8 Easy Ways to Make Customers Comfortable While They Wait for Their Appointment

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There’s a lot that goes into fulfilling an appointment. In many ways, one person’s appointment depends on the execution of many previous appointments. And during busy times, every company falls on occasion. 

When that happens, customers end up having to wait longer than expected. That can be frustrating for those who showed up early as well as those on a tight schedule. If it happens too frequently, customers may start showing up late or not arriving at all. 

You may not always be able to shrink your customers’ waiting time, but you can enhance their waiting room experience. A good customer experience is what keeps people coming back, and the waiting experience is a big part of that.

It doesn’t have to be complicated or extravagant. Take a look at these simple ways to ease customers’ waiting anxieties:

1. Send reminders about waits.

Reminders should already be a meaningful part of your company’s scheduling practices. And if you monitor your appointments carefully, you can alert people when you start to fall behind. 

A reminder about wait times helps customers mentally prepare. That way, they won’t be disappointed when they have to wait once they arrive. They may even opt to reschedule their appointment if they are in a time crunch. 

The key is to be as accurate as possible with the reminders. Don’t underestimate the time they’ll have to wait. Instead, give yourself some room to exceed their expectations. Keeping a customer comfortable in the waiting room begins with making them comfortable with the idea of waiting. 

2. Check your seating layout.

Aside from having comfortable seating in your waiting room, the way it’s arranged can also affect customers. No one wants to be cramped together while waiting, especially during the pandemic or if there are a lot of people in the room. 

By moving some chairs and tables around, you can redesign your waiting area to be more comfortable. Simply declutter the area, space out your chairs, and make electrical outlets accessible.  

Be sure to reorient your room in a way that breaks up the traffic. Doing so will probably involve some trial and error. Pay attention to where people tend to walk, and keep those areas clear. Make sure exits and entrances are clearly marked. 

3. Let in some natural light.

Harsh or dim lighting can make a waiting room unbearable. Natural lighting can significantly reduce the fatigue that builds up from waiting. 

If you’re able to, open the blinds and let in some light. On nice days, open the windows and use the screen door. If windows are scarce in your office, experiment with lights that imitate natural light. 

4. Make Wi-Fi easy to access. 

People tend to spend time on their digital devices when they have to wait. You are bound to get asked about the Wi-Fi connection. 

Reduce the need for customers to ask by doing the following:

  • Name your Wi-Fi after your company. 
  • Make the password visible for customers.
  • Include a guest Wi-Fi option.
  • Train the receptionist on Wi-Fi troubleshooting.

Surfing on cellular data while they wait may cost your customers money. Don’t underestimate how much that can get under their skin. 

5. Provide refreshments.

Food and drinks can be a good way to ease a customer’s wait. You don’t need to break the bank, but do set out some light refreshments. 

Water and coffee are standard. Go above and beyond by setting out juice, lemonade, or soft drinks. Set out a container of tea bags and an electric kettle. 

Snacks are also a smart way to keep customers entertained. Fruit, nuts, and chips are great picks for an office environment. To satisfy your customers’ sweet tooth, you could set out donuts and other pastries.

Always make sure the display is tidy. Remove any food that’s gone bad promptly. Restock the display regularly. 

6. Add art to the room. 

While they wait, nobody wants to choose between staring at a blank wall or at other customers. Hang some art on the walls. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing, but it can actually cut down on the stress of waiting. 

If you have a little money to spend, consider featuring art from local artists. Make sure whatever you choose represents your brand well. Switch up your art periodically to keep things interesting for your most loyal customers. 

7. Set out reading materials. 

Magazines are a staple of waiting rooms. But if you want to step it up, include books as well. To keep kids entertained, pepper in some comics and coloring books. Make sure all periodicals are recent so customers aren’t stuck reading through old news. 

Go broad in your selection so that every client can find something they’re interested in reading. Before they know it, their wait will be over. 

8. Take care of the kids.

Restless kids can be a burden to parents in a waiting room. Worse, they can disrupt the experience of other customers as well. 

