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Accessibility Best Practices for Remote Workplaces

The sudden rapid transition to remote work has brought about many benefits for employers. Among these benefits are happier employees, greater cost savings, and access to a more diverse talent pool. However, remote work also comes with its own set of challenges, one of which is digital accessibility.

In the United States, one in four adults lives with a disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that businesses make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, and these laws extend to remote workspaces.

The following accessibility best practices for remote workplaces, while not exhaustive, will help you create a work environment where everyone can benefit equally from digital products, services, and content.

Choose accessible remote work products

Audit the tools you currently use for remote work and become familiar with their accessibility features. The following remote work tools are a good place to start:

  • Audio and video conferencing (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc.)
  • Document management (SharePoint, OneDrive, etc.)
  • Email (Google Workspace, etc.)
  • Project management and collaboration (Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, etc.)
  • Office suites (Microsoft Office, etc.)

When evaluating a new remote work product, confirm that the tool supports commonly used assistive devices, including screen readers and refreshable braille displays. Also, look for built-in accessibility features; for instance:

  • Keyboard accessibility
  • Display preferences, such as resizable text and color filters
  • Speech-to-text capabilities, such as real-time captioning and live or automatic transcription

Many top vendors, like Zoom and Google Workspace, provide documentation about native accessibility features, as well as how to integrate their products with third-party accessibility tools.

If you need a feature that isn’t built into the software you currently use, check to see if there’s a compatible third-party app. For example, Krisp is an AI-powered app that removes background noise during virtual meetings.

Host accessible virtual meetings

Virtual meetings, while convenient, come with their share of technical challenges. A bit of preparation can go a long way in ensuring that your meetings adhere to accessibility best practices.

Before the meeting, determine what your staff needs to participate equally. For example, will you need an ASL interpreter? Some conferencing tools, such as Zoom, can be configured so that interpreters are always visible.

Also, provide instructions to staff on how to adjust conferencing settings, including video, sound, chat, and display options. Let employees know who to contact if they have any technical difficulties during the meeting.

Limit meeting attendance to key stakeholders and give staff the option to call in instead of using their computer. The moderator should ensure that only one person speaks at a time, that all other mics are muted, and that everyone identifies themselves before they begin speaking.

If you’re sharing your screen, describe the content on the screen for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Instruct staff on how to access closed captions, live transcripts, and/or subtitles during the meeting. If your conferencing solution doesn’t provide for real-time captioning or live transcription, consider using a third-party app like Web Captioner, which offers free real-time captioning in over 40 languages.

Always record live events and have them professionally transcribed afterward so you can share the recording and transcript with your team.

Create accessible content

Use the following tips for accessibility best practices.

Documents

Use heading styles in Microsoft Word to create subheads (instead of bolding text and increasing the font size, for example). This helps screen reader and braille display users understand the hierarchy of the document and navigate it more efficiently.

Microsoft provides an Accessibility Checker tool for making sure your Office content, including Word documents, spreadsheets, and email, is accessible to people with disabilities.

Video and audio

When creating audio and video content, use professional recording equipment and record in a quiet location. If you must have background music, keep it at a low volume for the benefit of people who are hard of hearing.

Transcribe, caption, and/or describe audio and video content. Poorly done captions are just as frustrating as no captions at all: For audio with multiple speakers or any background noise, it’s best to hire a professional typing company instead of using an auto-transcription tool.

Images, graphics, and presentations

Alternative text should be provided for descriptions of images, which can be read using screen readers.

Use good color contrast for the benefit of visually impaired and colorblind users. Make use of whitespace and proximity to help users understand the relationship between elements of the content. Ensure that the text in charts and graphs is large and clear enough to read.

Avoid the use of flashing, strobing, or flickering content, which can trigger seizures in people with PSE.

Social media

The major social media platforms are continually evolving to make sure their platforms align with digital accessibility best practices. For example, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn all have an option for adding alternative text to your images.

Additionally, many social media sites now let you caption video content by uploading captions as a sidecar file (that is, separate from the video itself).

Website and email

Use a responsive design for your website and emails and test them to make sure they function as intended on mobile devices and screen readers. Choose clean, easy-to-read fonts of adequate size and line spacing, and use good color contrast throughout for the benefit of people who are colorblind or have other visual impairments. Provide plaintext versions of emails for people who use screen readers.

On your website, make use of HTML markup like headers, which can be read by screen readers, instead of simply styling the content–for instance, by bolding text or increasing the font size. Whenever possible, use HTML to create charts and lists instead of posting them as images. If you use images to complement the text, provide alternative text using the HTML alt attribute. Choose semantic HTML elements that describe the content (e.g., <table>) instead of non-semantic elements (e.g., <div>).

For more information on how to make web content accessible, review the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, which is the universal standard in web accessibility.

Accessibility best practices will evolve along with your business and workforce. You can streamline the process by creating a simple system for your employees to put in requests or give feedback on your current tools and procedures, as well as by providing digital accessibility training to staff. As more software developers and vendors adopt accessible technologies, businesses will encounter fewer challenges when creating an accessible remote workplace.

Tim Mossholder

[#WorkTrends] How to Support the Workforce by Protecting Mental Health

Today’s best employers are focusing on how to best support and protect their employee’s mental health. Is your company?

What started as an exercise in temporary adjustments has become a more long-term reality. Now, as the pandemic strengthens its grip on the world, many employees realize that teleworking full-time has become a long-term necessity. 

Sure, we pulled together the technology necessary to pull off this workforce transition. Yes, we were nimble enough to handle any physical and workspace challenges that came along. And our people quickly rallied around this new reality. But what is the long-term impact of all this change? From an emotional and mental health perspective, how are your people doing? 

If they are like many of us, they feel stressed. Fatigue is setting in, and the anxiety that comes with not knowing what comes next is creeping up on them. Hard data support these feelings. In fact, a tracking poll by Kaiser Family Foundation in July found that 53% of adults in the United States reported that pandemic-related issues have negatively impacted their mental health. That number is up dramatically from 32% in March when the pandemic began.

So, in what has become an unexpectedly long-term transition, and with the realization the coronavirus will continue knocking on our doors for the foreseeable future, the question must be:

How do companies help remote employees tackle mental health challenges?

Our Guest: Dawn Mitchell, Vice President, HR at Appian

On this week’s episode of #WorkTrends, Dawn Mitchell of Appian joins us. In one day, Dawn’s organization of 1,400 employees went from a very on-site, hands-on culture to one that shifted successfully to remote work. Now, Appian focuses on how best to help employees deal with the emotional and mental health issues that come with remote work and COVID-19’s extended threat. As you’ve probably already figured out, this experience makes Dawn the perfect person to answer our question!

“At first,” Dawn said, “We saw a huge spike in productivity. We were in fight or flight mode. Our employees are fantastic, so they chose ‘fight.’ But we soon learned this wasn’t a typical remote work. For example, we had to work and parent at the same time. Plus, we had the isolation issue. So we knew we couldn’t sustain this forever.”

Dawn shared with us some of Appian’s focus points: “We put a heavy emphasis around our parent community. We also developed empathy tool kits for managers. We wanted them to get more comfortable talking to their teams, to understand their home dynamics. So we pushed on their soft skills. And, we wanted them to be flexible, yet acknowledge we still have work to do.” 

Combating Mental Health Issues Through Over-Communication

Dawn added: “To inspire big ideas, we placed a heavy emphasis on communication. As a leadership team, we knew we needed to be more connected. So at the initial start, our CEO was communicating with our workforce bi-weekly. We also launched a podcast. With a workforce that averages 27yo, we updated our internet to ensure that employees working at home with kids were getting the most relevant information when they needed it. Most importantly, we sought to understand how employees were thinking and feeling.”

Of course, I had to ask about outcomes. I wanted to know precisely how Appian’s approach helped. In response, Dawn was quick to point out employees are even more engaged now: “We’ve had about a 6% increase in our employee response rates. At the same time, our employees’ satisfaction (despite all the change and stress) only dropped a percentage point. Overall, we were about 2% over the previous benchmark. It was great to see employees felt supported by their managers. They felt satisfied. And they felt that Appian was a place they wanted to tell their peers about; that we were their employer of choice.”

High praise, indeed. And from the people who matter most: The very employees asked to make such a huge transition during a global crisis.

Please take 20 minutes or so to listen to my conversation with Dawn. I learned so much about how Appian supports the mental health of their remote team members. And I’m sure you’ll hear several emulation-worthy tactics to protect the mental well-being of your employees! 

 

Find Dawn on LinkedIn and Twitter.

