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Unification of HR Systems – Set Up for Success

Podcast Sponsored by: Tydy

Considering a new HR system for your company? Finding the right HR system has become a critical piece to a successful, thriving business. In order to support a company’s talent strategy, there are several distinct types of HR systems available. It might seem difficult to select which one is best for your organization. This is a critical choice because HR systems that contribute to a good employee experience are 1.3 times more likely to perform better. And, who doesn’t want their business to perform well? 

Our Guest: Kiran Menon

In this episode of the #WorkTrends podcast, we unpack the important topic of HR systems with Kiran Menon, the CEO, and co-founder of Tydy. Tydy is an employee experience solution that connects, unites, and automates HR processes and technologies. During his 17 years of experience in consulting and sales, he has worked across multiple locations, leading teams in Europe, the US, and Asia. Kiran states:

“Tydy actually started from an onboarding perspective. What we are doing is we really went out there and reimagined onboarding and redefined what onboarding meant for large enterprises. Our focus is on employers with about 5,000 plus employees. Tydy moved them from cumbersome weeklong processes to quick, simple, and verified onboarding in seconds.”

How Has Technology Impacted the Way HR is Managed?

In the last two years, companies have faced an increased need for better software and improved processes throughout the digital space. With many work teams working remotely from a variety of places, there has been a surge of software options to optimize and manage complex HR procedures across businesses. Kiran explains:

“There’s been a huge proliferation of multiple apps in the workplace. Suddenly post-April 2020 companies globally scoured everywhere to look for different types of applications that could digitize processes and deliver a digital-first experience. What’s really happened is there’s been a sudden influx of too many apps and too many systems. This overcomplicates the process. Technology has impacted HR pretty massively, but also, it’s brought about a lot of concerns, issues, and frustrations.”

HR Systems and Onboarding

One of the most crucial functions of an HR system is the onboarding process. The importance of this process going smoothly directly correlates not only to a company’s success but also to its financial health. Kiran states:

“We work with companies where day one of an individual joining and getting started is billing day, right? This means that the moment the person starts, you actually want them to get onto the floor and start becoming productive. That’s billing hours in whatever that industry may be. Now, if your onboarding system does not enable them to do that, you are actually losing revenue when your assets like your laptops are not ready until day five, or day 10 in some cases.”

With all the benefits of a unifying HR system, are there any drawbacks? Kiran explains some of the challenges:

“One of the biggest questions from an ownership perspective is when you’re thinking about onboarding, who owns asset allocation. Is it HR? And until you understand the plan that ticks off all these boxes, it becomes very tough to think about unification. 

Managing HR in the Future

With all of these quick shifts regarding HR systems, will there be any more major changes in the way that HR is managed in the future? Kiran gives us his prediction:

“You still have about a good decade to two decades of innovation in front of you. We haven’t even touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how data could be used. Or, how you could potentially automate verification systems, or automate even career mapping from a data perspective. So I think there’s a lot more that needs to be uncovered and developed from a future perspective.”

I hope you’ve found this recent episode of #WorkTrends helpful when considering an HR system to elevate your company’s onboarding and overall organization. To learn more, contact Kiran Menon on LinkedIn.

Subscribe to the #WorkTrends podcast on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. Be sure to follow our #WorkTrends hashtag on LinkedIn and Facebook, too, for more great conversations!

The Everywhere Workplace – Prioritizing Employee Experience

Working remotely is something that many of us have experienced during the pandemic. If you look at your social media feeds, you will notice multiple surveys asking people what types of work arrangements they prefer. COVID-19 has changed the way we view work and the workplace. Now with so many people working remotely, we’re taking a closer look at the benefits and the challenges of The Everywhere Workplace.

Our Guest: Melissa Puls

On our latest #WorkTrends podcast, I spoke with Melissa Puls, Senior Vice President, and CMO at Ivanti. She brings decades of experience with a strong track record of fueling growth through customer-centric approaches and integrated marketing strategies.  

Ivanti’s Everywhere Workplace survey reveals insights into the remote workforce. The Report was written using Ivanti expertise, independent third-party research, and global future of work experts to showcase the workplace evolution and how the pandemic has shaped the way organizations need to think about their workforce.

More than half of employees surveyed report working more hours outside of the office since going remote. Despite working more, they’re actually happier. Melissa states:

“The data says that only 13% of employees would like to permanently get back to an office. This was from the report we did around the Everywhere Workplace. We did just a survey with our own employees and found 1% of Ivanti’s employees say they want to go back to the office full time and 71% of employees would choose to work from anywhere over being promoted.”

The Power of Choice

Flexible work arrangements offer numerous benefits to both employers and employees including boosted productivity, improved morale, and competitive talent acquisition and retention strategies. Melissa:

“Employees are in control of their work environment, which I think is a really positive thing for us, as a community globally. The option of flexibility in the workforce has become an influential factor when employees are making a decision whether to stay with a company or not.”

 Melissa also states:

“The remote work has improved employees’ sentiments and increased productivity, but there were some concerns. We heard that 51% said the lack of interaction with their colleagues and in-person connections was a concern. Additionally, 28% said they’re not able to collaborate and communicate as effectively.”

The Future of Work

What will the Future of Work look like? This is a question we ask ourselves all the time. It’s hard to predict based on the massive amounts of change that have happened just in the last 24 months. Melissa confirms:

“I think companies have to change their fundamental mindset and methodology on talent. That includes not only the flexibility of the environment that they work in but also the technologies that we use to enable employee experience. Having technology that supports and secures all the environments an employee wants to work in will no longer be a differentiating factor, but the norm.”

I hope you found this recent episode of #WorkTrends informative and inspiring. To learn more about The Future of Work and the 2022 Everywhere Workplace Survey, download the report.

Subscribe to the #WorkTrends podcast on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. Be sure to follow our #WorkTrends hashtag on LinkedIn and Facebook, too, for more great conversations!

The Urgency Epidemic – Prioritization & Productivity

When was the last time you were placed in a situation at work where the sense of urgency to complete a project was overwhelming due to unreasonable timing and expectations? Yesterday? The day before that? This scenario is way too common in today’s workplace. In this episode, we will be discussing a common phenomenon that businesses across all industries are struggling with currently — the urgency epidemic.

Our Guest:  Brandon Smith

On our latest #WorkTrends podcast, I spoke with Brandon Smith, an expert in leadership communication and a curer of workplace dysfunction. Brandon is a sought-after executive coach, TEDx speaker, author, and award-winning business school instructor. He has been featured in the Wall Street CNN, and many other publications for his expertise. His book, The Hot Sauce Principle: How to Live and Lead in a World Where Everything Is Urgent All of the Time, helps readers master urgency, so they can more effectively lead others.

The most precious resource in the work world today isn’t money, it’s time. When everything at work is “always urgent all the time,” it can create, in Brandon’s words “a Petri dish for anxiety.” If employees and managers aren’t careful, it can lead to a decline in the overall efficiency and quality of work over time. Due to the continued disruption of the pandemic and current inflation, time management has become even more of a critical challenge for companies and organizations of all types. 

As Brandon states:

“So overall, if I had to put my stake in the ground and say, ‘What’s my purpose in life?’ It is to eliminate all workplace dysfunction everywhere forever. That’s my purpose. So I’m gainfully employed with plenty of job security. The reason why I wrote this book was because this was one of those many flavors of workplace dysfunction that everyone I was talking to was feeling. It didn’t matter if they were working. They were just dealing with this sense of hot sauce being poured on everything. Hot sauce is the analogy I use for urgency. And so I wanted to try and write a book that would be at least somewhat of a help, somewhat of a cure for that particular dysfunction.”.

When Does a Sense of Urgency Become A Problem?

Most managers use urgency as a motivator. Teams can collectively and quickly align toward a common goal in order to reach a business benchmark within a short timeline. But if urgency becomes the daily standard, this can lead to an environment of workplace chaos. This can result in serious missteps or worse. Brandon states:

A little bit of urgency is a good thing, we need urgency. Urgency motivates us. So urgency can motivate us just like hot sauce. A little bit of urgency, a little bit of hot sauce gives focus, gives flavor, creates priority. It’s a good thing. But just like hot sauce, if there’s too much urgency, I mean if everything that comes out of the kitchen is doused in hot sauce, the appetizer and the salad and the entree and the brownie, we’re going to be curled up in a ball wanting relief. We won’t taste anything. So a little bit of it using the right doses and the right times is a really healthy thing for us. It keeps us moving forward. But too much does the exact opposite effect, overwhelms us, confuses us, and that can lead to burnout.”

The Urgency Trap

What worked in the past for companies and organizations may no longer apply when it comes to keeping teams motivated and effective. Cultivating a sense of urgency as a motivational tool is something most managers and team leaders have been taught they are supposed to do. As Brandon states:

“Leaders are taught really early on, yeah, if we need people to change, we’ve got to start with urgency. And there is so many organizations right now needing to go through transformations, whether it’s technology transformations or whatever it happens to be. And so what leaders are doing is running around making everything urgent and then patting themselves on their back, going back to their office, closing the door, and saying, ‘I did a great job today.’ And all they did was just create confusion and chaos because they didn’t prioritize the urgency. They just said, ‘It’s all urgent right now, go.”

Escaping the Urgency

So how do managers and business leaders prioritize projects so that everything isn’t urgent all the time? Brandon explains:

Limit what you can make urgent at a time. My recommendation is no more than five. The best teams, the best departments, the best organizations are executing off of three to five priorities. So use urgency on those things. Use hot sauce on those things, but let everything else just be relief from the heat.”

As companies and organizations are pushed to evolve in order to move forward, how will work itself change, and more importantly, how will that affect the way we prioritize projects for a more productive and focused work culture? Brandon gives us his forecast:

“The future of work is going to be a really exciting time. When I look at my crystal ball, I see it’s going to be an exciting time and place where more of our personal lives are going to be factored into the equation. There’s going to be more flexibility and I’m sure this is nothing different than what you’ve been hearing before from others. But I will say that there’s going to be a lot more burden on us to set and keep our boundaries because there’s going to be no clear breaks between work and home life.”

I hope you found this recent episode of #WorkTrends informative and inspiring. To learn more about improving time and project management at work, contact Brandon Smith on LinkedIn.

Subscribe to the #WorkTrends podcast on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. Be sure to follow our #WorkTrends hashtag on LinkedIn and Facebook, too, for more great conversations!

Balancing Security with Employee Experience

Over the past 24 months, IT teams have been burdened with many unprecedented challenges. Most notably, a rising number of security concerns. But enhancing security shouldn’t come at the expense of efficiency or employee experience.

Our Guest: Denis O’Shea

On the latest #WorkTrends podcast, I spoke with Denis O’Shea, founder of Mobile Mentor; a company that has helped millions of people unlock the full potential of their technology.

When we hear the word “security,” we think of things like passwords and data encryption. But there is more to it. It’s also about creating a work culture where employees feel safe and protected in addition to ensuring that systems and data are secure. Technical security is critical, but so is work culture and morale.

​​How do we balance the need for security with the need for employee welfare, productivity, and satisfaction? We invited Denis to help us think through this question. Denis explains:

“It is something we can aspire to. It has not been easy in the past because employers often had to make compromises and either put security first or put the employee experience first. But now the technology is mature enough that we can actually be secure and still have a great experience without compromising one or the other.”

Where Security and Experience Collide

People are used to being able to communicate in real-time on any device. This means being able to respond to company emails from a mobile device from any location, at any time of the day or night. As a result, companies sometimes compromise security in order to improve the employee experience and aid in communication. Denis  further explains:

“The one that is probably most common is the use of personally owned devices. So we see this very common in healthcare, education, even in government nowadays, where employees are using personal laptops, personal iPads, certainly personal smartphones. Initially, that presented a huge security challenge to the organization. How can data possibly be secure on the device owned by an employee?”

However, with advances in technology and security, it’s less of a risk to allow employees to work on a personal device. Denis:

“Nowadays companies can actually secure the data and still allow the employee to use their personal phone or tablet or laptop. So we’ve come a long way, and of course what that enables people to do is to work from home, use personal devices, access their company’s resources, be productive, and have a great experience using the technology they choose to use rather than technology that’s kind of forced upon them by their IT department.”

BYOD – Bring Your Own Disaster?

The term BYOD should mean “Bring Your Own Device”. There are circumstances where companies have to allow employees to use their personal devices – smartphones, laptops, tablets.  For example, the recent global chip shortage made it difficult for companies to procure phones and laptops.  But what happens when those devices aren’t set up properly? Denis:

“Then you can have a disaster. Instead of BYOD, bring your own device, we call it bring your own disaster. And they end up in a situation where company information, such as healthcare records, student records, and financial information is on an unmanaged laptop or an unmanaged tablet.”

Add personal downloads of unapproved apps to the mix. Denis further explains:

“And now they’re using an unmanaged app on an unmanaged device to do their work. And so their data is effectively out in the wild, the company data is out in the wild.”

The Balancing Act

There is a balance between security and experience. Companies need security, but they also need to provide the best employee experience possible. Denis:

“Companies should listen to their remote employees and involve them in the decision-making process around technology and process. If they [companies] get it wrong, remote workers are the first to break the rules and find workarounds. If you ask those remote workers for feedback on the next generation of tools, technology, or processes that will empower them,  they will give that feedback.”

