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Increasing Productivity

Is Everybody Home? Here’s How To Devirtualize Your Team

In my 30-plus years in HR I’ve learned that people who don’t work together rarely become a top-performing team.

Dick Morgan

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As popular as telecommuting has become, its actual benefit to productivity is still in dispute. Advocates for the practice cite a 2014 survey where 77 percent of respondents reported greater productivity while working offsite, while 30 percent accomplished more in less time. However, all of the respondents were telecommuters, which is sort of like reporting that ice cream is the perfect breakfast food based on a survey of 6-year-olds.

The truth is, telecommuting comes with its own set of organisational challenges. Foremost is maintaining company culture. In general, employees who work in offices tend to bond with their coworkers while absorbing company culture and values. By comparison, I’ve seen firsthand the limitations of work-from-home. When I was working for a Fortune 100 company earlier in my career, we acquired a large group of employees, the majority of whom worked from home offices.

Their arrangement had been put in place for cost-saving reasons. Not too long after they joined our company, it became clear that acclimation to our culture and business norms would be hard. With so few face-to-face connections being made, it was easier to remain in “previous-company mode.”

Productivity myths?

The upsides of telecommuting for employees are obvious (no sitting in traffic or worrying about your wardrobe) but it does have one major disadvantage: Working from home deprives both workers and employers of experiences that only happen when teams work closely together.

Related: 7 Team Building Ideas To Create An Engaged Team

It’s the victory of convenience over culture, but the pendulum may be swinging in the other direction. IBM, a pioneer of work-from-home, is recalling thousands of remote workers to physical office spaces. The company found that the age of real-time data and lightning-fast communications calls for response times that only in-person collaboration stimulates.

Nobody is arguing that all telecommuting must stop, but remote employment isn’t right for every employee or job, and groups with isolated members rarely get the chance to become a cohesive team. Telecommuting is an option to keep for the right situation, but employers should understand its benefits, drawbacks and proper applications.

Working from home is best suited to jobs that require little collaboration. Sales and customer service professionals may be more productive outside of an office. This assumes that employees’ homes are set up for work and that they have the right disposition (and the self-discipline) to focus outside of an office environment.

Not so interconnected?

connectivity

This isn’t just my opinion. The decision to eliminate working from home at Yahoo was made by then-CEO Marisa Mayer and was based on empty parking lots and troubling VPN log reports. Mayer caught flak for challenging a treasured perk, but the evidence suggests that she may have been right. According to audio-conferencing leader Intercall, more than 60 percent of people admitted to doing other work or sending emails during those conference calls and Skype chats that promised to “bring the boardroom to the living room.” If multitasking during important meetings is the rule and not the exception, what does that say about employee investment?

In my 30-plus years in HR I’ve learned that people who don’t work together rarely become a top-performing team. Real team-building comes not only with face-to-face engagement but also from going out to lunch, griping about a manager or trading war stories – none of which actually happen over a WebEx meeting.

Similarly, people who don’t know each other as human beings don’t work together as effectively – their individual productivity might be acceptable, but they won’t sync up as well with teammates. Traditional channels of productive disagreement are almost impossible to replicate online, which leads to isolation and resentment. Email arguments, for example, escalate faster and get more virulent than in-person conversations. Read any online forum and you’ll know what I mean.

Related: Are You On Your Team’s Wavelength?

I also know from experience that working from home can sometimes create “adjunct employees” with fewer chances to learn from coworkers or get noticed for promotions or new assignments. These talented, promising professionals find their overall trajectory limited because their isolation meant exclusion from company culture and opportunity. These employees were mainly known only for their output, not their talent or ideas, and they become interchangeable

At my current company, we make it a point to provide remote employees (especially those who have joined through acquisition) opportunities to visit our HQ or regional offices and also participate in company-wide events such as R&D hackathons. These personal touch points go a long way to bringing everyone together.

