Small-business owners pour their hearts and souls into their businesses, so it can be hard to step away from the office for an extended period of time. And when they do take a break, whether it’s a well-deserved vacation or travel that’s required for work or family, they don’t have the luxury of unplugging and tuning out.
But being out of the office doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. To make sure you don’t miss a beat when you have to be away, here’s everything you need to know to keep the office running smoothly.
Make Yourself Available
Before you hit the road, establish times that you will be available to your team. It can be a couple hours every day or larger blocks of time at the beginning and end of the week. To ensure your employees can still reach you in case of an emergency, arrange an SOS signal that they can text or email you to let you know they need to touch base ASAP.
Whatever schedule you establish, stick to it. Nothing will cause things to unravel faster than if you can’t be reached when something important comes up.
Make sure to let your team know how you expect the office to run in your absence. If there are sales or activity reports you need on a daily basis, outline how and when you expect to receive them. Prepare for emergencies, such as what to do if someone falls ill or is otherwise unable to perform their duties.
Decide if you want to touch base about certain projects on a daily or weekly basis, and define the types of updates you want. If your office uses a workflow app or program, agree on the progress you’ll expect to see and the timeframes in which you want to see it.
Pick a Communication Method
It will be impossible to keep track of your business and the demands of your travel if you’re bombarded with an endless stream of texts, emails, IMs, phone calls, and video chats. Pick your preferred method of communication and let everyone know how they should contact you.
This doesn’t mean that you won’t accept other forms of communication, but it sets the expectation that email or text, for example, will be your first line of contact, with calls or IMs reserved for more urgent issues. Setting a primary communication method also makes a phone call or unexpected video chat with kudos for a job well done feel more special to your employees when you can’t hand out praise in person.
Don’t Neglect Face Time
Even though you’re not physically there, you can still log some face time with your team. Because a large part of all communication is nonverbal, it’s important to check in visually from time to time. Consider setting up a weekly video chat or Skype session.
At the same time, avoid surprising the team with unexpected video chats. Frequent visual check-ins can be perceived as a sign of mistrust and might interrupt an otherwise productive workflow. Your interactions need to be productive when they’re limited by distance, so you don’t want to accidentally cause problems, such as hurt feelings, by using the wrong communication method.
Use the Right Apps
Cloud-based tools make long-distance management easier than ever. If you don’t already, consider using apps or software that allow you to virtually share work, collaborate, and track projects. Google Drive lets you share and edit documents in real time, and Dropbox makes sharing all types of files easy and convenient. Both require nothing more than Internet access to help you get down to business.
Check out Web-based software like Basecamp or Wrike for long-distance, multi-user project management. These programs let you create tasks, set deadlines, and share calendars with everyone on the team. No matter where you are, you’ll be able to stay on top of your team’s productivity and keep projects on track.
Focus on Results
Don’t get distracted by the small details while you’re away. It will be impossible for you to keep tabs on everything that’s happening in the office, so focus on the things that matter. Rather than worrying about how many hours an associate is putting in, pay attention to whether or not their deadlines are being met.
By focusing on the end rather than the means, you’ll have a better idea of how projects are really progressing, and you’ll avoid falling into the trap of trying to micromanage from afar.
Sometimes leaving the office is unavoidable, but you can still effectively manage your team when you have to travel. With planning, diligence, and the right tools, your small business will continue to flourish even when you can’t be there in person.