There is also a balance between security, employee privacy, and how it’s communicated. If employees feel as if their personal privacy will be compromised by added device security measures, this will have a negative impact on the employee experience. And let’s face it, the younger generation of workers brings an uncompromising set of priorities to the table making it even more challenging to find the sweet spot for employee experience. 

I hope you enjoy this episode of #WorkTrends. To learn more about mobile security, contact Denis O’Shea on LinkedIn. 

Subscribe to the #WorkTrends podcast in Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. Be sure to follow our #WorkTrends hashtag on LinkedIn and Facebook, too, for more great conversations!

Setting Your Team Up for Hybrid Work Success

Today’s employees have strong feelings about hybrid work–positive ones that is. According to Microsoft’s 2021 work trend index, 73% of respondents across over 30,000 people in 31 countries desire more remote work options. 

But managers aren’t so rosy on the subject. Why are today’s leaders having such a hard time adapting? Lack of planning might be the culprit. According to McKinsey, 68% of Oregon organizations have no detailed plan in place for hybrid work.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The point of the hybrid work model is to satisfy employee’s desires for flexibility, manager’s desires for streamlined office management, and everyone’s desire to stay safe. Managers must meet these new challenges head on by crafting a detailed hybrid work plan that reduces their stress while setting their employees up for success.

Our Guest: Reid Hiatt, Tactic

On our latest #WorkTrends podcast, I spoke with Reid Hiatt, CEO of Tactic, an innovative hybrid workplace solution bridging the gap between remote and office work. Reid has worked closely with a number of proactive companies ranging from small startups to global enterprises. Therefore, Reid has a unique perspective on how companies can create meaningful and effective workplaces in a hybrid work environment.

When asked how to keep teams productive in a new hybrid model, Ried had this to say:

“The key to making (them) productive is providing transparency into what’s going on at the office,” Reid says. “So that before making that commute…they understand what type of experience they’re going to get when they go there.”

Managing Employee Schedules Effectively in a Hybrid Work Model

For managers, the hybrid work model introduces new challenges, such as handling their employee’s in-office schedules. Reid stresses the importance of creating processes to address these challenges, and says there are new tools to help them do it:

It’s been really interesting over the past several months just to see how much innovation has happened in this area…making hybrid work not just possible, but the best way to work for most companies long term. This is a huge reason why we built Tactic.”

Reid explains that tools like Tactic take the guesswork out of the process. Ultimately, it gives people complete control over their hybrid office space experience. It also empowers companies to set capacity limits at the office and manage collaborative projects.

“I think there’s going to be continued innovation in this area, and it’s going to make the transition even more seamless in connecting people in a remote friendly work environment,” Reid says.

Bringing Employees Back Safely into the Hybrid Workplace

The pandemic is far from over, and as a result, companies are now tasked with balancing their need for occasional in-office collaboration with the burden of keeping their employees safe while doing it.

“Most of the companies that we work with typically will rely on local or federal governments to define what safe looks like,” Reid says. “OSHA is a huge resource for a lot of the companies that we work with in trying to identify how we can get people back into the office safely.”

Reid adds that a company must first understand the local or federal guidelines. Then, they can use any number of tools to outline what safety looks like for their organization.

The Future of the Workplace

Technology has always led the charge in the evolution of the workplace. Reid believes that we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg:

“We’re already seeing it now with all of the video conferencing technology that’s continuing to be improved. I think that’s going to evolve very rapidly into virtual reality. I’ve had the opportunity to kind of play around a little bit with some of these virtual workplaces. And it’s honestly—really cool.”

I hope you enjoyed this episode of #WorkTrends, sponsored by Tactic. To learn more about creating a successful hybrid work environment, contact Reid Hiatt on LinkedIn

How to Make Virtual Meetings Immersive Without Video

For many of us, virtual meetings have become the lifeblood of remote working communication. COVID-19 has made face-to-face meetings the exception rather than the rule. But the recent surge of digital collaboration tools has made remote teamwork much easier to manage. 

However, the global switch from physical to digital has pushed us into new networking territory– complete with its own footprint of pros and cons. 

Virtual meetings make us more productive and efficient employees. But too much time on a shared screen can also contribute to anxiety, emotional exhaustion, and fatigue. 

In fact, 49% of employees report feeling a high degree of exhaustion after video calls. This state of exhaustion is dubbed “Zoom Fatigue,” and it’s affecting a large percentage of the working population. 

So, how can remote teams continue to collaborate productively without causing a backlog of exhaustion? 

Well, we can start by conducting virtual meetings without video. It might not work for every team, but trying new methods of virtual collaboration is key to finding one that works for yours. 

Video Versus Audio-Based Virtual Meetings

For most people, virtual meetings are somewhat synonymous with a video presence. And there’s a good reason why—video calls are the closest we can get to person-to-person communication. Seeing the faces and expressions of colleagues helps us to understand them better. And this contributes to more effective communication. 

However, at a time where stress and anxiety levels are reaching an all-time peak, shifting how we communicate is essential to resisting burnout. If switching the camera off allows us to feel more at ease, it may be in our best interest to do so.

That being said, both video and audio-based virtual meetings arrive with their own list of pros and cons. 

So, what are they? Let’s look at video first. 

Pros And Cons of Video-Based Virtual Meetings 

Video-based meetings are the standard expectation for digital collaboration in 2022. They enable us to view the expressions and mannerisms of colleagues, promoting trust and empathy. 90% of employees feel they can get their point across more clearly via video, and 35% say it makes them feel more included. 

The caveat with video-based virtual meetings is the toll it takes on mental and emotional health. Being on call throughout the day is exhausting, and it has a negative impact on productivity. 63% of employees say that they now attend more meetings over webcam than they did pre-pandemic. 

Self-identified introverts in particular struggle with this. 2-3 hours of their day is now funneled into forced social interaction. Even for extroverts, the pressure to perform socially can become immensely taxing over time. This, in turn, can contribute to burnout, which is not healthy for personal or professional growth. 

Pros And Cons of Audio-Based Virtual Meetings

In 2021, only a handful of virtual meetings were being conducted on an audio-only basis. This is partially due to the wide availability of high-functioning video collaboration tools. Notably, it’s buffered by the impressive productivity statistics that video boasts. 

However, audio-based virtual meetings could be the (not so) silent hero of remote working communication. Not only are the apps cheaper and more accessible for those without high-quality webcams, but they also liberate workers from the anxiety of social interaction. 

Reduced eye contact, decreased cognitive load, and lack of viewing one’s own face makes audio-based collaboration much easier to process. Cutting down on the visual sensory element can allow us to focus better and preserve more energy for productivity. 

Bearing all that in mind, the reality is that audio-based virtual meetings are less familiar to us than their video alternative. For that reason, knowing how to conduct one in a way that is still immersive and productive can be a challenge. 

How To Conduct Productive and Effective Audio Meetings

Despite the benefits that come with audio meetings, conducting them in an efficient way requires a different set of tactics than their video counterpart. Because there are no visual aids, whoever is conducting the audio meeting needs to put emphasis on vocal communication. 

Being clear, concise, and continuously open about meeting progression is paramount to running a successful audio-based virtual meeting. Here are some more helpful tips:

1. Eliminate distractions. 

Because there will be no visual element for team members to focus on, all other distractions must be eliminated. If you’re trying to conduct an audio meeting in a loud or chaotic environment, extracting information from it will be very difficult for listeners. 

Aim to conduct your meeting from a quiet and undisturbed room, and encourage your team members to do the same. 

2. Have an agenda. 

It can be easy to lose track of where you’re going in a meeting without a proper agenda. Creating a list of key points to focus on will help both you and your listeners concentrate better. Make sure to have a clear objective for the meeting so that others can follow you towards it. 

Adding this type of structure to your audio-based virtual meeting will encourage focus and motivation from beginning to end. 

3. Track and summarize progress. 

If you’re tackling a particularly complex topic, regularly reflecting on what’s said is crucial. It will help attendees to better grasp what you are saying. Breaking down the meeting into distinct sections will encourage comprehension and provide others with an easy way to track the flow of conversation.

You want those partaking in the meeting to maintain a constant grasp of what you are saying, and tracking progress is one way to do that. 

4. Set a time limit (and stick to it). 

Nobody likes a never-ending virtual meeting. In fact, sessions that last longer than the stipulated time frame are considered by many to be the worst quality a meeting can have. Let’s avoid that. 

Holding attendees captive for longer than they bargained for will only cause them to lose interest. Setting a time limit beforehand and sticking to it displays respect for the attendee’s time. Additionally, it makes the whole process less stressful for everyone. 

5. Don’t stray off topic.

While we’re discussing respect for attendee’s time, remember not to waste theirs by talking about unrelated topics. The energetic bandwidth for virtual meetings is strained enough. But rambling on about irrelevant matters will only make it worse. 

When conducting a meeting without video, staying on topic will allow attendees to remain immersed in what you are saying. 

6. Invest in a quality microphone. 

Because your voice will be the sole form of communication, it needs to be heard loud and clear. Think of it like a branded logo. It needs to make an impact and people need to immediately take note of your message. Investing in a good quality microphone will allow others to understand what you are saying without question. Plus, it will help to avoid miscommunications. 

There are plenty of affordable microphones designed for this exact purpose. Owning one will only add value to your future meetings—both audio-based or otherwise. 

7. Allow time for questions.   

It’s always a good idea to leave space towards the end of a virtual meeting for questions. It prevents misunderstandings and provides attendees with the space to voice their queries one at a time. Without a designated time for questions, a meeting can quickly turn chaotic. 

Chaos is the last thing you want for an audio-based virtual meeting. Structure and orderliness are where purely vocal meetings thrive. 

8. Stay professional. 

Casual meetings have their time and place, but professionalism is important when it comes to mandatory group meetings. Chances are the people attending your meeting are already battling fatigue. So, keeping things straightforward is in everyone’s best interest. 

Staying professional, calm, and to the point is the best way to conduct an immersive and engaging audio-based virtual meeting. 

Is Audio Conferencing the Way Forward? 

The answer to this question greatly depends on the nature of your team. Clearly, there are pros and cons to both video and audio-based virtual meetings. The best one for your team is largely dependent on their personal and professional needs. 

For example, the success rates of joint video conferences are much higher for large teams of people. Audio, on the other hand, has proven very effective for small groups. This is due to the fact that audio-only meetings can become chaotic when too many people (and voices) are present. 

Furthermore, audio-based virtual meetings have proven to be less exhaustive for remote employees. And they can contribute to better mental health. Having the option to unplug from video communication helps us feel less anxious and more in control of our workdays. 

Ultimately, it is important to remember that each remote team comprises unique individuals that require different things for productivity. 

Summary

Since 2020, virtual meeting platforms and workplace collaboration tools have received a huge increase in attention. They’ve changed the way we work and the way we communicate in so many ways. Right now, many research projects are being conducted on the nature of their effects on our mental, emotional, social, and motivational health. 

Remote working culture is here to stay. The platforms that sustain it must adapt to meet our personal and professional needs. 

Nobody should have to commit to a culture that depletes their energetic resources—even for the sake of productivity. Burnout is a real threat to the working population of today, and any methods for lightening the load should not be taken lightly.

Image by Laurentiu Lordache

The Proven Success of Less: Opting for The Shorter Workweek

As we reinvent work in the post-pandemic world, can we see finally see the benefits of a shorter workweek?

Americans work harder than their counterparts in most of the world’s developed economies, clocking in an average of 34.4 hours per week. Many adults work even longer, with most American reporting an average of 47 hours of work per week (or nearly six working days per week). Almost four in ten American workers log 50 hours or more.

Those extra hours aren’t helping us perform better. Conversely, those additional hours on the clock actually cost us productivity, health, and happiness.

It’s time to work smarter, not harder. It’s time to cut down the working week.

Here’s why a shorter workweek is better for us.

The Success of Less in Other Countries

Many employers cry foul at the suggestion of shortening workweeks. Typically, they rely on the argument that shortening the workweek will cost productivity. But if you look at the data from the other largest economies in the world, shorter workweeks make a positive difference.

European countries have bought into the idea of a shorter workweek for decades. Scandinavian countries have long been advocates of shortening the working week (the average Danish employee logs 33 hours a week).

It’s no coincidence that Scandinavian countries consistently rank among the happiest in the world. It’s all about work-life balance.

Productivity vs. Burnout

In the work-life balance equation, Americans often favor work over life and take balance entirely out of the equation. We say that we emphasize productivity. But the reality is Americans seem to prioritize, and even take great pride in, being busy.

In reality, we’re not driving toward greater productivity. We’re driving toward burnout.

The presumption that more work means more productivity is a fallacy. According to a study of how athletes and musicians train, individuals only have a limited amount of concentration-time per day–about four to five hours. After that, you experience diminishing returns with every subsequent hour.

In translation? A longer workday doesn’t create more productivity. Forcing people to grind through extra hours pushes someone toward burnout. The same is true of a long workweek.