The best of both worlds

This is not to say telecommuting has no place in modern business. Best practices will leverage telecommuting to attract applicants who may not live near your office. In addition, it creates an option for trusted, highly valued employees who seek to limit their commuting time. The trust factor between manager and employee in a successful work-from-home arrangement cannot be emphasised enough.

I find that full-time telecommuting is often not as successful as simply having a flexible schedule. Someone who comes in two days a week and telecommutes the other three gets the best of both worlds: exposure to office culture and opportunities and the comfort of the home office. Even individuals who work remotely full time should still come in as often as possible. Enforcing this practice among my own companies has made remote or semi-remote employees more engaged with the business, its products, their coworkers and their path within the organisation.

A plan for working from home

Good managers guide every employee along a path to success. The first step for telecommuting is to determine if it’s the right fit for a particular employee. Consider variables like job function and availability before agreeing. A position that requires very little collaboration lends itself to remote work, as does an employee with key skills who simply cannot commute five days a week.

Once a request is approved, managers need to put in extra time to ensure successful onboarding. An employee who telecommutes should have as much structure as one who comes into the office, so supervisors should lay out their expectations with an agreed-upon and clear work management plan. Both parties should agree to certain performance standards and regular check-ins so that the employee does not simply become an invisible source of work. For example, what are the work-from-home employee’s core hours? Agree on these and hold the employee accountable. Another is to be clear on the ground rules for collaboration aps (Jabber, Slack, etc.). My expectation is we will use the technology with honesty and transparency.

If you’re away or busy, your status should read yellow or red. If you’re available it shows green. Simple, but effective.

Related: 4 Tips To Become A Team Whisperer (And Improve Your Employee Engagement)

Joining the team, wherever you are

One of the promises of the digital age was that people could work from anywhere – and unlike flying cars, it’s actually happening. Remote working among non-self-employed individuals has doubled since 2005, and as many as 53 percent of workers could be remote within five years.

But, as overwhelming as the trend toward telecommuting may seem, remember that remote employment is a strategic lever to help companies improve productivity and work-life integration while widening their hiring pool. Many such individuals have expressed their appreciation for their sudden upward trajectory within the company after I insisted they spend more time at the office. Teammates must work together, not just online but in person, and a smart leader helps their employees remain invested in and connected to the team’s overall success, no matter where that employee works.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Dick Morgan has worked in the HR profession for over 25 years. He was an initial member of the HR team at Lotus and later worked for Dassault Systèmes as VP HR at SolidWorks and more recently VP HR for Dassault Systèmes Americas. He is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire and Tufts University.

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Increasing Productivity

5 Ways To Be More Productive In 2019 Without Driving Your Team Insane

Here’s how to get your business running faster and better.

Andrew Medal

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When talking about their biggest challenges for 2019, many of the entrepreneurs I speak with say they’re overwhelmed with the rapid pace at which business operates today. Today’s consumers have come to expect instant gratification, and they’re putting pressure on companies to make sure that they get what they want right now.

Technology’s partly to blame for these questionably reasonable expectations. We’ve got virtually countless hours of on-demand video streaming content at our fingertips. We’re on the cusp of mass product delivery by drone. We get frustrated when customer service departments fail to respond to our queries within minutes.

Just a couple of decades ago, looking up information meant going to the library to check out references. Today, we don’t even type out our Google searches. We just holler at Siri or Alexa to get the answers, products and media we want.

In a survey by PwC, nearly four out of five surveyed customers customers say that they want experiences that are speedy, convenient and helpful. For businesses, reliably offering these experiences has become a constant challenge.

With 2019 already underway, why not make speed improvement one of your key objectives for the year ahead? Here are five strategies you can apply to speed up your processes as we get ready to zoom through another year.

1. Maximise your real-time social media opportunities

Knowing what delights customers most is a huge component of business leadership. Data from the 2018 Sprout Social Index suggests that there’s a widening disconnect between what brands’ social media profiles are posting about (61 percent of the 2,000 social marketers surveyed favoured teaching, while 58 percent favoured telling stories) and what customers want (73 percent of the 1,200 surveyed prefer deals, while 60 percent prefer posts showcasing new products and services).

