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

How Knowledge Workers Really Spend Their Time

Despite the lip service organizations give to reducing productivity-killing emails and unnecessary meetings to help workers focus on what matters, the problem of workplace distraction may be getting worse.

U.S. workers say they spend only 40 percent of their workday on their primary tasks, and that they’re often distracted by emails, meetings and administrative tasks, according to the fascinating 2019 The State of Work report released by Workfront, a provider of cloud-based work management solutions.

According to the survey, emails and pointless meetings topped the list of things that keep knowledge workers from getting work done. And 63 percent of respondents agreed with the statement “If I had more time to just think my productivity would improve.”

“The [employers] that are effective in giving time back to their people win on a lot of different levels,” says Workfront spokesman Chris O’Neal. “Not only is their performance better overall, they are able to get to market faster because they’re focused on the right things.”

Let’s dive into the survey results.

How We Spend Our Time

The survey covers 2,010 U.S. workers, all of whom are employed by a company with at least 500 employees, work on a computer and collaborate with other people on projects. Here’s how they reported spending their work day:

  • 40 percent — Performing the primary duties of my job.
  • 16 percent — Emails.
  • 12 percent — Administrative tasks.
  • 10 percent — Useful and/or productive meetings.
  • 8 percent — Wasteful meetings.
  • 8 percent — Interruptions for nonessential tasks.
  • 6 percent — Everything else.

Interestingly, baby boomers reported spending a greater percentage of their week on their primary job duties (45 percent) compared with Generation X (38 percent) and millennials (34 percent).

When asked what gets in the way of work, wasteful meetings topped the list, mentioned by 62 percent of respondents. Other major productivity-killing factors included:

  • 55 percent — Excessive emails.
  • 41 percent — Unexpected phone calls.
  • 35 percent — Excessive oversight.
  • 34 percent — Lack of standard processes for workflow.
  • 29 percent — Poor work prioritization methods at my company.
  • 25 percent — Lack of collaboration within my team.

Struggling to Innovate

The survey indicates that while a healthy majority of organizations value innovation and regularly ask employees to do it, they aren’t carving out the appropriate time for workers to actually focus on on this task.

While 64 percent of workers surveyed said their workplace asks employees to think of how they can do things in a completely new way, nearly the same amount — 58 percent — said they’re already swamped with day-to-day tasks and they can’t think beyond their to-do list.

“From the top down employees are being told ‘This is part of why we hired you,’ but from [employees’] point of view they’re saying ‘They’re not allowing me to do that,’ ” O’Neal says.

Looking at Solutions

One-third of workers say the single biggest thing that would help them do more with less is if their employer instituted better processes.

“As individuals we say ‘Let me be free, don’t put shackles on me,’ ” O’Neal says. “But what we’ve come to find out is without process, we’re really exposed to a lot of this busywork. We don’t have enough data to say no to things. When you have too many ways to do one thing, there’s no real way to do anything.”

Another 26 percent of respondents said being able to block out time in their calendar to actually get work done is a top factor. Having fewer meetings to get through the week, having a central place to see all the work the team is doing and setting objectives for the entire organization ranked as top solutions to more productivity.

O’Neal says that in recent years the report has recorded an interesting shift on automation among workers, away from a fear of disruption and toward a more optimistic view that it will actually enable productivity.

In the 2019 report, on average workers said 37 percent of their day-to-day job duties are already automated. About 70 percent of respondents said automation will give them more time for primary job responsibilities, while about a third of workers said people will be competing with robots, machines and AI for jobs in the not-too-distant future.

“The majority of folks in our data now say they look forward to more workplace automation because they feel it will give them more time back to do the real critical-thinking types of work they want to do rather than the mundane repetitive tasks they have to do now,” he says.

The Downside of Open-Concept Offices

Once touted as a powerful tool to encourage collaboration and creativity, cubicle-free open workplaces have taken a hit in the business world as research indicates that they often discourage face-to-face interactions and harm productivity.

“The neuroscience is becoming very clear: Open floor plans are not good,” says Jonathan Denn, “chief thinking partner” at Drumbeat Productivity in Dennis, Massachusetts. “Walking for five minutes an hour is good, and having a door you can close for 90 minutes twice a day is good.”

Denn, the author of “Drumbeat Business Productivity Playbook: How to Beat Goals and Disorganization,” has been preaching the necessity of private space and time for workers. A growing body of research seems to support his position.

For instance, Harvard Business School researchers Ethan Bernstein and Stephen Turban studied two Fortune 500 companies that transitioned from traditional workspaces to more open-floor concepts and found the volume of face-to-face interactions decreased by about 70 percent in both cases, while electronic interactions increased by a similar rate.

“In short, rather than prompting increasingly vibrant face-to-face collaboration, open architecture appeared to trigger a natural human response to socially withdraw from officemates and interact instead over email and IM,” the study’s abstract says.

We asked Denn to break down what’s going on at open offices and why they appear to be so problematic.

The Death of Quiet Time

Denn says the science is fairly clear that workers need about three hours of quiet time to do their own work every day, and that work is probably best done in two 90-minute sessions. After the three hours are up, he says, workers are basically running on autopilot, using habits and mental models to complete tasks. Uninterrupted private space is less important during this time.

The problem with open offices, he says, is that interruptions are quite common, whether it’s someone sharing a new idea or merely noise from a co-worker’s phone call. “You get a time penalty for that — 10 minutes, 20 minutes, maybe a minute or two if it’s a brief interruption,” he says. “Can you imagine the amount of time lost every day for the open-space floor plan? It’s biblical.”

Denn says that in an open space where everyone can hear every other phone call, workers will often adapt and isolate themselves with noise-canceling headphones. Rather than interrupt someone with headphones, people tend to simply communicate via email or instant message, he says.

In the Harvard study, managers reported a drop in worker productivity after they moved to the open floor plan, which the study authors attributed to the increased electronic communication.

Out of Touch

Denn says the open-office trend was largely driven by a combination of cost-cutting and managers who touted the potential collaboration benefits of boundaryless spaces without properly considering the consequences.

“The problem is that senior management, who usually authorize office expenditures, are not keeping up with current research, nor are they experiencing what it’s really like,” he says. “It’s a disconnect between the C-suite and the actual people who do the work.”

Denn says open floor plans do have the potential to allow small, high-performing and knowledgeable groups to work well together and begin sharing ideas and information with less-knowledgeable colleagues. “But I think that’s really rare,” he says.

More often than not, he says, the potential benefits are eclipsed by the negative impacts, such as leaving managers with no space to counsel or coach a team member in what can often be sensitive conversations that require some privacy.

Varied Work Needs Varied Space

“If your organization doesn’t have the money to give everybody an office, you’re going to be stuck with an open workspace,” Denn says. “Generally speaking it’s not a good idea, but you have to make the best with what you’ve got.”

If your organization finds itself in this situation, Denn suggests dedicating at least some private space surrounding the open floor for large group meetings, smaller gatherings of two or three workers, one-on-one employee counseling sessions and solitary work. This can be accomplished with a combination of flexible meeting space and more private offices that can be reserved in advance by individual workers who know they need an hour of private time.

“That’s a way to balance the capital expenditure problem of giving everybody their own door and at the same time giving everyone the flexibility to do different kinds of work,” he says.

Denn suggests organizations carefully consider the different types of meetings that happen in a workplace when designing their office. The first are information exchanges, which he says can be done in open spaces.

On the other hand, convergent meetings in which ideas are analyzed and decisions are made, as well as divergent meetings, where people with different skills gather to generate ideas, are best done in spaces that support those particular types of thinking.

“The convergent space should be nice, neat and orderly,” he says. “The divergent space should be just the opposite — messy, cluttered, lots of colors, whiteboards on the walls, music — so people can make connections and new solutions out of problems they’ve never seen before.”

