March 18, 2020

Small business, big hearts: How we're making working remotely work for us

Becca Apfelstadt
Working remotely from home during COVID-19.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Navigating the near-hourly changes brought on by COVID-19 has challenged me as a leader, as a parent of two young children who have 10 grandparents, and as a person with a compromised immune system.

At treetree, we’re lucky to have already had the technology and processes in place to support working remotely. We inadvertently spent the last 12 months preparing for this. We built systems, conducted trainings, converted to an ERP system, shed—and shredded—all the paper, moved offices and purged in the process.

So, when it came time to flip the switch, we were able to have a meeting, tell everyone to pick up their monitors, notebooks and laptops and get home now. We did that last Thursday. We’ve also had lots of practice since implementing monthly agency-wide Focus Days last year where we all work remotely one day a month. I know not every business can flip the “virtual” switch that quickly or easily.

But working from home for three weeks or more? That’s a whole different beast.

I hope that by sharing some of the ways we’re taking action at treetree we can help other small businesses like ours weather this storm.

Look each other in the eye

Being isolated every day gets real old, real fast. Whether it’s a FaceTime coffee “date” or morning video conference, my team knows we should see each other’s eyeballs every day. Get comfortable with video conferencing. Your work will be better, your ideas will be more fleshed out and there will be less room for interpretation when you can read facial expressions and body language.

What we’re doing: We have a standing all-agency video conference each morning at 8:40 a.m. followed by a 10-minute meditation for anyone who would like to participate.

Resources I like: Slack’s video and screen-share feature for meeting with colleagues on the fly, Ring Central for video conferencing and call forwarding of the office line, this speaker/mic, this webcam, and PageProof for marking up and approving documents collaboratively.

Be adaptable (and then adapt some more)

Adaptability is a core value at treetree, and we’ve already seen it at work in a big way. We as business owners need to be prepared to flex around parents’ and caretakers’ schedules, and trust employees to be accountable to the work if they need to split the working day with a spouse to cover child care, or even just get outside for a walk. (Leaders: please encourage your teams to take breaks outside when the weather’s nice.)

What we’re doing: We each shared during our Monday status meeting (which is now taking place via video conference) what our first day remote looked like, how we’re juggling this new reality and how we can support and encourage each other. I posed a simple question: “What is home like for you right now?”

Resources I like: Using Slack to keep our individual statuses up to date in real time (for example, away for lunch, in a meeting or even nursing a newborn). Emojis help for quick reference.

Share WFH best practices

When it comes to working from home, many small businesses are building the plane as they fly it. How can your team share what’s working, what’s not, ideas, tips and tricks for being effective in a WFH model?

What we’re doing: We started a dedicated Slack channel to quickly share what’s working and what’s not, and we’re all committed to over-communicating when we’ll need to step away from the computer.

Resources I like: This NYT article with tips for workers who are new to working from home.

Prioritize well-being

Between the anxiety of the unknown and the stress of keeping loved ones safe and healthy, it’s easy to let our own health (physical, mental and spiritual) slide to the back burner. I’ve told my team: Sleep. Drink water. Get exercise in where you can. Help your kids feel safe. Get outside. Meditate. And rest when you’re not feeling well.

When it comes to the health of others, if you’re able, I encourage everyone to consider donating blood or plasma. As someone who is immunocompromised and relies on weekly plasma infusions to have a fighting chance, this is a critical time. Lots of people in my primary immune disease community are worried about shortages.

What we’re doing: treetree is offering mental health support through a local resource that is already equipped to offer via telemedicine and I’m offering to do my daily meditation practice via video chat so other can join.

Resources I like: Telemedicine through your healthcare provider, the Calm app for meditation, this list of museums offering virtual tours

Empower your team

It’s easy to let fear, or even complacency, win the day. But action—another treetree value—can make us all even better when we come back together.

Is it clear that some meetings could be a quick email download? Are there processes that just aren’t working? Do you need a software to make your virtual meetings more productive? Empower your team to make those kinds of decisions.

What we’re doing: Using any down time to focus on the work that tends to get put on the back burner, identifying and eliminating unnecessary meetings, and using our learnings to fine tune our already-established Focus Day.

Resources I like: This Inc. article on the benefits of working from home.

Celebrate the bright side as a team

I think we’ll see positives to our business in how we work, function and improve our workflow remotely. I think it will unite us and we’ll take care of each other. But more than that, we’re being forced to slow down. We’re going to have time with family that we might not have otherwise had. We’re going to work on projects with focus and collaboration (and sometimes that balance has been hard to achieve).

What we’re doing: The first day we were virtual (last Friday) I sent a list of ideas for how to stay occupied and find some joy. Maybe these will inspire you or your team? We started a #brightside channel on Slack to share with one another throughout the workday and weekend.

Hang in there, everyone. I’m cheering you on.


Becca Apfelstadt, Co-Founder and CEO of treetree, is on a mission to make sure her agency is the favorite place employees have ever worked and clients have ever hired. treetree is The Agency of Special Projects, located in Columbus, Ohio. Learn more at