How to Be Productive During Downtime at the Office

office-659689_1280
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

As summer crawls to an end, you may find yourself in the middle of some serious downtime at work. Every business has its busy seasons and not-so-busy times. For some businesses, the months of July and August are the slowest, while for others, the slow time may fall in January and February.

No matter where your slow season falls, don’t hang your head. Those slow times happen for a reason. Think of them as breathing room, a chance to catch your breath, recharge your batteries and prepare for the busier season that lies ahead.

Instead of feeling bored or hanging out on Facebook trying to look busy when you’re not, here are a few ways to be more productive during those inevitable downtime periods.

1. Follow up with your clients. If your company relies on regular or frequent client interaction to be successful, downtime might be an opportune moment to check in on them. What’s happening with their business? How are they using your products or services? With a more relaxed pace at work, you can take your time with your client and enjoy an easy conversation with them. No pressure. Not only are you helping to maintain your business relationships, you might unearth a need that your business might be able to solve for them.

2. Do some housekeeping/clean out old files. Got any old files still lying around the office taking up valuable space? Downtime is a good opportunity to roll up the sleeves and dig through them. Depending on how old the files are, you can either put them in storage or if they are really, really outdated, say more than seven years old, bring them to a recycling center. Just be sure to clear things with the bosses before you destroy any important documents. If in doubt, ask.

3. Catch up on billing and record keeping. During busy times, it can be easy to let receipts and bills stack up. Downtime is the perfect time to sit down and go through all your receipts, process paper work to your accountant and just get organized. Imagine how good you will feel when you are all caught up.

4. Catch up on reading and studying industry news. Like most professionals, you probably have a stack of magazines or clipped articles from your favorite business websites that you never had the chance to read. Now is the time to do that. You might pick up a tip or two that you can implement right away.

5. Brainstorm and innovate. Throughout the year, you’ve probably had a few insights about how your business operates. Perhaps you realized that there might be a better way to get customer feedback or an easier way to update your database. Jot them down. Grab a note pad and brainstorm all the different ways you can improve your business. Better yet, keep a small notebook with you throughout the year and jot down ideas as you think of them. Then during these downtimes, review these collected ideas to see if there are any worth implementing.

6. Attend a conference or workshop. Perhaps you’ve read a few magazine articles that have whetted your appetite for more knowledge about a particular topic. Take the next step. Check listings to see if there are any workshops or conferences that would fit your interests. If you can’t step away from the office, consider one of the free online courses that you can do at your desk, such as Udemy.

7. Review your business and marketing plan. Plan for the year ahead by reviewing your business and marketing plan. Are you on track with meeting your goals? Is there something you can do differently now to meet those goals by the end of the year? Downtime is ideal for reviewing your business goals, revising them if you need to, and figure out way to market your business so you achieve them. Don’t have a business and marketing plan? Downtime is ideal for getting started on one.

Don’t let downtime go to waste. Downtime is a gift to catch your breath after a long hectic stretch of meetings, sales calls and presentations. Downtime is the best time to review the past and prepare for the future.

5 Ways to Make Remote Working Work for You

Remote working.jpeg
Congratulations! You’ve just been offered a job that allows you to work remotely either full time or a couple of days a week. Or perhaps your boss has finally given his approval for you to have a more flexible schedule so you have time to care for an ailing parent or pick your kids up from school. You’ve just become one of the growing number of remote workers in the U.S.

According to the 2017 State of Telecommuting Report, produced jointly by Flexjobs and Global Workplace Analytics, 3.9 million U.S. employees, or 2.9 percent of the total U.S. workforce, work from home at least half of the time, up from 1.8 million in 2005. That’s a whopping 115 percent increase since 2005. The average remote workers is 46 years old, holds a bachelor’s degree and earns a higher median salary than an in-office worker.

What makes this shift possible is rapidly changing technology, which allows workers to connect with their in-office mates, and the changing family dynamic. Many of today’s households are headed by a single parent or with two working spouses, making it difficult to meet responsibilities at home. People are also increasingly recognizing the value of work-life balance and don’t want to waste their time on lengthy commutes.

So if you are one of the lucky ones who can work from home, here are a few things to keep in mind to make the most of your remote work opportunity.

