I wasn’t sure what to expect when I set out to interview small business owners and talk about COVID-19. This is a pandemic unlike anything we have seen in our lifetime. It is a global crisis impacting the lives of every person on the planet, especially small business owners and entrepreneurs.

However, not one entrepreneur I spoke to expressed the mentality that all was lost.

Yes, there’s fear. That’s a completely rational emotion to have during a crisis. Yet, there is great leadership. There is resilience and grit. Comfort and compassion is extended to employees. Everyone contributes creative ideas to keep business thriving. And the team works hard together, regardless of their remote workplace.

How do you lead during a pandemic crisis? These answers will inspire you to keep going together.

1. “This too shall pass.”

“I’m the CEO of a communication company focused on organizational health. We have 16 employees. I am leading our team with focus. We are still in business. We are following our core values of dignity, perseverance, unique, process and courageous. These values guide our decisions of how we will respond. We have half the company working from home and the others electing to work in the office. We huddle via electronic means multiple times a day. 9 AM is our all-company huddle where we remind everyone to stay focused on what we can control. We are a Servant Leadership company, so kindness has always been a system we’ve created and maintained.

Our leadership team huddles on how we can help less fortunate businesses. Our social media efforts will spotlight businesses that we can help. We are engaging in more ZOOM free coaching sessions on leadership to share ideas to calm the mind and spirit during this uncertain time.

This too shall pass. We shall get stronger because of it.” — Joe Kiedinger, Principal and CEO, Prophit Co.

2. Lean into company values.

“I am the co-founder of a boutique branding agency. Our entire team, under 10 employees, works remotely. We are doing what we can to help our team members, and other collaborators, feel extra supported and encouraged during this time.

We’re leaning into our company values, which include always assume good intentions and maintain healthy and respectful communication. Now more than ever, we realize that people are on high alert and feeling anxious.

We started a Slack channel called #justforfun where we share funny videos and stories and inspiring content to lift spirits. Our team is also are sharing virtual resources with one another for ideas of how to stay safe and cared for.” — Shelly Jackson Buffington, Executive Director, The Look & The Feel Branding

3. Replicate in-office experiences.

“Our life insurance technology company had our entire team working from our office in downtown Seattle. Then, Seattle became the front lines of the United States coronavirus. For the health and safety of our employees we shut down our office and everyone went remote.

For us leading has been all about access to the right tools and trying to
closely replicate the in-office experience, but remotely. We use WorkFace, Zoom, and Google Hangouts depending on the type of meeting. Our gestures, facial and hand expressions, and movements convey a lot of useful information, like transparency, enthusiasm, and engagement. Using video helps confer personality and helps connect in a more authentic way. Giving employees the right tools and means to keep collaborating during the day keeps our productivity (and spirits) high.” — Lief Larson, COO, Jenny Life, Inc.

4. “Reputations are built in hard times, not the easy times.”


“The coronavirus is top of mind for all of us right now. It’s affecting our business, communities, and day-to-day lives. During this uncertain time, the safety of my employees, customers, and the contractors that use our company’s app is the top priority.

In response to the virus, employees were shifted to remote work. This will allow them to safely obey quarantine recommendations.

When announcing our remote work policy, I shared the quote, ‘Reputations are built in hard times, not the easy times.’ I believe in the people I’ve hired. They are a strong team that will pull together and overcome the obstacles presented by this pandemic.

In our office, I have an open-door policy. Now that the team is remote, it has shifted to an any-time call policy. I’m proud of how the team has stepped up. Not only do they feel free to reach out to me during the day, they actively engage with each other through chat, video conferencing, and phone. By implementing and embracing virtual communication tools, we are staying connected, cohesive, and staying on target with our goals.” —Shaun Savage, CEO and Founder, GoShare

5. Wear the hat of hope.


“Small business owners, and all leaders, need to be the Comforter and Chief to give great hope. They must have a steady hand to keep responses appropriate. People tend to allow crisis and hysteria to outpace the emergency. When that is done, you’re in a freefall and the emergency is running you, you’re not running the emergency.

