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5 Strategies for Onboarding New Hires Virtually

It is imperative to establish a robust onboarding procedure for building a productive, engaged, and cohesive workforce. However, a small portion of new employees agree that their company does a great job onboarding new employees. Some organizations see a 50 percent employee turnover in the first 18 months of employment.

Onboarding is significant for engaging and retaining your employees for a longer stint. The onboarding process is even more critical for remote or virtual employees. This is because they do not have the advantage of developing relationships with other members of staff. Here are some tips for onboarding new hires virtually.

1. Develop their setup beforehand.

Before your new staff member begins, you need to lay the groundwork for successful integration. Keep in mind that remote workers will not have access to normal company resources such as desks, dedicated workspaces, and computers. Communicate with the new hires to find out their needs and any resources they are missing. Get the new hires to set up the right software, hardware, and access required for performing their duties. You can get help from PRO services for hiring and onboarding new hires virtually. Some of them have employee relocation and global mobility services that are helpful.

2. Adapt current onboarding material for their virtual learning.

If you have never performed onboarding for remote employees before, you may have to adapt the current process for virtual access and training. For instance, convert all contracts, hard copy training manuals, employee handbooks, procedures, and policy packets into normal digital files. Then, give virtual access to those files to the remote employees. Also, you can develop training videos and other learning modules that can be completed by employees independently and track their progress. If possible, maintain all the onboarding material at an accessible location that will allow employees to easily find all the information they need.

3. Complete virtual introductions.

In on-site office settings, you can take new hires around the office to introduce them to colleagues. When onboarding new hires virtually, this isn’t possible. To still encourage social interaction and bonding, set up team-building activities during breaks. Team-building interactions are also significant for the integration of virtual employees. In their first week, you can set up introductory calls with team members. You may have virtual happy hours or coffee breaks for getting new employees to know their colleagues casually. Having the new employees build relationships early can set a foundation for long-term success.

4. Communicate frequently by using one-on-one meetings.

It is critical to have frequent and intentional communication during the onboarding process. This helps remote employees develop a connection with their team and organization. There are several ways of connecting formally or informally with newer hires. For example, get the managers to block time every week to make sure that employees check in. Additionally, ask them to use video conferencing to make these meetings more personal and encourage better team connections. HR leaders and managers need to check in regularly with new remote hires. Keep in mind that remote work means less organic interaction.

5. Have a feedback loop.

Having feedback is an easy yet effective method for uncovering the needs of your employees. It is an important component of employee development and training. Develop a strong feedback culture because it can be crucial during uncertain times. You cannot always predict how these staff members will react or what they may require every day. Ensure that feedback is a part of your culture from their first day at work by including it in the onboarding process.

Conclusion

There are some unique challenges involved in onboarding new hires virtually. You are required to stay ahead of the curve by being aware of various requirements ahead of time and concentrating on feedback, training, and communication. You need to provide them the necessary support and tools required.

Image from Daxiao Productions

The Secret to Healthy Living: Work Well and Play More [#WorkTrends]

For more than a year now, many of us have been enjoying our work at home experience. On the surface, this has been an opportunity for better integration of work and life commitments. We’ve enjoyed being more available to family and friends (including the furry variety). We’re also eating at home more often and, with much lower commute times, perhaps sleeping more. That seems like healthy living to me.

But in a recent poll here at TalentCulture, nearly half of you said your employer expects you to be available at all times. So do we really have greater balance? Are we taking the breaks required to remain healthy? Are we eating better and sleeping more?

If we’re constantly answering texts and emails — always working — are we really living healthier lives than our pre-pandemic selves?

Our Guest: Marcey Rader, Health and Wellness Expert

Joining us on this week’s episode of #WorkTrends is Marcey Rader, an accredited health and wellness expert, award-winning speaker, sought-after productivity coach, and author of three books. In other words, she’s perfectly qualified to discuss the issue of healthy living within our current work from home realities. From a health perspective, I asked Marcey about the upsides — and downsides — of working remotely.

“When COVID hit us last year, we heard people saying ‘I’m losing 25 pounds because now I’m taking walks every afternoon,” Marcey said. But then she added: “Now, though, we have the COVID 25  where people are not moving enough.” 

So the primary downside, simply put by Marcey: “We’re not moving enough.”

Healthy Living Secret: Work Well, Play More

Marcey went on to say that healthy living isn’t all about work-life balance, but working well and, yes, playing more. And by playing, Marcey talks about taking advantage of every “movement opportunity.” 

Marcey defines these movement opportunities as, “Every hour you get up and you do 20 squats. Or you’re doing push-ups after each of your meetings. Or you’re doing walkie-talkies (walking and talking) on the phone during meetings.” Marcey further clarified this practical secret to healthy living: 

“Any movement opportunity you can fit in your day can be helpful. We must keep moving!”

Marcey went on to talk about the importance of NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis), quality sleep, and so much more. And here’s what I learned from our conversation: Working well and playing more are not mutually exclusive concepts. Using walkie-talkie meetings as an example, we can play we can move while we work. 

To learn more about Marcey’s work, connect with her on LinkedIn. And check out her newest book, Work Well. Play More!: Productive, Clutter-Free, Healthy Living – One Step at a Time.

 

Infographic by Manila Recruitment

Flextime: An Integral Part of Your Company’s Return to Work Plan

Soon, business leaders will turn their attention to developing a return to work plan for employees. And for many, that plan will need to include some amount of flextime. After all, we’ve provided employees with a tremendous amount of freedom over the past year. And we simply can’t take that freedom back now and say, “Thanks for all you’ve done, now go back to the way it was.”

As leaders contemplate getting everyone back to work, there is another consideration: Our workspaces might not ever be the same; continued social distancing means we will have less physical space per person to work with. So flextime, a system that allows employees to choose their own times for starting and finishing their work while sharing company resources, might be the answer.

Flextime as a Return to Work Solution

After working from home for some time, employees now know that a flexible work schedule drives high satisfaction levels with their work. They are now used to being able to better balance work and personal lives. It is now easier for them to juggle childcare, elderly care, distance learning, and so much more — all because their work schedules are more flexible. Of course, companies have also seen the clear benefits of providing flexible work hours. In general, their employees are more satisfied and motivated, so productivity improves.

The benefits to both employee and employer are clear. So why wouldn’t a company continue to provide flexible work hours — or flextime — in their return to work plans?

This infographic from recruitment agency Manila Recruitment further discusses flextime’s positive impact and looks at how companies are executing flexible work schedules globally. Perhaps even more important, the infographic shares five tips for implementing flextime in your company.

Take a close look. Then begin mapping out your company’s return to work plan — including flexible work schedules.

 

flextime infographic

Photo by Sereziny

2021 Work Trends: Should We Continue to Be Surprised?

Over the last ten months, the entire workplace changed, as did the expectations of employees and contractors. But not everything that happened last year was a total shock — so why should we allow 2021 work trends to surprise us?