1. Develop a new routine. Once you are working from home, you may find that your normal work routine won’t necessarily transfer over to your home life. That’s because you may have home responsibilities that may disrupt your day, such as taking a parent or child to the doctor. Your day will need to be planned around these activities, which you may not have had to do before. Further, you may spend more time planning your day than actually completing work tasks, making you less productive. Depending on your personal situation, you will have to use some ingenuity to figure out a new routine to work productively.

2. Honor your commitments. Take your remote work opportunity seriously. Be available for team meetings. Start your day at the same time, even if it means starting at 6:30 am. Meet your deadlines. Meet with your boss regularly, by phone or by Skype. Make sure you understand what is expected of you. Your company is trusting you with this arrangement, so it’s up to you to show them you are able to continue to do your job at the same or higher level of effectiveness than before.

3. Keep the lines of communication open. Even though you may work from home, you are still part of a work team. Not all remote workers feel this way. A November 2017 Harvard University study found that many remote workers reported feeling shunned and left out by their in-office workmates. Office politics can play a big role in this. It’s up to you, your manager and co-workers to communicate on a consistent and timely manner so you feel you are part of the team. Set up weekly meetings and conference calls. Be available to answer co-workers’ questions. Put project details in writing. Be present; be visible. Don’t be a ghost.

4. Make space at home. This may seem like a no-brainer, but make sure you have a designated space in your home to work with few interruptions. Make sure your technology and wi-fi is up to date, that you have a comfortable chair to sit in. If possible, keep the door closed so you can work quietly and let others in the household understand that you can’t be disturbed unless there’s an emergency.

5. Monitor your work hours. Believe it or not, working remotely may open up the possibility of working longer hours than you anticipated. A recent Quartz study finds that remote workers who have more direct control over their hours tend to work longer hours, thus increasing their chances of burnout. Keep track of how much time you spend working. If you feel overworked, bring the issue up with your manager before burnout hits.

Not everyone is on board with remote working. A March 2018 survey by Crain’s Chicago Business finds that many Chicago area businesses are slow to adapt to remote working programs. Nearly four out of 10 respondents (39 percent) said their company does not offer flexible schedules at all or if they do offer them, they are difficult to use. One out of four (25 percent) respondents said their company does not allow employees to work from home, while 20 percent reported that the option is offered but their company makes it difficult to use.

According to a 2017 survey by Cyberlink, one in six workers think remote workers are less valued by their company and get promoted less often. That kind of mentality can  deter workers from seeking remote opportunities within their own company.

Despite some of the drawbacks and slow adoption by many businesses, remote working and flexible work arrangements are here to stay. As more workers realize the importance of creating better work-life balance in their lives, they will continue to demand more flexible work options.

 

 

How to Fire an Employee: Text, Email or Meeting?

pexels-photo-530024.jpeg

It’s no fun being fired from a job, especially one you’ve enjoyed for many years. Neither is it fun to be the one who has to fire someone. Just ask anyone who has ever been in that position.

There is no good way to tell someone that they no longer have a job or end a working relationship. With the prevalence of texting, email and social media, it can be tempting use these tools to do the job for you. It might be easy and convenient, but is it wise? And is it professional?

Texting and emails have become commonplace in the office, especially for routine tasks like scheduling meetings, confirming appointments and sharing ideas. At the same time, in-person meetings and phone calls are losing favor, especially among millennial workers.

When it comes to being fired, millennials prefer getting the notice by email or text. A recent survey by software company Cyberlink finds that one in eight workers between the ages of 21 and 31 said they prefer getting fired by text or instant message. (I suppose the other seven out of eight surveyed still prefer in-person meetings, phone calls or some other method.)

Despite the increased popularity of texting and emails for firing people, in-person meetings are still the best way to go, according to millennial expert Dan Schwabel in his book “Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation.”  Today’s workforce yearns for personal communication in the office, he says in a recent story in the New York Post.

While it might be easier to shoot out a quick email or text message to fire someone, it can come across as cold, impersonal, and in some cases, downright cowardly. Are you too busy to meet with the individual in person, or simply want to avoid confrontation? In-office meetings to fire someone, regardless if that person performed poorly on the job or is being downsized, is more appropriate for the situation and shows more respect for the individual. It is more crucial if the individual has worked with your organization for some years, since you have already established a relationship with them.