Finally, he says companies need spaces beyond the open floor pit that are purely social to allow people with no agenda but a common goal to interact — such as a very large coffee space that accommodates a large portion of the team.

“That’s not a waste of time,” he says. “This is like when an engineer talks to a sales rep and the sales rep says, ‘if this widget over here, if they didn’t have to do that they could save four steps and two hours in their day,’ and the engineer says, ‘why didn’t you tell me, that’s easy, I could do that by Friday.’ You don’t get that unless they meet at a social event.”

How to Stay Productive, Even During the Summer

Research shows that kids experience a “summer slump.” When they’re out of school, they’re not actively focused on learning, and their brains check out. But they’re not the only ones susceptible to summer slumps. Adults seem to channel their inner child during the summer, making it hard for them to be productive at work.

A 2012 study by Captivate Network reveals that workplace productivity drops 20%, workers are 45% more distracted, and it takes 13% longer to complete projects in the summer. Also, 53% of workers who leave early on Friday report a decline in productivity. People often work longer Monday through Thursday to make up for leaving early on Friday, and 23% of them believe that schedule causes an increase in stress.

So how can you stay productive during the summer and throughout the year? We asked Dana Brownlee, the creator of the New Time Management Model. She’s the president of Professionalism Matters and a corporate trainer and speaker..

According to Brownlee, the New Time Management Model involves four questions:

  1. Should I do this?
  2. How should I do this?
  3. What’s the right level of effort?
  4. How can I increase my efficiency?

Should I Do This?

Brownlee recommends starting every week by assessing the most important activities for the week. Then, every day, do a reassessment. “Resist the temptation to just add a task to your to- do list because someone asked you to do it,” she says. “There must be a mental ‘vetting process’ to determine if any activity should be on your list.” Her own to-do-list only includes five items for each day.

“Another technique that I sometimes use in my classes is to ask each person to write down each of their tasks for the next day on a small slip of paper.” Then she tells them that one of those items can’t be completed – and they have to decide which one it will be. The participants have to throw away that sheet of paper and start over with a shortened list. They continue the process, until the list is down to five items. “These types of activities are just meant to reinforce the mental process that you’d go through weekly and daily to identify your truly important activities,” Brownlee says.

She also recommends using the 80/20 rule. “Figure out which 20% of your efforts will yield 80% of the results.” For example, you may need to determine which clients or client types are providing most of your revenue, and then adjust your business model or activities accordingly.

How Should I Do This?

This is a strategic step that encourages you to work smarter, not harder. Should you do it alone or with a group? Should you do it yourself or delegate or outsource it? Could the task be automated or streamlined in some way?

“As a small business owner, I often resisted outsourcing because I didn’t think I could afford to pay someone else to do things for me,” Brownlee says. “However, when I started using assistants, freelancers, and other specialists, I quickly realized that I couldn’t afford not to outsource (particularly those time-consuming tasks where I had little expertise — like website updating and newsletter formatting).”

She says that pausing to answer the “how” question can save a lot of time later. “For example, if you’re developing a client list, consider putting the information into a simple database so that it’s easily retrievable, sortable, and exportable later (and you’re inputting the information only once).” Next to each task, Brownlee recommends making a note of how you can work smart to complete the task.

What’s the Right Level of Effort?

When deciding how much energy to expend, consider assigning a percentage (from 0% to 100%). Another option is to set a time limit for each task. Brownlee uses this method with her assistant. “Instead of using vague terms like ‘don’t spend too much time on it,’ I’ll often say, ‘don’t exceed 90 minutes.’ Those limits can be helpful for us as well.”

It’s also helpful to add the times together to see if your daily plans are realistic. “If you add up your to-do-list tasks and it adds up to 4 hours of tasks (to be completed outside working hours) and you have a 1.5 hour round-trip commute, that list probably isn’t realistic.”

How Can I Increase My Efficiency?

Brownlee has several personal productivity tips to help increase your level of efficiency:

  • Only schedule about 75% of your day, to leave room for the unexpected items that pop up daily.
  • Schedule work time (for example, schedule one time block in the morning and one in the afternoon to do your work, instead of running from back-to-back meetings all day and starting your work at 5 p.m.).
  • Turn off the chime on your email announcing incoming messages — usually the email isn’t that important anyway.
  • Instead of being distracted by constantly checking emails throughout the day, schedule specific times during the day to read and respond to them.
  • Have a running list of items that can completed when you’re waiting to see the dentist or waiting for a webinar to start.
  • Complete small tasks when you think of them. If you need to do something that only takes 3-5 minutes, instead of scribbling a note, just stop and do it.
  • Develop checklists or templates for repetitive tasks like preparing for a meeting, coordinating an event, or conducting employee appraisals.
  • Set time limits for escape activities. Daily escape time is important, but don’t let a quick check of Facebook turn into spending two hours on social media.

How to Stop Burnout in Its Tracks

How are you feeling?

When you close your eyes at night, do you feel the phantom buzzing of your phone? Are you tempted to check work email at midnight, just in case?

If so, it might be time to take a break. As we’ve become more connected and more prone to multitasking, we’ve also become prime candidates for burnout. Employee burnout is the reason behind up to half of overall workforce turnover. Many companies face this issue, and while some factors can’t be avoided, there are many within our control.

Dr. Jen Faber has been there before. After building a successful medical practice, she realized that she was overworked and unhappy. “We live in such a fast-paced culture that we actually forget the why behind it all and what makes us love the work that we do,” Faber says.

She built a new path as an entrepreneur, coaching leaders on wellness and healthy habits. We asked Dr. Faber what company and HR leaders can do to keep their teams in good health and high spirits.

Cut Down Distraction During the Work Day

“Every company needs a productive workforce,” Faber says. “But the truth is that if you have employees who are hyperconnected, it’s actually a productivity buzzkill.”

Each time employees are distracted by their email, it can take them up to 30 minutes to get back to their work, she says.

Companies can cut down on this lag by creating universal check-in times when employees respond to emails or communicate with their teams. For example, if everyone checks email at 8am and 4pm, everyone is communicating around the same time and can spend the rest of their day focused on work.

If you’re leading a team, it’s doubly important for you to limit your digital distractions. When employees see their leaders setting boundaries, they’ll learn to respect those boundaries and even set their own, Faber says.

And, instead of setting blanket rules for everyone, Faber suggests leaders ask their team for input. Ask for their perspectives on how you could all work more productively together. What’s best for the leader might not be best for everyone.

Disconnect After Hours

Adults dealing with high stress are less likely to get enough sleep — which can reduce productivity and cause faster burnout. Help your team get enough rest by encouraging everyone to disconnect after hours.

Faber suggests disconnecting from devices an hour before bedtime to give your brain time to shut down for easier sleep. She also suggests defining a sacred space at home where devices aren’t allowed, such as the bedroom. Doing so breaks the association of doing work in a space that’s meant for relaxation.

Reward Employees Who Disconnect

What can leaders really do to promote better work/life balance? Faber suggests implementing a program that provides incentives for disconnecting. “I think having a built-in incentive program can give companies the opportunity to create a solution that’s actually best for their culture and best for their employees as well,” Faber says.

And remember that when we talk about productivity, we’re really talking about employee health. Keep in mind that productivity is really about “how to get more work done purposefully, in less time, from a more positive place,” she says.

What Does Productivity Look Like for a Remote Workforce?

If someone on your team isn’t working remotely already, they probably will be soon. Our organizations are getting more and more distributed, and top talent will increasingly expect the option to work remotely. Are you ready?

In a 2017 FlexJobs survey, 62 percent of respondents said they’ve left or considered leaving a job because it doesn’t offer flexible work options. Flexible work can bring all sorts of advantages to employers, including increased productivity — it just might look different than it did when employees were in an office.