A little over a year ago, I wrote a post about the workplace trends we would most likely see in 2020. Of course, when that post went live no one could have predicted the impact a global pandemic would have on the future of work. Still, as you’ll see below, we shouldn’t have been too surprised by how much the workplace changed.

In fact, maybe we should be proud of our ability to anticipate, accept, and adapt…

The Death of the Office

Our 2020 Prediction:

“It’s official: the office is dead. The office your parents knew, that is.

2020 will build on a trend that’s been on the rise in 2018 and 2019. More employees rely on technology to do their jobs and keep up with their teams. This means that more employees know they can do their jobs from anywhere–and they’re not afraid to ask the boss for that benefit. According to the Society for Human Resources Management, 69% of organizations allow their employees to work from home at least some of the time, and 27% of organizations allowed full-time remote work arrangements.”

Our 2020 Reality:

In our “now normal,” far more than 69% of organizations allow their employees to work from home.

The real question is: How many of those companies — once we start to put the pandemic behind us — will let the majority of their employees continue to work from home? And how many will want business environments to revert to our “old normal”?

Our 2021 Work Trends Forecast:

As Mark S. Babbitt says, “‘We know we gave you all that freedom, but now we’re taking it back — said no good employer, ever.'” Companies that want to retain the best of their talent will work hard to co-create a “new normal” that keeps the good aspects of the pandemic workplace. That most certainly includes working from home.

The Rise of Employee Activism

Our 2020 Prediction:

“Nothing seems to be holding employees back from pursuing what matters to them, even if it means speaking up against their own employer.

Half of all millennial employees have spoken out about employer actions about a controversial societal issue. The same Bloomberg study found that younger employees are more likely to be activists, though millennials are the biggest activist generation. In 2019, we saw countless examples of employee activism instigated by a sensational (and divisive) political climate. For example, hundreds of Wayfair employees walked out after learning that the company sold furniture to a Texas detention center for migrant children.”

Our 2020 Reality:

Like the pandemic, no one could have predicted the intensity demonstrated during the Black Lives Matter protests and — on the far other ends of the spectrum — the MAGA rallies that took place in 2020 and early 2021. Along the way, Facebook, Google, Amazon, and many other companies faced employee walk-outs in 2021.

Our 2021 Work Trends Forecast:

One would like to think companies would go into 2021 with eyes (and minds) wide open. However, already this year, we’ve seen employees take a stand against the positions of their employers, including insisting that corporations suspend donations to certain politicians, political parties, and PACs.

A Workplace That Stands for Something

Our 2020 Prediction:

“Millennials need to work for a purpose, not just money or a career.

A CNBC survey found that 69% of employees want to work for a company with clearly-stated values, and 35% stated that the most critical factor in their workplace happiness was the feeling that their work is meaningful. And these days, employees are willing to trade money for a purpose, with 9 in 10 employees stating that they would take a pay cut if it meant they could do meaningful work. In fact, when employees were asked to rank what matters most to them in their work, money was a distant second to workplace purpose.”

Our 2020 Reality

The only aspect of this prediction that changed? We need to add Gen Z to the discussion. For younger generations in the workforce, the concept of trading work hours for dollars and going home feeling fulfilled is now completely outdated. And employers are best served by seeing the writing on the wall.

Our 2021 Work Trends Forecast:

Employers will have no choice in 2021: In large part, performance and profits will be determined by an employees’ alignment to the company’s purpose.

The Changing Definition of Benefits

Our 2020 Prediction:

“Employees (especially millennials) won’t turn their nose up at decent benefits.

Millennials are the job-hopping generation, with half of all millennials (compared to 60% of all non-millennials) stating that they plan to be working at a different company than their current one by next year. But for the few years you do have your employees, they want that time to be worth their while. Younger workers are pushing back against the idea of work as a constant obsession. More of them demand increasing flexibility and benefits that reflect it, such as more paid leave after having a baby, the ability to work remotely, or allowances for breaks during the day.”

Our 2020 Reality

Bingo! The pandemic forced employers to consider not-so-common benefits like in-home child care, elderly parent care, mental health and wellness, virtual therapy, and so much more. In addition, the “always-on” aspect of working from home made the setting of boundaries — and taking real breaks from work — a real issue for remote workers.

Our 2021 Work Trends Forecast:

As we said just a moment ago: “Companies… will work hard to co-create a ‘new normal’ that takes into consideration all the good aspects of the pandemic workplace.” Like our freedom, employers can’t give us something that makes our lives better and then take it back. Right?

What Surprises Will 2021 Bring?

Experts like to say the workplace trends of 2020 caught us by surprise. But did they? Did they really?

Keep a close eye on 2021 work trends and surprises. And see how many of them — just like the trends and “surprises” of 2020 did  — will make work, and our lives, better.

 

Photo by Cateyeperspective

The Remote Era: 6 Ways to Cultivate a Strong Company Culture

In the remote era, where face-to-face meetings aren’t routinely possible, how do you cultivate a strong company culture?

Before the global health crisis hit, our experiential travel company, Moniker, planned creative corporate retreats, off-sites, and incentive trips for clients worldwide. Think ‘Amazing Race’ using tuk-tuks in Thailand or sailing on the Amalfi Coast. Or maybe hosting a game of ‘Survivor’ on the beaches of a Caribbean resort. Things changed rather quickly when global travel restrictions started piling up back in April. Soon, all (literally, all) of our clients began to cancel one-by-one until what initially looked like a banner year of sales and growth for our company became one chilling glare at a giant zero for the rest of 2020. 

The Eureka Moment: Company Culture 

As the old saying goes…

Out of crisis comes clarity.

As the situation unfolded, we realized what we were to our clients beforehand wasn’t a travel company. Instead, we were a one-stop-shop for them to outsource culture-building experience(s). We were co-architects of their company culture. As companies moved into a remote-work setup, engagement became more of a challenge. So, clients would lean on us to boost morale. We would help them maintain strong engagement and keep their teamwork and company culture strong in a remote world. 

We decided to create a limited series of nine virtual concepts over six months, from scratch. With no prior experience, no existing product, and quite frankly no idea of how to do it, we crossed over the $100,000 sales milestone in a short span of three months. Now, after seven months, we have just crossed the $1 million mark. Along the way, we’ve learned several things both large and small companies can do to engage employees, jump-start team (re)building, and cultivate strong team cultures in the new remote-work era:  

1) Shared Team Experiences

It could be as simple as introducing a company-wide, at-home fitness challenge. Perhaps rewarding employees or teams when they meet critical deadlines or hit work milestones works in your company. Or maybe facilitating a bi-weekly virtual ‘Coffee Chat’ so the group can discuss a book or movie everyone has watched. An optional after-hours ‘Cooking Club,’ where people can learn new recipes and techniques from colleagues with different culinary backgrounds, was quite well-received.

