The Ultimate Small Business Work From Home Guide

According to a 2019 survey, 81% of onsite workers thought that the ability to work remotely would make them happier. Happiness aside, however, small businesses now must figure out how to make these work-from-home dreams a reality—and on a severely condensed timeline—in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

With 45 states to date issuing stay-at-home orders in response to the COVID-19 crisis, more of America’s workforce is working remotely than ever before. But what do you do if remote work capabilities weren’t part of your company’s DNA before the current public health emergency?

While you work through the financial impact that the current economic uncertainty has on your business and the small business relief programs that are available, you’ll still need to keep your virtual doors open and your team productive even when your physical doors may be closed.

These tips can help your small business quickly establish work-from-home protocols, especially if your company has never operated remotely. You’ll find communication best practices, tools for staying connected and tech to help keep your business moving through the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.

Rethink ‘Communication’

In an office or storefront, everything is more visible and accessible. You can stop by a colleague’s office for a quick clarification or rally your team for an impromptu meeting in the breakroom. Even body language informs your typical in-office day-to-day communications.

When making the shift to remote work, err on the side of overcommunication to help ensure your team feels informed, validated and empowered. These tips can help you rethink the ways and the frequency with which you communicate:

  • Set boundaries. Establishing a schedule for the workday helps the entire team show up for work when their living room becomes their office. Consider ditching text messaging in favor of email or a work-specific chat app, so that employees feel they can protect their personal devices and time after the workday is done.
  • Set clear expectations. From priority projects, to normal work hours and delivery timelines, don’t leave anything to chance. Clearly stating expectations can help your entire team orient themselves toward a common goal.
  • Trade in-person discussions for phone calls. Every time you’d typically go see a colleague to resolve an issue, abandon the tech and go old school with a phone call. With a real-time conversation, you can quickly find a resolution while avoiding miscommunications that often can arise with chats and emails.
  • Rethink urgency. Since remote work removes the comfort of physical proximity, it’s more important than ever to promptly return your team members’ calls and emails and participate on that chat thread about a pressing project. Prompt replies will help alleviate some of the anxiety that comes from not being able to see your colleagues when a concern arises. Promptness also lets employees know you’re tuned in to their dedication to the company’s objectives.
  • Invest in virtual connection. Maybe it’s a video huddle every morning to replace the typical break room chatter or a weekly happy hour to collectively wind down; however you accomplish your virtual “connections” with your team, know that these routines are important during times where your team lacks a daily physical workspace to gather. Work-from-home orders can’t erase the comfort that comes with seeing the people who show up every day to make your company run.
  • Double-down on the grace. Working from home, especially in the times of COVID-19, means more distractions. Kids home from school, pets excited about a favorite toy, the inevitable leaf blowers and other intrusions are going to invade your conference calls with situations you never encounter at the office. Take a deep breath and remind yourself (and everyone on your team) that people are doing the best they can within their given environments. A bit of grace in the face of unexpected disruptions will bring some much-needed humanity to these unprecedented times.

Now that you’re equipped with practical leadership tools to help you rethink your work-from-home communication protocols, you can tend to the daily business of making your business run remotely.

Stay Connected

As you establish priorities and craft a plan for your business to continue operations, you’ll need to keep your team connected to keep goals on track. The good news is that several low- to no-cost tools can help you immediately ramp up your virtual communications.

Chat apps, videoconferencing platforms and conference call lines can help keep the communications flowing and offer a wide range of formality to mimic the different ways you typically communicate in the workplace.

Chat Apps

Instant messaging and chat apps can help your team stay connected and get quick answers to simple questions that crop up throughout the business day. As you consider which chat or messaging app to adopt, consider your business’s security demands. You’ll want to weigh the security features of each platform with the need for privacy and then establish protocols with your team for topics that should not be discussed via a digital messaging platform.

The messaging apps below are no-cost and among the most widely used among small businesses:

  • WhatsApp. This secure messaging app is owned by Facebook and lets you quickly create group chats and empower your team to connect via a desktop or mobile app. WhatsApp boasts a range of message encryption features, along with videoconferencing, document sharing and more. For questions where a reply is more involved than a single sentence but not worthy of a phone call, voice memos let you record a reply and hit “send” to resolve issues with deft speed.
  • Slack. Accessible through both desktop and mobile apps, Slack offers a free version that could be a powerful solution if your business has multiple projects with specific team members engaged with each. Slack lets users create “channels” so that they’re only involved in messages specific to that channel. The free version also allows for 1:1 videoconferencing and file sharing within your channels.
  • Signal. If the nature of your business demands a more secure messaging app, you can turn to the choice that journalists use to communicate with anonymous sources. Signal has privacy baked into its DNA, and there’s no need to opt in to its robust encryption. The platform offers options for group chats, video calls, file sharing and voice memos. The only drawback for Signal is it’s only a mobile app and offers no desktop version.


When your team needs some face time, videoconferencing can help you bridge the gap between working in the office and from home. While many chat apps come with videoconferencing features, you may prefer to use a platform where videoconferencing is the primary function for your virtual face-to-face needs. The features are typically a bit more robust than messaging apps and also incorporate chat features into your calls.