“Employers need to understand that happier employees work better,” says Beth Ball, managing partner of Evergreen Content Firm, a content marketing firm with more than 55 remote employees. Everyone has places where they work productively — and where they don’t. “If you can leave the choice up to them, they’ll give you good work,” she says.

Focus on Results

When your employees are working in front of you, it’s easy to see what they’re doing. But when they’re working elsewhere, you might feel a little anxious about whether they’re working the way you want them to. Resist the temptation to check up on them at all hours, and shift your attention to what they accomplish.

“Productivity means focusing on results rather than hours worked and from where,” says David Lloyd, CEO of the Intern Group, which offers employees the option to work remotely if they prefer. “Whether workers are on-site or remote, results are what drives the company forward, instead of clocking in and out at a certain time. HR managers need to understand that location doesn’t matter as long as employees are results-driven.”

Boost Your Communication

One of the best ways to ensure productivity stays on track is to communicate. It’s easy for employees to give managers a heads-up on an issue when they’re in the same office, but remote employees might hold back or try to manage problems on their own when they would be easy to solve. There are plenty of communication channels and cloud-based tools that keep everyone on the same page, experts say.

Bell says her company uses Airtable to set up editorial calendars, and then uses Slack and a private Facebook group to keep everyone in the loop. Other options include Basecamp or Trello, or time-tracking apps such as Harvest or Timely.

Train Your Managers

As work changes, your managers may need to change their approach as well. Some may find it hard to not be able to look over an employee’s shoulder, and will need to learn how to manage in new ways, experts say. “Leaders need to be developed in the context of the way people actually work today,” says Wayne Turmel, co-founder of the Remote Leadership Institute. “Studies show that when we work remotely, there is a tendency to focus on individual work, often at the expense of the team’s goals or collaborating,” he says. So, managers must be able to set clear expectations around common goals and how work will be assessed to ensure everyone understands what productivity looks like.

Your leadership development program should address the fact that leaders will be managing remote employees as well, Turmel says. That training should include what to do so that remote employees feel supported and empowered to do good work.

How to Get More Done at Work with Digital Assistants

“Siri, how many tablespoons are in a cup?”

“Alexa, what’s the weather forecast for tomorrow?”

You probably use digital assistants to help you cook dinner at night and plan your clothes for the next day. But are you taking advantage of the same technology to get more done during your work day? And do you know the etiquette of working with digital assistants?

We asked Robby Slaughter, productivity expert and principal at AccelaWork, a business consulting firm, what we all need to know about using digital assistants to get more done at work.

Know Your Options

There’s a whole new world of productivity tech on the market. Siri, OK Google and Cortana can help you make phone calls, set reminders or schedule appointments, and that’s a simple way to be more efficient, Slaughter says. “It’s faster to say ‘Siri, call Bob Smith on mobile on speaker’ than it is to unlock your phone, go to the contact records, and dig out his information.” But there are more powerful options as well.

Start looking at more impressive tools such as or Clara Labs, which are AI assistants that can schedule appointments with other people simply by copying them on an email, Slaughter says. “And if you really want to see AI at work, try something like Fin. This is a completely independent assistant that you can ask to do anything. Whatever the AI can’t figure out, humans behind the scenes can guide.”

Be Patient and Careful

As with any tool, there’s going to be a learning curve. “First, be patient,” Slaughter says. “This is an emerging technology that we are all struggling to understand. Just like other tools, it won’t always work.” As enhancements are pushed to market, Slaughter says that gives people an opportunity to “screw up with more calamity.” “Email is faster than postal mail, but we are much more likely to forget an attachment or make a typo,” he says. “Saying ‘OK Google, call Micah Bryan’ might end up ringing your ex-husband, Mike O’Brien. That’s a mistake you’d never make yourself.”

It’s also important to be transparent with other humans about what you’re using. “Instead of saying ‘My secretary, Adam, will schedule our appointment,’ type ‘I have an AI robot that I’m trying out for scheduling appointments,’” he recommends. “Your honesty will smooth most any problem you may have.”

Keep in mind that anything that attempts to look human is often going to be interpreted as human, Slaughter says, and that can lead to misunderstandings. “We were all annoyed when we first realized the signature on the form letter wasn’t authentic, and many of us will react when we discover we are talking to a machine,” he says. And just because it’s an AI-based platform doesn’t mean you can ignore security and privacy — follow the same rules you would when dealing with humans. “Don’t give a tool power to do something you wouldn’t normally do, like make a payment to literally anyone who asks.”

Keep an Eye Toward the Future

Slaughter says he expects AI tools to begin sharing their data and to become more powerful. “Right now these systems are mostly independent neural networks with their own training data,” he says. “But in the future, we’ll see centralized repositories as AI becomes a service, just like software, infrastructure, storage, and physical inventory space became a service.” Developers will be able to rent datacenters and hardware to run neural networks, making technology and the data behind it even more powerful.

The changes these advances can bring to the workplace will also change the way we work, so use the time you save wisely. “Productivity improvements make some work obsolete,” Slaughter says. “What are you doing now that a computer will be able to do for you? And if it is [doing it for you], what are you doing instead?”

How to Get Your Email Under Control

Inbox zero — is it a faraway dream, or a reachable goal? Getting your email under control can feel like a struggle, but there are plenty of ways to make your inbox productive instead of a chore that never seems to end.

“Email is real work that takes real time,” says Maura Thomas, a speaker, trainer and productivity expert. “You can’t start managing email effectively until you begin leaving some time in your schedule to process it.” Once you’re ready to dedicate some time to wrangling your inbox, here’s how to get it under control.

Sort and Prioritize

Setting up tools to manage your inbox before you even open individual emails will help you blast through them more quickly and efficiently.

First, apply filters to the emails that come in. “Newsletters, announcements and alerts don’t need to land in your inbox,” says Carlo Borja, head of online marketing for Time Doctor, a time-tracking and productivity tool. Instead, use a filter to put these in their own folder or folders for reading later. If you find you’re not opening even automated emails from companies you had subscribed to, use a tool such as to remove yourself from mailing lists.

Then, start prioritizing what’s left. “If it takes less than two minutes to take action — such as a quick reply or checking a file — I do it right away,” Borja says. “If it takes more than two minutes to take an action on an email, I put it on my to-do list.”

Automate What You Can

Integrated tools and native features can help you automate some of your email, saving even more time and making it possible to archive threads more quickly. Borja recommends using Gmail’s Canned Responses feature, which you can activate in Labs. Those template responses save you from typing out the same messages over and over.

Thomas says one of her favorite email tools is Spamdrain, which learns from your preferences about emails you think are spam. She also likes Throttle, which allows you to block senders’ access to your inbox and to combine your mass mailings like newsletters and social media alerts into digests that you read when you choose, not when the emails hit your inbox.

Cut Back On Using Email

Frankly, some of us use email to hide from direct discussions or to delay decision-making — but that just makes our inboxes even worse, experts say. Thinking about when you should use email — and more importantly, when you shouldn’t — can help you get a handle on an overwhelming inbox. “When it comes to team, project, or client communication​ my suggestion would be to get away from email for ongoing conversation or detailed discussion,” says performance coach Jamie Thurber.

So how should you communicate? Thurber suggests moving important, detailed conversations to a platform like Slack. “Slack is easy to organize, you can use icons to mark off specific points or tasks, and it’s a searchable platform which makes it so simple to reference back to previous parts of the conversation,” she says. And if your team uses a project management system like Basecamp or Asana, move project-related discussions to that platform.

And of course, phone calls and face-to-face discussions are still important, too. We’ve all moved away from picking up the phone, but sometimes a two-minute phone call can save from spending your time on a long and frustrating email chain.