If you commonly have kids in your waiting room, create a play area. Colorful toys are a surefire way to keep children’s attention. If you’re lucky enough to have a playground outside the office, let them get some fresh air while their parents watch them from the window. 

Patience is a virtue, but you shouldn’t test your customers’ limits. If you need to ask them to wait, do your part to help them out. 

6 Remote Volunteering Opportunities That Are Perfect for the Pandemic

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Volunteering doesn’t just do good for the world; it’s also good for a team. 

Giving back reminds everyone to be grateful for the opportunities they’ve been given. It also gives them something to talk about other than work. Volunteering is a great way to bring a team together around a shared purpose.

Over the last few months, teams have had to find new ways to bond. No longer can they eat lunch together, work side-by-side, or meet up for an after-work happy hour. 

Unfortunately, the same goes for volunteering opportunities: You can’t simply waltz into a children’s hospital to read to kids during the pandemic. But if your team wants to help, there are still plenty of ways to do it. 

Giving Back From Afar

If you’re willing to get creative, you’ll see that there are almost as many opportunities to volunteer remotely as their are in-person:

1. BeMyEyes: Lend your sight to people with visual impairments.

As long as your team members have their eyesight, they can volunteer for BeMyEyes. People with vision impairments use BeMyEyes to check expiration dates, read instructions, look for lost items, and more.

Start by downloading the BeMyEyes app. Once you’re matched with a user who needs to see something, you’ll receive a video call. All you have to do is describe what you see on the screen in order to help them out. From the comfort of your own home, you can join over 3.8 million volunteers in giving a gift it’s entirely too easy to take for granted. 

2. Amnesty Decoders: Dig into international human rights violations.

With easy access and tons of opportunities, Amnesty Decoders makes it easy to become a digital activist and do meaningful human rights work. To get to work, all you need is internet access and a smartphone, tablet, or computer. 

Amnesty Decoder volunteers help researchers sift through large data banks of social media messages, images, video, and other documents for evidence of human rights abuses. Decoders help researchers avoid information overload so they can focus on the root issue. 

Since its release in June 2016, Amnesty Decoders has tackled seven projects for the betterment of humanity, including digitizing a large data bank of oil spill investigation reports, identifying misogynistic social media content targeted at female Indian politicians, and more. 

3. Crisis Text Line: Support people experiencing mental health crises.

If you’ve never experienced a mental health crisis before COVID-19, odds are that you have a better sense of how difficult they can be. Turn that into positive energy by volunteering on behalf of Crisis Text Line. 

Remember, a crisis doesn’t necessarily mean someone is thinking about ending their life. In many cases, it means that someone simply needs an attentive ear to listen to their challenges. Just be prepared to talk about tough topics, including abuse, anxiety, suicide, loneliness, bullying, and self-harm. 

With just a four-hour-per-week commitment and free training — valued at over $1,000 per volunteer — you can change someone’s life. You’ll become a more compassionate, empathetic, and understanding person, not to mention learn strategies for addressing your own mental health needs. 

4. Project Gutenberg: Transcribe print literature into digital documents.

Project Gutenberg is a free digital library with more than 60,000 e-books and cultural works. To improve access to information around the world, Project Gutenberg has a range of volunteer opportunities available:

  • Proofread an e-book.

Joining as a member of the Distributed Proofreaders team means that you can proofread as few or as many pages as you want. That way, readers don’t have to deal with transcription errors. 

  • Procure eligible paper books.

Producing new e-books for the site means getting a hold of paper books with expired copyrights. Because most content published before 1923 is no longer under copyright, the site mostly contains older works of literature. 

  • Burn CDs and DVDs for people without internet access. 

Even within the U.S., not everyone has access to the internet. Share information and materials with those who otherwise might not have it. 

5. Ancestry World Archives Project: Build a publicly accessible genealogy database.

Genealogy sites like Ancestry are not only fun and sentimental, helping people find long lost relatives and learn about their family’s history, but they also benefit society. Family history data can be used by detectives to solve crimes, while medical experts can leverage it to understand a person’s predispositions to certain diseases. 