There are some exceptions, like delivery drivers or grocery store clerks. In those cases, a four-hour work period won’t sufficiently replace eight hours. But in most other positions, workers are not getting any added mileage from those four extra hours.

The 4-Day Workweek Experiment

To understand why, look to Microsoft Japan. The company tried a bold experiment: four-day workweeks, with three-day weekends every week, while still providing employees a five-day paycheck. The result? A 40% increase in productivity.

Cutting a whole workday out of the week (and losing eight hours from the usual workweek) required the company to do some streamlining. Time management became a priority. The company assisted in this process by cutting the standard meeting duration from an hour to thirty minutes and cutting standard attendance down to a five-employee maximum.

But the productivity boost came from a change in how employees work.

Shorter Workweeks Mean Better Prioritization

Because the Microsoft Japan employees no longer had a full day, they had to hyper-prioritize and cut out low-value activities, like bloated meetings, dawdling on social media, and less time on administrative filler work. This allowed more space for the most critical tasks, but it also allowed more space for creativity.

That said, the three-day weekend had to be an actual weekend. Otherwise, employees wouldn’t see any real benefit from an added day off and would instead work from home. Unfortunately, many of the technologies that have simplified working from home have also damaged work-life balance.

But when you tell people to unplug – actually unplug, meaning phones off and no email checks – employees get a real break after their hyper-prioritized, streamlined week. This offers them enough time to hit reset and return to work refreshed, ready to turn on hyper focus once again.

People Who Need Shorter Work Weeks

Of course, the company isn’t the only beneficiary of the shorter workweek. Employees clearly gain from such policies, and their benefits translate directly into positive results for their employers.

Think of it this way: employees are the backbone of your work. Without them, your company couldn’t get anything done. And if your employees are too fried to work effectively, they’re not going to do an outstanding job. Ultimately, the employee and the company suffer. Well-rested employees, though, are ready to give their all – and they’re more likely to be committed and engaged if they feel their company cares about them.

That said, thinking about a shorter workweek purely in terms of the number of hours worked is limiting. In reality, what happens outside the workplace is just as important as what happens inside. This is the space where employees go to rest, have fun, and feel refreshed. It’s also when employees do, well, pretty much anything that isn’t their job.

The time away isn’t being out of the office. It is time away from the stress of the job. And many segments of our society benefit.

Parents

When you’re a working parent, you have two full-time jobs: your job and parenting. Prioritizing work to support your family means sacrificing essential time with your kids, all while losing productivity due to stress and overwork. In fact, a quarter of parents – the hardest workers of all – spend only 34 minutes a day with their children. Quality time goes up on the weekends, but that leaves parents stringing time together from one weekend to the next.

And in the meantime, parents pay a premium for childcare. They also have to scramble for anything that might happen during the workweek, like doctor’s appointments, parent-teacher meetings, and youth sports. And if something happens to conflict? Welcome to even more work-related stress.

Cutting a day out of the workweek gives parents essential time to bond with and support their kids. Plus, reduced stress and reduced childcare costs allow parents to focus on more on work when they’re at work. Done right, they can also focus more on their children while at home.

That translates to healthier families, happier parents, and more productive, balanced employees.

Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs and creative people are the ones who come up with ideas that change our everyday lives for the better. But to develop those ideas and nurture them, entrepreneurs need time to pursue their side projects.

That just isn’t possible in the usual five-day grind.

By eliminating an extra day, entrepreneurs can dedicate all their attention to work while they’re at work. And when the workweek is over, they can shift gears and focus entirely on their passion project. This time away enables more time to get a good idea off the ground.

Anyone Who Wants to Thrive Instead of Grind

Ultimately, though, this is a model made for employees who want to thrive, not grind.

The truth is, employees want more from their job than just a paycheck. They want a good fit inside a positive culture. They want an opportunity to grow and the flexibility to work in a way that allows them to succeed – at work and away from work.

Instead, employers too often give them is a five-day 9-to-5 grind – often for no other reason than “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” They could do so much more.

The Shorter Workweek: Let’s Work Smarter

Isn’t it time to work smarter instead of working yourself into the ground?

Ultimately, a shorter workweek isn’t just a nice perk – it’s a job benefit for employees and a competitive advantage for companies. It’s time to change the workweek for the better. It’s time to find success in less.

 

Photo by SkitterPhoto

[#WorkTrends] Designing Work to Meet Personal and Professional Goals

We’re all doing more with less. And yet, we continue to work toward the achievement of our personal and professional goals. So how do we find the right balance… or shall I say the right “blend”? 

Even as we learn best how to work from — well, wherever — for most of us, our overarching goal remains integrating a productive, engaging professional life with a satisfying, fulfilling personal life. In fact, as I talk to members of the TalentCulture community over the past few months, one thing has become clear: The blending of personal and professional goals into a comfortable mix is finally gaining momentum. 

That makes sense; after all, attempting to create strict boundaries between one’s personal life and work often meets with disappointment. Especially now, when distancing oneself from personal life while at work — and removing work from our active thoughts while on downtime — is becoming increasingly difficult. 

However, with some concerted effort, we can balance satisfying personal and professional goals. 

Our Guest: Author and Productivity Expert, Carson Tate

Joining me on the #WorkTrends podcast this week is Carson Tate, the founder and managing partner of Working Simply, Inc. — a consulting firm that enhances workplace productivity, fosters higher employee engagement levels, and helps build personal and professional legacies. Carson’s newest book, where she talks about making any job your dream job, is Own It. Love It. Make It Work. Of course, I had to ask Carson if someone, especially now, can really design their work in a way that makes them happy in their professional and personal life. Her answer was both encouraging and inspiring:

“That is the big question, and it often comes with an eye roll or a sigh. Yes, because any job can be a place for fulfillment and engagement for you. Because who defines what fulfillment and engagement look like? You do! So you must own the opportunity to shape and craft your work in a way that works for you. You actually own your piece of the action. So you must identify what you need to be happier, more fulfilled, more engaged, and more excited about going to work.”

I followed up by asking how that is possible given many of us can no longer separate who we are at work and who we are at home. Carson replied, “When our commute is two minutes to the kitchen table, our concept of work is very different. Folks are working more hours. There’s more burnout because of the connectivity. And there’s anxiety around making sure I stay visible; that my boss knows what I’m doing and that I’m adding value.”

“So it’s even more important to be thoughtful about what it is you need, the conditions under which you work best, and also your own levels of engagement and fulfillment.”

Professional Goals: How to Make “This” Job Your “Dream Job”

Carson shared with us many tips on how to stay connected and visible while working remotely. Her tips are sure to help all of us balance our desire to live a fulfilling personal life while being fully engaged at work. My favorite moment came when I asked her about the three most important steps when making our current job our dream job. “Own it… love it… make it work,” Carson said. She added: “When we own our work, we align our strengths to the work; we then do better work. When we love our work, we have a clear idea of where we want to go and the skills we must develop to get there. And when we make it work, we’re designing the work for more meaning; we find purpose in what we do each and every day.”

Solid advice we can all use. But we weren’t done yet. I also talked with Carson about avoiding the roadblocks that interrupt our career journeys (especially in these challenging times), how to ensure we’re getting the recognition and appreciation we all need while working from home, and much more. Be sure to listen to the entire episode!

My thanks to Carson Tate for joining me on #WorkTrends. A thought-provoking conversation, indeed!

 

Find Carson on LinkedIn and Twitter.

 

Editor’s note: We’ve updated our FAQ page and #WorkTrends Podcast pages. Take a look!

 

Photo by Chris Montgomery

How to Create an Emotionally Comfortable Remote Working Environment

How can companies create a remote working environment that is both productive and emotionally comfortable?

With offices forced to close for long periods due to COVID-19, many people have adapted well to remote working. They have found working from home offers benefits from more flexible working hours to fewer distractions. However, working solo can also make employees feel more isolated; they may struggle to separate work and home life. This can leave workers less motivated and affect their overall wellbeing.

Read on to discover four ways to create an emotionally comfortable remote working environment that supports your team while helping keep them focused.

Establish Boundaries Between Work and Home

Remote working often means more flexibility in working hours and no time spent commuting to and from the office. However, it can also make it harder to establish boundaries between work and home life. Employees might be tempted to work longer hours to maintain their productivity. Or they might feel like they need to be available at all hours of the day so can’t switch off.

It’s important to help remote workers establish a clear boundary between their working day and free time. Otherwise, their mental well-being may suffer. At the very least, their stress levels will likely increase.

Outline the hours, or at least the number of hours, staff should work. Even if an employee is flexible with their actual working hours, encourage them to not work beyond a certain time in the evening so they have a proper break.

Also, suggest ways in which they can keep work and home separate. For example: Setting up a dedicated office space away from where they would relax in the evening. Or switching off the computer at the end of the day and over weekends. And suggest they not check emails before their agreed-upon work-day begins or after it ends. Finally, share useful information about staying motivated when working from home like this post from the Productivityist blog.

And, of course, encourage people to take their annual leave. Even if they don’t have any holiday plans or the pandemic continues to make travel difficult, it’s important to take time off. And it’s crucial that every team member feels they deserve a break.

Ensure a Productive Home Office Setup

Even though we’re several months into the pandemic, not everyone has a perfectly productive space at home for remote working. But it’s important to do everything you can to set them up with a productive-as-possible workspace. Treat their home space the same way as you would getting someone set up in your office building. After all, space and equipment impact their ability to focus well enough to do their job well.

When possible, provide W-2 employees with all the equipment and furniture they need. From a technology perspective, provide a laptop, screen, keyboard, headphones, cell phone, and any job-specific equipment. Also, ensure they have a proper desk and an ergonomic good chair. To identify and resolve any issues, share a workstation evaluation checklist like this one from OSHA with all remote employees. Also helpful, StarTech has some useful guides sharing tips for ensuring fast internet connections, reducing eye strain, and creating a comfortable set up. Once an analysis is done, you can then send employees any extra equipment they might need such as audio cables, adaptors, wireless devices, and laptop stands.

Set Clear Expectations

When you’re working in an office, it’s fairly easy to have a quick five-minute catch-up conversation or ask questions about your work. You can spontaneously talk through projects and assignments. While face-to-face, it seems easier to provide a detailed handover of work.

To create an emotionally comfortable remote work environment, leaders and peers must ensure everyone is on the same page at all times. They must feel confident about what they are doing and who to talk to if they’ve got questions. Just as important, they need to know how to talk to people and when.

To generate this feeling of confidence, companies need to set up the right systems and procedures. It must be clear what someone is expected to do, specific tasks they need to complete, and how long it should take. Ensure you are effectively managing projects — provide clear, detailed briefs for work that covers everything they need to know and when it’s due. In all cases, expectations around deadlines must be properly set.

You can create a document management system by following the steps in this post from The Balance. The key: Keep documents stored in one easily accessible place, and establish a procedure for creating, organizing, and sharing documents or projects.

Maintain Regular Communication

Another important part of creating an emotionally comfortable remote working environment is keeping in regular contact with everyone. Your goal: To stop people from feeling isolated or alone. Remote workers can struggle to feel like they are still part of a team. Isolation can cause a loss of motivation, which may lead to a less engaged employee.

Use daily meetings to catch up on work progress. Arrange regular video call drop-in sessions where your team can talk about non-work related things and catch up. Also, add an extra five minutes at the start of scheduled meetings for everyone to chat a bit.

Every month or so, arrange a well-being check-in with individuals to see how they’re doing and to give them a chance to discuss any challenges. Regular staff surveys are also a useful way to connect and check-in with employees. You can use this survey template from SurveyMonkey to determine how your team is coping and the steps necessary to improve their remote working environments.

Create and Maintain a Comfortable Remote Work Environment

Overall, creating an emotionally comfortable remote working environment relies on maintaining contact between everyone in the business. It also means checking in to see how people are doing.

To successfully make it through the COVID pandemic, it’s important to make people feel like they are still part of a team, even when working alone.

 

Jon Tyson

4 Proven Tips to Improve Performance of Your Remote Team

Remote work, and working within a remote team, is now a part of the new normal—but not everyone was prepared to make that transition. This change happened suddenly, forcing employees and managers alike to plot a route across this new, and sometimes uncomfortable, reality. At the same time, we had to learn how to balance personal concerns—ranging from poor bandwidth to home-schooling while working—while dealing with anxieties about a global health emergency.

According to a 2020 research study published by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), close to 71% of organizations are struggling to adapt to remote work. Communication and productivity were reported to be the areas of greatest concern. In addition, 65% of the respondents cited maintaining employee morale as a top challenge.

Without intentional efforts to create innovative solutions from both employees and management, remote work—especially during these tense, uncertain times—can leave staff feeling isolated, distracted, unmotivated and stressed.

Here are four proven productivity tips businesses can leverage to improve the overall performance and morale of their remote team:

1) Leverage Technological Solutions 

With entire teams working remotely, technologies must be a consideration. In a recent survey conducted by FlexJobs, 54% of HR leaders indicated that poor technology and/or infrastructure is the biggest barrier to effective remote working in their organization.

