How to shift towards an online way of working.

With more Aussie businesses being required to shut up shop during COVID-19, many SMBs are shifting to an online way of working. Face-to-face meetings have been replaced by video conferences; water cooler chats swapped for playtime with the kids or a walk outside; and walk-in customers for Facebook enquiries.

Technology has given us the power to keep in touch with customers and coworkers any time, anywhere. But there’s no denying that navigating a transition to online working can be tricky.

So how can you smoothly shift towards an online way of working without confusing your customers (or compromising your sanity!)? We run through everything you need to know here*.

Shutting up shop.

Before you make the switch into online work, you need to close the doors of your physical store—and inform your customers that you’re doing so.

With new regulations and measures coming in place every day, it’s easy to get overwhelmed or forget something in the rush to shut up shop. If you need to close temporarily, here are some steps to help you out.

Put a sign up in your shopfront.

While most people are staying at home, there may be the odd customer that walks past your store. Prepare a sign on your front door that informs them that you’re currently closed and direct them to your website for more information.

Need a helping hand? Here’s a template you can quickly adapt and print:

Temporarily closed

To do our part to protect our staff and the local community, we are closing our doors until further notice. We would like to take this opportunity to thank our customers for their support during this time. 

We will reopen as soon as possible. In the meantime, [you can still shop online at/we offer delivery at/please visit us] at [Website URL] or follow us on social media for the latest updates.

Stay safe and we look forward to welcoming you back soon.

Explore alternative ways to provide products and services.

Shutting down your physical store doesn’t mean shutting down your entire business. While closing up, it’s worth looking into alternative ways to shift your business model during this time. This means you can continue to run your business, albeit a bit differently, while easing a bit of the financial strain on your business.

This could be through things like:

  • Online classes and training sessions, if you’re in the fitness industry
  • Offering a delivery menu if you’re an F&B retailer
  • Opening up an online store if you offer physical products
  • Providing digital consultations if you’re a service-based business.

Don’t be afraid to get creative! This is also an opportunity to tap into different ways of doing business and explore new avenues to get your product or service to your customers. And who knows? You might discover a great new way of selling that you can use in the future.

Notify your staff.

If you have employees, keep them in the loop when closing your doors. Thank them for their hard work and remind them that you are still here to support them during this time.

While every employee will respond differently, there are a few common questions that they might have.

Do your best to prepare a response to the following questions:

  • When are we closing and for how long?
  • Can I use my annual leave now and still get paid?
  • Will I still have a job during this time?
  • How is pay going to work during this time?
  • Is there anything I can do to help?

Your team is struggling with the same uncertainty as you are, so do your best to answer their questions as honestly and transparently as possible.

Do a stocktake.

If you’re preparing to sell products online, now’s the perfect time to do a stocktake. Go through all your inventory and update your numbers in the backend of your eCommerce platform. This way, you know exactly how much supply you have on hand during this lockdown period.

Pause non-essential bills.

Physical stores are expensive to run. To cut down costs while your store is closed, pause all non-essential bills: for example, the internet bill, phone bill or electricity bill. If you have a landlord, check in with them as well and see if they’re willing to offer you a discount on rent during this time. Every little bit helps!

RELATED: How will Australian businesses benefit from the Federal Government’s $17.6 billion stimulus package?

Communicating with customers during lockdown.

If your physical doors are shut, customers will turn to your online channels for more information. Digital marketing platforms, like social media, email marketing and your website, will be your main lines of communication with customers during this time.

When you’re shutting up shop and moving online, here’s how to prepare your communications with your customers:

Update your customers across all of your online channels.

When you’re first shutting up shop, let your customers know using any and all means of communication available to you.

As well as putting an announcement on your physical storefront, prepare an email newsletter and a post on your social media platforms, informing customers that you’ve temporarily shut the doors.

Keep the message kind: thank them for their patronage, give them updates on your business and extend your thoughts to them during this time.

If you need inspiration, check out this great example of a social media post from The Faculty cafe in Hawthorn.

Keep your website up-to-date.

During lockdown, your website is going to be the main source of information for your customers. It’s essential to keep it updated with your latest business information, so customers know exactly what’s happening and what their options are to contact you.