Whether you choose to dismiss an employee by email, text or in person, a lot depends on the type of relationship you have with that person, how long they’ve worked at your organization, your age and your communications style. Still you want to treat them respectfully and professionally, no matter how lackluster their performance has been on the job.

Put yourself in their shoes. If you were the one being fired, how would you want to receive the message? Do you really want to get that notification in a text message, or would you prefer an in-person meeting so you can ask questions and iron out all details?

There is no kinder, gentler way to tell someone they’ve lost their job. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet. But meeting with someone in person, rather than hiding behind a text message or email, I believe, is more personal and sincere.

Texting, emails and social media have their place in the workplace. But there’s a time and a place for them. When it comes to firing someone, meeting in person is still the best option.

Workplace Trends for 2017

office-1209640_640

As the world of work races toward the end of the first month, let’s take a look at some of the workplace trends that we may encounter in 2017, if they haven’t shown up already. Here’s a round up of these trends, as observed by three different sources: TINY Pulse, Greendoor and futurist Faith Popcorn. As the year continues to unfold, it will be interesting to see how many of these forecasts come to fruition.

From employee engagement consultants, TINY Pulse:

* Co-worker connectivity will remain a key focus for many companies. In a study with Microsoft, TINY pulse found that employees with the most and strongest connections among their peers are the most productive. With the goal of maximizing productivity, expect more companies to shift to collaborative work environments.

* Employees will receive real-time feedback rather than annual reviews. Companies will realize the advantages of routine one-on-one feedback from managers. Research finds that employees who receive regular feedback feel they are being heard, feel more valued and are happier.

* The role of middle manager will expand and be more visible. Middle managers will take the lead in employee engagement, according to TINY Pulse.

* More companies will implement leadership development programs. As baby boomers retire, younger peers will need to step in to take their place. More companies will provide leadership programs to ensure a smooth transition.

* A better job market threatens businesses. More employees will be tempted to look for new jobs as the job market improves, and that can put a strain on employers to fill vacancies and keep the employees they do have.

From career website, Glassdoor:

* Say good-bye to excessive benefits packages. Over-the-top perks like on-site spa treatments and ping pong tables are more style than substance, say business experts. Employees prefer bonuses, paid leave and health care coverage.

* More companies will attempt to close the gender pay gap, and be more transparent about what they pay their employees.

* The just-in-time gig economy will still be around, but won’t likely plateau beyond the current task-oriented phase.

From futurist Faith Popcorn:

* More robots will replace humans, especially among unskilled blue-collar workers. Popcorn cites an Oxford University study that reports 47 percent of U.S. jobs are at risk at being replaced by robots.

* More than one-third of the U.S. workforce work on a freelance basis, and that percentage is likely to increase in 2017. People are also taking on side gigs to offset income.

* The businesses will become more tolerant of emotional expression in the office. With more women in the workforce, they bring more emotional intelligence – and more emotion – to work with them. It will be more socially acceptable to cry, laugh and get angry.

* Some companies will add “stress rooms,” a private place where employees can get away from workplace tension temporarily and chill out.

* The boundary between work and play will begin to erode. Technology enables global constant communication, so while that helps improve real-time communication with clients and employees across the globe, it means employees have little free time to play and relax. Say good-bye to work-life balance.

What do you think are trends we might see in 2017? Share your thoughts below.

How Your Work Space Can Inspire Better Creative Work

What does your work space say about you? If someone were to walk into your office, cubicle or other area where you work, what would they see? Would they see stacks of papers and books littered around the room? Would the room appear dark and dreary? Does it drain your energy and make you feel sad?

More important, how do you feel when you work there? Does the space inspire you to do your best work? Do you feel creative and energized, or do you feel bored and depressed?

If your work area doesn’t inspire you to be productive, or doesn’t energize you to do your best work, it’s time to mix things up. Here are a few typical problem areas and how to fix them.