Web-based applications such as Trello can provide you with a brief overview of the tasks assigned to your team at a single glance. Other important features such as client contacts and reminders are automatically organized and embedded so your remote workers always know what’s going on and what they should be doing next. Since every member on your team has access to everything happening on the work front in Trello, they are better coordinated, which leads to increased productivity.

Another technological solution that can help your company in more ways than one while working remotely is transcription. This is especially true if your business utilizes huge troves of data on a regular basis. 

Audio-to-text transcription can help you convert unstructured data into a structured format, which can help you better manage your resources. By converting your virtual meetings and client calls to written text, you can make more informed decisions and better comprehend their requirements. This can also significantly reduce stress among your employees.

Other technological solutions that can help businesses boost employee productivity include: time tracking and to-do tools such as DeskTime and Nozbe and storage platforms such as Dropbox.

2) Promote Flexibility within the Organization

Under current circumstances, rather than taking a rigid stance, your company’s policies need to be more flexible in manner. Try leaning toward a flexible work environment and trusting your employees as opposed to constantly monitoring and measuring results. 

Also, make sure the selected approaches and tools align well with your employees’ strengths. It also helps toreate efficient workflows where humans and technology can work hand-in-hand to deliver desired results. For example, Slack can serve as home for the virtual water-cooler conversations that no longer happen within the office. 

Some company cultures, of course, value structure in equal doses with flexibility. So  to provide security through structure, schedule regular team meetings. For example, consider a low-key, non-intrusive Zoom meeting on the same day and time every week. Not only will this keep your employees from feeling isolated and unproductive, it will likely encourage the building of trust and a sense of community.

3) Positively Over-Communicate with Your Remote Team

Communication, as many leaders have already discovered, is one of the most critical aspects of remote work. Managers need to over-communicate to make sure their remote teams have all the information they’re possibly going to need to be effective at their jobs. The more positive communication received, the less likely the employee is to feel disconnected.

Each communication should be relevant, frequent, and consistent. Whenever possible, it should be tailored to the needs of each employee. Since everyone’s candor radar is on high alert right now, communication must be sincere and transparent.

Also, consider sharing success stories of other teams, and perhaps other companies, that find themselves in the same situation as your team. After all, crises do furnish opportunities for businesses to recognize unique stories of organizational resilience. And they give us a chance to look at how others have overcome challenges. 

Finally, give people a voice. Move from asking your remote employees “Are you safe and well?’ to “How are you connecting?” “How are you working?” “How are we responding?” Don’t just ask, listen. Then make sure the feedback loop is complete by reporting back what you’ve learned. The more you enable them to express what they are experiencing, the more productive they’ll be.

4) Encourage Employee Engagement

You want to keep your remote employees engaged. You also want to prevent them from feeling disconnected. And you need to strengthen your team by investing in low-pressure activities to promote camaraderie and friendly competition amongst them. Encourage them to tell dad jokes. Or share pictures of children or pets. The more team members know about how others on their team live, the more empathy they’ll gain. And more empathy means more engagement.

Also, consider tech solutions to help with engagement. QuizBreaker, for example, is a super fun way to keep a remote team engaged and connected. Players answer icebreaker questions and then have to guess each other’s answers in automatically generated quizzes. Admins can set up the quizzes to go out via email at set times during the week. The end result: a non-intrusive way to get people talking about something other than work.

In addition, leaderboards keep your team members aligned with your goal at all times and keep them motivated. They encourage healthy competition and improve engagement. To set up a leaderboard for your team, try Spinify. This app adds gamification to nearly every part of your team’s day. Through engagement and friendly competition, team members become more productive.

To achieve maximum productivity from each of your remote team, we must constantly innovate and create strategies that keep them motivated. And there’s no better time than now—while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to mandate work from home contributions—to create solutions that improve the performance of your team.

Pixabay

The Typical Work Week: Always On, Always Meeting

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. So goes the saying. For American professionals, however, the work week — and work itself — tends to be all-consuming. We tend to be running from meeting to meeting. So why not make those meetings more productive?

The United States, as a nation, has become synonymous with a culture of overworking.

According to the ILO, Americans work 260 more hours per year than British workers and 499 more hours per year than French workers. That is almost 10 extra hours each work week. And while at least 134 countries have laws in place to limit the number of working hours each week, the United States has no such laws.

This coincides with the findings of Doodle’s Q2 2020 State of Meetings report. The report was based on analysis of more than 30 million meetings booked worldwide during Q2 2020. The findings: There is no time in the workday when Americans are less likely to have meetings. The one exception: At noon when there was a slight dip to 9 percent (from 10 percent at 11 a.m.). But then, the percentage of meetings jumped up to 13% just one hour later at 1 p.m. This shows a clear pattern: Americans are ‘always on and always meeting.’

The Typical Work Week: No Productivity Flow

Making themselves available (and accepting meeting request after request) non-stop throughout the workday might seem like they’re being collaborative and open to feedback. But in reality, it’s interrupting their productivity ‘flow.’ Over-scheduling their workdays with too many meetings could also impact their ability to get work done, cause delays in larger projects, and affect their individual performance.

Interestingly, just a little more than 7% of American meetings in Q2 2020 took place between the evening hours of 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. While this might seem surprising to some, I believe this may actually contribute to the country’s overworking culture. Here’s why.

Because Americans are scheduling so many meetings during the actual workday (between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.), they are likely using their evening time to catch up on work they couldn’t finish due to the excessive number of meetings booked during the workday. Essentially, they’re making up for ‘lost time’ by completing work outside of business hours. That leads them right back to being overworked, stressed and burned out. And worse yet, this meeting overload can be a major drain on employees’ energy and lead to exhaustion, stress and burnout. That’s certainly not what anyone wants or needs right now.

The Pandemics’ Impact on Scheduled Meetings

The pandemic certainly has also had a huge impact on how American employees are meeting with their teams, colleagues and customers. For one, time management has become much more difficult and complicated than before the pandemic. Employees are juggling working from home, while managing their families, taking care of their children and making sure their children are also getting an education. So the distractions have quadrupled from what they were for employees who worked in office environments before COVID-19.

This has led to a massive spike in the number of virtual meetings over the last few months. For example, virtual group meetings jumped up 109% compared to the previous quarter. Meanwhile virtual one-to-one meetings grew by 136% in Q2 2020, compared to the previous quarter. When you look at both of these statistics, one thing comes to the top of my mind: Zoom fatigue.

Having to be present with the video on — let alone engaging and dynamic in online meetings, is a lot to ask of employees right now. And it’s incredibly draining and exhausting, both mentally and physically.

Meetings Don’t Have to Be 60 Minutes

It’s even more draining when people choose one hour as the default duration of every meeting. People choose one hour as their default meeting duration for a few reasons. For instance, they may not want to rush participants through the meeting. If a meeting is larger in size and includes both internal and external stakeholders, they might want to give everyone involved ample time and opportunity to share their ideas and provide feedback. And then there’s the simpler reason — they want to safeguard against a shorter meeting running too long and cutting into other meetings scheduled after.

But as Doodle’s Q2 2020 State of Meetings report reveals, shorter is better. In fact, the most popular meeting duration in Q2 2020 was 30 minutes (36%), followed by 15 minutes (31%). One-hour meetings came in third place. Limiting the length of meetings to 30 minutes or less can be vital in fending off Zoom fatigue. It can help keep the discussion more focused, prevent participants from veering off-track and result in better outcomes.

Let’s face it — no one likes sitting in a long meeting that’s poorly organized, lacks a clear focus and results in confusion. Those meetings are the worst and usually require having to set up more meetings to get clarity and direction that should have been provided during the original meeting. That’s more time wasted and less productivity for you. It’s a lose-lose situation.

Keep Meetings Productive

To ensure your meetings each work week are as focused, productive and worthwhile as possible, I have a few recommendations. First, don’t invite everyone to meetings. It’s ok to be selective. Only those people who will directly contribute and make an impact are essential. Inviting people just to make them feel included is a common problem and it hinders the focus and effectiveness of meetings. Second, don’t use one hour as your default meeting duration. If you can, keep meetings shorter (no longer than 30 minutes).

Now beyond that, give people sufficient notice ahead of booking meetings. If possible, aim for 5 days’ notice, at minimum. Try to avoid scheduling last-minute meetings with less than 24 hours’ notice. That isn’t respectful of other people’s time, their workload, and their priorities.

More importantly, don’t set the meeting and forget it. As the organizer, take ownership and hold yourself accountable for the success of your meetings. Do the prep work and make sure participants have also been briefed on the overall goals, key discussion points and expectations. This will provide structure to the meeting and prevent the meeting from going off-track.

Finally, since the work week is packed with meetings anyway, make better use of time during meetings. If critical information (background, perspectives, data) is needed ahead of a meeting, then ask these questions before the meeting takes place. And if you don’t get those responses before the meeting? Chances are that the meeting will be unproductive, go off-track and be a waste of everyone’s time. And if you can include those critical pre-meeting questions in the meeting invite itself? That’s even better. And means less waste of everyone’s time.

 

 

Photo: Andrik Langfield

4 Proven Techniques to Increase Employee Productivity

The main goal of any company, of course, is to be successful. And the level of employee productivity is one of the crucial factors that makes or breaks the success of a company.

Employee productivity represents the amount of work employees complete in a given time period. An employee who completes more tasks in less time is considered to be more productive. This higher productivity has a number of tangible benefits to a business, including:

  • Making it more profitable
  • Helping it grow
  • Helping it stay competitive on the market

Here are four great techniques you can use to increase employee productivity in your team:

Employee Productivity: The Kanban Approach

Kanban is a time management technique meant to help you track progress on your work, and keep an eye on tasks that are nearing their deadlines.

The practice originated in the 1940s at Toyota and represented a shift in production. Kanban (or lean manufacturing, as it was called back then), allowed Toyota to produce according to customer demands, as fast as possible. As opposed to producing vehicles to push them out on the market.

This practice would influence the creation of Kanban 70 years later. In 2007, David Anderson and Darren Davis developed the same idea of streamlining workflow and increasing productivity. They noticed that the scope of work is easier to visualize once it was presented on a whiteboard.

KISS: Whiteboard and Post-it Notes

  • The whiteboard represents your project
  • The Post-it notes represent your tasks
  • You divide the whiteboard into four columns:
  1. “Backlog” column | For all the tasks that you need to work on.
  2. “To-do” column | For the tasks with a specific deadline.
  3. “Doing” column | Tasks you are currently working on
  4. “Done” column | Tasks you have finished.

Define the task deadlines, assign each task to an employee, and have them move their tasks across columns, in accordance with the progress status of the task (“To-do,” “Doing,” or “Done”).

The approach with the whiteboard and Post-it notes is just an illustrative example. Alternatively, you can use Kanban-based software to track your project progress.

In any case, ensure your Kanban board is available to your employees at any time. This way, everyone will be able to see at a glance:

  • The progress status of each task
  • Who is working on what
  • Whether a task is nearing its deadline, indicating it should be a priority

By knowing all this, you’ll make work more organized, structured, and easy to track, directly increasing employee productivity as a result.

Time Blocking

Time blocking is a time management approach which mandates that all tasks have a predefined time frame and calendar slot during which employees will work on them.

Although its origins are said to exist as far back as calendars themselves, the earliest known user is said to be Benjamin Franklin. He used to take note of everything he did during the day, hour by hour. Blocking off times for chores, rest, relaxation and deep work. One could say he was the modern employer of the time blocking technique.

And today, hundreds of years later, it has proven to be a great technique to increase employee productivity levels on all types of tasks.

To implement time blocking, instruct your employees to:

  • List all their tasks, in order of priority.
  • Allocate a certain amount of time to each task. For example:
    1. First Task: 15 minutes
    2. Second Task: 45 minutes
    3. Third Task 3: 1 hour
  • Slot each task in a calendar. For example:
    1. First Task: 8 a.m. – 8:15 a.m.
    2. Second Task: 8:15 a.m. – 9 a.m.
    3. Third Task: 9 a.m. – 10 a.m.
  • Work on the tasks in the order you blocked time for them. Don’t spend more time on a task than what you blocked. As soon as the time block for Task 1 is up, move on to Task 2. Continue in the same manner until the end of the list.

The principle of this productivity-increasing technique is simple: all employees who make feasible time blocking schedules, and then stick to them, will be able to finish their tasks as planned and maintain full control over their time as a result.

The Eisenhower Matrix: Identify Priority Tasks

Productivity is not just about working fast, but also about ensuring enough time is spent on the right tasks — i.e., your priority tasks. One of the best approaches that can help you with that is the Eisenhower Matrix.

Its originator is Dwight D. Eisenhower himself. He was the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in WW2, the first Supreme Commander of NATO, and went on to become the 34th president of the United States. With his life of warfare and politics, Eisenhower was required to make tough choices under immense pressure. Countless sources credit him for creating a method that aims to achieve exactly that — to see your priorities and make informed, yet quick decisions.

And decades later, the Eisenhower Matrix expanded to become a time management technique that also helps businesses organize tasks in a way that lets employees easily recognize priorities.

To implement it, take 10 minutes each morning to go through the project tasks for that day.

