Creating a "Safe Space" Work Environment at Home

“Do you have any suggestions for small business CEOs and their staff regarding the challenges faced while working at home?”  I got this question last week while talking to a CEO who requested some mentoring regarding help for her and her staff faced with dealing with priorities for the daily business tasks which now are brought into the home and get muddled with home tasks.  These new struggles have surfaced while our operations change.

As the Covid-19 crisis ebbs and flows, most small business owners and some staff are working from home. As if running a business wasn't demanding enough, the pandemic has intensified the challenges.

The competing priorities entrepreneurs have always faced—client work, administrative duties, staffing issues, family responsibilities, self-care—have become even more daunting to address. With no distinct physical way to set boundaries, it has become difficult to focus on individual tasks and give them their due attention.

  Nellie Akalp is a passionate entrepreneur, business expert, professional speaker, author, and mother of four. She is the Founder and CEO of CorpNet.com, a trusted resource and service provider for business incorporation, LLC filings, and corporate compliance services in all 50 states.  Nellie wrote a piece recently which appears on SCORE’s website.  Her work is precisely a fit for the challenges which my CEO mentoring request raised so I share it for all readers today.

Akalp starts her writing by stating that “I know and understand the turmoil well. During the pandemic, I've managed a remote workforce and taken care of all other aspects of our business almost entirely from home. Additionally, my husband has been working from home. Add in our four children and the house has been full, to say the least. I realize it can be difficult to draw lines in the sand and prioritize responsibilities. However, it's necessary to discover ways to compartmentalize individual to-dos so that you can be more productive on all fronts. Everyone's situation is unique, but here are some tactics that have worked for me.”

Nellie provides five tips to help small business owners manage competing priorities when working from home:

1. Maintain Independent To-Do Lists.  It may seem convenient to rely on one to-do list that covers everything you have on your plate. However, that can become overwhelming. In addition to having a master to-do list, make separate to-do lists for each of your responsibilities. For example:

  • Work
  • Family
  • Health and wellness
  • Volunteerism

2. Prioritize Your Priorities.  Your to-do lists will contain a mix of tasks—some more urgent than others. To make sure you tend to the most mission-critical responsibilities first, organize your lists to put essential items to the forefront. But what happens when the lines blur about what should get your undivided attention? Consider trying one or more of the following techniques for prioritizing tasks.

  • Priority Matrix – This involves organizing tasks into quadrants to determine which should take precedence. Check out the Eisenhower Decision Matrix and Stephen Covey’s time management matrix for more information.
  • ABC Method – This technique involves reviewing and ranking tasks on an "A," "B," "C" level of importance. When multiple tasks seem to have the same degree of urgency, you may identify several As, Bs, and Cs. You would then rank the tasks within each of those priority categories to determine your plan of action.
  • Eat the Frog – Sometimes, I find this is a valuable method for tackling my days. "Eating the frog" involves doing the tasks you like least first. Rather than dreading those nasty to-dos all day long, you get them out of the way. This allows you to work more intently on the other responsibilities you have awaiting you. 

3. Delegate to Get It Done.   Surely, not EVERY task on your list must be done by you personally. Carefully look over your to-do lists to determine what responsibilities you can delegate to others. For example:

  • Can someone else run your financial report?
  • Can your significant other go grocery shopping?
  • Can a staff member respond to inquiries on social media?
  • Can your kids do their own laundry?

When someone else is perfectly capable of knocking a few to-dos from your list, by all means, take some pressure off of yourself and allow them to contribute.

4. Negotiate Due Dates.  Communicate with stakeholders to discuss rescheduling lower-priority activities. Most people cooperate when asked if it’s okay to set a new deadline for non-urgent tasks that won’t have a ripple effect if not accomplished by a specific date.

5. Use Tools to Your Advantage.  Old-school tools like a day planner, desk calendar, and notebook can help keep priorities top of mind. However, consider using cloud-based collaboration and productivity tools to communicate with team members, organize tasks, and manage projects. Several software platforms that might serve your needs include:

  • Slack
  • Trello
  • Asana
  • Google Drive and Google Calendar
  • Teamwork

While these tools are geared toward helping businesses, you might also find ways to use their capabilities for managing your home projects and tasks, too.

Akalp closes her writing, “Here’s to a Healthy Work-Life Balance Amid the Pandemic!  I hope these tips help you navigate the new normal of managing your business and personal life all from one place. Also, I recommend getting in touch with other entrepreneurs to exchange ideas, tips, and tricks. The more we can support each other, the better able we can survive and thrive during these uncertain times.”

About the Author(s)

Dean Swanson

Dean is a Certified SCORE Mentor and former SCORE Chapter Chair, District Director, and Regional Vice President for the North West Region, and has developed and managed many businesses. The Rochester Post Bulletin publishes his weekly article on a topic geared toward the small business community. The articles here are printed in their entirety.

Certified SCORE Mentor for the Southeast Minnesota Chapter
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