NEO Small Business Trends That Are Defining 2021
The business environment in Northeast Ohio has certainly had to shift over the last year. As a provider of human resources services to local companies across the business spectrum, we’ve had a front-row seat to how companies are adjusting to survive and even thrive. What do the companies making it have in common? Here are the top seven trends we see impacting small businesses throughout Northeast Ohio. How companies are responding provides insight into what the Northeast Ohio small business landscape will look like as we move further into 2021.
1. Are you functional, not optimal?
Recently, a small business client described his company’s current situation as “functional, not optimal.” While the big corporations fairly easily transitioned to remote work, the vast majority of workers in Cleveland work in small businesses for whom remote work is not a good fit. Small business owners are being extremely cautious as they grapple with this “interim model” of functionality. Recognizing this is the first step toward optimization.
2. Flexibility is de rigueur
The pandemic has pushed companies into rethinking their stance on flexibility to the point that it is practically a requirement. This does not only mean working from home. It might mean staggered work schedules so not everyone is in the office or plant at the same time. Or for manufacturing shifts, it may mean longer days with Fridays off. Or perhaps flexibility is demonstrated by paid online training days. Be creative. The opportunity to make some attempts at flexibility is now.
3. Lockdown your technology
With so much of our day-to-day business taking place in the virtual world, right-sizing your technology and locking down cyber connections is essential. Just look at the online unemployment hacks costing millions. Unsecured tech access can be a liability. Bump up IT security to safeguard your operations. It’s an investment worth making.
4. Communicate constantly
Companies faring well are communicating more than ever before. You really cannot overcommunicate. As things change, employees need to hear, “This is what we’re going to try now, and here’s why.” Often, it’s not change that causes consternation; it’s ambiguity and lack of clear communication. Remember that communication is a two-way street. Be sure to solicit employee feedback.
5. Boost morale
Make an effort to inject some fun into the workplace and boost morale. Remember those office birthday lunches? How do you do that virtually? Find ways to continue to build relationships and feel authentically connected. Host a virtual cooking class, play games online, start a company book club. Find what works for you.
6. Find a balance
For many, working from home during the pandemic is more like “living at work” and they have a hard timing shutting things down. Talk to employees about setting boundaries and realistic expectations. Help your employees understand what it means to take care of themselves — both when working and not.
7. Address the training gap
Many of the workplace issues we see result from a lack of management training. Front-line managers need to be trained on the basics of handling human resources issues as well as new protocols related to the pandemic. The age of your managers can also be a factor. Those who are 50-plus were likely not trained to execute business like it is being executed today. Properly training your managers is one of the most important things you can do for your employees and your company.
Throughout 2021, we will inch closer to returning to the way things were. However, the above trends show how much has changed along the way, particularly for small businesses. Flexibility, communication, technology, and morale will continue to be crucial. But the most important thing small businesses can do is to train supervisors and managers so they are in lockstep with top leadership. This is the best way to successfully navigate whatever 2021 has in store.
Mark D’Agostino is president and founder of ConnectedHR in Cleveland.