They can be, for example:

  • Writing a marketing strategy for the new project
  • Preparing reports for the big client update meeting
  • Solving the most immediate bugs from the day before
  • Going through customer support analytics for the past quartal

Four Quadrants

Then, sort them into four quadrants, based on whether they are important and/or urgent:

  • First Quadrant (important: Yes, urgent: Yes) | The tasks you should work on first.
  • Second Quadrant (important: Yes, urgent: No) | The tasks you should work on when done with the tasks from Quadrant 1.
  • Third Quadrant (important: No, urgent: Yes) | The tasks you should delegate to someone else.
  • Fourth Quadrant (important: No, urgent: No) | The tasks you should most likely eliminate.

The Eisenhower Matrix is meant to help your teams focus on the day’s most important and urgent tasks. At the same time, it also helps them recognize which tasks they could delegate or eliminate, thus freeing even more time for their priority tasks.

And after the collective meeting, you can always instruct the teams to apply the Eisenhower Matrix to their own tasks for the day.

Streamline Meetings

According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, as much as 71% of senior managers find meetings to be inefficient and unproductive.

And yet, an infographic by AskCody shows that the average office employee from the US still spends over five hours on meetings. They also spend over four hours each week preparing for those meetings. Switching focus between different work wastes time and effort. Of course, this negatively impacts productivity. Which leaves employees feeling scatterbrained and drained.

To ensure this time is better spent, streamline meetings: 

  1. Create precise meeting agendas | Straightforward agendas will help you stay on topic, and hold shorter, better structured, and thus more productive meetings.
  2. Announce meetings at least a couple of hours in advance | This way, you’ll give your employees enough time to think about what they want to say or ask in advance, saving them the time they’d need to do so at the actual meetings.
  3. Limit meeting time to 30 minutes at maximum | Forbes even suggests implementing a 30-minute challenge that involves prioritizing topics better and selecting attendees more carefully in order to keep meetings from lasting more than 30 minutes.

Structure your meetings. Organize, schedule and track your tasks. Then watch your employee productivity soar.

Photo: Anika Huizinga

How to Stay Productive During the COVID-19 Crisis

Remote work isn’t new. In fact, working from home been on the rise since 2010. But this new decade brought with it COVID-19, triggering a complete paradigm shift for remote work, school and life — worldwide. As a result, how we communicate, learn, teach, and conduct business has changed. And staying productive has become a challenge all it’s own.

Back in April, FlexJobs reported more than half of all Americans were working from home. Since then, 65% said their productivity increasedIn June, Stanford reported that 42% of the U.S. labor force was working from home full-time, signaling a return to the office for many. But in July, COVID-19 cases soared by more than a million globally. More than half of all states in the U.S. that reopened (or planned to), closed in an effort to curb the virus. Given this ever-evolving context and data, we soon knew it would be a tough summer. 

How Do We Stay Productive?

Now that we roll into the fall, families and students grapple with how to return not just to school, but to some sense of normalcy. At the same time, organizations struggle with re-entry to the workplace. While Twitter says they’ll begin reintegrating employees into their offices soon, major companies like Amazon have decided to remain remote until the end of 2020. Google and Facebook have announce their employees will work remotely until mid-2021. 

So amid this ongoing crisis and uncertainty, how exactly do we keep stay productive? In the workplace, how can we find the balance between completely safe and fully engaged?

For many leaders, these seven strategies now serve as a roadmap that helps teams stay productive during the COVID-19 pandemic…

1. Focus on Priorities

Location shouldn’t matter as long as the work gets done, especially now. Employees should think about what work needs to get done, in what order, and how they should tackle that work. Managers, on the other hand, should think about the work that must be produced today while keeping an eye on what’s on the horizon. Combined, this strategy helps set realistic priorities while reducing stress and burnout.

2. Boost Communication

For a remote workforce to be successful, strong communication is key. So managers must integrate communications technology like Slack, Trello, Basecamp, and Zoom. By leveraging these tools effectively and in a balanced manner (no Zoom calls at 6:15am!), managers can easily check-in with employees – perhaps even more often than they did when sharing an office. The win-win: this boost in communication builds even stronger working relationships across the organization.

3. Adopt New Approaches

As the world of work changes, managers must change their approach. True, we’re no longer in the same office. But that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to build mutually-beneficial, one-on-one relationships. One example is making remote work feel more human. Other approaches range from more informal meetings (just to connect), to co-created checklists and to-do lists (to build autonomy). Bottom line: The same rigid approaches to work we used to rely on may not work well now.

4. Set Clear Expectations

Clearly stating expectations and setting common goals is more important now than ever. Just as vital: A clear of understanding of how work will be measured. This will help ensure everyone understands what productivity looks like. At this time, being autocratic may not be the right answer. So welcome input and questions. After all, when managers encourage curiosity it naturally empowers each of us to do good work.

5. Offer Respectful Radical Candor

Managers and leaders must lead by example. So, no more excuses to others — or ourselves — as to why we can’t get work done. To excel, we must be honest about why we can’t be efficient during these times. Let’s accept responsibility and ditch the lies to hack productivity. Let’s consistently offer respectful radical candor. We can then co-create solutions to the challenges we face. By working together, we can overcome whatever keeps us from being productive.

6. Use Stress to Your Advantage

Not all stress is bad stress. Some stressors actually motivate us to better maintain our focus, stimulating a better work performance with goals and deadlines at the forefront. Of course, sometimes stress becomes too overwhelming. When that happens, take a deep breath. Refocus on the highest priorities. Where possible, reset expectations. By focusing on an employees strengths rather than what feels like a weakness during stressful moments, managers can help reduce the bad kinds of stress. And use the good for good.

7. Employ Empathy

Remote work has always meant a flexible work location, work schedule and dress code. But now, empathy plays a role in flexibility. Today, many of us must think about the pressures of working from home. We must integrate family responsibilities, distance or hybrid learning for children, and other life commitments. Showing empathy, and specifically knowing what each of us might be going through during the COVID-19 crisis, helps maintain – and even improves – our work culture.

Leverage these seven strategies. Help team members and leaders stay productive. Enable a positive company culture. Do it well, and you’ll help everyone feel more at ease during a complex time.

Photo: Sharon McCutcheon

Promoting Diversity and Maintaining an Inclusive Culture

As the spotlight has brightened on racism. In response to recent miscarriages of justice, the emphasis on identifying racism within other aspects of life has also grown. As business leaders, it is vital to stand with the advocacy for change. Although oftentimes difficult, encouraging honest discussions around diversity and inclusivity in the workplace is crucial. 

For many, this conversation is not new. Dated ideologies and racist operations have influenced hiring practices regularly. Those out-of-date paradigms have also permitted a single race and gender to employ higher positions for decades. According to Fortune, high-ranking officials within 16 of the Fortune 500 companies are 80% men, and 72% of those men are white. In order to break this flawed mold and implement diversity, much work has to be done by industry leaders. 

The Advantages of Promoting Diversity and Inclusivity

Fostering a diverse and inclusive organization has many benefits such as increased profit, impressive talent acquisition, as well as the strengthening of employee bonds. Yes, conversations surrounding diversity and inclusivity can be difficult. However, this is the opportune time for leaders to disrupt archaic norms. And it is the perfect time to implement hiring practices that seek out brilliant talent from every background. 

So, what can business owners and leaders do to promote diversity and maintain an inclusive culture? With these advantages below, leaders across any industry can recognize the essential nature of workplace diversity. 

Financial Gain 

From a business standpoint, racial diversity in the workplace isn’t merely a perk. In fact, diversity is a necessity for competitiveness in corporate America. Not only do inclusive teams make better business decisions up to 87% of the time, but many consumers actively seek out organizations with diverse decision-makers. Additionally, these brands can also build stronger audience connections. 

Further, it is no secret that marketing a business can be difficult. However, inclusive marketing can be a different beast altogether. Within marketing, there is a heavy lack of cultural intelligence from brands, and this void can result in minimized profits as some audiences won’t purchase from you due to a lack of acknowledgment. Campaigns without cultural intelligence run the risk of coming off as tone-deaf or insensitive. They perhaps then result in public outcry, concluding in a company apology with a promise to “do better.” 

By investing in employees with different perspectives, lived experiences, and understandings of diverse markets, you can promote your business from several unique standpoints and gain a competitive edge. This allows a separation from competitors, and perhaps engagement from consumers outside of initial target audiences. Subsequently, you can net greater profits, while exhibiting your care for people of different races, genders, ages, sexualities, and identities. 

Expanded Talent Pool 

 For most leaders in the highly competitive business world, acquiring the best talent is priority. Exclusively employing talent of a particular ethnicity, age, or gender minimizes the talent pool you can choose from. With that said, having an organization run by one race or gender can only reflect narrow perspectives. That scenario, perhaps inadvertently, also demonstrates to the public that you don’t recognize a necessity for diverse opinions.

Hiring with cultural diversity in mind — which encapsulates race, culture, age, religion, sexuality, and gender identity — expands your talent pool. This expansion permits your organization to solely focus on what candidates can bring to the table such as: skill sets, experience, and creativity. By eradicating those subconsciously biased candidate limitations, you can prioritize and encourage mind-expansion and exploration for your company. This can equate to bigger, brighter innovations that may not have been otherwise explored. This eradication also improves your brand’s attractiveness and invites new consumers. 

As your organization flourishes due to new minds with intersectional inputs, your brand has the opportunity to convey a modern attractiveness that invites more talent acquisition, fortuitous business opportunities and more financially prosperous avenues. 

Better Engagement and Satisfaction 

As one can probably imagine, being a “token” person of color in the workplace isn’t fun. When employees work amongst others who look like them or share lived experiences, a workplace confidence is bred, thus inspiring collaboration, innovation and creativity to take place. 

Employees need their ideas, opinions and perspectives to matter. Likewise, employees want to work for a company that entrusts people like them who also actively advocate for positive change. When employees feel respected and valued, especially if they may have endured ridicule in the past, aspects of work like productivity, engagement, and overall satisfaction within the workplace is improved. 

This is vital because boosts in company morale and workplace culture only benefit your organization. Happy employees equate to enhanced production, which equates to higher brand attractiveness and in turn, increased company profits. 

Maintaining an Understanding Organization and Prioritizing Inclusion

In efforts to promote diversity within your organization, below are a few strategies to help start off the process of consistently seeking to be more understanding and inclusive.

Take an Honest Internal Look

How do you assess the current state of diversity within your organization? Analyze how many people of color you currently employ, as well as previously hired and sought out for recruitment. This can provide insight on the level of (or lack of) diversity. This data can also show any discriminatory biases that occur within your company, unknowingly or otherwise. 

Consistently Educate Yourself and Your Staff

There are many misconceptions around what discrimination looks like. So it is important to outline what words and behaviors are unacceptable at work. Teach your staff about micro-aggressions and what discrimination may look like to people of various, intersecting backgrounds. In addition to this, be sure to emphasize the impacts of discrimination, big or small, and stress a no-tolerance policy. 

Promote an Open Dialogue

In efforts to grasp difficult topics, learn from each other and get to know each other on a personal level. Encourage employees to unpack biases and/or racist tendencies. Emphasize how harmful it is to act on those beliefs. During these discussions, tread lightly. After all, you don’t want to offend employees, Nor do you want to force someone to discuss personal adversity.  

As industry leaders, this is your chance to spearhead positive change by implementing workplace diversity and inclusivity. It is important to note that no one has all the “right” answers respective to ending discrimination in the workplace. No one can tell you exactly how to eradicate biases. Nonetheless, these issues are serious. And organizations must diligently protect those at risk of enduring injustices.

Overall, focus on harmonizing the workplace by creating a safe and welcoming environment for everyone — irrespective of race, gender, age, sexuality, disability, identity, and/or religion.

Photo: Christina @ wocintechchat.com

WFH Employees: How to Keep Them Safe

In some countries, as lockdown measures continue to ease, businesses are opening and employees are heading back to work. But some of us are still working from home — a policy that has become the ‘new normal‘ and may continue for millions of people, even in the wake of the pandemic.

Companies need to make sure their employees still feel safe and connected at home to avoid WFH burnout. Here are some effective ways to make physical and mental safety and employee well-being a top priority:

Let’s dive in!

1. Keep the Lines of Communication Open

When it comes to working remotely or working from home, communication is key. According to a Buffer survey, 20% of remote workers struggle with communication.

Providing several communication channels can enable the company and employees to stay in touch. An HR manager can run conference calls (both video or audio) to help bring teams together and keep them aligned on projects. One-on-one calls are more personal and can give employees a way to reveal any struggles or concerns.

Not only does communicating make employees feel safe and connected, but it also helps them feel valued — even when they can’t draw on the support of an office or workplace environment.

2. Adjust Company Policies

With the pandemic still raging, we’re not quite at “business as usual” yet. So, it’s crucial to adjust or revise company policies and continuity plans to better protect your employees and meet their needs. Flexibility is key: more than two-thirds of employees say at a loss of flexibility would convince them to find another job. WFH security guidelines can ensure that employees can use their own devices without worrying about their data getting leaked or hacked.

As you anticipate your business demands, use workforce management software to unlock your workforce’s potential and keep employees from feeling overwhelmed. Adjust your policies regarding benefits, pay, sick leave, and paid time off to fit the circumstances.