Whatever you choose, finding new ways to get people participating in something outside of work helps foster a strong sense of camaraderie. Don’t be afraid to get partners and children involved either. After all, involving employees’ families creates a more personal connection to their colleagues and positively impacts team morale.

2) WFH Swag 

Gone are the days of getting dressed up for work or attending meetings with company-branded stationery. The reality is that most of us in the work-from-home setup have embraced a much more casual approach to work attire and have carved out a little niche in our homes as our new office space. We’ve also gotten wise to “below-the-screen” (vs. “on-camera”) wardrobe, where comfort is king. 

Consider getting everyone some premium-quality, company-branded jogger sweatpants, Or maybe comfy indoor shoes, or a ‘go-to’ work top for team meetings and client-facing calls (a black crewneck sweater with your logo works well). Not only is this swag practical, but you’re also taking some of the thought out of what to wear to “work” each morning. 

3) Non-Traditional Rewards

Just as appreciated as physical items and gifts, non-tangible rewards are another great way to let employees know they are valued. Acknowledge hard work or major milestone achievements with a day off for everyone. Or give teams some flexibility with the option of starting later one day or shutting down the laptop early on Fridays around the upcoming holiday season.

It’s also important to acknowledge that working from home comes with its own set of challenges. The reality is, even after several months of experience, some remote workers struggle to separate their work lives from their personal lives. Show you understand this problem by encouraging them to take a vacation (even if it is just a staycation). Then respect that time by leaving them alone during their PTO. 

4) Ask for More Frequent Feedback and Encourage Input

For companies used to providing employee feedback in person, change your approach by engaging employees more frequently. Also, adapt the conversation to a remote-first situation.

Consider introducing quarterly or even monthly “Pulse Checks,” asking about their opinions on work performance or the business and asking for insight into their mental, financial, and physical wellness. Please encourage them to share their thoughts on how they are adapting to the new setup. Ask if there is anything that would help improve their situation (a second screen perhaps?). Finally, solicit ideas on how to improve morale. Most importantly, be upfront and sincere about your willingness to incorporate their input into implementing changes going forward.

5) Virtual Team-Building Activities

In addition to the shared experiences mentioned above, consider hosting monthly or bi-weekly virtual team-building events. During these events, be sure to mix up teams of employees who don’t often work together. Also,  introduce a few games to lighten the mood and break up the cycle of daily work. 

There are thousands of options out there – a simple Google search will turn up everything from pub quizzes to escape rooms. At-home scavenger hunts and improv comedy classes are popular. Are you feeling more adventurous? NASA-inspired lunar disaster scenarios and virtual murder mysteries can bring teams closer together, even when far apart.

6) Show Appreciation

Unfortunately, we underappreciate the simple gesture of a personal thank-you — a powerful motivator and culture-building tool. According to a Glassdoor survey on workplace retention, 81% of employees work harder when their boss shows appreciation for their work. That is a staggering number for what can be as easy as a personal note of sincere thanks or shout-outs during a team meeting.  

Sure, mass messages are an effective means of communicating. But they don’t necessarily come off as thoughtful when used to show appreciation. Instead, opt for a personal phone call or draft individualized messages in Slack or e-mail. In the process, show you’re paying attention by point out the specific contributions made by the employee. This gesture often leads to significantly higher productivity and engagement down the road. 

As we adapt to the remote-work era, these are several ways companies can show appreciation and boost morale. For more ideas on building strong cultures in a virtual world, check out Moniker’s blog here.

 

Photo by Visually Us

5 Best Tactics for Optimizing Remote Team Collaboration

Many companies have been doing remote work for some time now. But most haven’t yet optimized remote team collaboration.

Many businesses will remember 2020 as the year that forced them to go remote. And the reality is: Some have adapted more quickly than others.

While many managers feared the switch, citing fears over lost productivity, others embraced remote team collaboration. They recognized the trend that had been boiling under the surface for quite some time. In fact, what 2020 did was accelerate the ongoing changes already happening in the workplace.

The Workplace is Changing (And Has Been For a While)

As we look towards the post-coronavirus environment, we are likely to see more businesses adopt new ways of working. Those new methods will leave them better-suited to foster remote team collaboration. Those methods include management models based on trust, transparency, and more autonomy; digitization of all work; next-generation online tools for team communication, and; work management (more about this below).

For a long time, many have associated remote work with startups and tech companies. Indeed, our company Digicoop has operated as remote-first since our humble beginnings in 2015. While we do not expect more traditionally-structured companies to adopt a fully remote model – a hybrid one is more likely – we believe that businesses of all sizes can benefit from a more flexible environment.

Tried-and-Tested Tactics for Remote Team Collaboration

Whether you work with fully remote teams or your current model is a mixture of home and office working, there are five remote team collaboration tactics worthy of emulation. At Kantree, we started implementing these long before the pandemic began; we hope they will come in handy for your organization going forward.

1. Embrace a New Management Mindset, Company-wide

The changing, more distributed workplace requires an environment where employees take control of their processes. In other words: More trust and less micromanagement. This transition starts with the buy-in of everyone in the organization.

Within our team, which operates as a worker cooperative, we derive our approach from co-op values: Team collaboration, shared responsibility, self-management, accountability, and flexibility in terms of when and where you work.

When you hire the right people and trust them with such a high level of autonomy, teams will feel more invested in their work. They will produce better outcomes, allowing businesses to take full advantage of their skills and stay competitive.

2. Improve Communication with Synchronous & Asynchronous Tools

Once everyone gets used to operating remotely, the next crucial step in digital transformation and improving remote team communication is providing the right mix of digital tools. Without them, teams will be stuck with clunky spreadsheets, post-it notes, email overload, and the real productivity killers: excessive meetings.

What is the right mix? First, asynchronous tools (e.g., email or discussion boards) where team communication doesn’t occur simultaneously. Second, synchronous tools for real-time communication (instant messengers like Slack or Mattermost and video tools such as Zoom, Google Meet, or MS Teams). Lastly, flexible project management and work collaboration platforms like Kantree. These platforms enable teams to keep a pulse on their work from anywhere and at any time.

3. Digitize Work; Make it Accessible from Anywhere

Online work management platforms perform many functions. For instance, these platforms serve as project HQ for the whole distributed team: Remote, in the office, and on the go.

Kantree, for example, can replace spreadsheets and to-do lists. The platform also helps reduce email clutter with built-in tagging and project assignee features. And Kantree provides an overview of the work at hand (displayed as a kanban board, spreadsheet, timeline, calendar, or interactive checklist). Just as important for some, platforms like Kantree allow sharing chosen information with ‘external’ people, such as clients or other departments, limiting the need for conference calls. Teams can start any project instantly with workflow templates, from sales to IT to HR.