  • Cluttered space. Obviously, cluttered space isn’t conducive to productivity. If you have stacks of papers, books, magazines, folders and other junk lying around, how can you possibly think clearly? Take an hour or two to sort through your papers and file them away or toss, put the books back on their shelves and clear your desk of unnecessary items.
  • Dark, depressing environment. There’s nothing more discouraging that working in a dark, depressing environment. Lighten things up. Add a cool, modern lamp to your desk for better task lighting while you read or write. Paint the walls a bright, cheerful color, and keep the shades up during the day to let in natural sunlight.
  • Too many distractions. If you prefer a quiet place to work or study, the local coffee shop may not be your best bet. With music playing overhead and a steady rush of people coming in and out of the shop, it can prove too distracting. To create your own quiet space, preferably with a door that you can shut out interruptions. If you live with others, make it clear to them that you do not want to be disturbed. Set regular office hours too, and stick with them.
  • Much like the cluttered space, disorganization can also be distracting, causing you to feel unfocused and miss deadlines. You may have tossed out a lot of junk, but you still need to find a place for what’s left. I like to set up file folders and label them for each project I’m working on. I may have a file for magazine articles I want to read, another for receipts for my tax returns, and another for story ideas for my blog. Make sure you store the files where you can find them easily; in other words, don’t leave them on your desk or lying around your living room floor.
  • Mood-killer. If your work space is dark, depressing and doesn’t inspire you, make you feel comfortable or kills your spirit, it’s time for a change. A few changes to your décor can lift your spirits. Put a few (two or three at the most) photos of loved ones on your desk, a vase of fresh flowers or other colorful mementos from your travels to spice up your space. Open the windows and let in fresh air, pushing old, stagnant air out. Bring your pet to work with you, if it’s allowed. There’s something about having your favorite furry friend near you while you work that is soothing and comforting, inspiring you to focus on your project.
  • Too uncomfortable. Consider your seating. Where do you sit when you work? At a desk? Or do you lounge on your couch with a laptop in your lap? How and where you sit can impact your ability to concentrate and produce quality work. For example, if you sit at a desk, make sure your computer is at a comfortable eye level and you can type without pain or discomfort. Make sure your feet are planted firmly on the floor as you work, and the chair is at a comfortable height without hurting your back. Experts suggest getting up once an hour and walk around so your legs do not stiffen up from sitting for so long.

These are just a few ideas to help you create a more inviting work space that lifts your spirit and encourages you to produce your best creative work.

 

Spice Up Your Business with Laughter

“A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower

smile-1539196_640
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

No matter how stressed or worried you may be about what is happening at your job or in your personal life, studies show laughter has been known to boost mood and release tension.

According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter has both short-term and long-term effects on the body. It increases the intake of oxygen, which stimulates the heart, lungs and muscles. It improves the immune system, relieves pain, improves mood while lessening anxiety, and makes it easier to cope with difficult moments in your life.

So why aren’t more people cultivating more humor and laughter in their lives, especially at work?

For starters, they may be perceived in the workplace as not being truly serious about their work, as being a goof-off, or not being promotable. So they keep their humor in check rather than risk reprisals at work.

But studies show that humor and laughter can boost work productivity. According to this Forbes article, humor can be key to business success in several ways:

* Humor, when used wisely, can help win friends and influence people. People enjoy working with people they like. But don’t be snarky, say experts, which is not good for team building, and don’t offend others.

* It boosts morale among team members. People who share a good laugh form a bond over a shared experience.

* Humor can make your company differentiate itself from competitors. If you can make customers laugh, it makes your company more memorable, and it can be part of your branding.

* Humor helps create an upbeat office environment that encourages interaction among team members and brainstorm new ideas, which lead to greater productivity and greater product innovation.

* Humor is a stress-buster, puts people at ease and builds trust.

Whether you work from home alone without co-workers or work in a not-so-fun office, there are ways to bring laughter into your work life. Here are a few ideas:

* Sign up to receive a joke of the day or cartoon of the day from any number of websites. My personal favorite is Savage Chickens by cartoonist Doug Savage. (www.savagechickens.com). Each morning during the week, I receive a cartoon in my email inbox, and I start my day with a smile with minimal interruption to my work day.

* Post a few funny cartoons at your desk so you have something to laugh at throughout the day.

* Recruit colleagues to participate in a skit that encourages them to express their humorous side.

* Set out games that team members can work on throughout the day, such as a crossword puzzle or chess board.