 

Appian sponsored this episode of #WorkTrends!

 

Editor’s note: Our FAQ page and #WorkTrends Podcast pages are new and improved. Check them out, and let us know how we’re doing!

 

Ekaterina Bolovtsova

5 Tips for Maintaining Remote Worker Posting Compliance

The pivot toward remote work happened suddenly for many. A BLS survey (June 2020) found 31 percent of workers were teleworking or working from home. Stanford University research found that nearly twice as many U.S. employees (42%) were working from home full-time than were working on premises (26%) less than a month later. These work from home mandates have left organizations scrambling to understand posting compliance.

Specifically, they seek to close the gaps in terms of laws, technology, communication, and administrative resources. As it becomes apparent remote working is here to stay, these challenges haven’t gone away. Key among them: The need to comply with labor law posting  and notification requirements with a remote workforce. 

I wanted to find out what organizations really need to know as they aim for posting compliance. So, I went to Ashley Kaplan, Esq., Senior Employment Law Attorney for ComplyRight. She shared five critical tips to keep in mind:

1. Posting Compliance: Mandatory for Remote Workers

“Whether any, some, or all of your employees work remotely, you need to provide them with access to mandatory labor law postings. Employers are required to communicate employees’ rights. And it must be according to labor and employment regulations even if the employees work off-site. That includes working from home. That’s true whether it’s just for a few months or on a more permanent basis.” Ashley added: “Postings are required at the federal, state, and city/county levels. Depending on your state, that could mean up to 23 postings for federal and state compliance. It could also mean up to 10 additional local postings. Even more if you have government contracts or operate in certain industries.”

2. “Occasionally” On-site isn’t Enough

Ashley says we must pay attention to the recommendations of the Department of Labor. “Let’s say an employee reports to your onsite facility (where the workplace posters are displayed) fewer than three to four times a month. In that case, you need to provide the posters in an alternative format they can access remotely.”

For employees who have computer access, the DOL suggests electronic delivery.

3. Noncompliance Carries Consequences During COVID-19

It’s apparently a common misconception that regulatory enforcement has been relaxed in all areas due to COVID-19. That is not the case.

“During the pandemic, numerous laws have been passed with employee notification requirements. Those laws include addressing COVID-related issues such as social distancing, hygiene, paid sick leave, unemployment compensation, and discrimination,” Ashley says. She adds, “Posting violations can garner up to $35,000 per violation for federal fines. State and local fines typically range between $100 and $1,000 per violation. Additionally, overlooking mandatory posting requirements may extend the statute of limitations in litigation. That magnifies the financial impact of employee lawsuits.” 

4. Electronic Delivery is Not a Substitute for Onsite Postings

“A legally acceptable alternative for offsite workers is electronic postings,” Ashley states. “They are not, though, a substitute for displaying the physical, printed posters at your onsite facilities. Government regulations are clear on this. With very limited exceptions, all of the federal, state and local postings still must be displayed at the worksite.”

Ashley went on to say: “That’s true even if you only have a few employees reporting to work there.” 

5. Posting Compliance: Options for Electronic Delivery

Ashley says employers may provide the required postings to remote workers in a variety of ways. Via email or by posting a link to the posting images on a company web portal or intranet site are acceptable options.

“For proof of delivery, use an email-based solution with tracking and acknowledgments. This is a critical advantage in the event of a legal dispute, she added. “An intranet link providing unlimited employee access to postings is also legally compliant. As long, of course, that you adequately notify employees. You must provide the link and then keep it maintained with the latest postings. Keep in mind that these posting requirements change frequently, with more than 150 updates nationwide each year.”

Ensuring compliance with federal, state and local employment laws requires understanding several factors. Certainly the complexities of doing business during COVID-19 have further compounded them. Beyond posting compliance, common questions include how to manage time and pay issues for hourly and exempt workers remotely. Also common are questions about how to maintain security protocols. How to comply with new expanded family/medical protections and paid sick leave laws — including the Families First Coronavirus Response Act — are also common.

Whatever the exceptional circumstances, the bottom line is employers aren’t off the hook when it comes to understanding their obligations. That’s just one of many compelling reasons to seek the expertise of an outside service provider. One who can provide not just answers on matters of compliance, but offer functional solutions. 

 

This post is sponsored by PosterGuard.

 

Andrew Neel

Employee Burnout: How Leaders Can Help Right Now

I want you to look around at your employees — in person where possible, and on that Zoom call. Then, I want you to think about how they’re doing. 9 times out of 10, they’re at least a little burned out. One of the areas we’ve been focusing on a lot here at TalentCulture is employee wellness. What that means right now is we’re looking at an entire workforce that seems, well, exhausted. Employee burnout is on the rise. And chances are, dear reader, that may not be a surprise to you at all.

There are certainly many external factors playing a role in the growing wave of burned out employees. Those range from a scary economy to social turmoil. And from political upheavals to a terrifying health crisis. There are domestic factors: The disruptions and worries of parenting and caregiving through the pandemic. In addition, there are more pressures facing business and the workplace now than we’ve never seen before. Recently, Eagle Hill Consulting ran a survey of U.S employees. They discovered 45 percent reported suffering from burnout, whether they are essential workers or remote. 25 percent linked their stress to COVID-19 — and that was in April, when we were just weeks in.

By July, a study by FlexJobs and Mental Health America reported that 75% of employees were dealing with burnout at work.

For employees, it’s VUCA time. So what should leaders do?

It’s time to roll up our sleeves and take care of our people. And that doesn’t take grand gestures. We don’t need to invest in new software or major changes. There are simple strategies you can execute right now. Simple. But they may mean a lot:

Commit to Mental Health

The Eagle Hill study shows employees could use more help:

  • 36 percent feel their company is not taking action to combat employee burnout
  • A mere 20 percent feel they’re getting the mental and physical wellness resources they need

And in a July 2020 poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 53 percent of the adults surveyed reported that coronavirus-related stress and worries were eroding their mental health — up from 32 percent in March. 

A few months ago, I had a great conversation with a start up about how they’re supporting employees through COVID-19. Being young and lean, they had to optimize their offerings without rebuilding their entire benefits program. So they looked at their mental health benefits and made a tweak or two. It’s no secret that stress, anxiety and depression can wreak havoc on an employee’s ability to focus and work. So they provided remote employees access to professional counseling through tele-therapy. In short order, among all the benefits available to employees, tele-therapy became one the most utilized and popular programs.

Bringing the need for therapy out into the open took the taboo and the stigma away — at a time when many people need mental health support the most.

Improve What Already Exists

There’s an interesting pushback going on regarding flexibility and remote working. Some employers are still singing the “when we reopen” song. They are using it as a rationale for just letting their workforce get by. Again, I know a lot of companies are feeling the pandemic pinch. They may not have the spend for their wishlist of new HR technology right now. But the reality is we may ever get everyone back to the office — at least not in the same pre-pandemic way. After all, remote working and flexible schedules are enabling people to handle one of the hardest periods of time (barring wars, of course) this country has ever faced.

Given the importance of employee engagement, staving off burnout, and increasing performance and productivity why wouldn’t you maximize the best aspects of working remotely?

Perhaps you can’t invest in a new platform right now because the business environment has thrown off your plans. That’s a reality for many. People are already functioning and working remotely and have been for months. S0 chances are you don’t need more technology to get your people to work together better.

Focus on Weak Spots

So focus on those pesky weak spots. What’s causing friction? Where is trust the weakest? Around deliverables? Around hierarchies? Maybe around teams?

Have you crafted and shared a set of policies and expectations around how your people are supposed to work remotely? If not, do it now. Do some in-house remote training on best practices and etiquette. Be proactive about the problem of sexual harassment or bias showing up in virtual interactions. Write a set of simple policies around parenting and caregiving emergencies. 

Just as important, engineer some lightness into the workdays — because, in general, those days have gotten very long. Allot time for informal get-togethers and casual conversations. Find ways for employees to have a little fun. A giving challenge or a gratitude drive, for example. Or a meet-the-kids (or the pets) event.

Working remotely can’t all be about work all the time. Now that work has come home, let some of home come to work.

Ask People What They Need

Pandemic aside, employee burnout was alive and well in countless work cultures already — and the pandemic just compounded the problem. Blame hyper-tight production cycles, toxic levels of competition among coworkers and teams, and managers too spread thin to spend any time helping teams. The fact is a whole host of other subpar conditions existed before the pandemic hit. What I mean is this: Fundamentally, most organizations want to be great places to work. But things happen. Then came COVID-19, and that’s been a whole new level of “happen.”