3. Provide Team Building Activities

Since working from home isn’t the easiest task for some employees, it’s important to help them manage stress levels and feel connected to each other. One effective approach is to strengthen teamwork at the same time with team building activities, such as icebreaker or informal video conference calls. Consider movie nights, or get-togethers to just talk about life.

 Such activities can help employees not only decompress, but build their sense of personal connection and trust. 75% of employers rate teamwork and collaboration as “very crucial” to strengthen employees’ work relationships and overall efficiency.

4. Promote Fair Workplace Practices

Make sure your WFH policy aligns with the company’s principles and maintains fair treatment for all employees. 54% of employees rank fair treatment as the second most valuable employer attribute, a strong factor in a decision to stay or leave.

Double-check that all employees have equal access to the company’s services, such as the devices they need to work remotely, such as laptops, internet connection, and cybersecurity. And extend sick or paid leave policies to employees even when they’re working from home. 

5. Reward and Recognize Employees

When remote employees feel valued and safe, they are free to be productive, and get their projects done effectively and efficiently. They may be working remotely, but they feel appreciated and acknowledged. Over 79% of employees who feel under-appreciated consider quitting their job — and this is going to extend to employees working from home as well. 

Build employee engagement with rewards and recognition — even just a note recognizing their efforts can go a long way.  

Whether your employees work from home occasionally or exclusively, it’s always important to make them feel safe. Support them, engage them, and you’ll see the results.

Photo: You X Ventures

Don’t Sacrifice Talent To Survive a Crisis

Nobody needs to tell you that we’re in hard times. A pandemic is sweeping the nation, a trail of personal and economic devastation behind it, and frightening uncertainty ahead. Businesses are struggling to figure out the best path to survival. For many leaders, the impulse is, understandably, to lessen their organizations’ financial load with layoffs.

The good news is that eventually, through the efforts of courageous health care workers and our technology, we will defeat the virus, and life and work will return to a version of normal. And many economists predict that when this happens, our mothballed world economy will snap back to life, unleashing a wave of pent-up demand.

Will your company survive and be ready for this?

After all, consider what happened post 9/11. After the attacks, the world economy reeled, oil prices surged, and the stock markets plunged as the world braced for war in the Middle East. Many companies, fearful about the future, indulged in a layoff binge, slashing their workforce without thought to who their top talent was, or what current and future skills the organization might need to remain viable and recover with the economy.

But then the economy quickly rebounded, and the downturn turned out to be what economists call a “V-shaped recession.” The sharp decline in GDP was followed by an almost equally sharp increase in business activity. At this point, companies found that the talent they let go was desperately needed. They scrambled, and the result was a massive hiring binge to fill the gap that they themselves created.

The fact is that fundamentally, there was nothing significantly wrong with the underlying economics on September 11th, 2001. The economic downturn was not caused by normal business cycle considerations, the firing binge was followed by a scramble to replenish a depleted workforce.

Today, the pandemic is cutting a swath through what otherwise had been a robust economy, so the mistakes of 9/11 are a cautionary tale.

If you are among the business leaders queuing up the pink slips in reaction to this unprecedented crisis, I urge you to stop, take a breath, and think your next steps through — lest you sacrifice valuable employees in your rush for short-term relief.

While I understand some companies are in crisis and don’t have the luxury of time to pause for analysis, most do have the wherewithal, and I would argue, a duty to their workforce and, if public, their shareholders to proceed with wisdom and caution.

So instead of rushing to throw off what might feel like human ballast, consult with your HR executives to put together a strategic workplace plan, or crisis plan, by performing a three-dimensional review of your current workforce, considering more than headcount and cost. Instead of responding in panic only to the here and now, look ahead, 6 to 18 months in the future, and decide:

  • What skills your people have today and what your organization will need
  • How to ensure you have an adequate supply of these skills and where to deploy them
  • Your succession plan for key leaders

Upon sober reflection of these needs, you probably will find that you can keep most of your workforce in place, and you will be ready to make clear decisions based on your data and forecasts. Additionally, doing a strategic workforce crisis plan will set you up for the future by seeing how you can maximize the productivity of the workforce you have. From this plan you will be in position to drive higher performance and workforce engagement, creating what I call “PEIP capability,” where PEIP = People Engagement, Innovation and Performance.

PEIP is a strategic capability that not only creates higher performance, it creates a more engaged workplace, which naturally leads to greater productivity. Who doesn’t want to work in an organization that wants to optimize employees and work with their skills and their career aspirations? A workplace that tries to align people to what they do best? An engaged workplace is a fun place to work, but it is also a competitive advantage. Some of the highest performing companies, such as Google, Microsoft, Accenture, IBM, and SAP, have implemented PEIP strategies to create competitive advantage, and this is reflected in their people engagement scores as well as share-price performance.

PEIP can also help future-proof your organization. New smart technologies and AI perme.ating the workplace create another opportunity for the workforce and the organization to align the right people with the right skills to harness new technology. This creates a “turbo-charging” effect, driving more engagement, innovation, and productivity, as well as return on investment on IT spend.   

We are at the fork in the road — once again. It’s a scary time, but rife with opportunity for companies that respond with foresight. We can do as we have done for decades before and continue the hire/fire binge, or we can step back and be more strategic and thoughtful in addressing the current crisis, while at the same time positioning our businesses to thrive in the future — whatever it brings.

Photo: Drew Beamer

New Research Indicates Desire for Recognition, Feedback

In the past several months, many companies have modified their performance programs. From streamlining their review processes to running more frequent pulse surveys, organizations around the world are seeking to make changes that will ultimately boost employee performance and productivity.

Our company, Reflektive, sought to measure these changes with a performance management survey. In June we reached out to 445 HR professionals and business leaders, and 622 employees, to understand the current state of their performance programs. We compared these results to a similar survey we ran in 2018. Our 2020 Performance Management Benchmark Report uncovered meaningful performance management trends over the past two years, as well as insights into the current state of work.

Formal Processes of Performance Management Consistent Since 2018

A surprising observation was that the formal processes of performance management have not changed significantly over the last two years. Nearly half of reviews are run annually or less frequently. Forty-six percent of respondents use descriptive performance ratings, such as “meets expectations.” 

People Analytics Present Big Opportunity

The survey also found that only 50% of HR and business leaders are using people analytics to predict performance and turnover. What’s interesting is that most leaders believe that people analytics has become more important, however they’re still not utilizing this technology to inform strategic people decisions. This gap can really impact workforce planning, as organizations struggle to fill needs when employees depart.

Employees Desire More Communication and Transparency from Companies

The employee survey results revealed that workers seek more communication to stay informed and engaged at work. Nearly half of respondents desire more consistent communication from leadership, and 37% said more consistent communication was needed from colleagues. 

In a similar vein, we found that employees sought more transparency from their employers. Only 19% of employees believed that their organization was transparent about upward mobility. Twenty-one percent said their company was communicative about salary freezes, and the same percentage said that their org was transparent about potential pay cuts. Employees are cognizant of the pandemic’s economic toll, and would like their companies to be honest with them about the business impact.

Employees Seek More Feedback and Coaching for their Growth

Another interesting insight we uncovered was that employees want more from their performance programs. Specifically, they’re looking for increased coaching, dialogue and recognition from their managers. Since 2018, there’s been a 3.2X increase in the percentage of employees that desire recognition. We also observed a nearly 90% increase in the percentage of employees that desire formal feedback conversations monthly or more frequently.

A performance bright spot was the manager-employee relationship. Over 80% of employees surveyed said that they are having 1:1s with their managers. Additionally, 80% said that these meetings were productive. This data was really uplifting to me, since driving alignment and communication can be tricky when everyone is working remotely.

However, we did identify a major communication gap: only 20% of employees reported that they receive weekly feedback. So it appears that managers and employees are talking regularly about ongoing work and projects, but employees still aren’t receiving the coaching that they desire. This represents a huge opportunity for managers — they can benefit from training on how to ask important questions, and how to provide valuable feedback on a more regular basis. Performance management technology — including feedback prompts and 1:1 tools — can help drive productive coaching conversations too.

Getting Feedback Remains Challenging for Employees

One interesting discrepancy between leaders and employees was sentiment around initiating feedback conversations. Only 14% of HR professionals and business leaders felt that employees weren’t empowered to initiate feedback conversations. However, 30% of employees — or over 2X the percentage of leaders — felt that they weren’t empowered to request feedback. This discrepancy indicates that HR teams and leaders are overestimating employee comfort with feedback processes. Employee training on giving and receiving feedback, and an easy-to-use feedback tool, can help fill this gap.

Executives and Employees Remain Optimistic for the Future

While sentiment and outlooks are continuously evolving in 2020, both executives and employees remain optimistic about the future. Specifically, executives anticipate more investment in technology (35% of respondents) and more efforts to boost engagement and retain employees (29% of respondents). 

Employees anticipate that six months from now, it will be business as usual (34% of respondents). Additionally, 26% expect to have learned new skills, and 25% believe they’ll feel proud of their accomplishments. Despite the many headwinds that they’re facing, employees feel that they will come out of 2020 stronger and more prepared for the future.

As employees, HR teams, and executives navigate the ever-changing environment, agility and resilience will be crucial. The ability to work productively in different environments, and collaborate cross-functionally, will be highly valued. Companies that maintain engaged and productive workforces will be the success stories of 2020.

This post is sponsored by Reflektive.

Photo: Aleks Marinkovic

#WorkTrends: Aligning Around Performance Management: New Findings

Listen to the full conversation and see our questions for the upcoming #WorkTrends Twitter Chat. And don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast, so you don’t miss an episode.

How, where, and when we work may have changed, but there still needs to be a way to manage performance. But do employees want that right now? Amid the uncertainty, the answer is yes. Employees are yearning for continuous feedback, according to a 2020 performance management benchmark report by Reflektive, which surveyed over 1,000 HR practitioners, business leaders, and employees. And the feedback process is bolstering the relationship between managers and employers. 

I invited Jennifer Toton, Chief Marketing Officer at Reflektive to #WorkTrends to shed light on this benchmark study and dig into some of the trends it reveals. But as Jennifer pointed out, what was surprising was what didn’t change. The formal process of performance management and the number of reviews are still intact, but the way we give and receive feedback has really evolved. “We saw a 90% increase in employees who want more formal feedback conversations on a monthly or more frequent basis.”  

Also compelling, to me, is that even in these times, employees have retained a sense of optimism. Many believe that six months from the time of the survey, business will remain as usual. A quarter believed they would learn more skills. Another quarter said they would feel proud of the work they accomplished, and about a fifth said that they will feel more productive. “Our employees are resilient and they’re adapting to the change,” added Jennifer. 

Much is up to the managers, though. They must be transparent in their communication, said Jennifer, particularly around salary freezes and pay cuts, as honesty feeds trust. In addition, 80% of employees said they were having regular meetings with their managers, and that they found the format was not only positive, but productive. 

We covered a lot of ground in this discussion, so I encourage you to have a listen for yourself. Got feedback? Feel free to weigh in on Twitter or on LinkedIn. (And make sure to add the #WorkTrends hashtag so others in the TalentCulture community can follow along.)

 Twitter Chat Questions
Q1: Why do organizations struggle with performance management? #WorkTrends
Q2: What strategies can help improve performance management? #WorkTrends
Q3: How can leaders refocus performance management for better results?  #WorkTrends

Find Jennifer Toton on Linkedin and Twitter

This podcast is sponsored by Reflektive.

(Editor’s note: This month, we’re announcing upcoming changes to #WorkTrends podcasts and Twitter chats. To learn about these changes as they unfold, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.)

Photo: Bill Oxford

5 Ways To Foster Belonging At Work

What’s the worst thing an employee can say on any given day? How about, “I don’t belong here?” The schism that takes place when an employee doesn’t feel connected with the work culture can have wide-ranging impacts across engagement, performance, team dynamics and the bottom line. Companies need to ensure they cultivate a workplace where employees feel a sense of belonging, whether that workplace is in-office or remote. As much as we talk about the power of employee experience and the dynamics of employee engagement, we first have to address the primary need to belong. That sense of true connection is the foundation for how we feel about work — and indeed, how we work.

I’ve been having some really insightful conversations with Iain Moffat, Chief Global Officer of MHR International, about belonging. It feels right for the times we’re in right now. Some employees have been rapidly sprung out of the tangible community of the workplace and are now working from home. And some workforces are still in the physical workplace, but under increasing pressure as we continue to endure the pandemic and its fallout. But building a sense of belonging isn’t just a fix for now. It’s a powerful talent strategy that has long-term outcomes.

Iain and I agreed that building a sense of belonging needs to be part of any serious endeavor to build an exceptional work culture. We also both noted that while some organizations are surprised by how comfortable employees are working from home, it may be, ironically, because they’re home. So how can businesses provide employees with that same sense of being in the right place?