The most important thing for new leaders is clear headedness and accuracy of the emergency. Oftentimes, the cure can be worse than the disease, and CEOs have a responsibility to manage the psyche of people around them. If you want to lead any organization and see it rise to ultimate potential, you must wear that hat. In times of crisis, it’s even more important.” — Kevin Crawford, Founder, Kevin Crawford Consulting

6. Increase communication.

“At Eu Natural, we’ve always had a remote team, so the impact to our team members haven’t been affected nearly as much as other companies. One thing we have done is increase communication amongst the team. Rather than weekly check-ins and teleconference staff meetings, we’re checking in with each other in some way on a daily basis. A short text, an email, a phone call — whatever it takes and whatever works best. This way, we can be there for each other as needed, and address needs as they arise, relieving both team member and team stresses.” — Vinay Amin, Health Expert & CEO, Eu Natural

7. Support one another.

“Our heating and cooling company has a team of 15 employees. We have someone on our team who had to travel to the East Coast to be near their family. As a company, we supported that team member. Everyone at FACT HVAC is ready and willing to assist them in whatever they need. We have invested quite a bit of resources into cross-training our team. If anyone needs relief or time off, anyone can step in to help them.

We have employees in the field and in our offices. Our team is actively leveraging technology to bring these groups together so that our workflow stays as streamlined as possible. We are committed to seeking out technologies that will allow us to continue to serve the needs of our community.

Everyone at FACT HVAC has the owners’ cell numbers, email addresses, and
even a Slack workspace to send all three owners instant messages. We want everyone on our team to feel that they can be open and honest with me about their fears, concerns, and ideas during this time of crisis. By engaging and talking to everyone it allows us to gauge how they are feeling during this unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak. We are also encouraging them to find ways that FACT HVAC can better serve the community. At the end of the day, we are than just a startup. In many ways, we are a family. We come from diverse backgrounds but at the core, we all believe in service first. In this time of COVID-19, the ownership team has committed to strive to serve the employees in a way that makes them feel appreciated, respected, and understood. As a result, our employees can serve the community with the same mindset and spirit.” — Andrew Jauss, COO, Fact HVAC

8. Disinfect and sanitize.

“We haven’t experienced any cases of the virus affecting our staff directly. However, certain procedures have been implemented to ensure that remains the case. Human Resources is closely monitoring updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

All surfaces, door handles, and equipment are now disinfected at the end of each working day. We have provided the option for employees to work remotely. We also offer lunches so that employees that do come in don’t have to leave our offices for their meals. Our company has locations worldwide. A challenge that we have worked to overcome is how to arrange for travels in a safe manner and cutting back on any travels that can be postponed. The cancellation of events and conferences has posed us with needing to search for alternative networking opportunities to maintain relationship building with other businesses and clients.” — Joseph Giranda, Director of Commercial Relations, CFR Rinkens

9. One day at a time.


“We are in a very challenging position because my company, iHeartRaves, sells fashion items for music festivals. These events are being canceled or postponed all around the country and even throughout the world as the coronavirus spreads.

We have been preparing for a potential recession for multiple years now, but we did not plan for a health crisis on top of a financial crisis. Decisions are made day by day. We sticking to our core values of being transparent and prioritizing our team member’s health over everything else. Our team has moved over to a work-from-home policy. We have set up work-from-home guidelines to be as productive as possible.

Our team appreciates the transparency and precautions we are taking. We would rather have lower productivity from transitioning to work-from-home vs. accelerating the spread of the virus.” — Brian Lim, CEO and Founder, iHeartRaves

10. Quick to respond.


“Like folks in all other walks of life, we are seeing conferences and trainings cancelled or changed to remote formats and cutbacks in travel. We have had to delay team-building events. However, cybercrime continues to thrive.