The silver lining here is that now there’s no excuse for reaching out to employees to make sure they’re all right. Whether that’s a pulse survey, an informal check-in via text, or even a phone call — reach out. Burnout is often triggered when employees are completely tapped out — mentally, physically, emotionally — and feel like they’re not getting any acknowledgement or support. Extended periods of high stress, overly tight deadlines, disruptive shifts in the workflow — all can lead to the mounting frustration that can result in burnout.

The Best Way to Avoid Employee Burnout

The most important thing you can do to help your workforce avoid burnout? Find out how they are and where they are really struggling. It may be hard to do this individually and in confidence. So instead, solicit anonymous feedback and share the results in a way that doesn’t expose anyone, or anything. Further, share it with a transparent commitment to make things better. Then actually do it.  

None of these three strategies need fancy bells and whistles to get off the ground. All they really require is a heartfelt reality check. One that helps deals with the here and now. One that acknowledges that work during a pandemic — remote or not — is exposing our vulnerabilities as well as our strengths. 

A video conference hosted by the Wharton School of Business and U Penn focused on the prospect of getting back to “normal” whether for corporate and knowledge workers or for frontline and essential workers. Given everything, they determined that we’re not going to get there until November 2021. That’s more than a year away. So don’t be the employer remembered for overloading your people when life was already hard enough.

Don’t shelve employee wellness until all this is over. Work to improve your conditions for the present. Prevent the employee burnout happening now.

Bram Naus

A Proven Strategy for Performance Management: 360º Feedback

2020 is changing the way we work, without question. As the nature of the workplace transforms, performance management faces new challenges. We’ve seen many workforces undergo a rapid shift to remote. A Gartner survey of 229 HR leaders in April 2020 revealed that 81% of their employees had shifted to working remotely. The study noted that even post-pandemic, remote work will not only continue, but increase. At the same time, workforces with employees deemed “essential” face additional pressure and stress. That stress includes how to stay safe, let alone engaged. The onus is on managers to keep up. 

The fundamentals of effective, modern performance management haven’t changed: to build and maintain engagement, alignment, and growth. Feedback is critical in this process, as we know. One challenge now is how to measure performance and gather data as well as provide feedback in real time. Another challenge: Finding a system that connects the whole workforce and collects data over the long term. 

Empowered by a digital platform, 360º feedback is a proven way to meet these challenges. 360º should be part of your overall talent management strategy, whether your future plans include an on-site, remote, or blended workforce. To optimize its potential, here are three critical strategies:

Cover All Four Corners

The best way to get an accurate picture of how any individual is doing? Make sure you’re getting feedback from all four corners of the workforce. That includes the manager, peers, any direct reports, and others in the organization. 

Feedback on leaders should hew to this principle as well. It can be tough to get a clear picture of a leader’s effectiveness for a number of reasons. A digitally powered feedback program with built-in anonymity and uniform survey questions will certainly help overcome any reluctance to ‘speak freely’ about a leader. Asking for feedback on leaders as part of a customary cycle of feedback also helps. Rather than an exception to the rule, this makes it part of a normal process. And since leaders themselves can have difficulty with self-assessment, this reduces any undue stress.

Ask the Right Questions

If you don’t ask the right questions, you won’t get constructive or relevant feedback. Establish the key questions you need to ask. Tailor those questions to your industry, your market, and the nature of your own company. Make sure they are tied into the objectives of the process, as well as the nature of the role they’re meant to survey. 

There are two goals to keep in mind here, as well. First, ensure feedback can drive more self-understanding and better growth for the employee, and help managers provide an unvarnished but fair review that focuses on strengths as well as weaknesses. Second, design questions that engage participants to answer them. Don’t overload a survey with too many questions, or ask multiple questions on the same topics. It’s also a better practice to combine open-ended questions with multiple choice and rating questions. That way, participants can weigh in using their own words.

Provide Manager Training

Build in training and coaching for managers on how to best implement 360º Feedback so the process is set for success. That means getting clear on consistent terminology and guidelines. As Primalogik’s new ebook, Essential Performance Management Solutions for Today’s HR, points out, “T​o allow for fair comparisons of employees’ contributions, reviewers need to be using the same guidelines.” Guide managers on how to establish the right criteria and work with their employees to set individual as well as organizational objectives. Managers should also explain the process and its purpose. Specifically, they should clarify what employees should expect, and send periodic reminders and prompts over the feedback platform.   

Managers should also plan to conduct plenty of follow-up. That follow-up should include a one-on-one discussion with employees to review feedback. A plan for improving performance in any areas of concern should also be included. Beyond that, managers may also want to conduct regular, frequent check-ins with employees to make sure they’re on track and comfortable. A recent Workhuman study showed that regular check-ins are key drivers of engagement: 85% of the workers surveyed reported higher levels of engagement with weekly check-ins. Making growth an ongoing conversation may greatly improve the outcome: it’s easier to improve in small steps than all at once, and real-time feedback — coming from multiple directions — has a clarity to it that’s far more engaging. 

360º Feedback is Performance Management

360º Feedback is most effective when it’s part of an overall employer commitment to employee growth and development, and when it’s designed to show strengths and growth for everyone. When an organization is transparent about wanting to be the best it can be, and gives the workforce the means to participate fully, there’s a clear alignment. Employees feel a part of the process, not the recipients of it.

We’re all learning how to be better at using data and fully engage and communicate in the digital workplace. Digital feedback platforms keep us connected, providing a clear picture of performance grounded with multiple sources of feedback and data. It’s a powerful way to update performance management, and drive manager as well as team success.

 

This post is sponsored by Primalogik.

 

Photo: Franceso Gallorotti

Motivating Your Remote Workforce: Best Practices

Before any of us had even heard of the coronavirus, the remote workforce was already expanding. In fact, according to Global Workplace Analytics, it’s been growing about 10 percent every year for the past decade. But with our current situation, more and more of us are being pushed into remote work faster than ever. In fact, a recent Gartner survey found that 74 percent of CFOs anticipate taking previously on-site employees fully remote in the aftermath of COVID-19.

Remote work has long been a point of contention. For those who haven’t had the option, it sounds almost too good to be true. Meanwhile, those who do work remotely are quick to point out that there’s a big difference between a day in a home office and a day off. Turns out there are valid points on both sides. Remote workers do enjoy perks like increased flexibility and time saved by not commuting. However, research has found that remote employees work an average of 1.4 more days per month than their office-based counterparts. That adds up to three additional weeks of work per year! While remote work can increase productivity, it often leads to consistently long hours, which can have an adverse effect on mental health. That’s just one reason why managing a remote workforce can be a challenge. You need to inspire and motivate your team to do more than just their best work; you need to motivate remote employees to take care of themselves too.

Burnout is real. Even before this crisis, 29 percent of remote employees said they struggle with work-life balance, and 31 percent said they have needed to take a day off for their mental health. To really manage, motivate, and protect your most important asset — your people — consider these four suggestions.

Communicate Frequently and With Purpose

Working remotely, employees often feel disconnected. If they don’t receive information from leadership, they turn to other sources, formal and informal, and that can cause confusion and even panic. It’s important to ensure that the entire organization — onsite, on the road, or at home — understands the priorities of the business and exactly where they fit in. Creating a clear roadmap helps employees understand the ultimate goal of their work, making them more productive and reassured that their efforts contribute toward a positive outcome. Gartner Research highlights this as one of the most important parts of a remote work strategy.

That said, good communication goes both ways. Successful companies have leaders who embrace a culture of collaboration and continuous learning; one where listening means giving consideration and adjusting to the thoughts of subordinates, peers, supervisors, and across departments. When employees across an organization agree that there is something to be learned from everyone in the room (even if it’s a virtual room), you can surface more diverse perspectives, foster more effective communications, and achieve greater goals.

Establish a Routine

For my team at Skillsoft, one of the ways we’ve managed to stay connected is by making standup meetings and check-ins part of our daily rhythm. This gives teams more opportunities to communicate and has been key to providing a sense of normalcy even in these not-so-normal times.

Furthermore, Harvard Business Review emphasizes how important it is for weekly routines to include more than just tactical work. Make sure you also prioritize rituals that focus on social connections, whether it’s a virtual welcome lunch for new hires or a Friday afternoon snack break. This will help you maintain the cadence and culture of your organization.

Of course, it’s key for managers to be available to their teams for emergencies. But, they should also address the need for rest, lunch breaks, and “shutting down” for the day. Clearly communicating this across your team will help level-set and establish a routine that’s more holistic, including work time and downtime. These natural breaks will keep days from fading into one another, a complaint we’ve heard a lot of in recent weeks.