So, how can you improve your organisation’s ability to discern what the market really wants right now? Conducting your own market surveys can help, but it’s a resource-heavy solution that yields dubious insights. Social listening, on the other hand, allows marketers to follow what people are saying about your industry, products, and competitors.

I’ve used solutions like SentiOne that can track such mentions across social platforms and online communities in real-time. Armed with this information, you’d be able to act on customer issues in a timely manner and even launch targeted campaigns that speak directly to customers’ interests with precision. It’s also a useful way to know what new features or products to roll-out or at least give you the starting point to start your market research.

Related: Want More Productive Employees? It’s Time To Get Physical, Together

2. Shorten time to delivery

Customers don’t like waiting for their online orders to arrive at their doorsteps. Last year, the maximum time that e-commerce buyers found acceptable for orders with free shipping was just 4.5 days, as reported by Emarketing. If they’re paying for shipping, they expect to receive their packages even sooner.

Having the ability to expedite delivery can be a major differentiator, but it’s a tall order if you’re a smaller enterprise. Thankfully, as the independent e-commerce economy has grown, so has the ecosystem of logistics services empowering the industry.

Using a third-party, fully white label-ready fulfillment partner gives you the capability to offer two-day shipping, without being dependent on Amazon.

Industry leader ShipBob, for one, can store your inventory in a network of shared warehouses around the country, so that products are ready to ship, with maximum proximity, as soon as your customers check out. Better fulfillment partners integrate directly with leading shopping cart systems like Shopify and WooCommerce and can save you and customers massive amounts of wait time.

3. Maintain a bird’s eye view of your business

With competition seemingly getting tougher every year, in 2019 your ability to make quick but informed decisions has become mission-critical. However, getting hold of the necessary information may require pulling data from dozens of sources, each with its own interface, before you are able to generate reports that are comprehensive enough to act upon.

A consolidated business data resource can provide you with an integrated dashboard that pools together information from all the platforms you use for social media, sales, project management, finance and marketing.

Even if you use separate services like HubSpot, MailChimp and Twitter, Rivery.io’s platform, for example, can aggregate real-time information from your accounts and even push metrics to the data repository of your choice.

You can’t afford to get stuck in the nitty-gritty anymore. Keep an eye on the trends that matter, so you can make smarter strategic decisions on the fly. I also like to use tools like Kipfolio, for interactive business dashboards that give me a pulse on everything from sales to accounting to marketing spend.

4. Accompany your customers on their journeys

As reported by Strategy and PwC, three out of four surveyed buyers in the U.S. say that customer experience is a major factor in their shopping decisions, citing speed and ease as their most valued factors. Yet, despite the efforts of developers and designers to create intuitive interfaces, some customers, especially those who lack tech savvy, have been known to hit roadblocks on their paths to purchase.

To avoid alienating these customers, you can ease access to your interface with an interactive walkthrough solution. Offering onsite chat, either automated or human-driven, can help maximise a sense of accessibility and trust, shortening the time to convert prospects into customers.

This type of “digital adoption” hand-holding can be a major game changer, especially if your sales prospects are less comfortable experimenting in digital environments. There are all types of new chatbot software tools that can be used for streamlining these conversations and navigating customers. We’ve used Drift across my various companies and found it works well.

Related: 8 Steps To Having Wildly Productive Mornings

5. Minimise slowdowns caused by absenteeism

Team productivity gets compromised due to staff taking unexpected time off can derail your entire operation. If you can’t find someone else to quickly step in and pick up the slack, it can be hard to fulfill orders and maintain pace on projects.

Using workforce management platforms can help you sort out staffing and scheduling issues, largely on autopilot.