First, five key points on belonging and businesses:

  • Given the push-pull of working from home or working through the turbulence and challenges of COVID-19, belonging bolsters our realization that we’re in it together, no matter where we are. It’s been linked to improved retention and a far more successful employer brand. Employees who feel like they belong tend to invite others to experience that as well. 
  • We all need to feel like we belong — and when we do, there’s a marked increase in our engagement, overall happiness and health. In that sense, belonging is a benefit that should be part of the employer’s offering to employees: working with us, you will feel like you belong, and we will be intentional about that. 
  • In our consumer-driven society, belonging is more than just a feel-good. It’s a strong driver of brand alignment. When we feel comfortable with a brand, we tend to stay with it. We feel like it speaks to our values, our sensibilities. That loyalty easily translates into the workplace context: employees want to stay with their employer because they believe in the brand and are comfortable with its values and purpose. 
  • Belonging isn’t just a social component. It should be seen as a business strategy that considers and addresses the real needs of your employees in terms of safety, career growth, feeling a part of a work community, and balancing work and life.
  • A culture of belonging doesn’t aim to homogenize everyone into a shared identity, but rather fosters diversity and inclusion as a way of improving and enhancing a shared culture. There’s a big difference. You don’t need to steamroll over differences to find the common ground, particularly in the workplace.

Marshmallows, Spaghetti, and Teamwork   

That said, what does a culture of belonging look like? Iain provided a telling example of the complex dynamics of belonging in action: the marshmallow challenge, originally created by Peter Skillman — and the subject of a great TED Talk by Tom Wujec. In this collaborative training exercise, teams of four have a fixed amount of time to build a tower out of spaghetti and tape that can support a marshmallow. The team with the highest tower wins.

“What’s interesting about the challenge is the pattern of consistently high-performing and low-performing teams,” when you compare kindergarteners and business school graduates, he said. What I found interesting as well is that in general, the five-year-olds outdid the business school grads. 

The children walked into the challenge with no training or preconceived notion of how to work together. So they just did — “in short bursts of collaborative effort, prototyping to find the best solution,” as Iain described. “They have no pre-fixed view of how they should act in the group and no hierarchy. Instead, they just focused on how to solve the problem.” They worked inclusively, unconcerned with status or protocols. 

 But the business school grads got hung up on who would be in charge, wasting valuable time jockeying for position. “They acted in a way they think they should behave given their lengthy investment in an advanced education,” Iain said. “They focused on trying to come up with a single solution rather than collaborating, prototyping, trying and doing. They were held back by a set of assumptions of how they should behave.” Often they ran out of time, or built a tower that collapsed.

We’re not building spaghetti towers, to be sure. But we do tend to walk into work with a sense of hierarchy and how we’re supposed to behave. If, instead, we’re free to abandon our certain assumptions on status and protocols and just work together, we forge a new kind of teamwork that’s far more productive. A team in a culture of belonging can simply focus on the task and the output, and is comfortable enough to be open to each others’ ideas and relish the collaborative process. The overarching attitude is: “Let’s try it, if it doesn’t work, let’s try something else.” Without anyone in charge, there’s no agenda besides tackling the problem. Instead of being driven by ego, the team is driven by the energy of working together. Instead of feeling pressure to arrive at a perfect solution, the team has the freedom and confidence to prototype until they get it. 

Two factors changed the outcome for the business school grads, Iain said: “First, when someone with facilitation skills joined the business school graduates, they often performed better, as the group was organized around the task.” Second, “If the group received feedback on their performance, and had the time to reflect and then perform the task again, they outperformed by several hundred percent.” 

We have a remarkable opportunity right now to foster a sense of belonging within our workplaces. So many of us have taken the veneer off: we’re meeting from kitchens, we’re video conferencing with children in the background; we’re seeing each others’ lives. We’re seeing how important it is to protect employees working on the front lines or out in public, and how to include their perspectives in how we better safeguard our workforce. 

The climate of working during a pandemic has removed so many of the assumptions we bring into the workplace, and replaced them with a basic understanding that on a fundamental level we are people, working together. When you can build on that understanding by meeting one of our most fundamental needs — to feel that sense of belonging – it drives peace of mind, focus, productivity, collaboration and performance. In so doing, it fosters everyone’s success — that of the business, and that of its workforce. If you want to see how cohesive and collaborative your work culture really is, break out the spaghetti and the marshmallows. Then build on that until those towers are as high as they can be.

This post is sponsored by MHR International.

Photo: Chris Montgomery

#WorkTrends: Navigating the Obstacles of Remote Work

Listen to the full conversation and see our questions for the upcoming #WorkTrends Twitter Chat. And don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast, so you don’t miss an episode.

Working from home has been a learning experience for many of us. Maria Orozova and Scott Thomas, co-founders of MODintelechy, joined me on #WorkTrends to share their perspective on how to navigate the many obstacles of WFH, from kids to focus to time management — and how to reap the benefits of remote work. 

Maria and Scott are veterans of working from home — their strategies have proven invaluable for their hectic days. And full disclosure: they not only work together, they share a family and a home as well. They’ve learned to stagger work hours so they can spell each other on the day-to-day. And instead of video calls all the time, they decided it depends on the client. What a relief to balance “strategic video versus no video time on Zoom calls,” said Maria. Scott swears by “simple stuff,” like taking a quick swim or walk to stay sane. I can relate.

Of course it’s not just about the leaders and managers. It’s about employees. One way this power couple keeps their employees engaged and balanced now is by “really being conscious” of how and when to show their human side. They know when to keep the camera off, and they stay present for people. Maria talked about the importance of giving people “some grace” for the mundane disruptions that can occur with WFH. After all, we agreed, this isn’t just bringing our whole selves to work. It’s bringing work to our whole lives.

Embrace it, they said. “Sharing your own vulnerability first kind of gives people the task or permission to share,” said Scott. When the Zoom fatigue is real, take the pressure off by just picking up the phone. Is there a bright side to all this? I asked them. Absolutely, they said: WFH enables us to gain new focus and clarity into how we work, and how we can work better together.

We covered so much ground in this discussion, and I encourage you to have a listen for yourself. And feel free to weigh in on Twitter or on LinkedIn with your feedback. (Just make sure to add the #WorkTrends hashtag so others in the TalentCulture community can follow along.)

 Twitter Chat Questions
Q1: How can brands create and drive a positive remote work culture? #WorkTrends
Q2: How can brands help remote workers adjust and be productive? #WorkTrends
Q3: What tactics can remote workers use to maintain their mental well-being?#WorkTrends

Find Maria Orozova on Linkedin and Twitter

Find Scott Thomas on Linkedin and Twitter

(Editor’s note: In August we’ll be announcing upcoming changes to #WorkTrends podcasts and Twitter chats. To learn about these changes as they unfold, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.)

Photo: Nick Fewings

How to Perfect the Skill of Listening

Coronavirus has changed the way American businesses operate, to say the least. And from work-from-home mandates to reopening strategies to locking down again in the face of virus spikes, it’s taken a toll on effective communication in the workplace. 

Communication is a two-way street. But it’s not just about what we say. As the old saying goes, we have two ears and one mouth — so we ought to be able to listen twice as much as we speak. Or consider the inverse, as Ken Blanchard says: “I often like to joke that if God had wanted us to talk more than listen, he would have given us two mouths.” 

But in reality we aren’t listening very well, and it’s not new news. The Harvard Business Review published a famous article way, way back in 1957 about a study of manufacturing executives in Chicago: it found that listening is a much neglected skill. Benchmark research found that the average listener remembers only about 25% of what they heard, and that number has been repeated in many posts on why we can’t listen, time and time again. Flash forward more than half a century and for all the work on refining and clarifying our message, the weakest point of how we communicate is what we actually hear. Compound that by the fact that so much of our work is happening online and remotely, and it makes the listening part of communication even harder.

But we need to be better listeners, especially now. To be able to actually listen, take in someone else’s points and retain the information is not only better for whatever work process is going on at the moment. It also builds far more trust, promotes empathy, and forges a work culture of engagement and exchange. You can’t tout transparency if there’s no emphasis on listening, either. So here’s a refresher with eight ways to improve your skill at listening now, including some tips that will greatly boost the quality of remote communication:

1. Allow for Silence

Give the person speaking time to pause and collect their own thoughts as they’re talking. Everyone talks with a different style and pace. Some get nervous when they’re talking and tend to need to slow down and clarify for themselves before saying an idea out loud. Some may be broaching a difficult topic and try to circle around it. Listening requires patience and slowing down our own rapid-fire internal thought process: we think faster than we speak. Don’t try to fill in the silences with your own interjections. Let the speaker have the room and the time to say what they need to say.

2. Repeat Back in Your Own Words

Don’t respond to the speaker with your thoughts right away. That’s the default setting for listening, but it’s far more effective to restate their thoughts in your own words. It cements the fact that you understood it — and if you didn’t, they can clarify. For example, start with “I hear you saying that …” and reiterate carefully. Not only do you demonstrate that you are actually listening, but the speaker will, in turn, be more receptive to your point of view knowing you understand theirs.

3. Ask Useful (and Relevant) Questions

Asking useful questions can help you better understand what the other person is saying. To encourage further discussion, make them open-ended prompts that give them the opportunity to further elaborate. Try asking, “What do you think we should do about this?” Asking questions is not about controlling the conversation or pushing back on someone’s perspective. It’s about understanding.

4. Work toward Empathy

We all fear being judged as we talk. Make a concerted effort to truly understand and acknowledge how the other person feels; to put yourself in their shoes. By carefully reiterating their feelings as you understand them, you build empathy and set them at ease.

5. Do a Recap 

We may listen, we may hear, but do we remember? One highly effective way to recall a conversation is to recap what was said. Restate the point of the discussion, and list the action steps each party is going to do in response. This doesn’t need to be word for word, just an overview. And let the person who spoke weigh in, so they’re comfortable with your summary. 

Remote communication has its own set of issues and conditions, including how people behave, multitask, and receive information; and how technology can suddenly go haywire at the worst possible time. These three final tips will help: 

6. Have a Backup Plan for the Tech

Always have a Plan B when it comes to remote meetings and discussions. If the tech you’re depending on happens to fail for whatever reason, you can pick up the thread without a mad scramble. Many of us know the frustration of a 15 minute video call that turns into an ordeal of pixelated video or frozen presentations. Having a backup plan prevents the goal — communication — from being hijacked by tech problems. 

7. Use Names in Remote Meetings

During an in-person meeting, there’s no doubt as to who is speaking or whom they’re speaking to. Online meetings aren’t as clear. Use names when addressing people, and encourage everyone to refer to themselves by name as well. And when you are discussing the points someone made, reiterate who said them to keep everyone on track. 

8. Take Your Time  

Video meetings allow us to see each other but not always discern the nonverbal subtleties that are part of communication. Tiny delays are nevertheless long enough to prevent how we perceive each other’s expressions. Eye contact is altogether different: if we really want to look at someone’s face, we need to stare at the camera, not their face. But people don’t just speak with words. Take the time to consider what’s being said rather than jump in with a response. If you’re not sure of the intent, ask. Virtual is not the same as in the same room. 

Communication is a fundamental part of who we are. At the workplace, it’s critical to be able to listen well, whatever context we’re in. Blanchard encourages all professionals to master the art of listening, but I’d take it one step further: it should be considered a skill, like any other, and we should all endeavor to practice it, especially in these times. A little understanding can go a long way in terms of collaboration, trust, and productivity.

Photo: Tetiana SHYSHKINA

Leaders: Ditch the Lies, Hack Productivity

Leadership has its own battles with productivity, as longtime TalentCulture friend and leadership expert Gregg Lederman says. He recently dove into why some leaders struggle to bring their people together and get things done. There are three lies that leaders tend to use on themselves — as well as each other — and we thought they bore repeating as we close out productivity month. As Gregg says, if we’re not honest with ourselves, we’ll never be effective with anyone else. So, leaders, take heed:  

Lie #1: Being productive is about being busy. 

Look, when everything seems urgent and important, everything seems equal in importance, which we locally know is not the case. But when we tell ourselves this lie, we let ourselves think that just because we are active and busy, it means we’re being productive. I call B.S. on this: “First, I am busy, so I’m being productive.” What we’re really doing is behaving as if the squeaky wheel needs to get the grease, when in reality sometimes the most important things are not so obvious, especially when we’re distracting ourselves with “busy work.” In this case, we end up avoiding or missing what we should be focusing on. 

Lie #2: Don’t start the job until you know it’s going to be right.

The second B.S. lie we tell ourselves is: “I need to DO everything right.” Sometimes this lie is disguised as, “I can’t get started until I’m confident I can get the job done right.” In these instances, we tend to fear failure. But what is failure? To me, it doesn’t really exist until I stop trying. 

Lie #3: You can have a personal life later.

Here’s the third B.S. lie we tell ourselves: “I’ll make up for the lost time later.” We especially tell ourselves this lie when it comes to spending time with family and friends. This lie is the one I bet most haunts leaders later in their careers. 

How to Undo the B.S.

Gregg explains that once you recognize the B.S., you can use these three ways to detach from excuses, be truly productive, and create results:

1. First, make a success list. Keep in mind success comes from doing the right thing, not doing everything right. So a success list is different than your day-to-day to-do list. 

Your success list consists of the most important areas of focus. To create a success list, begin by determining your 80-20. Where 80 percent of your success will be determined by the 20 percent of the stuff that you invest your time doing. So in addition to your to-do list, make a success list of the most important activities you need to make sure you are achieving them. 