Make sure your website has:

  • Hours of operation, including for takeout or delivery
  • Latest business updates, such as improvements to OH&S or new policies for appointments (if you’re a service based business)
  • Adjusted working methods including remote working
  • Contact information for customers to get in touch with any concerns

For example, the team at Bondi Junction Veterinary Hospital have included a dedicated section on their website about business operations during COVID-19:

RELATED: Important information to include on your website during coronavirus.

Don’t switch off altogether.

Even if your physical doors are shut, your online ‘doors’ should stay open. It’s not necessarily the time to go hard on the promotion for Easter sales—however, you can use this opportunity to stay connected with your customers through helpful content.

Keep your social media updated with ‘flashback’ posts or provide handy tips and messages to help people get through this tough period. Blog posts, webinars and virtual courses are great ways to keep in touch with customers while offering support.

And if you are staying open through delivery or online services, this could be the perfect time adjust your offering like Future Dental:

Above all else, tread lightly and be helpful whenever possible. For more tips on marketing during lockdown, take a look at our post here:

RELATED: Should you continue to market to your customers during lockdown?

Working from home tips.

Working from home can make you more productive, but it definitely takes some getting used to. If you’re switching from working in the office to working from home, these tips will help you get the most out of your day.

Must-have remote work tools.

To get the most out of working from home, you need to have the right tech stack on board. These are a few must-haves to stay connected and productive with the entire team*:

*This information is provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only; they do not constitute an endorsement or an approval by Yellow.

Build a routine.

In your store, you probably have a set routine that goes something like this: commute to work, prepare your store for the day, check emails, eat lunch, help customers, clean up, close, head home.

However, when your home doubles up as an office, it’s easy to lose track of your routine and find yourself out of sync.

The solution? Re-imagine your routine for your home office.

Rather than hopping straight onto the emails, try to build a new morning routine to kickstart your day. Get dressed, brew some coffee and eat breakfast — just as you would on any other day. If you normally use your morning commute to listen to music or podcasts, try to switch it up and do it while taking a walk in your yard. These little actions help you build a ‘transition’ from home mode into work mode.

Once you’re working, don’t forget to schedule regular breaks to play with the pets, eat lunch, stretch your legs or do some exercise. And when the day is done, put away your computer and relax. It’s important to keep a healthy work-life balance, even when you’re working from home.

Have clear working hours.

Working from home blurs the boundaries between work life and personal life. It’s easy to open up your laptop to check emails on a sleepless night, or find yourself replying to employees or customers at all hours of the day.

While it might take some getting used to, it’s important to set clear boundaries for work (and stick to them). This helps you get much needed headspace and ensure you’re more productive when you are working.

If you’re struggling to unplug, these tips can help you disconnect:

  • Use the Do Not Disturb mode on your phone. This switches off notifications between certain hours of the day (for example, between 8pm and 8am).
  • If your personal email has been doubling as your work email, it might be time to reevaluate. Create a separate email just for work, and stop checking it once your work day is over.
  • Set an auto-responder for emails outside of work hours. This way, customers and partners know exactly when to expect a reply.

Set up a dedicated office space.

When you’re working from home, it blurs the boundaries between your work life and personal life. To manage this, designate a specific spot in your home to use as your ‘office’.

It could be the spare bedroom or a desk in the living room—as long as it’s a separate place from where you rest and unwind. Reserve this spot for work and work only.

More importantly, try not to work in your bedroom. This can wreak havoc on your sleep and leave you feeling tired, anxious and stressed out.

Give yourself a break.

It’s okay not to be at your most productive during a global pandemic. The key during these unprecedented times is to stay calm and keep going. Try to do what you can, but give yourself a break from time to time. Remember: you need to look out for yourself first and foremost.

This is a challenging time for SMBs, which is why we are here to help. Take a look at the Yellow Business Hub for more tips and updates on running your business during COVID-19.

*We endeavour to provide accurate material for Australian businesses consistent with Australian Government Health and Safety Guidelines. However, this material is for reference only and is not designed to be, nor should it be regarded as professional advice.