How to Move People Past an ‘Us Versus Them’ Mindset at Work

The “us versus them” mindset is alive and well in organizations of all sizes, both domestic and global. Often, this type of mindset and bias results from command-and-control leadership and legacy business models, according to the recently-published 2017 Gallup Global Workforce Study (opt-in required). Among other findings, the study reinforces that only one in three U.S. workers are engaged, interactive and collaborative in the workplace.

Why is that?

One of the root causes of employee disengagement is an “us versus them” mindset. This mindset is a subtly pervasive form of workplace bias, preventing diversity and inclusion. Not only that — this mindset holds us back from achieving peak productivity and profitability.

Over time, an “us versus them” mindset becomes ingrained as a cultural norm. Dualism is fostered instead of dialogue. But It doesn’t have to continue to be that way. By breaking down big, hairy issues into bite-sized, feasible projects, collaborative and profitable dialogues are started across the workplace. As more and more small teams create remarkable client outcomes, the rest of the workforce will want to follow suit.

If you want to move past the “us versus them” mindset, start a dialogue about the profitability of collaboration.

Yes, profitability. When you talk profitability, you have a business discussion, not just a human resources conversation. You position HR as a profit center instead of a cost center. Have the profitable collaboration conversation across the organization, not just in departmental silos.

We need enlightened HR professionals who want to lead by acting locally. But where to start? Let’s explore where to find cases of the “us versus them” mindset in your organization.

Two Classic Cases of ‘Us Versus Them’

Dueling Departments

The first scenario turns people from different departments and professional disciplines into adversaries.

All you have to do is attend your next meeting, look and listen. Sales and marketing may be at odds with engineering and operations folks, and that is the way things always seem to go. For starters, employees speak two different professional languages. Also, historically, they are not motivated to learn how to speak — and think — like their colleagues across the table.

Alternatively, the legal or finance departments show up late in the project because, historically, they are excluded from conversations “until they need to be brought in.” You know what happens next. Projects are stalled or derailed, based on a behavioral precedent that has morphed into accepted business process.

These “but we’ve always done things this way” scenarios play out in countless meetings during the course of every week. As a result, non-collaborative, unprofitable “us versus them” biases are perpetuated. Why not address the bias, collaborate and move beyond that mindset?

Knowledge Workers Versus the Rest of the Workforce

Often, an “us versus them” mindset leads to resentment of the educational “haves” by the “have nots / couldn’t affords.” And often, less-educated colleagues and workers performing rote tasks don’t have opportunities to learn and develop in order to become part of the teams working on more complex tasks. However, manual workers may be just as capable of complex problem-solving as their more-educated counterparts, given the right tools. Typically, these workforce “Cinderellas” get stuck right where they are, eventually becoming entrenched in a biased, rote workforce mindset.

On the other hand, knowledge workers often have zero interaction with workers on the assembly line or loading dock, for example. Yet, rote workers often become beta test end-users of new systems, processes and apps created by their erudite colleagues. As a result, there is very little comprehensive appreciation and knowledge of what workflow theory actually looks like in practice. Often, these processes fall short of what was anticipated.

Think about how much you could improve the outcomes if knowledge workers collaborated with those end-user line workers, sharing feedback about product and process improvement. How often does that cross-training scenario happen in your organization? It’s not that hard to accomplish.

Bring People Together

Consider what would happen if you brought together a new cast of collaborators on behalf of creating enduring client outcomes. Either they’d quickly jettison old habits and mindsets, or the project would be derailed. As a result, project goals and outcomes would take precedence over ingrained habits. Colleagues would have no choice but to start connecting the dots differently, collaboratively and more creatively.

Eventually, everyone would work outside of their “normal” behavioral comfort zones. Consequently, team members would more readily leave their bias and baggage outside the door and view the project as a professional development opportunity. Once one project is a success, the team would have new expectations about how much they should collaborate.

Want to know how to overcome “us versus them” bias? Allow teams to experience what productive and profitable collaboration feels like. Let your own organization’s engagement scorecard showcase how two-thirds of employees are engaged, for starters. Why continue to settle for anything less?

One Way to Improve Productivity: Focus on Wellness

The mental calm of yoga may seem out of place in the bustling world of organizational leadership, but author Tarra Mitchell says yoga is just what leaders need —a break from the action so they can focus on refreshing themselves and being better leaders.

Her new book, “The Yoga of Leadership: A Practical Guide to Health, Happiness, And Inspiring Total Team Engagement,” highlights the importance of personal wellness and how it can affect the productivity of leaders and their teams.

Her approach focuses on a yoga teaching that divides a person into five aspects: physical, energy, mind, knowledge and bliss. Supporting every aspect in balance can help leaders be more effective at work and get more out of life.

“Leaders are neither inspiring nor productive when they’re feeling depleted, depressed, stressed or anxious,” Mitchell says. “They feel like they’ve lost a sense of meaning or purpose and are merely checking boxes.” The TalentCulture team talked to Mitchell about how to use wellness to boost productivity.

Accept the Connection Between Wellness and Productivity

According to the CDC Foundation, workplace illnesses, injuries, absenteeism and sick employees at work cost U.S. employers billions of dollars each year, averaging out to more than $1,600 per employee. But focusing on health and well-being can turn that around: Employees at one company who took part in a free, voluntary wellness program saw their health improve and improved productivity by 10 percent — 11 percent among those with medical conditions. Most notably, already healthy workers whose health did not improve still boosted productivity by 6 percent.

Leaders may downplay personal wellness because they feel they need to be working all the time, Mitchell says. But being “on” all the time only leads to burnout. “We know we need to have a little more balance in our lives, but it’s all about connecting productivity to the bottom line. Leadership has to be convinced of that. It’s hard to deny that personal well-being and having a team that feels good is not better for the organization.”

Dedicate Time to Taking Care of Yourself

The biggest challenge for leaders is finding time to make well-being a priority, Mitchell says. “It’s hard to connect when your mind is preoccupied and you’re distracted,” she says. “Time is always going to be a barrier, especially for leaders who have so many different people pulling them in many different directions.”

Change happens slowly, so start by scheduling time for yourself on your calendar. Think about what it means to you to be physically healthy, Mitchell says, as well as what it means to have high energy in your life and how you might work on feeling more calm. If you work for a change-averse organization, taking this time may be a bigger challenge, but Mitchell says it’s important if you want to reap the benefits.

Serve as an Example

Leaders who prioritize their well-being can serve as an example for the rest of their team, Mitchell says. Talking about the changes you’re making in your life to take care of yourself can inspire others on your team to do the same. “It all trickles down from leadership,” Mitchell says.

As you continue on your well-being journey, ensure that people on your team who may be inspired by you have the flexibility to make changes for themselves. “If you want to have some kind of scalable change, it needs to happen at a leadership level,” Mitchell says.

Driving Employee Engagement Will Drive Your Client Engagement

Happy employees lead to happy clients. Knowing that, why do so few companies focus on employee engagement?

At my company, we prioritize employee engagement for two reasons: First, disengaged employees are less productive at work, lowering the quality of deliverables and harming the company’s culture and reputation; and second, disengaged employees present themselves poorly to clients, creating negative impressions and reducing conversions.

To avoid a destructive company culture and disappointed clients, leaders should focus more on engaging their employees. Not only will this lead to greater efficacy and efficiency in the workplace, but it will also bolster client engagement and, by default, company success.

The Perks of an Engaged Workforce

A company that wants to foster employee engagement — and benefit from it — must engage all its people, not just the client-facing ones.

Engaged employees bring energy and innovation to the office — working harder, thinking differently, and investing more in their jobs as result of this stimulation. As a result, they’re able to solve complex problems with creative solutions, producing more revenue and outpacing their disengaged competitors.

Simply put, an engaged workforce renders a more successful company. There’s a direct correlation between employee satisfaction and client satisfaction. When employees are more positive and helpful in their interactions, this positivity translates to clients, driving stronger service and building better relationships. And clients reward this good service with repeat business and by spreading brand awareness — through either word-of-mouth advertising or posting online reviews.