Be There for Each Other

It’s so easy to feel alone right now. Being entirely remote can add stress, regardless of a person’s role or level in the organization. Leaders can often feel that the fate of the company rests solely on their shoulders, but they need community just as much as everyone else. We all need mentors. We all need people who can give us a “reality check” and help us rationalize.

This kind of culture can’t be fostered overnight, but it’s crucial for businesses to begin to build a supportive, collaborative environment as remote work becomes more common. In fact, Forrester Research highlights culture as one of the most important elements of a successful work from home strategy. Employees that feel they can bring their whole selves to work, who feel that they are on a team that supports and represents them, are more likely to feel motivated and get more enjoyment out of difficult tasks, according to research from Stanford psychological scientists Priyanka B. Carr and Gregory M. Walton.

Pay attention to — and course correct — any challenges that arise. For example, according to research from A. Joshi and R.S. Gajendran, virtual communication can sometimes discourage team members from speaking up. But, when you establish your work environment as a place for open collaboration, this hesitation tends to fade. Strong virtual teams are built on a foundation of trust. Start from a place of shared humanity and send your team a message of solidarity: we’re all in this together. When employees feel a sense of comradery and belonging, the impact can be incredible.

Stay Positive

We’re living — and working — through a time of uncertainty. But it’s important to stay optimistic and supportive in all your interactions. Think about some of the silver linings. Personally, I’m thankful for the extra time spent with my family. Working from home has given us opportunities we otherwise wouldn’t have had: catching up over lunch, doing morning workouts, and spending evenings cooking together.

Working from home also offers workers and managers alike an incredible chance to broaden our horizons and push ourselves toward new goals. Companies that tap into the power of learning will see increased engagement going forward. Motivate employees to embrace this time; make learning core to your company’s culture. When employees are given the resources to engage with information they truly care about, they will develop competencies and confidence that can be applied throughout their experience – both on the job and in their lives.

Businesses that adhere to these four simple tenets of leadership will quickly realize that it really comes down to one basic principle: be human. During this time, the best thing we can do is demonstrate empathy, compassion, and concern for each other. Embracing genuine understanding and positivity is the best course in times of uncertainty. You’ll reap the benefits and so will your team.

This post is sponsored by Skillsoft.

Photo Evgeni Tcherkasski

Corporate Communications During A Crisis

It seems like the world is constantly changing day to day as we learn more about the global pandemic we’re facing with COVID-19. None of us know for sure what’s going to happen a week from now, or even a few days from now. But if you have employees depending on you, it’s important to stay in constant communication with them, even when you don’t have all the answers. Your employees want to know you’re in this with them, and at a time when you can’t exactly meet with them, communicating by video is likely the safest bet. But what’s the best way to do that, and how can you ensure your video is addressing the right points and not getting interrupted by technical difficulties, such as poor streaming quality? 

These four tips include the best strategies for employing corporate communications via video during a crisis: 

Communicate Early and Often 

You might not have all the answers right now, but that doesn’t mean you should delay communicating with your employees. In fact, if you waited until you knew everything there is to know about COVID-19 or other crises you might face, your corporate communications would be nonexistent. Your employees don’t expect you to have all the answers; they just want to be clued in on what you know. And considering that Gartner found that more people are listening to brands and corporations than politicians these days, it’s important that you get out your message as soon as possible. Your employees are waiting to hear from you. 

So as soon as you’re aware of the next steps your company is taking, communicate your plans to your team. Try to provide any updates by video every couple of days. And if you’re still working on solutions, let your employees know so they have some idea of what might happen. You might even want to let them provide their input on your decisions through a live video meeting that allows the whole company to watch and offer feedback at the same time. Just be sure you have the technology in place to handle this, to ensure your video streams smoothly without crashing any networks.  

Focus on the Facts

No matter how often you communicate with employees, be sure to stick to the facts that will affect them. This means you shouldn’t try to speculate on what may or may not happen. You don’t want to give unfounded or inaccurate information, and you definitely don’t want to cause panic among your employees, so avoid any doom and gloom talk. 

Instead, offer accurate information that directly affects your employees, such as what you’re doing to protect them, or which day your offices will be closing if that’s the plan. You should also steer them toward the websites of reputable resources, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) or the CDC. You want your employees to not only be properly informed, but also know where to go if they want to research further. 

Be Authentic and Engaging 

According to Recruiter, 33% of employees said a lack of open, honest communication has the most negative impact on employee morale. Experts tend to agree that the most trusted type of communication is face to face. This way, your audience can see your nonverbal cues and study your facial expressions to determine if you’re being genuine while you deliver your message. And that is very important for corporate communications during a crisis. Of course, in-person meetings are out while COVID-19 is a major concern, which is why video is your best option if you want face-to-face communication with your employees. 

The good news is that video is extremely engaging, and superior engagement is important when you’re communicating with an audience during a crisis. Consider the fact that the average video viewer remembers 95% of the message he or she just watched, but only 10% of the message he or she just read. Plus, employees are 75% more likely to watch a video than read an email, blog post, or other documents. So you have a better chance of getting your message across with a video when you want to reach your employees. As long as you and your team are authentic and empathetic during the video, engagement shouldn’t be an issue. 

Analyze Your Video Engagement 

You already know your engagement will be higher when you communicate via video. But exactly how much engagement did you get with your latest video, and how did it compare to the video you created before that? Is there a way to improve your video communications before you release another one? You’ll get answers to these questions when you start using analytics for all your corporate videos. 

Basically, you need to know how many people watched your video, how many people stopped watching halfway through, what the streaming quality was like, and more. Knowing these metrics can pinpoint how to improve the next video you release to employees. And considering that you need to be communicating often during a crisis, it’s helpful to get the metrics right away and quickly apply the insights to your next video. 

The easiest way to analyze your videos is by using an analytics service. This service should offer a range of statistics on your videos, like aggregated event metrics that can tell you details that include viewer participation, viewing time, quality of experience, network impact, streaming performance, and more. Analytics can also give you ranking lists, text and map-based filtering, and network visualizations that tell you how live streaming video has impacted your network. 

When you have the right corporate communications strategy in place during a crisis, you have the power to reassure your employees during tough times. This can keep company-wide panic to a minimum and ensure your employees can put their trust in your business. Video communications will help you inform and engage your employees, but your videos have to be of good quality to be effective. And video analytics will tell you if they are — or if you need to change a few details in order to better reach and reassure your team. 

Photo: Jéssica Oliveira

Observing Workplace Compliance During a Crisis

News surrounding the coronavirus pandemic is developing at such a breakneck pace that by the time you read this article, the data in it will probably be outdated. As of this writing, there are more than 186,000 cases of COVID-19 worldwide. In the U.S., 49 states and the District of Columbia have reported more than 4,500 cases of coronavirus and 88 deaths. 

Managers and employees likely have worries about everything from job security to the risk of contracting the virus at work. Some private and public employers have begun shifting onsite employees whose jobs can be done remotely to working from home for the foreseeable future. But what if someone’s job can’t be done remotely? What happens when they exhaust all their sick time and other paid time off? Should an employer pay them even when they are furloughed?

It depends on whether they are an exempt (salaried) or non-exempt (hourly) worker. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD):

Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, employers aren’t required to pay hourly workers for time not worked, even if that is through no fault of the employee. If an hourly employee gets sent home, and their job can’t be done from home, their employer only has to pay them for their actual hours worked that week and subsequent weeks.

But the law requires salaried employees to receive their full salary for weeks in which they perform any work, with limited exceptions. This includes even minor work such as checking email and voicemail. A private employer may require exempt staff to take PTO in the case of an office closure, provided the employees receive pay equal to their guaranteed salary. 

So technically, an employer can stop paying an employee, whether hourly or salaried, if the employee is required to stay home for an extended period of time and his or her job can’t be done from home. Of course the ethics on that are a bit shakier. 

Further, some employers may have to comply with federal and state advance-notice requirements of up to 90 days for workers regarding furloughs and layoffs in certain circumstances (the WARN Act). But it isn’t yet clear if and how this applies to COVID-19-related layoffs.

WHD encourages employers to consider flexible leave policies for the sake of “community mitigation,” offer alternative work arrangements such as teleworking and additional paid time off, and consider strategies such as staggered work shifts to promote social distancing. 

Employees’ rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act

Employers covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) must provide employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for their own personal illness or to care for children and other immediate family members who are ill. In addition to other criteria, employees must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months to be covered by FMLA. Your state also may have its own laws covering sick and family leave.