Deputy, for instance, has functionalities that can help line up shift replacements when someone suddenly needs time off. Using the employee-facing app, team members can inform HR with just a few taps that they’ll be out, and the scheduling system automatically dispatches push notifications to others who have similar skills, asking for substitutions that can often be lined up before you even know they were needed.

Absenteeism was a big issue for one of the nonprofits I’m involved with and tools like Deputy have helped us to make necessary adjustments on the fly. Don’t let people interfere with your systems. Manage the systems that manage the people.

Be quick and nimble

Today’s business landscape moves at breakneck speed. But, things always go wrong. For your startups and scaling businesses to keep pace in the coming year, you need to be prepared, with systems in place to expedite processes and minimise the impact of bumps in the road. I wish you a prosperous 2019!

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Increasing Productivity

The Power Of Non-monetary Staff Incentives

Aim to align business and individual goals through a balance of monetary and non-monetary rewards, and you’ll soon see a massive impact on the bottom line and staff morale. There can be no greater incentive than that.

Greg Morris

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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, one of the best-known theories of motivation, suggests that humans are motivated to fulfil basic needs – like food, shelter, and safety – before striving to satisfy more complex needs: health, companionship, self-esteem, and self-actualisation.

So, we get jobs to satisfy our basic needs. Then, with food in our stomachs and decent rest, we start to crave fulfilment in things money can’t buy: appreciation and respect, making a valuable contribution to the world, and – the Holy Grail of motivation – using our talents and abilities to achieve our full potential.

It’s no coincidence that the best companies to work for have and share a clear direction, offer challenging work, and entrench appealing cultures. Their employees feel valued and are empowered through opportunities for advancement and expressions of gratitude.

This is why we can’t assume that giving people more money will make them work harder.

Money means little if staff are overworked and don’t have the time or energy to enjoy the financial rewards they receive. People also respond better to incentives that address their psychological need for acceptance, appreciation, and accomplishment. Let’s look briefly at the ways in which organisations can show appreciation for a job well done.

Show me the money?

Part of what makes us individuals is the fact that we’re motivated by different things. A graduate will appreciate a cash bonus. A new mother might also appreciate more money – but money can’t buy her more time with her baby. Flexible working hours can.

In fact, studies suggest that the effects of monetary rewards are short-lived because people don’t differentiate cash bonuses from their normal pay. Extra money is quickly sucked up by household expenses and debt – i.e. by working to fulfil our basic needs.

Now, that’s not to say that we should discount monetary rewards. I believe there’s a time and place for both – and your business and culture are two of the biggest deciding factors.

Related: Why Incentives Are A Must For Your Business

Win-win

The industry you’re in and the type of work an employee does dictates the incentives you should offer. Some roles – like commission work – require a more financially motivated incentive system to ensure the smooth running of the business and to achieve personal targets. Salespeople bring in business, profit grows, salespeople are rewarded financially.

But admin and marketing staff, for example, receive set salaries and not commissions, so they can be acknowledged for excellent customer service or for improving an inefficient administration process. For them, training courses, movie tickets, vouchers, or even time off to pursue a personal passion project might offer a bigger thrill than money.

Any incentive programme must align with your company’s goals to ensure that the group works towards the same outcome. Employees are more likely to take ownership of their roles and responsibilities when their contribution to the bigger picture is acknowledged and rewarded. And, in pursuit of their own excellence, the business’s interests naturally benefit.

Sweet spot

Successful reward programmes balance intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (when we do something because it aligns with our values and because we want the reward).

Getting this balance right is critical to retaining talent. Being passionate about work is one thing, but passion doesn’t pay the bills. Just as dangerous is having a workforce that’s only motivated by money but produces mediocre work. The magic happens when we reward employees for the outcomes of their passion: Happier customers and a healthier bottom line.

The sweet spot lies in incentivising positive behaviours as much as goal achievement. The behaviour might not be directly linked to the financial performance of the company but there may be other obvious benefits, like improved morale or an attractive company culture.