Ancestry’s World Archives Project houses free searchable records gathered from historical documents. Volunteers review scanned documents and make the material searchable by typing out its contents. They not only get a firsthand look at historical documents, but they may also be eligible for discounts on Ancestry’s premium services.

6. CareerVillage: Answer students’ career questions and share work experiences.

Landing a job is all about who you know. Unfortunately, a lot of talented students don’t have industry connections. Worse, some of them don’t even know what working in the field is like.

CareerVillage volunteers give promising students that leg up. Ranging in intensity from full-on mentorship to casual question-answering, volunteering opportunities come with no specific commitment or training requirements. CareerVillage’s network of volunteers advise more than 4 million learners, including those from underrepresented backgrounds. 

Just because teams have to work together differently during the pandemic does not mean that they can’t still come together to do good. Try it: There’s never been a better time to get involved. 

Thrive in the Remote World

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Even before COVID-19 changed the world as we know it, remote work was having its moment. In fact, according to Global Workplace Analytics, “Regular work-at-home has grown 173% since 2005, 11% faster than the rest of the workforce (which grew 15%) and nearly 47x faster than the self-employed population (which grew by 4%).”

Will this trend continue following the pandemic? Well, Global Workplace Analytics anticipates “that 25-30% of the workforce will be working-from-home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.”

While that exact estimate could change, I feel comfortable in predicting that remote work isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s just going to become the norm.

So, whether you’re new to the game or a seasoned veteran, it’s imperative that you learn how to thrive in the remote world.

Build the right toolkit.

Have you ever started a project, like putting together a piece of furniture or an elaborate dish for dinner, only to be dismissed that you don’t have everything needed to finish what you started? It’s almost like a punch to the gut as it just takes the wind out of you.

The same idea is true with remote work. If you don’t have everything you need to get your job done, then it’s impossible to succeed, let alone thrive.

Depending on your exact work, this will be different for everyone. But, at the minimum, you should have the right hardware and software. For most of us, that means:

  • Reliable internet connection.
  • Computer/laptop — ideally with a mic and camera for virtual meetings.
  • Apps for communicating and collaborating with others like Google Drive, Slack, Zoom, and Trello.
  • Security solutions like VPNs.

Create a dedicated workspace.

You may have noticed that in the previous section, I left out a dedicated workspace. It wasn’t something that I forgot and added later. It’s just that this can play a huge role in your productivity if working from home.

If possible, have a dedicated area solely reserved for work. For instance, you could turn a spare bedroom or garage into an inspiring home office. I know that there are a lot of amazing ideas you can find online. But, you really just need a surface to work on, ergonomic furniture, and a quiet space free of distractions.

You can, however, make space your own by adding personal touches like pictures, plants, and knick-knacks. That’s all up to you. The key is to keep your work area clean, clutter-free and has the room for you to get work done. For example, if you need to look at blueprints, then you need a desk or table large enough to accommodate this.

What if you don’t have space for a home office? Any location in your home could work — just as long as it has the fewest distractions and temptation.

Plan to manage your time better.

Having autonomy is pretty sweet. You can set your own schedule and work however you prefer without someone questioning your every move. At the same time, if you’re new to the game, it may be challenging to adjust to not having as much structure.

For some, that means getting sidetracked by distractions like household chores or streaming services. Others have the problem of not knowing when turn-off work mode.

Regardless of which camp you’re in, if you work remotely, then you must learn how to manage your time more effectively.

While there a variety of techniques worth trying, Choncé Maddox, in a previous Calendar article, has used the following ways to improve her time management:

  • Track your time. “To plan a schedule that’s realistic and productive, you have to give yourself a good idea of how you spend your time,” writes Choncé. “Plus, you’ll want to know how much time it takes you to complete specific tasks.”
  • Plan a realistic schedule in advance. Next, plan out a daily schedule that’s not only realistic, but also takes into account breaks, lunch, physical activity, and household chores.
  • Plan around your energy levels. We all have energy highs and lows during the day. Find out when these are so that you can plan accordingly. For example, if you’re a morning person, then that’s when you would tackle your most important task of the day.
  • Avoid irreverent meetings. Don’t accept meeting invites unless it serves a clear purpose. Instead, consider alternatives like a quick phone call or email.
  • Create caps on your calendar. “Schedule gaps in your calendar to accommodate anything that might pop up or just to give yourself a much-needed break,” recommends Choncé.