What Leaders Should Know About Engagement

Though compensation is a primary way to create engagement, money isn’t everything. According to Gallup, while 54 percent of disengaged employees would leave their jobs for a raise of less than 20 percent, only 37 percent of engaged employees would do the same.

By treating each employee as an individual rather than as a cog in a machine and listening to what they value, leaders can better understand their employees and their individual needs and preferences, creating engagement outside of compensation. Mangers can then customize ways to engage employees within the company or provide the resources that can bolster an employee’s own engagement practices.

My company, for instance, encourages employees to hone in on and maximize what makes them most happy and most productive. While for me that may be flexibility, for others that might be the ability to work in different locations around the world. Others value the ownership they have on specific projects, the educational support or wellness perks they receive, or the time off our company offers. It’s all about preference.

More than salary, leaders should focus on company culture as an effective engagement strategy, and they can do this by following these three strategies:

  1. Schedule Frequent, Transparent, and Direct Conversations with Employees

Transparent leaders discover and solve employee problems more quickly, with 70 percent of employees being more engaged when their leaders regularly update them on changes in company strategy or goals. What’s more, effective communication can also reduce the impact or pervasiveness of individual problems.

While many employees may be afraid to approach their managers and talk things through spontaneously, leaders who arrange opportunities to sit down with employees one-on-one often find these opportunities are a great way to understand and address any issues or needs. Don’t beat around the bush during these meetings, though. Get the answers you need by asking the right questions: What keeps your employees engaged? What do they love about their jobs? What would make them love their job more?

It all boils down to frequent and direct communication, because the more you talk openly with your people, the better you understand what’s going on with them.

  1. Remove Barriers That Make Life Harder

While communication is the first step to understanding employee engagement, realize engagement largely hinges on giving people the tools and structures they need in order to flourish.

The larger an organization becomes, for example, the more convoluted workflows get, which can lead to worker frustration. To assess these workflows and how exactly your employees are affected, you can take inventory of the most necessary processes, break down unnecessary silos, or automate what can be automated. Making life easier for employees is a quick way to engage them.

If some employees don’t like a specific workflow or feel overworked given the way their roles operate, you should first discuss these barriers with them, then explore options that can make everyone work smarter and, finally, budget to accommodate that change.

  1. Acknowledge and Support Personal Goals

A company culture of engagement should account for both today and tomorrow, as few employees want to stay in the same role forever. Many of today’s workers aren’t wedded to a particular company, with only 13 percent of Millennials believing that they should stay at a job for at least five years before leaving. Acknowledging personal development goals and providing educational opportunities to help employees grow is essential to not only engagement, but also retention.

You must recognize that turnover is inevitable, but employees who feel valued and respected, achieve good work-life balances, and are more engaged in their jobs are more likely to stay. Not to mention that at an average hiring cost of $4,000 for a new employee, it’s far more expensive to hire than it is to retain top talent.

Employees want to perform at high levels, but companies don’t always make it easy for them to stay engaged. Opening up communication, building stronger interpersonal relationships, giving workers the tools they need to succeed, and creating opportunities for satisfaction inside and outside the office are great ways for leaders to promote engagement. Your devoted workforce will reward your efforts with higher client satisfaction, stronger revenue, and a happier culture. Who wouldn’t want to work at a place like that?

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#WorkTrends Recap: We Can’t Talk about That at Work!

Going to work these days can feel like a minefield. It seems that most people have an opinion about topics that create intense emotions, and people’s differences lead to polarization rather than unity.

Thank you to Patrick Antrim, former New York Yankee baseball player and author of 7 Talent Strategies for High Performing Teams, for being the guest host of this #WorkTrends chat. Patrick welcomed diversity and inclusion strategist Mary-Frances Winters, Founder and President of The Winters Group, Inc., and author of We Can’t Talk about That at Work!: How to Talk about Race, Religion, Politics, and Other Polarizing Topics, who shared expertise based on her 30+ years of insight and experience on how organizations create environments where people can find common ground.

We discussed how to build a framework for creating inclusive environments that lead to more productive teams and respectful workplaces. It’s important to remember that creating inclusion isn’t a “one and done” type of phenomenon–it’s a journey. It is also important to build in the time and discipline to reflect and apply what we learn from our experiences.

In closing, Mary-Frances reminded us that part of this journey is “recognizing that we don’t know what we don’t know,” being curious and having an openness to learning.

Thanks, Mary-Frances, for inspiring us to keep pursuing the journey.

Here are a few key points Mary-Frances shared:

  • People who feel respected want to come to work
  • The work of diversity and inclusion is never done; it is always a journey
  • Preparation is important prior to a conversation about differences
  • There is a significant difference between “equality” and “equity”
  • The organizational culture should go beyond creating a “safe space” and create a “brave place”

Did you miss the show? You can listen to the #WorkTrends podcast on our BlogTalk Radio channel here:

Didn’t make it to this week’s #WorkTrends show? Don’t worry, you can tune in and participate in the podcast and chat with us every Wednesday from 1-2pm ET (10-11am PT).

Remember, the TalentCulture #WorkTrends conversation continues every day across several social media channels. Stay up-to-date by following our #WorkTrends Twitter stream; pop into our LinkedIn group to interact with other members. Engage with us any time on our social networks, or stay current with trending World of Work topics on our website or through our weekly email newsletter.

Photo by Ocean Biggshott on Unsplash

#WorkTrends Preview: We Can’t Talk about That at Work!

Today’s headlines are brimming with emotionally-charged topics including racial injustice, protests, sexual harassment and more, making it unrealistic for employers to expect their employees to leave their opinions at the door.

Organizations must take advantage of this emotionally fraught time to help employees find common ground. Doing so will improve engagement, company chemistry, productivity and retention. Teams will become more cohesive and employees’ sense of safety will improve.

Guest host Patrick Antrim, former New York Yankee baseball player and author of 7 Talent Strategies for High Performing Teams, will welcome diversity and inclusion strategist Mary-Frances Winters, Founder and President of The Winters Group, Inc., and author of We Can’t Talk about That at Work!: How to Talk about Race, Religion, Politics, and Other Polarizing Topics to share her 30+ years of insight and experience on how organizations create environments where people can find that common ground and remain respectful and productive. She and her firm are committed to helping people feel comfortable and empowered bringing their whole selves to work.

This #WorkTrends chat will address how to create inclusive environments and provide a model for difficult conversations, providing building blocks of competence and preparation.

Join #WorkTrends guest host Patrick Antrim and his guest Mary-Frances Winters, author of We Can’t Talk about That at Work!: How to Talk about Race, Religion, Politics, and Other Polarizing Topics, on Wednesday, December 6, 2017, at 1 pm ET as they discuss the framework for creating inclusive environments that lead to more productive teams and respectful workplaces.

We Can’t Talk about That at Work!

#WorkTrends Preview: We Can’t Talk about That at Work!Join Patrick and Mary-Frances on our LIVE online podcast Wednesday, December 6, 2017 at 1 pm ET | 10 am PT.

Immediately following the podcast, the team invites the TalentCulture community over to the #WorkTrends Twitter stream to continue the discussion. We encourage everyone with a Twitter account to participate as we gather for a live chat, focused on these related questions:


Q1: What topics have been historically considered taboo in the workplace and why so? #WorkTrends (Tweet this question)

Q2: How can employees effectively address sensitive topics in the workplace? #WorkTrends  (Tweet this question)

Q3: How can leadership affect change to open the lines of communication? #WorkTrends  (Tweet this question)

Don’t want to wait until next Wednesday to join the conversation? You don’t have to. I invite you to check out the #WorkTrends Twitter feed and our TalentCulture World of Work Community LinkedIn group. Share your questions, ideas and opinions with our awesome community.