  • Zoom. By and large the most talked about videoconferencing service in recent weeks, Zoom offers small businesses a free version to keep your teams connected. While the free version limits group calls to a maximum duration of 40 minutes, you can have unlimited 1:1 meetings. You’ll also enjoy features like call recording and screen sharing. Before using, be sure to review Zoom’s guidelines for hosting a secure videoconference to avoid having unwelcome attendees join your meetings (called “zoombombing”). Zoom is accessible via desktop or mobile app.
  • Skype. The most well-known videoconferencing platform, Skype has everything you need to get your team visually connected. With call recording, file sharing, screen sharing and built-in chat functions, your team can easily connect via group calls with no time limits. A bonus? If your home office isn’t in tip-top shape, Skype has a built-in background blur function to keep the focus on you, not your pile of laundry. Skype is accessible via desktop or mobile app.
  • Google Hangouts. Like Zoom and Skype, Google Hangouts offers robust videoconferencing capabilities. At no cost, your team can be up and on video in a matter of minutes, and all it takes is a Google account (you already have one if you have a Gmail email address). To stay in touch throughout the workday, your team can install the Hangouts app from the Chrome Extension Store (Note: You must use the Google Chrome browser) to get alerts for new conversations and meetings. Google Hangouts is accessible via desktop and mobile app.

Once you find your perfect videoconferencing match, this article from ZDNet offers myriad tips to help you look like a pro on any platform.

Conference Calls

If videoconferencing puts a strain on your at-home internet service, you might discover your colleagues look more pixelated than professional on-screen. If that’s the case, a no-video conference call may be a better solution. These services also can save your productivity bacon if there’s a service outage with your internet provider.

  • UberConference. The free version of UberConference is offering expanded call times and up to 50 participants to help small businesses stay connected in the times of COVID-19. With no tedious PINs or software downloads, small businesses can use either the web-based platform for video or voice-only calls, or a standard dedicated phone number for dial-in meeting access. Even if you don’t use the video capabilities, the web interface allows call recording and screen sharing.
  • Free Conference Call. The long-time favorite for small businesses for no-cost conference calling solutions, Free Conference Call offers dial-up voice-only calls from your phone, and voice and video calling via its online platform. They offer call recording, breakout rooms and screen sharing, plus a mobile app for those looking for a more full-service option from their phones.

Keep Your Business Moving

Now that you have the tools to keep your remote team in touch, you’ll need tools to track productivity and keep everyone at home on task. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce offers some simple tips for keeping remote teams productive, like daily check-ins and a recommended dress code.

One of their leading tips for small businesses, however, is to leverage the range of productivity tools designed for small businesses. With built-in tasks, reminders and accountability features, these tools can help empower employees to adapt to remote work and remain productive in their new environments.

  • Trello. Designed to be a simple project management tool, Trello can help small teams track projects (on Boards) and tasks (on Cards). Trello makes it easy to track assignments and keep track of progress in a highly visual, easy-to-read interface. If your business has never used project management software before COVID-19, Trello can quickly get you organized and keep business flowing.
  • Basecamp Business. For small businesses with multiple moving parts and clients, Basecamp Business offers a 30-day free trial to help you get up to full speed during your work-from-home stint. With the power to create multiple individual projects for several clients or business segments, Basecamp is designed to help a single business track productivity across multiple projects from a single dashboard.
  • BoxDropbox Business and Google Drive. Remote businesses need collaboration tools, which is where file-sharing comes into play. Box, Dropbox and Google Drive all offer ways to share files with multiple team members without jamming up someone’s email inbox with overly large files. Google Drive offers free storage for up to 15 MB of documents. Box offers 100 MB of storage and a 14-day free trial, and Dropbox offers up to 5 TB of storage and a 30-day free trial before you have to choose a paid plan.
  • DocuSign and HelloSign. Need customer signatures but stay-at-home orders have your hands tied? Online signature services can get documents out to your customers fast. Both DocuSign and HelloSign offer free 30-day trials before you have to commit to a paid plan.
  • If your business needs official documents notarized during stay-at-home orders, an online notary service can help you keep things moving. will connect you with one of their many notaries via video chat to verify your identity documents and then email you a copy of your fully notarized documents. At $25 per document, the price may be a bit higher than a visit to your bank, but you’ll also be able to cook your lunch or take another call while you wait for your notary to get online.

You’re now equipped to stay connected and keep previous projects moving. You may, however, want to take a minute to go the extra mile for one of your most valuable company assets: your employees.

Boost Employee Morale

Tips, tricks and tools aside, don’t forget to spend some time during this work-from-home time to nurture your team—even from afar. While you’ll be skipping the cake and candles to celebrate happy occasions, you can take some steps to make sure your team feels connected throughout the week.

Here are three fun ideas to inspire connection while your business adapts to its new work-from-home normal:

  • Virtual happy hours. Whether on a random evening or at the end of the day on a Friday, try using your new videoconferencing solution of choice to host a virtual happy hour for your team. You can share cocktail recipes, create themes (costumes, custom videoconference backgrounds) and, most importantly, have some time to decompress as a team and connect on a more personal level.
  • Bring your pet to work days. While pets may be at your new home office daily these days, why not take a moment to celebrate the creatures keeping your team sane? You can designate time at the beginning of one conference call a week to feature team member pets. A little fur family can lighten the mood and break up the long days inside the same four walls.
  • Viewing parties. If you find your team talking about the same TV shows or movies, try hosting a viewing party for your so-inclined office friends. These apps make online viewing parties a breeze and can keep the camaraderie levels on high with Hollywood’s nonstop action.

While there’s no time line for how long your business might be working remotely, the tools above—both intellectual and practical—will help you ease your team’s transition and maximize productivity.

If (or when) you find your chosen techniques and tools aren’t working as well as you’d hoped, go back to communication. Ask questions, collaborate with your team and, together, you’ll chart a path forward that keeps you physically apart for as long as necessary but working together in the best ways possible.


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