It’s important to remember that to ensure successful remote team collaboration, all work needs to be digitized, and everyone needs to be on board. Providing clear guidelines and training sessions at all levels while fostering a learning-oriented culture will help avoid frustration and reverting to old methods.

4. Encourage Self-Management and Accountability

Self-management in the remote business setting means two things: First, you are trusted by management to do your job and do it well, and; second, you trust yourself to organize your work in such a way as to stay productive and motivated.

In a company culture that encourages self-management, the project is the driving force and becomes “the boss.” The idea is that relaxing control-based management models will lead to a more engaged and content workforce, positively affecting the company’s bottom line and further growth.

5. Last But Not Least: Focus More on Employee Well-Being

More people than ever now work remotely (43% in the United States alone). That means many are still going through a period of adjustment. For some, it’s not an easy switch. This is especially true if you don’t have a quiet home office or need to juggle working remotely with homeschooling children.

Therefore, managers and teams must be empathetic and communicate openly about remote work challenges. Encouraging flexible hours, physical exercise, good nutritional habits (including proper lunch and work breaks) can help maintain employee well-being. Of course, this also helps keep employees engaged and performing at their best.

It’s Time to Do Remote Right

Digital transformation and fostering successful remote team collaboration don’t happen overnight. And, for many organizations, it may prove to be a daunting and time-consuming task. But with the right management approach, long-term strategy, and digital tools, building an effective remote team more than possible and is quickly done.

 

This post is sponsored by Kantree.

 

William Daigneault

5 Post-COVID Global Work Trends in HR and Hiring

Working from home. Schooling from home. Social distancing. New workplace norms. New consumerism rules. Mask mandates. It’s difficult to identify one aspect of personal life or society left untouched by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Not surprisingly, the global workforce — including hiring after COVID-19 — will also look different for the foreseeable future. Here are five global work trends that will most affect human resources professionals.

1. Some Previously On-Site Employees Will Work Remotely Forever

Working from home was already a widely accepted option before COVID-19 happened, but some employers still decided not to offer the possibility. Once remote work became the safest arrangement for many companies during the pandemic, some decision-makers realized that people stay productive at home, and many get even more done.

Netflix, Microsoft, Shopify and Fujitsu are among the companies where people will be working remotely for the long term. Some businesses provide it as a permanent possibility. Gartner’s April 2020 survey found that 74% of leaders would move at least 5% of their workforces to a remote working model for good post-COVID-19.

2. Companies Will Invest More in Reskilling Employees

Even before the pandemic affected the world, advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) necessitated that some employees learn new skills soon to stay competitive. Analysts say it’s even more vital now that employers double down on their educational efforts related to reskilling. If they do, they’ll be better prepared for the technological changes on the horizon, plus be more resilient during future significant disruptions.

This trend may slow, but not stop, hiring after COVID-19. Some reskilling efforts will teach workers new roles adjacent to their original ones. One example from a company operating in West Africa during the Ebola crisis was that truck drivers learned to operate excavators. However, reskilling also involves getting acquainted with digital activities. Doctors may need to become more comfortable with using tools to conduct remote visits, for instance.

3. Efforts to Hire International Workers May Need Longer Timelines

Companies that want to hire international workers have several options. One commonly selected choice due to convenience is to work with an employer of record. That entity handles all payroll, taxes and benefits necessities. That approach could mean a company could hire a top-choice candidate in a matter of days. However, hiring after COVID-19 could become more complex due to new rules and delays associated with aspects like visa processing.

For example, authorities in Ireland ruled that medical-related employment permits took precedence during the pandemic. They warned that applicants for all other types should expect delays — even if they previously submitted their documentation before the decision occurred. The United States disallowed people to arrive on certain permissions through at least the end of 2020. These changes mean employers must show more patience when hiring global workers.

4. Employers Will Stop Requiring Such Rigid Schedules

One of the most anticipated global work trends: Besides the additional flexibility that comes with working remotely instead of on-site, employees can likely expect more opportunities to participate in four-day workweeks. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recently joined people backing shorter workweeks for numerous reasons. She believes the switch would promote domestic tourism in her country.

Others supporting the idea point out that it would help people have a better work-life balance. When Microsoft workers in Japan participated in a four-day workweek trial, their productivity increased by 40%, and employees earned the same amount. COVID-19 has made managers think about work differently. That means many will feel more open to the idea of breaking schedule norms.

5. Creative Motivation of Remote Employees

Helping remote employees feel like part of the team and upbeat despite possibly working in total solitude meant employers had to show appreciation differently. While an on-site worker might have their promotion celebrated with a cake in the break room, remote employees might receive something in the mail and relish in their achievement alone. Showing gratitude now requires more creativity due to so many people working from home.

One company had a virtual wine and cheese tasting where participants had supplies sent to their homes. Another tried a summer-picnic-in-a-box concept after canceling its annual in-person event due to COVID-19. All employees received mailed goodies, including a blanket, water bottle, snacks and sunscreen. This trend could have long-lasting effects, especially as managers realize they can give appreciation in more ways than they previously thought.

Global Work Trends: Post COVID-19 Will Be Different

Our ongoing global health threat has forced us all to become more agile; more open to doing things differently while abiding by new norms to stay safe. And these five global work trends show how the novel coronavirus may have forever reshaped how companies hire employees. They also demonstrate how we’ll need to create appealing work arrangements for those we hire.

Perhaps there is, however, and upside. After all, moving forward it is highly likely people worldwide will enjoy improved, less restrictive workplace opportunities. If so, those outcomes would arguably be some of the few positives associated with the pandemic.

 

Jon Tyson

4 Proven Tips to Improve Performance of Your Remote Team

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

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

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

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

1) Leverage Technological Solutions 

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

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

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

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

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

2) Promote Flexibility within the Organization

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

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

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

3) Positively Over-Communicate with Your Remote Team

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

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

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

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

4) Encourage Employee Engagement

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

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

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

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

Nataliya Vaitkevich

More Employees Want Remote Work, But Do Yours (and Why)?

In a recent remote work survey of some 1,200 office workers, PwC found that in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic 77% would like to work from home at least two days per week. Most (83%) want to work from home at least one day per week. That’s a lot of employees wanting to get out of the office and onto their computers from home.

Months after the pandemic hit, teams are still adapting to this new remote-first world—it’s the latest organizational buzzword. But let’s hold the phone just a second. What might this desire to get out of the in-house work environment really mean?

The question isn’t whether your people will be able to work remotely over the long-term. We have the communications and collaboration technology to make it happen. The real question is whether your company can survive a sustained remote environment.

Business leaders need to begin this evaluation of remote vs. in-house work by asking themselves a really difficult question:

Why don’t your people want to come back in and work together?