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What is the Point of Corporate Team Building?

Love them or hate them, team building activities are a part of the modern corporate landscape. But as you and your colleagues outstretch your arms to catch Jackie from accounting for yet another trust fall, part of you might start to wonder: what’s the point?

Team building exercises, particularly ones which are somewhat left-of-centre, are swiftly gaining in popularity. Increasingly, companies are holding team building exercises alongside conferences or business expos, as this list of team building ideas in Chicago, all within traveling distance of a popular Chicago conference venue, makes clear.

The team building-averse may be disappointed to hear it, but there is a large body of research that suggests team building is worthwhile, and there are many practical reasons business leaders still use it.

Team building works even if it doesn’t

If you don’t like team building exercises, you may have wondered what’s the point. But if you really don’t like them, you may have wondered what evil mad scientist invented this. The second question actually has a concrete answer: an organizational theorist named Elton Mayo. We shouldn’t call him evil or mad; Mayo’s experiments gave us a lot of what we know about office-based productivity and teamwork. As HR Review tells it, Mayo’s studies at the Hawthorne Works factory produced the so-called “Hawthorne Effect”.

It happened like this: Mayo observed two groups of workers. The first group had the lights turned up brighter in their office, the second group didn’t. Productivity was higher in the first group. The key finding was what happened when the lights were turned back down. The first group remained more productive. Mayo concluded that the boosts in productivity before were not due specifically to the changes he had made to the working environment.

Instead, the workers became more productive simply because their employer was paying attention to how they were getting on, and attempting to help them increase productivity. This experiment proved conclusively that no matter how pointless or ineffective the actual team building activity itself is, the very fact that the boss is attempting to boost team morale is enough to improve productivity.

Team building to build morale and leadership skills

An alternative to traditional team building exercises—trust falls included—could be just to train up employees, and pay attention to the day-to-day development of the team. There are, however, advantages that team building activities offer for their own sake.

What team building provides that traditional training exercises do not is fun, or at the very least, a level of informality. Putting employees together in a relaxed, enjoyable atmosphere can work wonders for a team. According to Corporate Challenge Events, team building shows that “significant results can actually be achieved when fun is involved.” This is an advantage which should not be overlooked. It’s all well and good having a highly skilled workforce. But if they don’t have fun doing what they do, they won’t enjoy their jobs. This could lead to anything from reduced productivity to low employee retention.

Aside from the oft-needed morale boost, team building exercises often allow team members to exhibit and develop leadership skills. Most team activities will allow certain people to take certain roles, and because there are no financial consequences, they are a great chance to see how the more junior members of the team cope in positions of responsibility.

Doing this is the least threatening, least stressful way for business heads to both train and scout for future leaders among their staff.

Team building has high ROI 

Signing up a group to a team building exercise will cost a business money, and it is very difficult to measure its return. However, experts argue that it can be the “most important investment” that a business leader makes. Especially when they really go the extra mile, and put real money behind a team building experience.

Brian Scudamore at Forbes recalls the trip he and his team took to a NASCAR racetrack, where employees could drive a car at 145 miles per hour. When they got back to the office, the momentum kept going, and productivity increased.

As Elton Mayo’s experiments showed us decades ago, bosses paying attention to employee development has benefits no matter what. Team building exercises are a fun and exciting way to do this, whilst also boost morale and encouraging the team to try out new things. Though you may not be able to track it specifically, the business benefits of corporate team building make it more than worthwhile. That, in the end, is the point.

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Don’t be a Joyless Leader

I remember a time in college when I returned home to visit my mom, and she told me about a troubling sight she had just seen. A school bus had stopped at a light beside her, and the faces of sullen and despondent teenagers filled every visible window.

Her voice was soaked in sadness as she explained, “They’re kids, on a Friday afternoon, going home for a long weekend. This is supposed to be an exciting and optimistic time in their lives. They shouldn’t look like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders.

We lived in an affluent town, and although teen angst can run deep and shouldn’t be trivialized, I doubt few on that bus had many unmet wants.

My mom recalled the joy she had felt as a young woman, enthusiastic to learn what each tomorrow held in store for her. She hinted that bringing a surplus of exuberance into adulthood is helpful because it gets harder and harder to retain or recapture that joy after prolonged exposure to the random blows life inevitably sends your way.

When you see the sad, slack, bovine expressions of listless figures through a window, or perhaps in your bathroom mirror, you’re not looking at purposeful people motivated by an exciting and worthwhile goal. You see disillusionment, worry, and fear which are horrible expressions to have painted across anyone’s face. Discouragement and demoralization do not suddenly appear. They are signs of erosion, put there by constant exposure to negative elements which rob people of their faith and ingenuity, and insidiously stifles early talent with ridicule, disdain, or worse, indifference.

Some of the teens who carried those gloomy expressions my mom saw, may have recaptured the joy and enthusiasm she spoke of, but many, dare I guess most, have not. Today, they are your doctors, bankers, teachers, professors, police officers, city planners, elected officials, cubicle dwellers and leaders influencing others, for better or worse.

People who are disillusioned, discouraged and chronically disappointed with where they are in life make lousy leaders. They can systematically erode the optimistic possibilities held by others. Sadly, with their influence they are, through ignorance more than intent, creating a new generation of lousy leaders. That cycle must stop.

I believe happiness and purposefulness come about by the active pursuit of a worthy goal, therefore if you want to be happy you should never be without a great goal.

I believe most people know what they want to contribute to society, but lack the confidence and support to pursue their dreams.

I believe great listeners create great leaders, artists, and entrepreneurs; and when you learn to listen, particularly to yourself, epiphanies become common.

I believe accountability raises both your game and your aim. You achieve more when you are held accountable for your decisions and your actions.

I believe good leadership can eradicate despondency from the faces and hearts of the disillusioned and dissipate its corrosive effect on the world at large.

Imagine if every woman, man, and child you know had at least one great goal that they were actively working toward every day? The buzz of energy produced from such productivity, collaboration, and purposefulness would do more than illuminate cities; it would illuminate minds long shrouded in a fog of doubt. It would raise hope, lift spirits, and propel those with a success mindset ever forward. To solve what others thought unsolvable. To achieve what all but a few thought unattainable. To refuse the deferment of dreams long-held, or thoughts long held silent. To try, to fail, to try again, without stigma or scorn.

It is possible.

We may not ever live in a world without conflict, but we cannot call it living if it’s in a world without goals. The best we could do then is exist, and merely existing is not good enough for me, and I doubt it is for you.

What’s your next great goal? Will you pursue it with joy?

This article was first published on Karl Bimshas Consulting.

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Purpose Drives Productivity: 5 Steps to Optimize Communication for Your Workforce

The pointless 9-to-5 grind is dead. Today, people need a purpose in their work. They want to be part of something, and our corporate communication needs to reflect this — to actually reach the people.

Unfortunately, our communication skills have yet to catch up with the times, and present-day organizations simply do not communicate effectively. Just 17 percent of workers strongly agree that all levels of their companies practice open communication.

It’s not the “what” of the information anymore, but the “why.” Workers aren’t satisfied with being told what to do without reason, and employee engagement separates good organizations from great ones. People want to know what we as leaders are trying to achieve, how they fit into that objective, and why they should care about the work. We must care about our employees; otherwise, the employees won’t care about us or what the company needs in return.

In an environment where employees need more than a paycheck, the question becomes: How can we ensure we’re communicating well with our team members?

Switch the Strategy

Employees don’t need to be plugged in to everything that happens in executive boardrooms. They simply want to feel included in the direction the company is heading. And even when we offer that information, workers still often feel like they’re left out of the loop because our communication methods don’t deliver information effectively.