Separate work and personal.

The biggest drawback to working remotely is that there aren’t boundaries to separate your work and personal lives. Having a home office is a start as this establishes a physical boundary. But, even then, it’s hard to forget about work when you’re still thinking about a project or checking your notifications round the clock.

Eventually, without these boundaries, your work bleeds into your personal life and vice versa. As a result, you become stressed and ultimately burned out. To avoid this, have set “business hours” and reduce your screen time. For example, on the weekend, leave your phone inside if you’re during yard work.

You can also try some mental tricky. For instance, taking a shower in the morning could be your transition into work mode, while shutting down your computer signals the end of your workday.

Schedule “lazy” time.

“Don’t make the entire day about work. I know, it sounds counterintuitive,” writes Colleen Trinkaus. “But often regular remote workers find themselves letting work creep into evenings and weekends.”

As mentioned above, remote workers tend to work more. That’s because they don’t have to deal with a daily commute or work “later into the evening because they aren’t seeing their colleagues leave for the day.”

To avoid this, “monitor your daily workload – and if you realize you’re putting in overtime, sprinkle in some free time throughout the day to do what you please,” suggests Trinkaus. Ideas could be grabbing lunch with a friend, taking your dog to the park, or reading. In turn, these “breaks will help reset your mind and prevent burnout.”

Focus on results, not your hours.

“The eight-hour workday is an outdated and ineffective approach to work,” explains Dr. Travis Bradberry. “If you want to be as productive as possible, you need to let go of this relic and find a new approach.”

Even though the eight-hour workday is antiquated, so many of us continue to fall into this trap. We convenience ourselves that if we don’t put in a set amount of time at work, we haven’t had a productive day.

The truth is that “the length of the workday didn’t matter much,” adds Bradberry. It’s how we structure our days. Ideally, this would be working for around an hour and then taking about 15 minutes off to rest. More importantly, it’s how we spend that hour working.

Take email as an example. You may spend 60-minutes cleaning out your inbox and responding to messages. But, is that a priority when you have a deadline to meet? No. It just means that you’re busy and not productive.

How can you determine what your priorities are? Well, you’ll want your priorities to be what’s most important to you, your leaders, and the organization. A straightforward way to identify these would be to “write down all of the tasks that are tied to your professionally for the next month,” recommends Calendar Co-Founder John Hall. Next, trim down this list by focusing on only the three items that account for 90% of your value to your business.

If you knock-out the “big three” during your workday, then it’s been fruitful — regardless of how many hours it took to complete them.

Maintain your mental health.

Remote workers often experience symptoms of anxiety and depression at a higher rate than people commuting into traditional office spaces,” reports Dr. Amy Cirbus, Ph.D., LMHC, LPC, and Manager of Clinical Quality at Talkspace. “Specifically, they report feelings of isolation and loneliness and high rates of worry about job performance and stability. Insomnia and sleep disturbance are common, along with increased fatigue, irritation, sadness, and feelings of disconnection.”

“Remote workers report a lack of concentration and focus that can compound and exacerbate these mental health challenges,” adds Dr. Cirbus. “It can lead to a loss of self-worth and a questioning of one’s abilities.” When combined, “these symptoms can have a significant impact on job performance, job satisfaction, and the efficiency of productive work.”

Because of this, it’s necessary for you to maintain your mental health when residing in a remote world.

There are several ways to achieve this. Going back to the previous point, take frequent breaks is a start. However, you should spend doing healthy activities like practicing gratitude, going outside, meditating, or any other type of physical activity that will release endorphins.

You should also spend your downtime, like during the evening or weekend, to do the things that you enjoy. It could be a hobby, hanging out with friends, enjoying a little self-care, or learning something new.

And, there’s also no shame in seeking out help when needed. It could be calling a family to vent or working with a mental health professional.

Keep things fresh and fun.