Work Has Changed — People Haven’t

The thing is, people haven’t changed one bit. We’re still made of the same stuff… no one has suddenly developed a whole new set of emotions. Nope, still just the basic ones. And don’t kid yourself, emotions still drive much of what we do (and what your team does). Of course, some employees are struggling to meet the needs of children and other family members at home creating the need to work out of their homes. Others are experiencing for the first time a workspace without the commute and expensive wardrobe. And let’s not forget the very real, legitimate concerns about safety and exposure to Coronavirus.

The transition to remote work may well prove the most profitable and successful choice for some. But if you don’t have the company culture to support that shift, going remote as a knee-jerk reaction to this trend could be a massive mistake.

In fact, remote work can introduce a whole new host of problems for your people. Harvard Business Review researchers identify social isolation, distractions at home, interpersonal challenges, and reduced access to managerial support as among the top challenges of remote work.

Without the underlying culture to solve the initial set of in-office concerns for your team, how on earth are you going to combat remote work issues like that?

What we need to be doing now as leaders is asking our employees what they want.

Remote Work: What Does Your Team Need?

It’s going to be different for your team than it is for mine, and you’re going to find a whole host of diverse issues and concerns across your organization.

Company culture isn’t just a concept at the executive level—it’s the heart and soul of your company, from bottom to top and everywhere in between. People need to know that they can make a difference regardless of their job title. After all, the culture IS the people; it’s theirs. They comprise company culture. Leaders don’t dictate the culture, but rather are responsible for keeping it going strong.

You can’t just ask what your team needs and then fail to act, though. Leaders must follow through. You must be willing to listen—really listen—and act on those suggestions that are in the best interests of your company, customers, and employees.

Since you’ve asked for the truth, be prepared to hear that you and your policies may be part of the problem. That can definitely smart, but that’s just the nature of the beast. Hearing only what’s great doesn’t change anything. In fact, this kind of honest, clear feedback is part of the process of learning how you need to show up for your employees.

Ask them, and they’ll tell you if the environment has been made safe for open feedback. Hearing directly from your people what would make their work better gives you a free and concise direction on what to tackle. There is a huge bonus to this as well; when you make their needs a priority (and they trust that it’s important), they’ll show up for you in the most surprising ways.

Ask the Right Questions

If you haven’t been receptive and open in the past, you may need to work a bit harder at gaining employees’ trust. Enable employees to give their feedback anonymously. Don’t ask questions that simply confirm what it is you already think you should do; ask open-ended questions and give your people space and time to respond freely.

Ask your employees:

  • Why do you want to work remotely instead of the office?
  • Why do you want to keep coming in and not work remote?
  • What challenges do you feel are preventing you from doing your best work?
  • Which supports would make your life easier?
  • What do you feel is missing from your at-home work environment?
  • What do you feel is missing from your in-office work environment?
  • How can leadership do better?

You don’t need to run out and implement every idea that surfaces. Instead, be willing to evaluate each employee’s needs and have an open conversation about which supports you can put in place and which you cannot. Don’t make change just for the sake of change—make the right change based on that clarity about what you’re doing and why.  And then, do it all again down the road. You have to stay in touch with what’s going on, and it can change quickly.

Assume the Best of Intentions

Assume your employees have the best of intentions in sharing feedback. Don’t presume there is negative sentiment driving their input, even where a negative experience may have been shared. Show kindness and appreciation for their input by discussing it openly and sharing feedback back to the team. Stay connected, stay curious, and never lose the sense of fun and love that brought all of these people together in the first place.

The right change may be a transition to flexible hours or some variation of a remote work environment. But you might just as easily find that the solution for your people involves in-office supports you hadn’t considered, activities and programs that energize the team, incentives that help them celebrate one another’s successes or some combination of all three.

Industry trends are one thing, but the way forward comes from within. It comes from your people. They will love you even more if you’re willing to listen and make a change for them.

Now that’s magic.

 

Karolina Grabowska

Online Performance Review: How to Evaluate Remote Employees

What is the best way to evaluate remote employees? Is an online performance review the answer?

We don’t have to tell you: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, workplace dynamics have changed drastically over the last few months. From minimal personal interaction and connection to increased reliance on collaboration tools and communication technology — the word “office” as we know it has taken a whole new meaning. 

This leaves many companies, as the year-end approaches, to wonder where this leaves performance reviews. Given the absence of in-person interactions: How do you evaluate your remote employees accurately, deliver clear feedback, and maintain trust?

Here are our thoughts…

Before you start the process, devise an employee review strategy and share it with the team. This brings consistency and improves the quality of performance review discussions. Here’s a mind map that demonstrates the importance of the employee performance review process:

employee review process mind map

Now, let’s take a look at how you can conduct productive online performance reviews and drive professional growth in the process. 

Create an Employee Review Template 

If you think you can enter an online performance review meeting and just “evaluate” your team members on the spot, you’re mistaken. Performance review season calls for preparation from both the reviewer and the reviewee. 

The first step of the preparation process is to create an employee review template. This is an effective way to document and track employee performance. It also helps you conduct a focussed review and create a level playing field for all involved. 

Where possible, make it a point to share the template with your team members during their onboarding process, letting them know how they will be evaluated. 

This quarterly performance review example has a section for achievements and areas of improvement; customize to add metrics of value to your company:

 

employee quarterly review

Having an employee review template in place lets you be better prepared for the meeting. You can collect performance data and make your notes based on the key performance indicators you’re measuring, paving the way for a more structured discussion. 

Encourage Self-assessment

Self-assessments are a good way to get employees to reflect on their goals, responsibilities, overall performance, strengths and weaknesses. 

According to a CIO article, companies with effective performance review processes use self-evaluations for two reasons: 

  • To ensure employees set aside time to evaluate their performance
  • To help managers get a sense of whether an employee has an accurate understanding of their impact in the workplace

Encouraging employees to evaluate their performance ahead of a performance review meeting keeps them more engaged in the process while letting managers get an insight into their perspective. 

This self-performance review template requires the employee to write their job description, goals achieved, areas of excellence and improvement — which helps the interviewer assess their impact on the organization while getting their side of the story.

 

online performance review example

Use a Video Conferencing Tool

Performance review discussions can be tricky at any time. The remote working environment certainly doesn’t help the situation. 

While you can’t rely on body language and facial expressions the way you could in a traditional set-up, conducting online performance reviews over video conferencing will help you create a more personal experience and facilitate transparent communication. 

Before the discussion begins, establish video conferencing etiquette guidelines and share them with your team to run an effective virtual meeting.

Provide Clear and Explicit Feedback 

Online or not, managers are expected to be specific with their performance review feedback. Avoid making vague and ambiguous comments as they only end up damaging employee morale and motivation.

Due to the lack of personal contact, this becomes all the more important in a remote environment. Be extra cautious while communicating with your employees and delivering feedback; leave no opening for miscommunication. As Harvard Business Review rightly puts it: you have to be much more explicit and verbal. Listen carefully and spend time to make sure things aren’t lost in translation.

