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How to help your employees work from home productively.

By Melinda Stoker|Thursday May 14, 2020

Making the transition to working from home isn’t always easy. Your work schedule suddenly changes because you don’t have to commute. You also don’t have a clear separation between work time and other activities such as social media or personal tasks at home. A survey by Airtasker found that “remote employees worked 1.4 more days every month or 16.8 more days every year than those who worked in an office.” Here’s a closer look at what impacts productivity when you no longer have face-to-face interaction.

Work from home productivity: start with yourself

As a manager, you play an important role in guiding your remote teams on how to work from home effectively. To model effective habits for your team members, use the tips and principles identified here, and then apply and expand them to your team. With some experimentation, you might even find that remote work leads to better results than a conventional working environment. Start with laying out clear expectations for your employees.

Working from home: revisit and state your management style and expectations.

There is a significant difference between occasional flexible work and large-scale remote working. Use these tactics to support your employees. First, revisit your communication style. If you relied on “management by walking around” to say good morning and check in with staff, you may need to evolve your approach. Instead, reach out to employees and ask how they are doing. As you listen to your team members, you can also discuss your expectations as they work from home.

For example, let’s say you are in a professional services field such as accounting or consulting. In this field, preparation, detail-orientation, and appearances are essential. Therefore, you may ask your employees to dress in business attire for client-facing video conferencing meetings. In contrast, you may allow latitude in dress for internal phone calls. Setting this expectation in advance helps the whole team make the most of their work time.

Aside from communication expectations, it is best to set clear goals for staff, including deadlines. Once those expectations are set, the exact working schedule employees choose is less important. Setting expectations is important for remote employees because it helps them focus on what matters.

What if you find that your remote staff doesn’t hit their goals? Resist the urge to assume they are slacking off. Instead, they may simply need better support, tools and processes to get their work done.

Remove productivity barriers for remote employees with office hours.

In a traditional office, it is easy for employees to raise a quick question with a colleague or manager. These quick and straightforward check-ins tend not to happen in a remote work environment. The solution comes straight from your college years: office hours! Nearly all professors offer office hours when students can come in to ask questions and get help. Every week, you knew when and where you could go to get answers.

Woman working from home

Use these tips to organize your weekly office hours.

  • Start small. Start with at least an hour during regular business offices (e.g. 10:00-11:00 a.m. or 2:00-3:00 p.m.). Keep time zone differences in mind when you choose your time. You don’t want to force staff to work late to ask you a question. Keep this in mind if you have team members in different regions or countries.
  • Communicate the idea to staff. Send a message to your staff announcing that you will have office hours on a set schedule. Anybody on the team is welcome to join you..
  • Use the right tools. You can use Slack, Ooma’s Free business calling app and video call services to take calls.
  • Embrace listening. Office hours are for the employee, not the manager. Take the time to listen carefully.
  • Redirect employees as needed. If your employee asks you questions you can’t answer, take note of those points and come back with an answer later. For example, if employees find it uncomfortable to sit on long conference calls, they may simply need better phone equipment. For more ideas on remote employee tools, check out our post: Great Remote Productivity Techs for Every Small Business.

This simple process means that managers could suffer fewer interruptions as well. It is one of the easiest ways to keep a remote team focused.

Need increased productivity to meet a deadline? Use this simple tactic.

Even when your team is working remotely, it is still critical to meet your deadlines. If you or others are starting to fall behind, use timers! You can use the Pomodoro timer offered through the free E.ggtimer. In brief, you set aside 30 minutes for this activity: the timer runs for 25 minutes for work and then gives you a five-minute break. During those 25 minutes, you focus entirely on the task in front of you. Everything else can wait. Using this tactic three to five times per day is a simple way to boost productivity immediately. At the same time, you respect the need for breaks.

Check status regularly.

When the above tactics do not produce the results you need, try a different approach. Reach out to team members regularly, for example, once per week, to share their progress on current projects and work. If you see little progress, you may need to offer more support.

During one of these check-in calls, you may find out that there is a problem with a missed deadline. The cause may be due to an outside vendor failing to deliver on schedule. In other cases, collaboration tools may not be working effectively. By regularly checking in with staff, you increase your ability to detect problems quickly and help your employees to solve those problems.

Final thoughts on remote productivity.

Ultimately, productivity is not measured by logging in from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; it is about achieving goals for each team member that rolls up to meet company goals. Providing a flexible working schedule is advantageous, providing tasks and goals are met. With easy to use, reliable communication tools and effective management tactics outlined here, it’s easy to make remote work productive.

