Expert Interview: Tips to Stay Connected to Small Business Remote Teams

SmartBiz® is dedicated to helping small business owners across the U.S. Our financial professionals are working with banks in our network to help customers apply for Paycheck Protection Program loans and traditional SBA 7(a) loans along with bank term loans for business owners in need.

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Like some businesses, the entire SmartBiz Loans team in both the San Francisco and Austin offices is able to work from home. Because the team works closely together on location, there are strategies in place to keep connected as each employee works towards short-term and long-term goals.

We interviewed Mitch Forney, Director of People Operations in Human Resources, based in the SmartBiz San Francisco office. He shared his insight and how he's working to keep the teams connected.

What are the big goals for teams working remotely today?

Mitch Forney: Now more than ever it is important for employers to form ongoing connections with their team. Knowing that the world is changing so much day-to-day, it is necessary to figure out ways to map attitudes, behaviors, and feelings.

What are the challenges faced when a team works remotely?

MF: The challenges of COVID-19 have introduced a layer of complexity in which interpersonal connections are not just important, they are essential.  To allow teams to feel supported, organizations need to adopt a virtual culture that helps employees navigate the blending of workspace and personal space.

Can you share strategies you suggest keep the business running and the employees upbeat?

MF: At SmartBiz, we are striving to recreate the "energy" of a physical office and figure out ways to introduce "fun" in our new virtual world. For example, SmartBiz's CEO even recently opened an all-hands meeting by having people introduce their four legged interns that can be heard barking in the background of our calls. We’ve also designed certain days, like wacky t-shirts, meditation Mondays, and creative online backgrounds, to offer levity and resources to the team.

To allow teams to feel supported, organizations need to adopt a new virtual culture that helps employees navigate the blending of workspace and personal space - babies cry, siblings fight, dogs bark - this is the new norm we find ourselves in.

It is one thing to acknowledge that these might occur, it is another to celebrate and support them. In this regard, we are helps our employees by setting up weekly roundtables, encouraging 1 on 1's, and being responsive to individual and team dynamics.

What suggestions do you have for business owners working with a remote team?

MF: Good strategies including setting up resources for parents, communicating flexibility in current policies/procedures, encouraging the utilization of EAP resources, prioritizing physical and mental health, and acknowledging that COVID-19 impacts one's life in many different ways.

Continue to research best-practices from other organizations and develop creative theme days, schedule virtual happy hours, organize online fitness classes, and share mediation resources. It is important to create a virtual culture that embraces the fun.

What is difficult for an office like SmartBiz that consists of a very close working team?

MF: Realistic steps need to be taken to acknowledge that this is not simply "business as usual"... even for organizations who were previously in remote environments. Our top performers might slip and our best managers may struggle to support their team. We need to tailor our approach and allow people the time to acclimate. This isn't going to be a "one size fits all" approach - leaders are going to need to be flexible, and add new skills, competencies and behaviors to their toolbox. We will need to provide support to team members as some confront these new challenges and rebuild a new foundation for them to again be successful.

This is article is provided for educational purposes only. Be sure to consult HR and legal professionals concerning compliance obligations for employers.