As someone who has worked from home for some time now, I can tell you that I wouldn’t change it for the world. At the same time, it can get redundant. If this isn’t addressed, it can be challenging to stay motivated. And, it may even put you in a slump.

That’s why I try to keep things fresh and fun. For example, I challenge myself to complete a task by a specific time. It’s like a video game where I’m trying to beat my previous score. My reward? Going for a walk or treating myself to a cappuccino at my favorite cafe. Although, I also cherish turning in projects before a deadline and getting a sincere “thank you” from my colleagues.

It’s also been essential to socialize with others. It could be a weekly team meeting, virtual lunch, or team building activity that makes me feel like a key part of the team. And, if I have the capacity, I’m always willing to take on new responsibilities or change-up my scenery.

Don’t neglect your professional development.

There’s a misconception that just because you live in a remote world, you’re going to get overlooked for career advancement opportunities. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Grab the bull by the horns and take an online course to earn a certification. Stay up to date on the latest industry news and trends. Attend webinars, workshops, and conferences. And, expand your professional network, both in-person and online.

Even if this doesn’t land you a promotion, it can make you a valuable asset for someone else.

Add a “done list” to your to-do-list.

According to research for her book 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, Laura Vanderkam “found that dieters who keep daily diaries tracking what they ate tend to lose more weight.” Why? Melissa Dahl explains over at The Cut that the “act of writing it all down allows people to honestly reflect on their food choices, and to notice patterns and identify trends that they can then change, if necessary.”

“Plus, it’s a nice little pat-on-the-back — proof that even if you didn’t get everything on your ‘official’ to-do list done, you did make some progress on something,” adds Dahl.

Vanderkam believes that this same concept can be applied to productivity since it keeps us focused on your priorities. More importantly, it allows us to acknowledge and celebrate our accomplishments.

Maintain your professionalism.

Finally, just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be taken seriously. However, to prove that you should:

  • Clean up your online presence, like update your LinkedIn profile and not post questionable content on social media.
  • Actually get dressed and not work all day in your pajamas.
  • Be respectful of other’s time, such as meeting deadlines and arriving early for video calls.
  • Following virtual meeting etiquette. Besides being on-time, consider your background, muting your mic when not speaking, and not multitasking.
  • Not responding to your co-workers in a timely manner.
  • Messaging or calling others at an inappropriate time, like late at night or during the weekends.

Final words of advice.

Even if you didn’t believe that you were cut out for remote work, the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing measures probably haven’t given you much choice. Regardless if things ever go back to resembling some sort of normalcy — it’s likely that remote work is here to stay for a while. And, if you want to thrive, then you need to perfect the advice listed above.

How to Honor Your Appointments in Times of Turnover

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As hard as the COVID-19 pandemic has been on business, plenty of companies have found ways to keep going. Unfortunately for many of them, that persistence has come at the cost of employee layoffs and furloughs.

If you run an appointment-based business, staff changes may affect your ability to honor those appointments. If you’re unable to, you could lose business — potentially leading to further layoffs.

It’s a dangerous cycle, but don’t despair. With the right time management tools, you can do more with less. Technology and a little bit of creativity is all it takes to make sure that you can cover your customer bases. 

It won’t be easy, but then again, neither is saying goodbye to members of your staff. Here’s how to meet your appointments while downsizing your team:

1. Accept the circumstances.

Sometimes it takes a while for new situations to set in. Realize that all you can do is live in the present, and that things will seem normal again soon enough.

You may be feeling guilty about having to lay people off. That’s a very human response. But in order for your company to execute its appointments, you need to make things work with your remaining staff. 

It helps to remember that layoffs are happening across all industries. Even jobs that people once considered secure have been affected by the pandemic. Although this understanding won’t fix the problem, it can keep you from feeling overwhelmed by the situation. 

2. Let employees carry out existing appointments.

If you haven’t already cut ties with affected staff members, consider keeping them on long enough to handle existing appointments. Doing this gives you time to strategize for future appointments. It also gives your employees space to figure out their finances before they are no longer employed by your company. 

