shifts that could require large-scale reskilling of workers.  A company runs on its people. Before you hire for new skills – you need to plan for upskilling your existing workforce to deliver in the way to work in the post-pandemic era.  And you can also do a CSR angle to it:

Alteryx based in Irvine, CA launched a new Global Upskilling Program to certify Thousands of Data Workers in 2020.  ‘Alteryx for Good initiative’ provides workforce impacted by COVID-19 pandemic with free data analytics training and opportunity to receive Udacity Nanodegree.

Where do you start?

i) Getting employees up to speed in a digital-first world

The crisis has accelerated the levels of digitization to help reduce avoidable physical interactions. This has meant finding ways to reinvent work and, in some cases, a partial disruption of jobs and changes in the way workers perform them.

Start upskilling the critical workforce pools that will drive a disproportionate amount of value in your adjusted business model. The first area you need to focus on is to get them ready for a digital-first world. Working in a world where you have to get all the inputs & outputs digitally requires some digital skills:

  • Digital sensing – search & research on digital medium
  • Digital delivery – ability to deliver on digital platforms & toolset relevant to your work
  • Digital etiquette – coming across as knowing digital communication & smart social presence
  • Security & privacy – ability to understand & protect one’s & one company’s data/network – and protecting one’s privacy
ii) New non-digital must-have skills & mind-set for the ‘post-lockdown economy’

Building only ‘digital’ is not enough. You also need to redevelop or build-up mind-set & skills for today’s world. Going back to some critical skills – or developing them from scratch is critical:

  • Execution skills
    1. Critical Thinking
    2. Crisis Management
    3. Project management & decision making
  • Social skills
    1. Collaboration
    2. Empathy
    3. Crisis Communication
  • Self-management skills
    1. Self-care
    2. Focus & attention management
    3. Adaptability & Resilience

Many sectors have had to train the workforce in new skills as they repurposed their operations to battle the pandemic. For example, consumer banks needed to increase employee cross-training in specific services as demand for mortgage-refinance applications surged. Banks also had to train employees in empathy as they helped distressed clients use digital tools and new products and services.

New non-digital must-have skills & mind-set for the ‘post-lockdown economy

b) Time to relook at hiring remote employees - across the USA - across the world

Thanks to this forced digital transformation – companies have been forced to be remote ready in a hurry. This has some advantages: you can seek more women candidates & cast the net wider on talent.

Facebook Inc. plans to hire more remote workers in areas where the company doesn’t have an office, and let some current employees work from home permanently if they’d like to. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said the company plans to “aggressively open up remote hiring” starting immediately with the U.S., particularly for engineering talent. Based on internal employee surveys, he believes remote workers could make up as much as 50% of Facebook’s workforce in the next five to 10 years.

Twitter Inc. and Square Inc., both run by CEO Jack Dorsey, have announced that their employees can work from home permanently if they’d like. Many other large enterprises have also announced that they will give up expensive real estate & have a large number of employees work permanently or over 75% of their time from home.

However the challenge is that this net being widened means that large companies with their brand names & salary power have the first right of refusal to this new talent pool. So what do you do?

One area is to look at offshore talent. Offshore is easier & more manageable than ever before! Offshore fully dedicated & badged employees - one managed by trusted partners is one such opportunity. Here’s what to keep in mind while considering remote locations:

I) It’s a myth that SMBs can’t outsource

IT outsourcing has been widely known for providing access to an extensive talent pool. And it has been often used as a remedy to the talent shortage, especially in terms of hard-to-find skills.

In 2019, Clutch conducted a survey of 529 small businesses with <500 employees and found that 37%  of them outsourced at least one business process and over 52% planned to do so in future. It's noticeable that it was not just IT support, the most commonly outsourced business tasks were accounting, IT services and digital marketing.

ii) Go off grid and offshore to access hard-to-find talent pool

Now, with remote working being the norm – you can find your next top talent working from outside Silicon Valley – maybe non-traditional locations like Alaska or Hawaii. This also means India & Eastern Europe – you get a big mass of tech skills – and with firms like ours (Caution: some honest self-promotion) – you can get started with base or very difficult to find skills.

Average hourly rate to hire Developers

iii) Please think through skills that you should outsource & those you shouldn’t 

It’s important to understand that some skills shouldn’t be outsourced. If there are some skills that are of core competence to you or are your competitive advantage, you shouldn’t be outsourcing them. Skills that can be suitably acquired at a much lower cost should be outsourced.


The key takeaways:

The above approaches if executed strategically can result in cost savings, efficiency gains and eventually a more effective workforce.

The post-pandemic working environment will have less snacks breaks, happy hours and conferences where schmoozers can make their stamp. Individuals who succeed are hence likely to be those who can create results without a lot of in-person interaction with their colleagues. It all includes up to a journey to adjust. On one hand, you would like to find ways to remain focused once you WFH. On the other hand, you would like to discover ways to remain associated along with your fellow humans. As you hit your walk, you’ll be able to play a positive part in changing corporate culture for a new virtual era.

Is your organisation looking forward to embarking on such initiatives related to deploying a transformed work environment? For any queries or more information write to us at