What if an employee’s child has been dismissed from school due to coronavirus fears and they have to stay home with them, even if the employee is not ill? While coronavirus so far seems to be bypassing the youngest of the population, there’s currently no federal law covering private sector employees who have to take off from work to care for children, and employers aren’t legally required to provide leave—paid or unpaid—to employees caring for dependents who have been dismissed from school or child care.  

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says the virus appears capable of spreading “easily and sustainably” from person to person, but data shows that most people do not become seriously ill from it. Reports from China, where the virus originated, found that about 80% of cases were “mild” and led to full recovery. Of the 70,000 cases there, about 2% were in people younger than 19.  

“This seems to be a disease that affects adults, and most seriously older adults” from age 60 up, the CDC says. The highest risk of serious illness and death is in people older than 80 years of age and people with serious underlying health conditions. But given the potential for significant spread of illness in a pandemic, WHD urges employers “to review their leave policies to consider providing increased flexibility to employees and their families.” 

Furloughs and remote working

Some employers such as the hard-hit airlines have already begun asking workers to take voluntary furloughs. In the event of a mandatory quarantine or furlough, employees may choose to use sick leave, vacation or other PTO if their employer’s policies and applicable state law permits. If an employee is sent home, certain jurisdictions may require “reporting time” pay to compensate the employee for reporting to work even if work wasn’t performed or the employee didn’t work a full shift.  

If an employer requires staff to work remotely, the company is supposed to furnish employees with all the necessary tools for that, including laptop or PC, mobile phones, and other equipment, or reimburse employees for the cost.  

Employers also need to consider liability issues. Not having adequate policies in place to manage issues arising from communicable illness could expose them to significant legal risk, according to Harvard Business Review. If an employee becomes infected at work, employers may face OSHA penalties depending on the circumstances or be exposed to workers’ compensation, unfair labor practices, and other claims. Businesses such as restaurants also have to consider liability to third parties.

Staff with symptoms of infection should be sent home or instructed to stay home. If remote work is not feasible for their staff, employers could implement other measures to reduce close interpersonal contact, such as canceling in-person meetings and conferences, staggered or “shift” work as previously mentioned, and even changes to the office layout. Such measures could help protect workers from infection and the organization from liability. Companies should also consider extending or expanding benefits and protections for employees on leave who exceed their PTO allotment.

Regardless of their official leave policies, it behooves businesses to be more generous about paying furloughed or quarantined employees than the law requires them to be — not only for the sake of their business’s health and that of the community, but as part of being good corporate citizens. 

However, it seems that for now, all government can do is strongly appeal to employers to pay their furloughed or quarantined employees, but it can’t force them to. (Congress is reportedly considering some sort of paid-leave bill, but it is still in the works.) And in the meantime, employers are urged to do as much as they can to help their workers who must stay home. It’s not only beneficial to public health and the workforce’s own health, ultimately it will benefit the business as well.

Photo: Kevin Bhagat

Remote Work During Coronavirus: Leadership Matters

Bottom line: employees, last I looked, are people. And we need to protect and support our people during this incredibly tough time. We’re all facing phenomenal degrees of uncertainty as we navigate uncharted and scary territory. We don’t know how bad it will be, how long it will last, or what it will take from us. Anxiety is as common as oxygen right now, and peace of mind as hard to come by as n95 masks. But as you shift your workforce to remote, here’s one small consolation to think about. This is the future of work.

I’m not talking about the pandemic. I’m talking about being able to rely on the power of your work culture and the agility of technology to flex to a different reality. For all of us, the challenge is maintaining continuity without disruption or stoppages, but that’s more complicated than just a punch list of to-dos. There are many companies already doing this, and my own firm has been proudly and very successfully remote for years. So here’s some simple advice. It’s not about technology, but about culture, behavior and human nature:

Exceptional Times Call for Exceptional Tact

Empathy is a word bandied about a lot these days. Now, right now, we’re in a global crisis in which understanding that we are part of a larger social community and being able to imagine being in each other’s shoes may literally improve our chances for survival. 

Your employees are going through incredible stress right now: suddenly facing the prospect of children out of school; trying to figure out how to keep their elderly parents safe; coping with empty supermarket shelves and worse. This is not the best time to take someone to task for being three minutes late to a meeting. 

The More Distance, The More Training

Taking the leap into a digital workspace should not be done alone: whatever your platform, lean on the provider to give your employees all the training they need to feel comfortable. Particularly if your workforce is going to be scattered far and wide, they’re going to need to all be up to speed — and dismal adoption rates on new technologies can often be traced to one simple factor: fear. 

People are facing enough of that, so give them everything they need to comfortably make the switch. And that means tailoring coaching so that even the most technologically insecure member of any team is confident enough to participate. Remote workforces depend on everyone being able to access, communicate and use the technology equally. But that means some need a lot more guidance and help than others. They should never feel penalized for it. Don’t expect everyone to take a single tutorial and know how to navigate. 

Solicit Feedback on Your Work Culture (and Take it to Heart)

Your remote workforce may not have agreed with your assessment of the workplace culture when they were in the same building, but being physically near each other and within a shared workspace often makes up for flaws in the culture. Not so when your workforce is remote. After everyone heads home to work, and as everyone starts using the remote platform that’s bringing them together, conduct some clear and honest surveys to get their feedback on what’s lacking in your work culture. Ask people for their opinions and concerns and give them the time, space and ears they deserve and need to speak up. Listen carefully, and listen well. You need that feedback to find the weak spots — and there won’t be a single organization that doesn’t have them. 

What I have found is that if you don’t bring these issues out into the open, they will fester and compound in the remote environment. But if you solicit employee feedback and then don’t take action on that feedback, you’ll make it worse. Start by reporting the results of your surveys and questions back to your people — and turn it into a clear and shared effort to make things better for all. Be transparent, and be proactive. Both of those traits are even more critical in a remote workplace culture.

Find Your Ambassadors

There are going to be people in your organization that truly care about the success of going remote. These are not brand ambassadors, they’re process ambassadors — those who want to make sure this transition is effective and successful. Good! Instead of assuming their reasons as self-centered, or questioning their motivation, don’t. It may be to their benefit (right now, of course it is) to get their teams and colleagues working smoothly via the remote platform. But that also means you’re aligned in that goal, if not for exactly the same reasons. That’s fine. Alignment is a matter of coming together around shared interests, and finding common ground.

Instead of second-guessing why someone is a team player, actively, clearly acknowledge your appreciation. You need more eyes and ears in a remote organization, as it’s too easy to let communication slide — and there is literally less visibility. Your ambassadors will not only champion the cause and inspire others to make the effort, they can also relay when someone’s having an issue, or has a concern — and make sure you’re aware of it. Why? Because they care. Accept it.

Don’t be a Stranger

Remote leadership is a contradiction in one sense: leaders need to be clearly involved, engaged, and accessible to their people. Don’t be a stranger. Be there more than you think you need to be there, and never appear to be disinterested or busy in meetings. And be present for everyone, whether that means you reach out to everyone in a quick video chat, a daily message and a question all can respond to, a virtual roundtable Q&A, or simply providing your email. Your people need to hear your voice, read your texts, and see your face.

The bigger the organization, the harder this can be to carry out. But take advantage of your tech and communications platforms to make it happen — you knew I wasn’t going to fully ignore how important technology is, didn’t you? Use video, use chats, use virtual conferencing, texts, intranet, messaging, IMs — whatever you already have present in the day-to-day functions of your workplace, optimize them now. I’d work with your teams — not only in HR but in marketing as well — to craft a plan for your presence. Reach out to your managers about what they need from you and when. The same way you consider frequency when it comes to recognition (short, sweet and often is far more effective than rare and overlong), create a cadence of messages and outreach. Stay in your employee’s daily routines. This will matter more than you realize. 

The Last Thing

The last thing you want your remote workforce to have to go through is feeling like they have left the office and that’s the end of their connection to the company. For so many in the workforce on all levels, the rug is being pulled out from under us. But If you approach remote leadership with a real commitment to staying human and staying present, this is just the beginning. And when this is all over, and it will be, your whole organization will be in a far better position to meet the future of work head on.

4 Keys to Engaging Your Remote Workforce

For me, a remote workforce fall into two categories: those who actually work remotely and those whose jobs simply keep them away from their desks.

The first group is easy to track — 37 percent of the workforce has telecommuted at one time or another. The second group, often referred to as non-desk workers, includes people who don’t even have a desk or fixed workspace, such as nurses covering a whole floor, a retail sales person on the shop floor, or production workers in a factory.

Of those who work in an office, 36 percent claim they would prefer work-from-home benefits to a pay raise, and 62 percent would choose a job that let them work from home full time over the same job that required an office presence.