2. Block off time to get the most important stuff done. The key to a success list is not doing more, it’s doing more of the right things. Those are the things that are in your 20 percent (of the most important activity) that’s going to drive 80 percent of your success. So take the time to block the time on your calendar. Use it strategically to advance the most important things that are on your success — in the months, weeks, years to come.

3. Accept that not all things are going to get done. It’s true. There’s only so much time in the day, so know that no matter how much your try, there will always be stuff left undone, at the end of the day, week, month, the year. So, be kind to yourself and get comfortable that in some cases, you just won’t get it all done.

That’s it, says Gregg. It’s really that simple. Ditch the lies you tell yourself (we all do) and you’ll get somewhere. Given the complexities of work these days, we approve.

Photo: Fletcher Pride

To Boost Productivity, Hack the Stress Curve

A lot has been said about stress in the workplace over the years, and for good reason. Stress takes a serious toll on employees, both in terms of physical and mental health. It’s largely known as a productivity killer — but is that the whole story? Or is there another side to stress that is equally important, but rarely discussed in relation to performance and motivation?

The fact is, stress isn’t black and white. It’s neither good nor bad. Too much stress is, of course, detrimental to well–being and productivity, but the right amount can be used as a motivational tool to get more done. It can even be used as an engagement tool, thereby improving levels of turnover. But how can that be the case? Why do we need an optimal level of stress to ignite our desire to perform, and what can be done to keep that balance just right?

The Problem with Stress

Before moving on to the lesser-discussed benefits of stress, it’s first important to establish the problem with stress. Excessive stress can impact our bodies, mood and behavior. When exposed to prolonged stress, someone might experience headaches, fatigue, muscle tension or even chest pain. It can also result in angry outbursts, social withdrawal or drug and alcohol misuse, not to mention restlessness, burnout, anger and depression. Left unchecked, stress can contribute to long-term health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

What’s more, stress can cause real issues for businesses. When an employee feels overwhelmed and unable to cope, organizations might experience an increase in absenteeism. They might also see a higher rate of voluntary turnover. So while the downsides of stress can’t be overlooked, we should also understand that, to a degree, stress can actually be beneficial in a working environment.

Can Stress Be Good for Productivity?

Studies into stress as a productivity tool aren’t new. In fact, they date back more than a century. As an example, we can look to the Yerkes-Dodson curve, a theory established in 1908. Understanding this curve can make a huge difference to your performance management measures and procedures, as well as our understanding of employee motivation.

The Yerkes-Dodson curve suggests that we need stress for motivational energy. The study found that low levels of stress result in poor performance. With no stress to spur them on, people generally don’t have the motivation to get their work done, resulting in laziness, complacency or avoidance. The study also found that as stress increases, performance also rises — to a point. Once stress levels are too high, performance drops. People stop focusing; they become overwhelmed; and avoidance behaviours kick in again.

Researchers have found that stress can improve our memory, make us more flexible and help us prioritize tasks and deadlines. In fact, small amounts of stress can even help our immune system. The problem is, when it comes to the stress curve, everyone is different. Some of us don’t need much stress to get motivated, while others need a lot. Some of us crumble when confronted with too much stress, while others thrive. So a manager’s job is to provide “good” stressors while keeping an eye out for signs of too much stress.

How to Stimulate ‘Good’ Stress

So how can managers provide employees with “good stress” without overwhelming them? There are ways of spurring employees on, and they all require a degree of collaboration, communication and trust.

  • Set stretching goals — When goals are too achievable, it’s easy to become complacent. Stretching goals force employees to sit up and pay attention. In fact, some companies believe that more daring goals create the most exciting work environments, as well as being the “building blocks for remarkable achievements.” Goals need to be stretching enough to interest employees, or to develop them and their skills. The balance lies in ensuring goals are realistic. Giving an employee an unrealistic goal will only serve to frustrate them.
  • Deadlines are important — Ensure goals and projects have a firm deadline. This will -introduce an element of urgency that many require to get a job done. 
  • Give more responsibility — New responsibilities and requirements are always a little scary. Even if an employee thinks they’re ready to take the next step in their career, a brand new, unfamiliar task will always be slightly stressful. But it’s the good kind of stressful, and with the right coaching and support, employees learn to navigate new responsibilities, thriving in the long run.
  • Don’t micromanage, but be present and observe — Observation, to some degree, is important in this area. Obviously, micromanagement is never a good idea, but observation to an extent might provide the right amount of stress. According to the Hawthorne Effect, employees experience improved performance when they are being watched. Rather than taking this stance too seriously, you might consider cloud-based, goal-tracking software.

How to Avoid Too Much Workplace Stress

When stress levels begin to elevate within your organization, it’s necessary to dial back the pressure. To avoid too much workplace stress, we recommend the following:

Give employees more control over their work — Autonomy is important. When an employee is overly stressed, it will help for them to regain an element of control. Find out how the employee’s role and responsibilities can be adapted to better suit them and their needs. This might involve adapting how they work (for example, it might be possible to let them work remotely part-time) or what they do at work. Consider revisiting your goal-setting process to make it more collaborative. Put your employee in the driver’s seat and allow them ownership over their goals and objectives.

Allow employees to work to their strengths — It’s great to work on our weaknesses, but constantly doing so can be stressful and overwhelming for some people. Instead, allow employees to pinpoint their strengths and work with them. Your employee might have a strength that could be a real asset to your organization. Once established, a degree of stress can then be reasserted, and employees will likely feel all the more motivated to grow and succeed.

Encourage employees to take breaks to clear their heads — How many of your employees eat at their desks? Do people take regularly scheduled breaks? Are they worried about taking days off? Your employees are human and they need time away from work to recuperate. To avoid complete burnout, employees need to know that breaks are not only accepted within your organization, but encouraged and required.

As with many things in life, when it comes to stress at work, it’s all about balance. The right amount can motivate and engage employees, while too much will prove to be damaging to overall health and productivity. Your employees are individuals and their needs will vary from person to person. Managers need to get to know their team, know what they are capable of, know when to coach and know when to dial things back. Doing so will ultimately boost employee happiness and improve company culture.

Photo: Norbert Levajsics

How to Work Productively During COVID-19

Working from home is a necessity for many of us right now. It’s a critical way to help flatten the curve, for one. It can also have its appeal even during this unprecedented, harrowing crisis that faces us all. But being productive at home even under the best of circumstances — without remote schooling, sick loved ones, relentlessly bad news, and economic turmoil — can be a challenge. 

Full disclosure: I have been working remotely since well before COVID-19; many of my colleagues do as well. We’re old pros at this (not really old, but you get the point). But even those who have been doing it for years know productivity is not just a robotic process. Sometimes we need to detach to refocus. Sometimes we need a better chair. So I collected some of the best practices for being productive and staying focused while you work at home. As we weather this pandemic — a sentence who among us ever thought we’d be writing — here are proven tips for boosting your productivity: 

1. Recognize these are not normal times.

The stress of great expectations can be crippling to our ability to focus right now. Anxiety is also a known productivity-crusher. My advice: acknowledge these are not ideal conditions to shift your operations to the home office / kitchen / kids’ room.  My colleague, Meghan, calls it the “new not normal.” We’re stressed and distracted and overburdened; we may be parenting and caregiving as we’re conference calling. Remembering that we’re all in this together, and there’s a great purpose to it all can be a powerful way to defuse that tension headache brewing as you try to conquer that memo.

2. Go with your flow.

Work with your natural flow of mental, physical, and emotional energy that happens in the course of a day. Everyone’s different. The friction of pushing back against fatigue uses way too much energy, and that’s energy you should be conserving to sit back down. So the next time you feel tired and sleepy, don’t ignore it. Your brain chemistry is saying it’s time to take a break. Like any organism, it can only run high gear for a while. After that, the ratio between potassium and sodium gets out of balance and that’s when you start losing focus. 

3. Take better breaks.

It’s not just the act of taking a break that’s key to productivity; it’s also the kind of break we take. You’ve just been facing a screen for three hours and then you decided (wisely) to get up and give yourself ten minutes. Where do you head? LIkely, to another screen. Too many of us turn to our smartphones and check in on social media. But that’s no way to rest our brains. If you take a microbreak from your computer screen, make it a microbreak away from any screen. Go for a walk, stretch, or meditate: even meditating for a few minutes can be extremely effective. 

4. Smooth out the distractions.

A professor of Informatics at UC Irvine found that distractions aren’t just momentary little hiccups: they can seriously detract from your ability to concentrate. It can take an average of 25 minutes to regroup after a 30-second jump to check Twitter, for instance. Repeatedly checking inboxes and social media also breaks the all-important flow state of creativity that’s required to successfully complete a complex task. Even taking a few seconds to answer a text can derail your focus and lead to errors. Given the digital array we’re all working on now, it may be hard to ignore the constant flow of communications from your co-workers. But if you have a project you need to attend to, consider signing off — at least for half an hour. You’ll get farther with it, faster.

5. Take a longer break.

Many of us have a crowded household and several needs pulling at us from all directions. It can feel as if you’re moving from conference call to homework table to snack making to the next meeting. Break that seamless feeling by going for longer breaks that take you entirely out of the routine. As well as microbreaks, make sure you get at least one macro break during your workday. A twenty-minute walk can increase the release of endorphins that naturally improve your mood and reduce stress levels. It’s also a great way to clear your head. 

6. Track your moods and energy levels.

Knowing how to pace yourself will come with time, but it’s worth it to monitor yourself over the course of a workweek. The goal is not just to work well over the duration, but also to avoid burnout — by not pushing yourself so hard you’re completely depleted. Take an average day (if there is one). Every hour, write down what you do, whether or not you were focused for the whole hour, your mood, and your energy level. Use a 1-10 scale for energy and mood — keep it simple. What interruptions happened, and how long did it take you to get back to working? When did you break to drink or eat? Then, repeat it the next day, and the next. You can also find a time tracker app, though the act of writing something down on paper has the added benefit of getting you off the screen. At the end of a few days or a week, gather the data. See what you’ve got.  

From those insights, see what small changes you can make to improve the low mood and low energy times. Might be more breakfast, meditation, a later lunch, a longer walk, more exercise, more water. And look at the high mood and high energy times and see if you can shift your schedule, so the toughest tasks are done at those times. Even minor adjustments can have tremendous results.

Finding our working rhythms in this time of crisis and anxieties isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. We may be more concerned with where we’re going to go, in a noisy apartment for the next meeting, or getting the Internet to go a little… faster. But what we learn now about our own work habits will last the rest of our careers. And you’ll always remember that during self-quarantine, you found out you’re really not a morning person — and you don’t need caffeine, or just the opposite. Taking care of yourself means taking care of your ability to get your work done, too. I wish you good luck and good workdays!

Photo: Utsav Srestha

#WorkTrends: Email Still Matters: Etiquette for Today’s Users

Here’s a term for you: email brick. It’s that dense blob of text in an email that starts at the top and doesn’t come up for air until the end. No line breaks, paragraphs or bullet points, and often, no readers. We tend to avoid reading those emails, eyeing them warily and opting to get back to them later. Much of the time, we don’t. 

When #WorkTrends host Meghan M. Biro got to talking with email etiquette expert Bruce Mayhew, it was soon apparent that we’re emailing each other all wrong. Bruce is President of Bruce Mayhew Consulting (BMC), a corporate trainer, executive coach, expert on productivity and generational differences, and passionate advocate of emailing better.

90% of our communication is done by email, and the email brick is just one of many sins we commit. Others include incoherent subject lines, putting the main idea down at the end of the message and, on the receiving end, answering emails too quickly. On that last point, Meghan asked for a best practice. “I could spend three hours a day in constant communication back and forth, just trying to do the right thing and respond,” she said.

Don’t do it, Bruce answered. “If you train your audience that you respond to an email in 10 minutes,” they will start expecting it every time. “You end up playing Whac-A-Mole with your inbox.” Our time management gets derailed along with other priorities, too.

Problem is, we learned to write and then learned how to email, he noted, and these are very different forms. He shared three simple tips for writing emails worth opening: put your main point in the first sentence, use bullet points, and write a clear subject line with enough information to indicate exactly what’s going on in the message. 5-7 words usually does the trick he said. Don’t start with “Hey, quick question.”

The underlying reason to clean up our emails isn’t just housekeeping, it’s trust. Sending emails that hit the sweet spot boost personal credibility, he said. They set up a positive feedback loop faster than you can say dopamine high. The next time we see an email from the conscientious sender, we open it. We look forward to it, thinking this person knows what they’re talking about — which goes miles in improving that relationship. 

“Email still counts, and it’s the way we’re all communicating,” Meghan reminded the audience. Time to practice those bullet points.

Listen to the full conversation and see our questions for the upcoming #WorkTrends Twitter Chat. And don’t forget to subscribe, so you don’t miss an episode. 

Twitter Chat Questions

Q1: Why are we failing at email etiquette? #WorkTrends
Q2: What techniques can help us write better email? #WorkTrends
Q3: How can leaders help employees get better at emailing? #WorkTrends

Find Bruce Mayhew on Linkedin and Twitter