For example, if a sales representative is struggling to fill their sales pipeline, use performance-based data examples (eg. total revenue generated, new leads, average cost per lead, etc.) to offer specific feedback so the employee gets a clear understanding of where and how they can improve. Be sure to make use of the screen-sharing option to walk through documents together and make feedback clearer. 

Another useful tactic to offer detailed feedback is by doing a SWOT analysis. This proven method lets you evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats while appreciating the positive aspects and identifying areas of improvement. This SWOT analysis template offers a clear picture of the employee’s performance while providing feedback: 

 

employee SWOT

Create a Two-way Dialogue 

It’s not enough to bombard your employees with feedback and consider your job done. An effective performance review is a two-way conversation. It’s important to use this opportunity to get feedback on your managerial skills and address any concerns your employees might have. 

Once you are done with your points of discussion, set aside time to actively listen to your employee and understand how you can empower them to perform better. 

Approaching performance reviews like a dialogue contributes to a healthier, more transparent and productive working environment

Conduct Frequent Reviews

In the future, and if you don’t already, don’t wait until the end-of-year online performance review to provide input. After all, feedback is more effective when check-ins are frequent, according to an SHRM article. Many companies are moving toward providing continuous, real-time feedback throughout the year. 

What’s more, when you’re working remotely, conducting frequent one-on-one performance reviews allows you to build relationships and open channels of communication. This lets employees get timely feedback, stay motivated, and also improve on the go. Which, of course, helps you get more done as a team

The Takeaway: Conduct Productive Online Performance Reviews

Online performance reviews need to be approached with care. 

From having a constructive review process and documentation in place — to the ability to communicate with clarity — managers, whenever possible, must cultivate a positive performance review culture. A culture that builds trust and also promotes open communication. 

 

 

Pixabay

The Typical Work Week: Always On, Always Meeting

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

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

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

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

The Typical Work Week: No Productivity Flow

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

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

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

The Pandemics’ Impact on Scheduled Meetings

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

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

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

Meetings Don’t Have to Be 60 Minutes

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

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

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

Keep Meetings Productive

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

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

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

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

 

 

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: Anika Huizinga

How to Stay Productive During the COVID-19 Crisis

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

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

How Do We Stay Productive?

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

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

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

1. Focus on Priorities

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

2. Boost Communication

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

3. Adopt New Approaches

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

4. Set Clear Expectations

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

5. Offer Respectful Radical Candor

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

6. Use Stress to Your Advantage

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

7. Employ Empathy

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

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

Photo: Danielle MacInnes

10 Tips to Stabilize Employee Experience During the Pandemic

In an outlook where the future looks bleak, only true leaders guide their team through the storm and come out stronger on the other side. And only the best leaders will focus on employee experience during that storm.

That leader needs to be you.

During an unprecedented crisis such as COVID-19, your leadership becomes even more valuable. With so much uncertainty, your employees will look to you now more than ever for stability.

How Can You Maintain a Positive Employee Experience?

Here’s how you can provide stability for employees while keeping your business operating at maximum efficiency…

1. Foster Transparent Communications

During times of crisis, transparency becomes essential. If your employees think your business is in trouble, they’ll feel anxious.

As the person in charge, you need to keep everyone in the loop. That means sending regular updates about how the business is doing, what problems you’re running into, what you’re doing to deal with them, and more.

2. Keep Communications Positive and Hopeful

Since employees will be expecting to hear from you often, make sure any communications you send out don’t make your employees feel anxious any further.

For example, if you have daily or weekly meetings, start them off by talking about successes within the company. After all, recognizing your employees’ efforts becomes even more important during times of turbulence. And those people and teams recognized will certainly appreciate being recognized, a key aspect in improving overall employee experience.

3. Offer Ways for Your Employees to Relieve Stress

Since the lines between the office and home have become blurred, it can be a smart move to provide your team with ways to relieve stress such as:

  • Providing your employees with additional time off and breaks if needed.
  • Setting up team virtual game nights or remote “after-office” clubs. (That said, make sure to be considerate of parents and others who may not have the same flexibility with evening get-togethers.)
  • Encouraging your team to talk to each other about how they’re handling all the changes. Make it easier to share how colleagues in similar positions are managing — what’s working, what’s not.

Happy employees tend to be better at their jobs. Helping your team relieve stress shows them you care, and it can foster in-office ties.

4. Adjust Your Internal Processes to the “New Normal”

Nothing is the same as it was months ago, so the internal processes that help you deliver products/services and accomplish tasks also need to adapt to the new normal.

For example, now might not be the best time for performance reviews as few people may be thriving during the pandemic.

5. Be Empathetic and Patient with Your Team

The pandemic and near-global quarantines have had a massive impact on most people’s mental health. One of the key reasons is that a lot of employees don’t know if they’ll have a job in a month or two.

On top of being transparent about how things are going within the business, you also need to be patient with your team. Few people are performing at 100% now, so empathy is key.

Don’t simply assume you have empathy. Chat with three to five trusted people for their honest feedback and ask if they perceive a sincere effort to accommodate the team.

6. Ramp Up Employee Feedback

Although you may know your industry inside and out, your team probably has insights that you might not have considered.

If you want to stay ahead of the curve, encourage everyone who works for you to come forward with any feedback they might have. The best way to do that is to provide multiple channels for inbound feedback.

7. Set Up New Channels for Inbound Feedback

Some examples of the types of channels you can set up to encourage employee feedback include:

By providing multiple channels, you increase the chance employees will share concerns and also information about protocol violations.

8. Promote New Safety Protocols

If part of your team isn’t working remotely, then it’s your job to enforce security protocols.

That means giving your team all the information they need to perform their job safely without adding to their stress levels.

So don’t make it sterile and forgettable. Promote your safety protocols in a fun way that’s “on-brand” and will click with your employees.

9. Help Your Team Recalibrate Expectations

Although it’s your job to ensure that employees don’t feel anxious, you also need to be forthcoming about what the pandemic might mean for the employee experience now and in the future.

Some companies are putting off raises others are cutting hours, and more. Being transparent about what the business is going through will help your team keep their expectations in line.

Your team will have the confidence to adjust if they see a transparent management that is doing everything to keep the ship afloat. And that confidence will become a huge element in their employee experience.

10. Recognize the Small Things

Now more than ever, your employees need to know that you recognize the work and effort they’re putting in.

Without people showing up to work every day (even if it’s from their living room) your company wouldn’t survive. By fostering an environment where hard work is recognized and praised, you can help your team weather the storm.

Your Leadership Can Make the Biggest Difference

No industry is coming out of the pandemic unscathed. So how good your footing is after everything is said and done will depend on the level of stability instilled into your employee experience during these times.