The challenges of a remote workforce will accelerate as more people start working remotely. Business leaders and human resources leaders will struggle more and more with reaching, engaging, and communicating with their remote workforces. How can they prepare to get ahead of those challenges?

Losing the Remote Control

The primary issue with working remotely is, unsurprisingly, being remote. Not having colleagues in the same physical location presents major issues in two categories:

  • Willingness to work, or engagement: While working from anywhere sounds nice at first, separation from co-workers can reduce the drive to collaborate with the team. Usually, this is the consequence of remote workers not feeling included in important conversations, not interacting socially with colleagues, and being left out of joint experiences.
  • Ability to work,or empowerment: Even on the most well-equipped island, people need other people, data, and tools to work effectively. This leads to challenges, such as a lack of access to subject matter experts and systems, lost context on initiatives, and unequal participation in meetings. This also includes corporate and HR communications, leaving employees ill-informed about the company’s goals and objectives and making them less able to help meet those benchmarks.

Eliminating the Remote Barrier

The whole issue starts with the idea that the office is the center of the company. As leaders, we need to take down those barriers between the office and “the others” outside.

  1. Make interactions personal.Combat the lack of physical presence by transforming digital interactions into personal interactions. Mobile technology allows you to turn every phone call into a video session. Distance doesn’t have to feel inhuman, so make remote interactions as personal as possible to lower that barrier. Ban services that require a physical presence, even if it requires upgrading technology.
  1. Reach all employees, even non-desk workers. If you can’t all be in the same room, shrink the distance between people. The more people on IM or ready for immediate communication, the better. Even executives should be available and lead by example. You’re not hiding under your desk, so don’t hide in the digital world.
  1. Make mobile universal. An intranet that’s unavailable to half your staff isn’t just a tech hurdle — it’s a disservice to non-desk workers. The same is true for HR processes, such as requesting vacation days or getting payroll information. Start everything with a mobile world in mind.
  1. Prioritize results over time. Establish a culture that values results over hours logged. While technology can help this along, the core of the change must be in the leadership philosophy.

This shift in approach can be summed up in one concept: people. If you have a 10 percent remote workforce, act like that figure is 100 percent. No leader treats left-handed people differently — the workplace is designed so that such distinctions don’t matter. Aspire to create a workforce in which remote work is not only accepted, but also a part of everyday life.

Daniel Kraft is the president and CEO of Sitrion. Sitrion provides millions of people with a mobile and socially enabled workplace that’s tightly integrated with SAP, Microsoft SharePoint, Office 365, and Salesforce. Daniel is a public speaker on topics involving employee engagement and productivity and was featured on TEDx.

Image credit : StockSnap.io

Virtual Assistant Industry is Expanding: Are You Open To It?

The internet has given rise to plenty of jobs with its ability to connect workers from all over the world with employers located just about anywhere. Hence, it is not a surprise that organizations from all over the world are now looking to employ people who would be able to work remotely and be able to stay in touch online with simple and fast online meeting tools that make working remotely a cinch. The number of such workers has increased exponentially over the last half of a decade or so as more and more talented individuals have noticed that the rewards for working as a virtual assistant are considerable. Here are some of the reasons why you should consider a career in this field:

  1. Working Independently

Everyone wants to work in an environment in which he is himself the master of his own time. When you work as a virtual assistant, it is possible to achieve this goal. In this position, you have the ability to be employed by more than one company, working as a contractor on a variety of tasks depending on your skills and ability to manage your time. The days when the virtual assistant was only supposed to fill up spread sheets with data are long gone. Nowadays, a virtual assistant can work in a variety of fields including content creation, internet marketing, and accounting or even social media management. The freedom to choose from amongst a large variety of tasks is indeed a huge incentive for any professional; in addition, the freedom to change employers without any hassles whatsoever is another large advantage.

  1. Potential for Growth

Every employee wants to know what their growth potential is at any given company. In this regard, it must be said that the career of a virtual assistant offers excellent long-term growth opportunities both financially and professionally. According to market research agencies, the virtual assistant industry is set to grow rapidly in the next few years and the projected valuation of the industry in five years’ time is approximately $5 billion dollars. It is a huge industry that is going to explode in the next few years and now is the time to get into it so that you can reap the benefits that are to come.  Additionally, if you are employed by several companies and if the volume of work continues to increase, you may also have the ability to hire people in order to start your own virtual assistance company, furthering your success in the industry as a whole.

  1. Using the Best Tools to Work With

Working remotely and online gives independent contractors access to some of the best tools available in the industry today. This helps to improve the entire experience of the employee, but also helps him to build his skills, making him more valuable overall. Let’s take example of few tools available for this purpose:

UberConferenceIt is a powerful and advanced cloud-based conferencing system. This web conferencing tool include features like online data management, shared calendar programs, shared files, and the ability to stay in contact no matter the distance between the employee and employer. It is built on WebRTC in order to allow real-time call control, across a variety of carriers on one side and the browsers on the other side.

BasecampIt is popular web based project management tools. Easy to use, this tool provides 60 days free trials. This tool helps us to manage, store, and share files. You can use it for task management and time tracking.

DropboxThis popular tool is used in day to day virtual assistant business. This excellent cloud storage solution provides instant file synchronization. When you hire your VA, you can sync a folder or file from your computer and share it with your VA. This free app makes file sharing and work collaboration quite easy.

Tiny TakeThis tool is extensively used for taking screen shots, capture webcam videos and capture videos. It is free and easy to use tool.

Over the past few years, companies who employ virtual assistants have developed some of the best software applications in the world for a variety of purposes like inventory, ERP, workforce management tools or data entry operations and the usage of these tools makes the employee far more efficient in his line of work.

The types of skills that are learned and used by the virtual assistant keeps him in good standing for the rest of his life, making it easy to switch careers at any given point. This is a valuable tool for any employee as it provides a bit of job security now and in the future, even if the work with the current employer does not pan out.

  1. Chance to Work with the Biggest Corporations

Over the years the biggest corporations in the world have recognized the importance of employing a virtual workforce and have recruited quite aggressively over the past few years. Most of these companies employ virtual assistants from all over the world and hence there is an opportunity for talented individuals to work for some of the biggest names in global business. These companies are only going to increase the number of virtual assistants in the years to come and that is something that will certainly boost the overall growth of the industry as a whole.

The job of a virtual assistant is dynamic, rewarding and offers the sort of variety in duties that can be exciting for absolutely anyone. In addition to that, the sort of growth that the industry has seen in the recent past makes it an excellent option for anyone who is just starting out as a professional or a veteran who is looking for a change in career path.

Tips to start business as a virtual assistant

I am sure after reading these reasons you will start wondering how to start a business as a virtual assistant. Don’t worry! Following 11 tips will help you to start your business as a virtual assistant:

  1. First decide which type of services you want to provide, and analyze your background in order to ensure you have ample experience.
  2. Always determine your business niche by specializing in just two to three services.
  3. Find out how much energy and time you have to commit to your venture. Do you want to full time or work part?
  4. Conduct in-depth research work of industry in order to determine a need for your services in your local area
  5. After that outline your clients, and all the related information such as where they are and how to access them
  6. Do a thorough analysis of market and find out the needs for your niche. Focus on how you will apply that to your business.
  7. Understand your monetary constraints i.e. expected income, projected expenses, and how long you can “float” until your business is running successfully.
  8. Carefully prepare a plan for your business and review it often in order to manage change and growth
  9. Thoroughly examine your software, equipment and work space in order to ensure they cater to client needs.
  10. Wrap up all financial and legal aspects of startup before securing first client
  11. If possible, market your services 24X7. Merely making website or placing an ad in the Yellow Pages does not attract the clients.

Photo credit: Bigstock

Your Remote Sales Team Needs This to Be Successful

It might not be a bad idea to start thinking about building a remote sales team.

As part of its 2014 Key Global Trends research, Dell uncovered more than half of people believe employees who get to work from home are just as productive, if not more so, than those confined to an office every day.

It’s not hard to see the benefits of employing remote sales reps — the majority of their time is spent communicating with clients out of the office, via phone, or online anyway. But, in managing a distributed sales team, other challenges arise, like keeping everyone on the same page, engaged and productive.

Here are some tips to help you build a successful remote sales team:

1. Hire ‘Type A’ People

Working remotely isn’t for everyone. Some personality types will fare better than others working as a remote salesperson.

For example, ‘Type A’ people typically operate with a constant sense of urgency at work. They become impatient when they feel unproductive and enjoy juggling multiple projects at once. These traits make them great candidates for getting things done under minimum supervision.