The power of gratitude

Positive behaviours needn’t be rewarded with money or redeemable points. A simple ‘thank you’ goes a long way. One study noted a 50% increase in the amount of additional help being offered as a result of appreciation, suggesting that motivation extends past material things. And a boost in self-esteem ticks all the right boxes in Maslow’s fourth level of needs.

Although basic, recognition and appreciation are often overlooked motivators. The same study found that only 15% of us consistently say ‘thank you’ at work. According to another study, 79% of employees quit their jobs because they didn’t feel appreciated.

Positive behaviours can be subtly reinforced using tactics like leader boards, employee-of-the-month posters, floating trophies, free lunch, or time off. It’s the little things that count.

Related: Is Cash King? The Psychology of Incentives

Shifting motivators

As individuals get older and enter different phases of our lives, there’s an evolution in the things that motivate them. As leaders, we need to build meaningful relationships with our staff, to better understand what motivates an individual today, not what motivated them five years ago. This depends on constant communication and open engagement and feedback.

Bottom line? We need to think differently about motivation and to apply creativity and innovation to company incentive programmes. Aim to align business and individual goals through a balance of monetary and non-monetary rewards, and you’ll soon see a massive impact on the bottom line and staff morale. There can be no greater incentive than that.

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Increasing Productivity

Listen To Lead – Giving Staff Space To Speak Can Pay Dividends

Are you listening or hearing your staff?

Richard Mukheibir

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Excitement, vision and determination are all great qualities for an entrepreneur, particularly when you are setting up your business. But when you move into the consolidation and then growth phases, they could backfire.

It may come as a surprise to you that such positive qualities could ever cause any negatives. But once you have driven every last muscle to get your business up and running, you need to transition yourself into managing it. For that, you need to work as hard on your people skills as you did on your start-up.

It is true that decisiveness is a key attribute of a successful manager but your decisions must be based on solid evidence and intelligence you have gathered. Try as you might, you cannot be everywhere in the business at once and so you need to soak up and sort out the observations related to you by your staff.

Make a point of being seen regularly on your shop or factory floor and chatting in a relaxed, non-judgemental way with your staff and any customers who may be around. Stalking around saying nothing is just as intimidating to your staff as the habit that some bosses have of appearing very infrequently simply to bawl people out.

People skills are so critical because it is people who buy your product and people who work for you. Whichever way you look at it, your business is people-driven.

Related: Look After Your Employees And They Will Look After Your Reputation

So to win the loyalty of your shareholders, customers or surveyors, you need to show that you treat all people with the respect each one deserves and can mix positively with each and every one. Getting to know your staff in this way will develop in you the subtleties of emotional intelligence, a skill that is vital to your ultimate success.

With emotional intelligence, you will be able to adapt your management style to achieve the best results from each individual. You will know instinctively when a staff member needs a few words of encouragement or comfort, or when and how much to push to get the best out of them – perhaps even more than they knew that they had to give.

At Cash Converters SA, all our managers are expected to polish their people skills to achieve the best for themselves and the staff reporting to them. Even our top management team is not exempt and makes a point of putting a day or two aside each month to visit a different franchisee round the country.

That way we can help mentor and coach them to deal with any management problems that they may be encountering. From a corporate and strategic point of view, we can also check that the corporate branding is on track and listen to feedback on whether any new lines are working well or not and to suggestions for new brand extensions or even new and complementary income streams.

Related: Understanding Your Responsibility As An Employer

In that way, an apparently soft skill can make your business even more competitive. By insisting on strong people skills among your staff, you will build a more harmonious working place. To complement this, incorporate relevant feedback into your planning. This will have a positive impact on the bottom line, which is exactly what leaders want to achieve.

So keep quiet and listen as much as you can. Make a point of not anxiously filling nervous silences with hasty instructions or long technical lectures. Then you will benefit the business by hearing what your staff need to get the job done and who is blossoming into a promising talent.

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