Much of the incident response work we do to support ransomware victims and other clients can be done remotely, thankfully. Our team has been very flexible, responsive, and understanding about the additional challenges COVID-19 adds to what are generally already extremely stressful events for our customers. For our team, generous time off policies and remote work options help to deal with sudden childcare challenges due to school closures and other cancellations.” — Nathan Little, Vice President of Digital Forensics & Incident Response, Tetra Defense

11. We are active and present.


“Our leadership team is taking an active role in setting examples for our entire team. First, we have been sharing important information from the start regarding our team’s safety, information regarding the virus, and setting protocols and procedures in place to make sure our clients and team are safe. Our leadership team is here every morning and every night. If we aren’t here, the entire staff knows how to reach us.

Every department is helping one another. We have a common goal to serve our clients while keeping them and our staff safe. The admin staff are logged in to help with the phones and work at the front desk. The desk is helping the techs and doctors by cleaning and move clients into their own rooms so that they do not cross another human. The doctors and techs are cleaning everywhere. The best thing is that everyone is supportive of moving high-risk personnel out of the frontline. Pregnant employees, employees who live with elderly parents, or team members with medical issues are all being set up to work from home. Everyone is being very understanding and supportive.

We have a private Facebook page where employees can share funny memes or client stories. Later this week I will be giving out bubble wrap with instructions to pop a few as needed for stress.

Right now we have only brought in food! We are buying yummy food from local restaurants, bakeries, and delis so that we can show everyone we are supporting other local businesses like ourselves.” — Dr. Lisa Aumiller, DVM, Founder and CEO, HousePaws Mobile Veterinary Service

12. We’re creating a virtual showroom!


“Starting this week, our LA-based PR and influencer marketing agency has pivoted its annual festival season gifting suite to be an entirely digital activation in an effort to prevent any spread of the virus.

Instead of hosting one-on-one appointments with influencers, stylists and VIPs at our Los Angeles showroom, the agency has moved its scheduled showroom appointments to virtual gifting sessions. A team member will video chat guests one-on-one, tour the showroom, and help select their favorite products for a curated package that will be shipped directly to their homes.

Given the unpredictable and often isolating conditions, industries must implement new, unique ways to connect with communities and keep clients’ marketing objectives on track. Using modern technology paired with creativity and resourcefulness is not only possible, but essential to keep the world in good spirits.” — Jamie Hecht, Senior Account Executive, coded{pr}

13. Sharing our stories on Instagram.

“As our staff of 33 employees’ transitions to full-time remote work, we’re highlighting the good and the bad on our Instagram account. We’ll be doing daily Stories challenges to give our employees a chance to highlight their own individual experiences. For instance, Monday features new work from home workspaces. On Tuesday, we vote for the best work from home socks.

We’re trying to find a fun way for employees to get involved and something to look forward to as we work through challenges that come with suddenly being forced to work remotely. We’re also looking to put a spin on a pretty dark situation. This gives our clients and other followers a chance to see some more lighthearted content amidst stressful news.” — Laura Simis, Brand and Communications Manager, Coalmarch

14. Work from home bingo!

“We’ve come up with a number of things we’re suggesting our employees do. These include taking online courses and reviewing local businesses. We’re also doing work from home bingo! We give employees local restaurant gift cards in higher denominations if they finish first, second or third – but anyone who finishes gets one! So, we’re supporting those local restaurants as well as encouraging great work from home and support our community behaviors. If we come out of the end of this thing, I believe it will be stronger than before.” — Tim Brown, Co-Owner, Hook Agency

15. “Be strong, be calm, and be thankful.”

“During this time of rapid change I am leading based on our company values of transparency, value in our people, and value to our clients. These values guide us in good times and times of crisis. Our 10 team members have been asked to work from home, support their families, and provide great service to our clients.

We use regular team level video conferences to bring everyone together and keep our relationships strong. Additionally, everyone has the cell phone number of everyone they work with on a regular basis. They are set up with video conferencing. They have my cell phone number, as they always have.

My go to coaching phrase for times like these, that my team has heard repeatedly in these last couple weeks is ‘be strong, be calm, and be thankful. As people, we will make it through. As a business, our values will guide us.” — Jeffrey Kelly, Founder, AssetLab Marketing

16. Complete small tasks together.


“As a small remote business, we’re taking a careful and considered approach to how we work in these tough times.