Here are some other traits to look for in great remote salespeople:

  • Autonomy
  • Self-motivation
  • Self-sufficiency
  • Problem-solving
  • Quick, effective decision-making

Assess these traits and project performance by assigning a small project for candidates to complete as part of the interview process. For example, ask sales candidates to give you a cold call later in the day to talk to you about a specific product.

2. Make Onboarding Quick, Easy and Scalable

Sixty-seven percent of organization leaders believe a smooth onboarding program leads to better employee engagement, according to a 2013 Aberdeen study. When building a team of employees who are distributed all over the map, engaging them through efficient exchange of documents and onboarding information is a must.

Completing new hire paperwork long-distance can be cumbersome, especially if it involves signing and scanning hard paper copies. Instead, make your onboarding process completely digital — allow new hires to sign and fill in agreements electronically.

Helping new hires get up-to-speed quickly on a distributed team can present many challenges. Create training content like videos and written guides with images using channels like YouTube or Vimeo, and online document builder apps like Google Docs, for instance.

Store them on a cloud platform, like DropBox or PandaDoc, which is specifically built for sales teams, where all team members can easily access them regardless of the time of day. This will help new team members find what they need on their own, and other team members won’t have to constantly stop what they’re doing to train.

As demand for your product increases, you’ll need a way to add more members to your sales team and make them experts on the products they’re selling quickly. That’s why making your onboarding process scalable through prepared training materials, easy access to files, and a training plan will help you avoid unnecessary growing pains.

3. Provide A Mobile Workspace

Just because your sales team doesn’t have a physical office doesn’t mean they can’t have a shared space to collaborate on-the-go. You could use word processing programs to write contracts and email to send them back and forth, but in that method, you risk losing documents and keeping track of workflow.

Instead, provide a workspace that connects all aspects of document management in one place. Use a content management platform that integrates with your team’s CRM so you have less scanning, uploading, and data entry to worry about. Being able to upload information right from your CRM into sales documents creates a paperless, lightweight process — easy for sales reps on the go.

Additionally, use messaging tools to help the team stay in touch easily using a mobile device — like Slack or HipChat, for example. Regularly bring the team together virtually in the same room using video conferencing and screen sharing tools like Appear.in or Join.me.

4. Enable Instant Communication and Feedback

On a remote team, employees don’t have the luxury of wandering to the office across the hall to ask a question. They’ll be working primarily on their own to troubleshoot problems and develop ideas.

Use a platform that helps your sales team collaborate better — one on which members can instantly send documents to one another with questions or seeking approval. You’ll notice workflow improve as employees can see document statuses, make changes, and send documents back and forth more quickly.

Yet, keep in mind not everyone might be working in the same time zone, so set communication expectations accordingly. Determine times for deadlines and meetings based on when everyone is most available. Decide during which times the team should use instant message chat, email, and video calls to communicate.

5. Hone Your Culture

Because your sales team doesn’t work together directly, creating and managing a company culture will be harder. That’s why it’s important to have a solid idea of who you are as an organization, what you stand for, and the related cultural characteristics (social norms, values, and beliefs).

Define tangible characteristics of your culture like how you speak to customers, how and when your sales team speaks to one another, and how you approach work. Communicate them clearly and regularly to the entire team. Develop a “company code” or “company values” sheet employees can reference to clarify any questions and ensure their decisions are in alignment.

Regularly survey remote team members, asking about their level of satisfaction and their thoughts about the company’s values. Ask for suggestions for improvement. This will facilitate big-picture feedback and reduce unexpected turnover due to employee dissatisfaction.

A successful remote sales team needs the right talent, effective onboarding practices, and a strong culture to help keep everyone on the same page. Your team of remote workers could be the most productive team you’ve ever managed, as long as you provide them with the right resources and support.

What are some other methods for managing a remote sales team? Share in the comments below!

Photo credit: Bigstock

24/7 Employee Engagement (Megatrend Remotra Vs. Godzilla)

“History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of men.”

—Blue Öyster Cult, “Godzilla”

The floor beneath me cracked open when the cable guy knocked on the door. My youngest daughter Bryce shrieked with joy. My conference call had just started and I put myself on mute.

The crack under my feet widened. Sulfurous smoke billowed up and I heard a low, guttural rumbling, like an animal trapped in a cage. The house shook. Bryce howled with laughter. Somebody on the conference call asked me a question and I quickly unmuted.

“Um…yes,” I answered.

Silence on the cell phone. I jumped over the growing hole in my living room to open the door.

“Bryce, stay away from the hole,” I said. I opened the door, “C’mon in.”

The cable guy wrinkled his nose. He gave me a forced smile and asked, “Everything all right?”

The house shook. The guttural rumbling grew to a rolling growl. Bryce hung upside down from the couch with her head on the ground and giggled.

Another person addressed me on the call. I took my phone off mute and coughed. Silence followed. I thought I heard someone whispering. I muted the phone again.

“So, did any of my tech calls get documented for you?” I asked the cable guy.

He smirked and shook his head. “Nope, but I’m sure I can give you a hand.”

A blast of artic wind whooshed from the chasm in my floor. Bryce flipped over feet first and ran round and round the hole, laughing hysterically.

“Bryce, stop it.”

I explained everything to the cable guy. The fact that my wife – who had to visit a patient sooner than she thought and our childcare wasn’t coming until after she left, which was why I was watching our preschooler – was in the cable store the day before last to exchange one of our digital cable boxes, and the nice lady who helped her recommended we upgrade to the latest internet modem complete with built-in router. So we did, and ever since we had nothing but inconsistent connectivity and cycling bandwidth heartache. I told him I had already spent over three hours on the phone with four different people in tech support, falling woefully behind on work, deadlines looming and being remote puts that much more pressure to deliver, and each time I had to painfully reconstruct every single friggin’ thing that had happened since we installed the piece of cable modem shit.

He chuckled at that last sentiment and held up the modem. “I hear you. This thing is a first-generation piece of crap. I’ll get you set up with a new modem and you can use the router you have. It’s a lot better anyway. I’ve got to outside just for a minute and work on your line coming in. I may have to cut your cable for a few.”

“Thank you!”

Bryce had stopped running around the freezing smoky crater and was watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on Nick Toons. Then the TV went off. Bryce cried out.

“Honey, it’ll only be out for a few minutes.”

She cried out again and ran around the hole some more. Another growl shot from the ground.

“Wait, Bryce! Stop!”

Then in my earpiece, someone was yelling at me, trying to desperately get my attention. I refocused.

“Get out of the house!”

Wait, what?!?

That’s when the beast rose from the open ground in the middle of my living room breathing a freezing cold fire.

And I was that beast. A victim of circumstance maybe, or a “megatrend,” but a beast nonetheless. What got me thinking about the soft white underbelly of working remotely was Mark Royal’s discussion on the TalentCulture #TChat Show about the various global trends impacting employee engagement today. Mark is a Senior Principal at Hay Group, a global management consulting firm.

Their recent research paper titled The New Rules of Engagement “predicts that by the end of 2018 almost a quarter (23.4 percent) of people worldwide will have changed jobs. That’s some 192 million workers due to hand in their notice over the next four years.”

This isn’t necessarily new information, but they frame it nicely and underscore the fact that the world is undergoing unprecedented change, driven by these six global megatrends:

  • Globalization 2.0
  • The environmental crisis
  • Demographic change
  • Individualism
  • Digitization
  • Technological convergence

These are monstrous megatrends that come with profound implications for how companies will be organized and led. But if leaders (and individual contributors) don’t adjust their approaches to employee engagement now, they will be unable to attract and retain talent through these major shifts.

Hay Group surveyed 300 heads of employee engagement from FTSE 250 and Fortune 500 companies, and over three-quarters (84 percent) believe that companies must engage their workforces differently if they are to succeed in the future. Yet less than a third (30 percent) believe their organizations are doing enough to adapt appropriately to the changes that lie ahead.

Let’s dig in deeper to one of them. Individualism, something that many others and myself live and breathe everyday. The entire makeup of the workforce has changed dramatically and the “I” in individual is quite prominent. We’re done with the tired old bait-and-switch work environment, where money drives motivation, or tries to. Where we’re only reviewed once a year and told what we’ve done right or wrong, with little guidance on where and how to improve.

Instead we’d prefer (and progressive organizations are adapting and delivering) more tailored career development programs, more continuous recognition and feedback, flexibility in the office and out (which of course is still highly dependent on what you do and what industry you’re in). This includes an open and regular two-way dialogue between employee and manager, the primary driver of ongoing engagement and the new age of performance management.