* Away from work or in off hours, indulge in a comedy-a-thon, playing back-to-back-to-back episodes of your favorite comedy or movie series.

* Visit a comedy club, or take an improvisational class.

* Spend a few minutes (and I do mean a few minutes, not hours) on YouTube videos. Just don’t spend so much time on the site that it interferes with your work.

* Enjoy a comedy festival, like the Cat Video Festival that tours the country each year.

Laughter is good for your heart, mind and soul. Take the time each day to put a little more laughter into your life, and share it with someone else. It just may improve your work life.

How You Converse By Phone Speaks Volumes about Your Business

telephone-1324357_1280

 

 
Have you ever stopped to consider how you sound on voicemail messages or on telephone calls? What does our vocal manner suggest about you and about how you conduct business with others?

A case in point: I received a voicemail message earlier today from a nurse at my doctor’s office. I had expected her call, but I was busy at the time, so I let it go to voicemail. When I heard the message some time later, several things about the way the nurse left the message made me think about my opening questions. Her manner of speaking was rushed and somewhat disjointed, making it hard to follow her train of thought. As a representative of the doctor’s office, she came across as inefficient and disorganized, though I’m sure that was not her intent, nor her regular practice. It’s just the impression she made.

As much as we strive to be polite and professional when communicating by phone, sometimes that doesn’t always happen the way we imagine it does. Seriously, how often have any of us listened to our phone conversation? Not often, if at all. The only way we would know that we did not communicate well would be if we got feedback from our listener.

But back to my nurse. After listening to her message several times, I made several observations about how she spoke that we all can learn from. Here’s what we can do to project a professional image through our phone messages and conversations.

1. Keep a steady pace. The first issue I had with the nurse was the pace of her speech. The nurse spoke rapidly, her words tumbling out of her mouth almost as quickly as her brain could process them. It made me wonder how many cups of expresso she had consumed this morning. She came across as rushed and overly busy. In fact, I had to listen to her message several times to make sure I got all the details right. If you suspect you speak too quickly, slow down your speech. It may seem slow to your own ears, but it may be the right pace for your listeners. You want to make your listener understands your message completely so there is no communication issues later on.

2. Keep the message brief and to the point. In the nearly one-minute message, the nurse provided a fairly detailed list of instructions to make follow up appointments. For something so detailed and important as medical tests and doctor appointments, I think it might have been better if the nurse simply asked that I call her back so she could go over the instructions with me personally rather than leave them on my voicemail. For example, she could have said, “I have completed and processed all your doctor’s orders. Please call me at your earliest convenience so I can go over all the instructions for your follow up tests.”

3. Stay focused on the conversation. Give your listener your full attention. When I called her back to ask a few questions, I could tell she was multi-tasking, frantically looking up information on the computer and print out a document from the printer while talking with me. Granted, this happens often in the business world. But as the computer program slowed and the printer stalled, she grumbled on the phone about how slow everything was taking. “I can’t believe how slow the printer is today. It’s like working in a black hole.”

It’s okay to make small talk. It’s also okay to apologize for any delays in getting information to the listener. But don’t dwell on how slow the new computer equipment is operating. No one really cares about that, and in fact, that kind of conversation can make you, or the nurse in this case, come across as disorganized and ill-prepared to deal with problems.

4. Complete any supplemental paperwork before conversing on the phone. The nurse’s original message conveyed a sense of urgency to make appointments for a follow up test. The only problem was, when I called to make that test appointment, the doctor’s order had not been faxed over and it was not in the system yet. Moral of the story: make sure all accompanying paperwork is complete before finalizing plans with the patient. Another glitch in the process that came across as disorganized.

This is just one example of how a simple phone conversation or voicemail message can convey different meaning than what we intend. Perhaps this nurse is new to this doctor’s office and is still trying to keep up with the work load, or perhaps she’s just having an off day. While she may intend to come across as efficient and productive, her messages were anything bu.

As you go about your own day-to-day business, think about how you come across in your telephone communications, especially if you conduct business for yourself or on behalf of someone else. Even a simple voicemail message or phone conversation can cause confusion for clients, patients or vendors. Slow down, keep your message brief and to the point, and make sure your listener understands everything you are trying to tell them.