It’s important that focus on the light at the end of the tunnel with our employees. While its difficult to put dates on things, we can still continue to make improvements to the business that would’ve otherwise been pushed down the priority list. This is a great time for us to pick up on all the small tasks that will make everyone’s life easier and help us come out of the end of this stronger than ever.

We are currently rallying all of our employees and really thinking about how we can make light of this situation. Let’s stop focusing so hard on sales that are currently beyond our control due to the inevitable slowdown. Instead, focus on what else we can be doing as a business. Our employees are already hard at work and looking forward to seeing what we can do now we have all this free time!” — Mark Webster, Co-Founder, Authority Hacker

17. See the benefits of working from home.

“We encourage our team of five employees to communicate. Everyone has my private cell phone number, they can call anytime, and then time is made to talk. Either right then and there, or with a short, ‘Sorry, can’t talk right now, how about in 30 minutes?.’

As springs sets in, I encourage everyone to also enjoy the benefits of home office, maybe work on the balcony for a little, go for a walk during day time, work flexible hours where possible (i.e. spend family time during the morning, since kids are at home now as well, then write that blog article in the evening or so).” — Chris Kaiser, CEO and Founder, Click A Tree

18. Sending team members supportive messages.

“Running a team of four people might seem easy, but it’s actually a lot harder than most people think. The coronavirus outbreak has led us to make changes to our business hours and processes. It has also awakened a sense of awareness among us.

A few things our team is doing to show compassion and support during this challenging time is sending sincere messages checking up on their health and how they’re holding up. We share helpful coronavirus-related information that can soothe their anxiety and worries.” — Mike Richards, Golf Enthusiast and Founder, Golf Einstein

19. Encouraging employees to take care.

“We’ve had honest conversations as a team over the past two weeks. I want my six employees to know that they are taken care of and that their jobs are secure. I know this is important to their overall morale. I’ve also made it clear that I know our work environment may have to change with some of us working remotely and taking care of parental responsibilities. They know that this is okay. To me, this is the most important part of leadership right now — making sure employees feel taken care of and encouraged to take care of themselves and their families.” — Justin Hill, Owner and Attorney, Hill Law Firm

20. Over-communicate.

“People want to hear from the CEO in times of crisis, so I am making sure to communicate with the entire company via our regularly scheduled weekly all-company meeting held on Zoom and also throughout the week as the situation on the ground changes through Slack. It’s almost always better for people to be kept in the loop in situations like these. Otherwise, they are automatically going to assume the worst. This will cause needless chatter and drops in morale. There are a lot of unknowns currently. It’s okay to acknowledge that there are some things we just can’t know right now. We have to wait and see how all this unfolds.” — David Waring, Founder and CEO, FitSmallBusiness.com

21. Ensure employee safety.

“As COVID-19 spreads throughout the globe, different measures are being employed to keep the greatest asset of a company safe: the employees.

Our company has decided to let those who are able to work remotely be at the safeguard of their own homes. They have been oriented on the proper ways on how to be productive while working from their homes and proper communication is established by utilizing video conference calls. We have established an open communication with our staff so that they may relay to us their concerns.

As leaders, we find ways to act upon it. Everyone is encouraged to be proactive. We are each other’s moral support through this crisis. If any situation arises wherein one of our staff is in great trouble, everyone is encouraged to help. This is easily done with the good working relationship everyone has with each other. We always do our best to cultivate a healthy work environment, may it be in the office, or no matter where we are.” — Leonard Ang, CMO, EnKo Products

22. Donate to COVID-19 relief funds.

“Being a wallet company, we are facing an unprecedented challenge. In times like these, people are not necessarily thinking about buying a new wallet. In fact, it’s probably the last thing on people’s minds. When will be the next time we can go out and show off our flashy new wallet to our friends? Currently, nobody knows!

Besides our struggles, we are trying to do their part. As a company, we have decided to donate 5% of our sales to the WHO COVID-19 Response Fund. We believe even the smallest donation can have the greatest impact. Let’s all do our part, stay safe, healthy and protect those who are most vulnerable.” — Lucas Seewald, Head of Press & Public Relations, Ekster Wallets

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