In fact, according to Hay Group’s World’s Most Admired Companies research, the best leaders spend as much as 30% of their time understanding others’ needs, and coaching and developing team members. But it’s a reciprocal relationship that needs simultaneous autonomy and specific boundaries to deliver business outcomes on all levels.

But out of all the megatrends listed above and analyzed in depth, one that wasn’t listed is the megatrend of remoteness (hence my Japanese monster movie name “Remotra” in the title), the whole point of the article’s opening.

If you haven’t seen it, even if you’re not a fan of The Oatmeal, check out Why Working from Home Is Both Awesome And Horrible. Hopefully you’re not that easily offended, although it’s not too bad. But for those of us who do work remotely, it will resonate painfully. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You may even pass out a little.

Ah, the virtual life…

The social awkwardness of being on conference calls and your teammates are joking about things you don’t understand — because you’re not in the office — and you never get the inside scoop.

The digital awkwardness of being online — all the time — working — and yet never feeling like you’re getting anything done or being acknowledged for what you do get done. 

The technical awkwardness of being at the mercy of your own IT department when battling with ISPs, computer problems, you name it.

The hygienic awkwardness of showering much less frequently, and then being captured in perpetuity with a video conference call.

The familial awkwardness of your kids screaming inside or out while you’re on a conference call that you have to fully participate in. Add to that the moment you have to step in and actually take care of them while your spouse is away.

Ah, the frustration isolation…

So, if you’re interested, as a way to reframe your own Godzilla and remote work-life megatrend, you could revisit my simple two-step approaching to working virtually here.

Even though the isolated battles between my inner Godzilla and Megatrend Remotra will undoubtedly continue, staying engaged is a 24/7 job no matter where you work. Because it’s all about what you deliver in the end, and how motivated you are to deliver it, not where you deliver it from.

Nature always points out the folly of man either way.

photo credit: umezy12 via photopin cc

Workshifting Will Get Better Working Together

These days, I work from home. Mostly.

My “workspace” is upstairs in a special section of our master bedroom I call my corner office nook, complete with a window backyard and neighborhood view. My workspace is fluid as well, flowing into the living room, the backyard, even the bathroom sometimes.

What? You’ve never participated a conference call sitting on the toilet in the wee hours of the morning with your phone on mute? C’mon.

I used to have coworking space (leasing office space shared with other entrepreneurs, consultants, contractors, remote employees and startups). Plus, I did have my home office in the garage that doubled as a guest room, but then my mother-in-law moved in with us a few years ago. It’s okay, though. We’re close. Really. Really. Close.

Today if you ask my daughters where I go to work, they respond proudly:

“Daddy goes to work on an airplane!”

And this week, that would be true. I do, in fact, travel regularly. Not every week thankfully, but when I do, I use the same collaborative communication tools I use working from home for being a remote daddy and husband – the phone, FaceTime (video calls), texting and social media.

Yes, e-mail as well, that horribly inefficient communications tool; like playing air hockey blindfolded and you don’t even know when you’ve been scored on until the score is 100 unread messages to zero returns.

Screw the zero in-box. How about zero e-mail initiatives?

Sigh. Whatever. I know we’re still going to use e-mail for years to come, but my goodness, can’t we leave on the webcams and see the whites of each other’s eyes?

KWG UnicornAt least I have my magical unicorn on this trip, one of many delightful stuffed creatures my daughter’s have me take on my business trips. In fact, as soon as I get to my hotel and I fire up FaceTime, they cry out, “Show us [this trip’s creature]!”

And so it goes. I’ve worked in offices, commuted in arterial chokeholds, leased coworking space, worked from home in my pajamas, worked from parks (but not in pajamas), worked at the beach, practically anywhere (fully clothed, I promise), including Wi-Fi high in the sky at 36,000 feet. More of my peers, friends and colleagues – entrepreneurs, consultants, marketing and sales professionals, customer service professionals, programmers and engineers, artists and writers – are also working remotely these days.

Speaking of my peers, friends and colleagues, TalentCulture #TChat Show guest, Simon Salt, author of Out of Office, shared with me the following data points on what he calls “workshifting,” another term for virtual, remote or telecommuting work:

  • Self-employed workers were nearly three times more likely than wage and salary workers to have done some work at home on days worked—56 percent compared with 20 percent.
  • Self-employed workers also were more likely to work on weekend days than were wage and salary workers—43 percent compared with 31 percent.

Not a shocker for those of us who do it, I know. Plus, the Global Workplace Analytics and the Telework Research Network estimate that 20 to 30 million Americans work from home at least one day a week and 3.1 million people (about 2.5 percent of the employee workforce) consider their home their primary workplace. SHRM research shows that nearly half (46 percent) of all companies have at least some contractors, freelancers, or remote workers who rarely, if ever, come into the office.

According to an HBR article by Tammy Johns and Lynda Gratton, many experts have also projected that within a few years, more than 1.3 billion people will work virtually. They actually lay out the virtual workforce progression very neatly:

  • Wave 1: Virtual Freelancers: through home computers and e-mail
  • Wave 2: Virtual Employees: through mobile technology and global expansion
  • Wave 3: Virtual Colleagues: new ways of providing community, collaboration and shared space

The reality is that, if you are a remote employee, or manage remote teams, workshifting is messy, and I’d argue we’re somewhere in the riptide of Wave 2. Mostly.

Even when companies source for the right virtual fit – reliability, good communication skills, sound collaborative skills, emotional intelligence, cultural sensitivity – expectations and priorities can be unclear and incomplete from the start on both sides of the employment aisle. This can lead to confusion, frustration, unhappy contractors, employees and managers alike.

And that leads to Nowheresville, Daddy-O.

Thankfully there are many great frameworks to consider when hiring and managing a virtual workforce, including Tuckman’s Team Development Stages, Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Belbin’s Nine Team Roles and others, but I’ll give you my simple two-step approach that I’ve learned working through all the combinations:

  1. Start With Face-Time Framing, Then Repeat Regularly. While it may not always be realistic or necessary when working with contractors (depending upon role and scope), companies should always try to onboard new remote part-time and full-time hires in person, even if it’s only for a few days. It’s invaluable to all parties to sit down together in the same rooms and set clear, actionable priorities; discuss how exactly everyone’s going to fulfill those priorities as well as how they’re going to report on them and review them; meet and mingle with their co-workers, managers and peers (if possible); and review all the equipment and systems at their disposal like WiFi hotspots and laptops and mobile devices (fluid virtual engagement), internal social networks (real-time virtual engagement), and collaborative talent management systems (continuous formal engagement) that will be used to enable work and connection. The face-time framing should also have some frequency throughout the year – monthly, quarterly, semi-annually or at a minimum annually (although since tenure is shorter these days, you should consider more than once per year).
  2. What Have You Done For Me Lately? Oooo, oooo, oooo, yeah. The push for continuous feedback must be redoubled for your virtual workforce and those managing them. Regular check-ins must be scheduled and adhered to – no constant cancelling because managers are just to “slammed.” Everybody’s friggin’ slammed and making the time to touch base, review projects and progress is critical to driving discretionary effort and business outcomes. And whatever you do, avoid defaulting all communication to e-mail; so much is lost in translation and cultural sensitivity is usually at an all-time low in electronic memos. Pick up the phone or jump on a videoconference, preferably the latter. In fact, I even recommend keeping the webcams on, at least during agreed upon times, so co-workers and managers can stop by and disrupt you collaborate with you on whatever.

Yes, I crossed out “disrupt you,” but remember, it is messy. There’s something to be said about the collaborative nature of working together in the same office, but the dark side of that can include more disruption than productivity (you know, the gotta-minute goblins – “Hey, gotta minute?”).

Pinch me – I didn’t really need to finish this, today, at my desk. Instead, I’ll just take it home because I don’t have a life. Many of you have probably experienced the fact that your most productive times are before work, after work, and on the weekend. Not really the way most of us want to hum the work-life mantra.

But those of us working from home feel a pain of another kind in the lopsided pinch, having lots of uninterrupted productivity while feeling an invisible expectation that we need to be available anytime since we have the distinct pleasure of conference calling in our pajamas. And yet, our employers are paranoid that we’re not actually doing anything.

Yes, messy mostly, but workshifting will get better working together because we’ll all figure it out, improving engagement and productivity while all parties reap the extrinsic and intrinsic rewards of the way we’ll work and the why of it all.

Daddy’s flying home from work now, girls. Keep the corner office nook warm for me.

photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/citrixonline/5447248448/”>citrixonline</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>