By fostering transparency, encouraging employee engagement, and by being more empathetic, you can ensure that your team knows you’re on their side.

#WorkTrends: Sexual Harassment In Virtual Workplaces

An ill-suited conversation. A moment of innuendo. Or a comment targeted at our gender, wardrobe choices, and even our hairstyles. Each, depending on context, are considered sexually harassing messages. And yet, especially in a remote working environment, identifying harassment often comes down to a feeling you get rather than something you can prove. You feel the other person’s behavior or comment was inappropriate. But was it sexual harassment?

Don’t miss a single episode of #WorkTrends… subscribe to the podcast now!

Under any circumstances, this is not an easy topic. Now, with many employees working from home, the degree of difficulty has only increased. After all, sexual harassment does not always occur face-to-face or by touch; video conferences, emails and texts, and collaboration platforms like Slack are also delivery methods.

The Uncomfortable Conversation: Sexual Harassment

I invited Sarah Beaulieu, co-founder of The Uncomfortable Conversation and author of the book Breaking the Silence Habit: A Practical Guide to Uncomfortable Conversations in the #MeToo Workplace, to join me on #WorkTrends℠. In a frank discussion, we dove into the nuances of socially distanced forms of sexual harassment. I quickly learned this is an issue Sarah deeply cares about, and has since her first discussion on the subject: “In that moment, and in the conversations that followed, I learned about the power of a single conversation.”

Sarah emphasized that work cultures are work cultures, face-to-face or not – and harassment is harassment. Regardless of our working environment, she said we need to set our own personal boundaries, and organizations must set them as well. “Individually and organizationally – collectively – we’re responsible for holding the line,” Sarah said. “When we hold that line together, and in service of our work culture, it’s less likely sexual harassment takes place.”

The Role Silence Plays

During our conversation, I was particularly struck by the role silence plays in enabling sexual harassment — and how, over time, that silence can be so damaging to workplace culture. Sarah agrees, and astutely adds: Silence is a choice – and culture is the conversations we choose to have, or not have, together.”

Yes, sexual harassment is a difficult topic. And yet I’m so glad we started this discussion. Please, listen to the entire podcast. In our time together, Sarah shares so much of herself and her work. And every word will help us start the uncomfortable – but absolutely necessary – conversations.

Find Sarah on Linkedin and Twitter.

 

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

 

Photo: Pixabay

5 Ways COVID-19 Will Continue to Change HR

Many companies and job titles will go through drastic changes due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The HR sector and the people working in it will undoubtedly experience some of them. Here are five things people can anticipate regarding HR after COVID-19 — as well as during it:

1. Companies Will Show Employee Appreciation Differently

Even while people love working from home, many find it difficult to get through their days without the fist bumps, handshakes and pats on the back that often accompanied their most productive, successful days in offices. These changes mean HR departments may need to find alternative ways to thank employees for their hard work. 

Hani Goldstein is the co-founder and CEO of Snappy Gifts, a company specializing in employee recognition products. She noted, “Working from home can be an isolating and disorienting experience for most of today’s workforce who are used to seeing their peers every day at the office.”

It’s also more challenging for employees to strike that all-important work-life balance. “Hours that were once dedicated to fun activities have been replaced with more work and increased responsibilities,” Goldstein explained. These things mean employers need to show their gratitude differently. Whether that means having team appreciation parties over virtual platforms or sending workers online gift cards, HR representatives must figure out safe, effective ways to express thanks. 

2. Remote Hiring and Recruitment Practices Will Gain Momentum

Some analysts predicted remote methods would change hiring and recruitment methods long before COVID-19 impacted the world. They were right to some extent, especially as HR professionals realized doing things remotely cut out potential hassles like travel arrangements. Remote platforms let companies extend their hiring and recruitment reach instead of only looking for candidates in the immediate area. 

HR after COVID-19 will likely prominently feature remote platforms and approaches. Suppose a human resources professional or recruitment expert can gauge a person’s candidacy for a role via a teleconferencing platform. That method saves time compared to bringing a person into the office. 

Some remote interviews are for work-at-home jobs. However, if a person gets hired for a position at a physical location, companies may require that the new hire tests negative for the novel coronavirus before arriving. 

3. Contracts Will Include COVID-19-Related Specifications More Often

As professionals navigate this new normal and ponder what it means for the future of HR, they should consider how the pandemic might impact their employment contracts. For example, a company might remove a line that guarantees the worker a certain number of hours per week to work, especially if the industry will experience the effects of the pandemic for the foreseeable future. 

One emerging trend — especially seen in the construction sector — concerns the addition of force majeure clauses related to the pandemic in contracts. Those cover the natural and unavoidable disasters preventing a party from fulfilling a contract’s terms. However, it is not sufficient for that entity to claim it was inconvenient to meet the contract’s terms. Courts look at several variables, including whether the conditions made working impossible.

Contracts may also state that workers must report their COVID-19 risk or agree to get screened. Drug screenings are already commonplace, and the same could become true for coronavirus tests. Legal experts and HR representatives are still working out the specifics of contracts in light of the global health crisis. However, people should expect to see some noticeable changes in contractual language soon. 

4. HR Representatives May Need to Reserve More Time for Training

The pandemic forced workplaces to adjust rapidly to new procedures to keep people safe. Cleaning happens more thoroughly and frequently, and many companies reduce or eliminate the time employees spend in close quarters. Customer-facing businesses also must adopt new procedures for keeping guests safe. 

Human resources professionals regularly schedule training sessions. However, they may need to do that more often or for larger workforce segments due to COVID-19. Some businesses invested in robots to help workers or wearable gadgets to ensure that people stay far enough apart while on the job. It could take a while for some workers to adjust to those things, although dedicated training efforts could help. 

If all or most of a workforce shifts to remote working, HR representatives may deem it necessary to plan training sessions that spell out safe practices online and give people tips for staying productive. Many employees now have to work in ways they hadn’t imagined. HR professionals cannot remove all the obstacles, but taking the time to educate the workers about what’s new could relieve the stresses they feel. 

5. Businesses Will Adjust Their Time-Off Policies According to Government Guidance

The need to isolate confirmed or suspected coronavirus cases poses challenges for HR professionals who may already face workplace shortages for other reasons. However, following government guidance on that matter remains crucial. Workplace leaders must also stay abreast of recent changes.

For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated the guidance about workers caring for themselves at home after symptom onset. The most recent recommendation is that people can come back to work if at least 10 days pass since symptoms began and they stay fever-free for at least 24 hours after their body temperatures initially return to normal without medication. Their non-fever symptoms must also improve. 

The CDC previously set the fever-resolution component of that three-prong test at 72 hours, so the change represents a significant reduction. These specifics mean companies may begin implementing time-off periods that people can use specifically for reasons connected to the virus. Doing that keeps people safer by minimizing the likelihood that they feel tempted to work while feeling unwell. 