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Loyal customers are critical to business success because they tend to be a source of repeat business. According to The Loyalty Report 2018, “Loyalty programs that establish positive emotional connections with Members see 27% more of their Membership increasing their spend with the Brand.” This research tells us that building customer loyalty can lead to more spending.

Loyalty programs vs. improving customer experience: Designing your approach

There are different approaches to building customer loyalty. Some companies use loyalty program cards, bonus offers and other incentives. You might offer access to special deals like CVS or take 5% off the purchase price like Target. You might even give some or part of your product away for free, like airlines that provide free flights through their loyalty programs. What if your small business isn’t interested or able to offer these kinds of loyalty programs?

There is another way to encourage loyal customers to keep giving you repeat business. Gather customer feedback through a phone survey and then use that data to improve the customer experience. When customers see that the business owner has acted on their feedback, they may feel inspired to return to that business. That means more revenue for the bottom line. You just need a fast and straightforward way to conduct a customer satisfaction survey. That’s where a focused business phone survey comes in.

Why increasing customer loyalty with a phone survey is a good choice.

Organizing a customer satisfaction survey by phone offers notable advantages compared to other methods. While a net promoter survey can give you interesting data, there is no conversational element involved. Further, using the net promoter survey approach effectively requires a certain degree of specialized training in the net promoter methodology.

You might also consider online customer surveys. Surveying your email list or website is worth attempting. Depending on the size of your email list or website traffic, you might be able to get a large number of survey responses. The challenge with online customer surveys is that you will have to spend a lot of time reviewing the data to find insights. There is no way to ask a customer to clarify their survey responses or provide an example.

Conducting a customer satisfaction survey by phone gives you the best of both worlds. You can ask questions and get survey responses. However, you also have the opportunity to provide the human touch. For instance, you may hear a customer complain about a lost or delayed order. When you hear about a problem during a phone survey, you can gather all the necessary details to make the situation right with the customer.

How to increase customer loyalty with a phone survey step by step.

The following steps give you a starting point to create a simple customer satisfaction survey. Over the course of a month, you could gather a significant amount of insights to improve your customer service by calling five to 10 customers per day.

  1. Define your customer satisfaction survey goals.

Before calling a single customer, reflect on your business goals. Are you seeking to improve your profit margins? In that case, you may want to focus your survey on the customers that spend the most on your business. Finding ways to make high-spending customers content may give you an excellent return. Alternatively, you may decide to focus your survey project on whether your local SEO has attracted customers. 

  1. Write your customer satisfaction survey questions.

Now that you have clarity on your goals, it is time to write your questions. According to Survey Monkey, a survey software company, it is best to focus your survey on closed-ended questions. An example of a closed-ended question would be: “How many times have you bought from our business in the past 12 months?” However, this kind of question may not give you the ideas you need to improve the customer experience.

At the end of the survey, consider asking one or two open-ended questions to understand better what your customers like. Encourage customers to think creatively with a question like this: “If you could change anything in our business, what would you improve?”

Tip: Reduce your need for note-taking by using call recording, but make sure that you ask for permission first.

  1. Test the survey with a small group of customers.

With your list of customer satisfaction questions, make a few test phone calls to customers. The purpose of the test is to discover if any of the questions are unclear. If you receive confusing answers, revise the question to make them clearer.

  1. Train employees on how to gather survey responses.

Consider running a few training phone calls for your employees. Ask them to call you or other employees in a role-playing scenario. Making a few practice calls will help your employees become more familiar with the questions. Besides, practice phone surveys will help employees learn how to record survey responses accurately. Once the training is complete, give your staff a list of customers to call and let them get started.

  1. Review the survey responses for insights and follow up with customers.

After all of the survey responses are in, schedule time to review the results. In particular, look for patterns in the results. If a large number of people gave low scores to your website, you may need to make improvements. Also, review the survey responses received in the open-ended questions. You might be pleasantly surprised at what customers tell you.

  1. Follow up with customers after the survey when needed.

A phone survey lets you gather rich insights because you can quickly ask follow-up questions. However, merely gathering survey responses may not impress your customers very much. Instead, offer to refer problems to the business owner for improvement or offer to enter the respondent in a drawing for a gift card. That is a much more compelling improvement! By addressing problems and issues when they arise, you stand a much better chance of winning additional loyal customers.