The solution to this dilemma starts with reach. As diverse as workforces are today — even in seemingly homogenous departments — failing to reach employees is one consistent factor causing challenges. People of different ages, races, job descriptions, and leadership levels all check their phones between meetings, after completing tasks, and on their breaks. Our smartphones are always in front of us. Nevertheless, employers are still trying to drive employees to company-created destinations, like blogs and HR portals, to get the latest information. Why fight the mobile monolith when we can use it to make work better for everyone?

Providing simple push notifications or other communications directly to smartphones ensures that every employee stays in the loop and allows us to target specific messages to specific groups of employees. A notice to the sales team about upcoming priority changes, a quick update to the developers on the progress of a hardware change, or a companywide ping about the progress of a charity effort — all of these can be communicated effectively through mobile and ensure no employee feels left out.

Here’s the greatest part: employees can respond in real time. This includes mandatory responses like approvals, as well as engaging responses like a simple like or comment.

Making Mobile Work for Everyone

Now that work is less about the office building and more about shared goals, mobile communications are a critical component of keeping teams moving in the same direction. Here are five ways to ensure those lines of communication are utilized effectively:

  1. Don’t use a desktop strategy. Mobile phones are not desktops — after all, the age of the desktop is long gone. We don’t need to limit ourselves to strategies that would work the exact same way on a desktop computer. Think about how your organization operates, and recognize opportunities for mobile to enhance your existing communication capabilities.
  2. Buy it, don’t build it. Mobile apps are costly to build and maintain, and they’re often short-lived. Why should we drain our resources keeping up with app trends when all we really want is to communicate better across our organizations? Finding a company that can do the heavy lifting for us will allow leaders and teams alike to get back to work.
  3. Keep it short.We all spend a lot of time on our phones, but rarely all at one point in the day. No mobile communication strategy should require lengthy time commitments — that would defeat the entire point of convenience. Keep updates short and sweet, and make it easy for people to take action (e.g. on workflows) right on their phones.
  4. Get executive buy-in. If leadership doesn’t outwardly care about a mobile-first strategy, employees won’t care, either. Shifting to mobile communications means starting with non-mobile ones, and we need everyone in leadership to be seen as early adopters of these changes. Think of the change as more of a cultural shift and less as a technology shift.
  5. Work with what already exists. Our team members all have phones — we don’t want company-provided ones, and we certainly don’t want a bunch of side-loaded company software bogging down the ones we have. Security is important, but that doesn’t mean we need to own everyone’s phone. Focus the mobile strategy on reaching everyone; allow them to communicate with one another. IT will learn to live with it.

Making things mobile isn’t about moving existing workflows and company news to a smaller screen. It’s about enhancing existing communication practices and keeping everyone on the same page. If we all take these tips, we can make mobile the new, powerful tool in our arsenals so our employees are always aligned with the mission — and with one another.

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Managing Your Talent and Business Alignment

Good business leaders recognize the value in a good hire, but often times don’t appreciate that one key individual can add to or deter from a company’s overall business plan. Consider a new Chief Technology Officer versus a sales executive within the same company. Most people would immediately acknowledge the CTO’s position as being the most pivotal and in large respect, it is a critical position and one that should be occupied by someone who can elevate the company’s technical advancements. So let’s consider the sales executive’s role.

The sales executive’s role is probably one of many like it within the organization, but sales executives often times serve as the face of the company and represent the organization externally in different capacities, not all of which are sales. These individuals may be members of a local organization where they provide volunteer time and may even sit on the board of another organization. This is a very visible representation and one where the sales executive is speaking on behalf of the organization in a business capacity. Given this, would you consider this role less important than the CTO’s? Maybe or maybe not, but each position yields a different ROI, so there needs to be a different approach in regards to specific talent management practices and how they impact the company’s overall business.

Everyone is a Contributor

One thing is for certain, hiring new employees and training existing ones should be aligned closely to the business imperatives of the organization. As businesses grow, expand their services, establish a footprint in other areas around the Globe, or simply tweak their existing products and offerings because of upgrades or enhancements, due consideration of the employee population should be included in the mix of your business strategy. A hard look at your current business and what your projections for company growth and expansion of products and services will look like in five years and beyond will impact the people you hire and train today.

Understanding the impact of each division, department, team and individual should not be a siloed evaluation. All parts and pieces are links in a chain that make up your company’s foundation. When one is weak, the strength of the other links becomes compromised. It may not be apparent immediately, but over time you may experience problems in customer service, low production numbers, disconnects with prospects, high employee turnover, all of which can lead to downturns in revenue or profits. When this occurs, a prompt investigation into all aspects of your business, including who and how talent is sourced and brought into your company should be considered, as this may be where the root of the problems are based.

Being on the Same Page

There are times when leadership can be so focused on particular outcomes of their business that they fail to acknowledge other important factors, such as what recruiting tactics are used to source and qualify people to advance and align with the organization.

One overlooked item is assuming that the recruiting team is informed and up-to-date on company goals and any subsequent changes to the short-term and long-term business imperatives. Are the job descriptions indicative of what skills and experiences are needed to build the foundation for the future? Do the hiring managers understand what they need to evaluate when considering people to fit the current role and how the candidates’ skills will impact the future of the role? Is everyone aware of the company’s direction and where the company needs to be in five years? Ten years? Do they know what the success profiles are for each position? These are all questions that must be answered before they can fully execute in accordance with the company’s plans.

Employee training is another area that can be out of sync with a company’s business imperatives. Even talented contributors need training, if for no other reason, than to be kept up-to-speed with the implementation of new technologies, policies, products and services. By offering training, employers stand a much better chance to retain desirable employees, as well as determining who is open to learning and embracing the company’s evolution. Keep in mind, training is an investment into your most precious asset… your employees.

Ultimately, communication is going to drive much of what your employees know or don’t know about the company’s short- and long-term business objectives. Leadership needs to decide what kind of info will be shared, with whom and why, as well as present that info so it’s understood by all people receiving the message and resonates with each person’s level of understanding. The obvious conclusion is to assume the mission, vision and company’s values are well understood by all and are unwavering, so when making adjustments to the business plan, this understanding helps drive the point home and makes adoption of the plan easier.

Reducing Risks and Other Factors

Talent management is more than having a succession plan. It’s understanding the value each position offers and capitalizing on that value in the present with eyes towards the future. Also, external factors such as demand, the market cost to fill certain positions, the economy, geography, Visas, etc. will also impact the alignment of your talent and company-wide business strategy. Items to consider include, but are not limited to:

  • Your current employee pool… what new skills do they need and how can you get them to the skills level your business needs with a shorter time-to-productivity
  • Bringing new talent into your company… do the job descriptions fit the current need with skills to build towards the future
  • Anticipating issues with hiring the right people for the jobs your organization will need to sustain your future business
  • Ensuring everyone on the leadership team is onboard with understanding how the present and future of the business hinges on the alignment of talent to the business plan

There are many answers you need to uncover to truly understand the importance of how talent acquisition and your business strategy should be closely aligned; the list above is only a starting point. Keep in mind, the goal should always be to reduce risks and manage the factors within your control and it begins with a shared vision.

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Give Employees The Gift Of Well-being

Undoubtedly, a sense of well-being is one of the precious joys of living. It’s foundational to who we are and what we do. This important underpinning sets us up for success… or failure.

As a business owner, I appreciate the well-being of my employees and understand the value of helping them stay mentally focused, for many reasons, including how well-being affects attitude which in turn affects productivity. There are a variety of ways which companies can contribute to employee well-being.

Pet-friendly Environment

I am a proponent of animal rights so with that, acknowledge the value of my pets and having them with me at work. The benefit of a pet-friendly workplace is becoming recognized by many companies, because the advantages outweigh the cons. According to researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business, it was discovered that pets in the workplace actually create a buffer between stressful situations, boost employee morale and increase productivity. Further, in a separate study conducted by Central Michigan University, researchers found that when dogs were present at team meetings, people expressed a greater desire to collaborate and were motivated to find reasons to trust in their fellow collaborators. These are just two studies, there are many more that corroborate these findings.