The Evolving Future of HR

No one knows the pandemic’s time frame, so it’s impossible to say for sure how things will change. However, the five things mentioned here are solid predictions, especially since some workplaces have already adopted the changes.

Photo: Mariya Pampova

#WorkTrends: Hiring Virtual Assistants

Virtual assistants (VA) offer young brands the flexibility to focus on other areas of the business.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss an episode.

From multitasking between meetings and meal prep to the issues of internet and noise levels, many of us are still trying to adjust to this new normal. But we don’t have to do it alone. Big and small companies are hiring helpers to come to the rescue. These virtual assistants (VAs) and freelancers can take on the tasks that give employees a break and keep the business going.  

Nathan Hirsch, co-founder of Outsource School, came to #WorkTrends to talk about this new trend. For entrepreneurs and leaders he’s got one rule of thumb: bring in help before you’re in dire straits early. “When you can’t walk away from your business for a week, a moment — that’s usually a good indication that you need to hire followers” — as he calls VAs.

The same approach applies as with bringing in any outside help: make sure everyone is on the same page and onboard well. Outsource School uses an onboarding process called SICC: Schedule, Issues, Communication and Culture. VAs also receive standard operating procedures for their first week at work and are tasked with not just reading them, but asking questions. A quiz determines whether they need more training or not — and at that point, if the fit isn’t right, each party may decide to part ways. “That’s how you protect your time, protect your investment and build trust,” he noted. 

For managers, Nathan advises “making sure you set those communication channels up front” to get the process aligned — whether that includes emails, Slack, WhatsApp, Viber or all of them. Then coach VAs on which to use when. For VAs, asking for support when needed is critical. And I predict that we’re going to see more VAs coming onboard now and into the future, so this is an option I’d take seriously. 

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

Find Nathan Hirsh on Linkedin and Twitter

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

Photo: Christina @ wocintechchat.com

WFH Employees: How to Keep Them Safe

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

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

Let’s dive in!

1. Keep the Lines of Communication Open

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

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

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

2. Adjust Company Policies

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

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

3. Provide Team Building Activities

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

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

4. Promote Fair Workplace Practices

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

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

5. Reward and Recognize Employees

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

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

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

Photo: Anete Lūsiņa

Five Takeaways During COVID-19 As a Working-Mom-CEO


I’m the founder and CEO of a 40+ person HR consulting business. My husband is a preschool teacher, and I have two kids — one going into her sophomore year of high school and my son who’s leaving for college soon. With offices and schools still closed, we’re doing all we can to navigate the uncertainty and make the most of our time together. 

Keeping Kids Engaged

My daughter recently learned that her high school is going completely virtual. When her school moved online in March, she loved day one, and was exhausted by day two. Then my husband and son’s schools both closed. Suddenly our family of four was all working from home. We’re fortunate that we have plenty of space. When I’m upstairs my daughter takes over the living room. Sometimes we trade for a change of scenery.

My son’s school struggled to organize online classes, and he ended up with little to do from the time COVID-19 hit until he graduated in June. Friends made up for the lack of a formal graduation by hosting a socially distant ceremony in their backyard. With no school work, we found chores to keep him busy and got him volunteering at our neighborhood food bank. 

Feeding a family of four — all of their meals from home has been a new experience since we used to leave the house at different times, and grab lunch at work or school. I’m keeping lots of healthy food and snacks in the pantry. We’re also cooking together more. Yesterday I made granola bars, while my daughter experimented with funfetti cake pops. Teenagers may disagree, but I’ve enjoyed slowing down and spending more time together.

Self-Care Helps Manage Uncertainty

In order to be there for your family, you’ve got to take care of yourself. Think about the instructions you get when you fly: put on your oxygen mask first, before helping others. I started 2020 with a new year’s resolution to do morning meditation and have experimented with affirmations too. Some mornings, I take a brisk walk to clear my head. 

A big part of my business is leadership development. When the pandemic hit, I had no idea if or when people would invest in training. Would this part of the business fail? Obviously no one was going to join a live workshop anytime soon. Fortunately, virtual workshops quickly became the norm. My worst case scenario did not come true. Nonetheless, periods of worry and uncertainty combined with constant change are exhausting. 

Routines keep us grounded, and no routines are more basic than eating, sleeping, and exercise. My number of steps dropped when I stopped commuting so now I’m intentionally walking once or twice a day. I’ve also given myself permission to be more flexible and less productive than usual. You can’t expect as much from yourself or others while the world is in turmoil, so give everyone some grace.  

Gratitude Makes You Feel Better

There’s research that gratitude can actually change your brain over time. Practicing gratitude makes us more appreciative of what we have. Start small by making a list of things you’re grateful for each night before bed. Or have each family member share what one thing they’re thankful for when you sit down for dinner. It can be as simple as fresh air, a new puppy, or your health. There are many ways to practice gratitude

My colleague from Milan and his wife were quarantined in different Italian cities during lockdown. All non-essential businesses were shut down, and there was no social life whatsoever. I commiserated with how hard that must be. He responded by saying that his grandfather had a much more difficult life during the war, so he never feels unlucky. What an amazing example of gratitude.  

Wait! I’m Still a CEO

With my family continuously readjusting to new routines, I’ve had to think creatively about what my team clients need right now. They’re looking for guidance on remote work and virtual meetings, clear communications, and tips to stay connected and engaged. People are also grappling with how to engage in anti-racist work following the killing of George Floyd. Leaders want to be empathetic while struggling to manage their own anxiety. Working parents need strategies to function while keeping kids safe and occupied. 

As a leader, I know it’s important to stay resilient and provide my team a sense of safety. We’re talking more often, checking in with each other. We’re inviting our kids and pets to online meetings, and hosting a Zoom celebration in place of our summer picnic. 

Perspective Taking

I’m staying focused on how I can help myself, my family, my team, clients, and community stay strong and get through this. I’m grateful that my loved ones are healthy and my company has so far weathered the storm. I’m encouraged because everyday I see people taking care of those in need ranging from small businesses to kids who won’t have meals while schools are closed. I know eventually this will pass and I think about how it’s going to make us stronger, more flexible, and more appreciative.

Photo: Aleks Marinkovic

#WorkTrends: Aligning Around Performance Management: New Findings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find Jennifer Toton on Linkedin and Twitter

This podcast is sponsored by Reflektive.

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

Photo: Bill Oxford

5 Ways To Foster Belonging At Work

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

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

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

First, five key points on belonging and businesses:

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

Marshmallows, Spaghetti, and Teamwork   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post is sponsored by MHR International.

Photo: Chris Montgomery

#WorkTrends: Navigating the Obstacles of Remote Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find Maria Orozova on Linkedin and Twitter

Find Scott Thomas on Linkedin and Twitter

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