Swine Flu – Ready to manage your business virtually?

Swine flu is here. It’s in the headlines daily and the numbers of people contracting the illness are set to rise, rapidly.

So what’s the impact for business?
I was reading a good (and watching the video) article on thebusinessdesk.com yesterday which really got me thinking about the impact upon business. As a small business owner, I can see as the pandemic grows, that it will impact upon how I do business. So is the small business owner really set up to manage their businesses virtually? If something like 40% of the population will get Swine Flu…..then business need to wake up to the fact that it will impact their business.

Already some of my peers have said that they won’t be going to London if they have to or fly anywhere.

What will be the issues for businesses?
If people have had flu, they are advised to stay off work for 1 week. Some of your team members will be off work caring for other family members with flu…..and then they could potentially be infected……so the chances are your work force will be depleted. Some will be capable of working and so you need to think about how you can make their time productive and effective.

So as a SME, what digital technology can help me run my business?
Previously I have been a director of an open source software company we were very involved in the open source community worldwide. It’s a good place to start looking at what digital technology is available and how to use it. The same tools companies are using to grow their business online, can be applied to helping a company communiate more efficiently. Same tools, different application, same processes (in a nut shell!)

Over communication and having strict communication protocols is key to success. As the visionary and business leader – you have to lead the team virtually.

The basic service is free to use and means you can make calls over the internet. You can do video calls on a 1:1 and multi person tele calls. It also has a chat facility built in so you can chat to your colleagues. This means that you can hold team meetings over the phone.
ASOS have set up their employees on Twitter, with user names such as ASOS_xxx. The point being that the team communicate with each other through Twitter. It’s the equivalent of talking over the desks or asking a colleague a question.

Is an online project management and collaboration tool, which allows everyone involved in the project to have access to the data / milestones/ tasks / communication. Is there is one central respositary for the project. That way no email conversation is overlooked or version of a document is forgotten.

Is an online meeting / conferencing software, that as a free to use option (up to 20 people). So instead of travelling down to meetings you can hold them online. You can hold your team meetings online either. Don’t forget your team members would need headphones and a web cam!

Adobe Connect Pro
Is a more enhanced vonline meeting software, which enables all particpants to have their cameras showing and to particpate in the meeting. There is a charge for this service, but well worth it if you are going to have lots of meetings!

Your business is a community in its own right! So why not set up an online community (depending on the size of your business). This can become the hub of your business – discuss, blog, write articles…..It can maintain that sense of belonging and sustain the culture of the company.

Set up a Wiki
A wiki is an open source collaboration and knowledge management software- that will assist if you are working on documents / projects together. It will ensure that your documents are available anywhere, but will foster that sense of collaboration that you promote. Not only that, any internal document such as holiday forms, proposals, quotes, T&Cs need to be acessible.

IT Infrastructure
Ensure your technology is set up so your team can dial into the server and retrieve documents over a VPN (virtual private network). It make take some setting up, but totally worthwhile doing.

Communication Protocol
Before you embark on using these technologies – you need to consider the following:

  1. Ensure your team are trained up on the software – start planning now, so you’re not reacting to the problem.
  2. Ensure your team are up to speed on the changes in protocol and understand how technology will be assisting in smarter working practices.
  3. Work out the overall virtual business communication strategy……and start building it into your business processes, so it becomes 2nd nature.
  4. Reflect and refine – you’re not going to get it right first time. So get a core team together to work on this – so your team are 100% behind the initiative, and get them working on the processes.

But should you be doing this anyway?

In the world of environmental issues, CSR and limited time, it makes sense to work more smarter than harder. So setting up these communication strategies could enhance the productivity of your team and employees anyway.

Start thinking ahead
Once last point, plan ahead on this. Training to embed new technology and business processes when you’re up against is, is destined to go wrong. Think ahead and start making contingencies now.

Let me know if there’s any other technologies that you are using and how they have helped your business move into the virtual world

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