Note, it’s also important to be sensitive to employees who have health issues or sensitivities to animals, so be cognizant of their needs before implementing a program of this nature.

Flex Hours and Remote Work

Acknowledging that your employees have a full life that includes activities outside of work is a reality smart companies recognize. For example, many people have personal obligations that may conflict with a work schedule of 8am to 5pm, but with some adjustments can still work a full day with different start and stop times.

Flex hours also accommodate individuals who may have special needs. It opens the door to people who may not otherwise have opportunity to be productive, contributing employees. As stated by Denise Tsukayama, Equal Opportunity Officer/ADA Coordinator for the City and County of Honolulu, “While flexwork / telework may be an effective reasonable accommodation for some employees with disabilities, more importantly these accommodations can broaden our efforts in fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce.”

Additionally, not everyone is a “morning person” and with that may have different high productivity times of day. Undoubtedly, all companies want maximum output from their employees, so understanding that all people have a different productivity cadence can save companies millions of dollars a year by simply adjusting employee work hours to coordinate with their high-producing hours.

Some jobs and projects are very focus intensive and with that may be more costly or timely for an organization. Having your employees full attention and focus riveted at these times, can be critical to the success and ultimately to the bottom line of the company.

Work-day Breaks

Workday breaks can offer your employees a short respite to regroup and refocus their energy. Workplace specialists (i.e., ergonomic specialists and organizational psychologists) believe there is a benefit to taking a short break prior to starting a long and complex project. The break gives people a chance to mentally close the work just finished and begin a new project with a clean slate. In terms of productivity, this is a way to jump start a new effort without having a prior work project still looming in the back of the employee’s mind.

Going out to lunch is an extended work-day break with its own set of benefits. In addition to offering a change of venue, this is a great time for a vigorous workout, a leisurely walk, or even a chance to run personal errands. Lunch breaks outside of work, allow people to decompress, listen to music, chat with a fellow walker, or interact with people outside of their place of employment. Companies can help make lunch breaks extra fun by incentivising employees with rewards for their dedication to maintaining a religious schedule of exercise and other activities.

Volunteer Days 

Allowing employees the opportunity to be contributors outside their organization is a wonderful way to encourage charitable service and giving back to a community that supports their employment. Volunteering empowers people to refocus on those less fortunate than themselves, perhaps, and allows them to take great pride in their efforts. It’s immensely gratifying to give back and knowing one’s company supports this outreach speaks fathoms about the organization. It can, also, help people to forge stronger bonds with their employer by representing their organization within the community and to work alongside leadership that may not have happened within the confines of the business walls.

These are a few examples; there are many ways companies can show their human side and understanding. It’s just a matter of making the commitment to support your employees and recognize they are your greatest asset and biggest business relationship. And as with any relationship that is for the long-haul, you will reap what you sow.

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#WorkTrends Preview: Cyberslacking is a Workplace Epidemic

Cyberslacking. This is not a word common to many people, but it’s a workplace condition that has become a problem of epidemic measures.

According to a Harris Poll for CareerBuilder, it was reported that twenty-four percent of workers admitted they spend at least an hour a day on personal email, texts, and personal calls. More than half of the employers surveyed said the biggest distraction at work comes from employees using their cell phones and 44 percent saying the same about the Internet. Whatever the gains from the application of new technology, cyberslacking is eroding American productivity from the inside out. It is being chewed up by the use and abuse of Internet access to social media and apps for non-work purposes.

Join host Meghan M. Biro and special guest William Keiper on Wednesday, November 16 at 1pm EST, as they delve into this important topic and discuss the underlying causes of this workplace condition.

Cyberslacking is a Workplace Epidemic

#WorkTrends Logo Design

Join William and me on our LIVE online podcast Wednesday, Nov 16 — 1 pm ET / 10 am PT.

Immediately following the podcast, the team invites the TalentCulture community over to the #WorkTrends Twitter stream to continue the discussion. We encourage everyone with a Twitter account to participate as we gather for a live chat, focused on these related questions:

Q1: What culture or workplace factors contribute to cyberslacking? #WorkTrends  (Tweet this question)

Q2: Why can’t people disconnect from social and their devices? #WorkTrends (Tweet this question)

Q3: How can leadership help employees reduce cyberslacking? #WorkTrends (Tweet this question)

Don’t want to wait until next Wednesday to join the conversation? You don’t have to. I invite you to check out the #WorkTrends Twitter feed, our TalentCulture World of Work Community LinkedIn group, and our TalentCulture G+ community. Share your questions, ideas and opinions with our awesome community any time. See you there!

Join Our Social Community & Stay Up-to-Date!

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How to Use Tech to Reinforce Your Best Company Values

Technology offers great ways to connect and perform tasks more efficiently. Companies can also embrace technology as a way of increasing productivity among the staff and ensuring the workplace is a harmonious environment. Isn’t that the goal of every business? Here’s how working with tech can reinforce a company’s best values.

  1. Expanding Access to Data

Every skilled service person tells you there is a right tool for every job. In the workplace, the “tool” might simply be easy access to data. Some companies can get stingy with their data. Those companies that flourish will allow for a free flow of data amongst the managers and staff.

This is where cloud data storage can prove to be a valuable asset. By expanding access to the data to the workers, they won’t find themselves scrambling to come up with key data points for presentations and reports. This in turn creates a smoother day-to-day operation and bolsters the company’s profile.

  1. Allowing Work From Home

The moment kids enter into the equation, a home schedule goes from “normal” to “hectic” in no time flat. Workers often feel the tug of family commitments while on the job. That becomes a drain on productivity.

A company that promotes family values should also promote the family starting with its own workers. By allowing employees to work from home, a company creates a flexible schedule that puts family first. Thanks to high-speed internet access, there should never be an issue with slowing down access to communication between the employee and the company.

Use collaboration tools, such as Basecamp or Evernote, that allow everyone to have input on a project, no matter their location. This will show your dedication to working with your employees.

  1. Helping Support Promotion From Within

Companies welcome loyalty. This value often filters down to the customer level. It is achieved through promoting within in the company. After all, who is in a better position to know the inner workings of a company than the actual employee who has been working there?

Through its company website, Workday provides employees with profiles of coworkers along with current opportunities for advancement. It is a great way to supplement a human resources department by targeting the professionals who would be most qualified for the open positions. It could be the person you’re sitting next to at lunch.

  1. Sharing Your Company Story Through a Website

The best way for a company to reinforce its core values is through its own website. Although selling whatever product or service is important for a website, it is equally, if not more, important to share the company’s values, goals and history.

Every business has a history. Use it to tell your story so customers know where your business started and how you go where you are today.

  1. Offering Ongoing Employee Reviews

Every company can adapt software programs to help track employee progress. Typically, a company would conduct a review of a staff member on an annual basis. That’s a long time for an employee to find out if their work is appreciated. With these tracking programs, it will be easy to have regular evaluations on a weekly or bi-monthly basis. This helps keep the employee focused on improving their performance, and that in turn supports a company’s mission.

  1. Soliciting Feedback

The most efficient way to find out how a company is doing is asking the workers. This is a lesson that is often forgotten in the workplace. Managers should adopt an open forum where employees can provide feedback about the functions of their sector and the rest of the company.

The easiest way is to set up a private company bulletin board where workers can share their concerns. For larger companies, this type of technology can also help bring employees closer together. There might be entire divisions that have no clue how another division operates. Opening up those lines of communication will get the feedback flowing.

Reinforcing a company’s values through the use of technology begins at the workplace. Many tools can help get that job done with just a few clicks of the mouse.

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