Making this method work, however, requires radical transparency. As a business leader, you’ll need to have difficult discussions. Employees need to know your plans as soon as possible, including:

  • The reason why layoffs are necessary
  • The timeline of what appointments they’ll be fulfilling
  • Your company’s plan for recovery 
  • Their potential future with the company

Those are weighty topics, to be sure. Given the frustrations involved, it’s important to lead with respect and empathy. 

3. Notify your customers.

Transparency doesn’t stop with your employees. Customers also need to know what to expect. Even if you’re confident that every appointment will be honored in its current form, layoffs reach customers’ ears.

Be proactive. Reach out to people with upcoming appointments. Discuss any changes to your operating hours or capacity. Treat affected customers with the same dignity you do members of your team who are losing their job. Leave plenty of time to field customers’ concerns. 

Alternatively, you could ask the team members who’ll be fulfilling the appointments to notify their customers directly. The more personal approach may make it easier for customers to ask the hard questions. It can also help them get acquainted with an employee who may be stepping in for a laid-off staff member. 

4. Reschedule appointments with flexible customers.

Realistically, you will have to reschedule some appointments. Target this adjustment toward your most flexible customers. That way, you minimize the amount of business lost as a result. 

Here, good scheduling software can be a lifesaver. Look through the data from previous appointments to identify which customers are the most flexible. From there, send these customers a message to ask whether or not they’d be willing to reschedule. 

The best scheduling tools allow self-service, enabling customers to change their appointment themselves. To sweeten the pot, offer discounts or gift cards to customers who willingly make changes. 

5. Provide a virtual option when possible.

In order to make some appointments work, the channel may need to change. Many meetings and appointments are already happening remotely, so customers may not be surprised by this switch. 

Virtual appointments are safer and save time for both sides of the equation. 

Think through the nature of the appointment to determine whether or not it can be carried out digitally. A haircut, dental filling, or car repair certainly can’t be done digitally, but many consultations can be. Some tours can also be conducted digitally.  

6. Combine similar appointments.

Some types of appointments must be conducted with one customer at a time. Doctor offices are required by HIPAA regulations to keep customers’ healthcare information private. Masseuses can only relax one set of muscles at once.

For other businesses, however, combining appointments is a good approach. A product demonstration can be done for many customers at once. A Q&A actually works better with more members. By knocking out multiple appointments at once, you make room for others.

Laying people off is never easy, but doing nothing only risks the damage spreading to customers.  When the occasion calls for change, a leader delivers. 

You Don’t Have to be Uptight to be Productive

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old-fashioned alarm clock sitting on desk.

What do you think of when you hear the word “productivity?” I think for most of us, we conjure images of someone focusing on a task so intensely that they’ve entered a zombie-like form of meditative state. You might think of the type A personalities in your life who overwhelm you with their ambition, planning, overachieving, and urgency. Or, worst of all, because they’re all work and no play, they eventually go all Jack Torrance from The Shining.

Here’s the truth with productivity. While it does involve self-discipline, organization, and focus, that doesn’t mean you have to uptight. There are plenty of ways to get stuff done while still enjoying your life, and dare I say, have some fun along the way.

Kick-off your day with a pump-up playlist.

Creating and sticking to a morning routine is a common trait among the most successful and productive people. While everyone has their own unique ritual, it usually includes activities like physical activity, eating a healthy breakfast, reading, journaling, and setting a daily intention.

What else should be included? How about a playlist that gets you amped for the day? Research suggests that athletes who listen to motivational music during sports activities and exercise increase risk-taking behavior. Moreover, music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain. It can also improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory. And, according to researchers at John Hopkins, music can keep your brain young.

Besides your morning playlist, you may also want to have some music playing in the background while working.

Savor victories.

There’s a tendency to jump from one task to the next. I get it. With so much to do, you have to take moving forward. Like Short Round proclaimed in Temple of Doom, “Hey, Dr. Jones, No time for love!”

But, what happens if you just keep on going lie the Energizer bunny? Well, you’re eventually going to lose your passion. Instead of doing something because you love doing it, you’re just going through the motions. And, even worse, that will cause you to burn out.

Regardless of how big or small, always celebrate your accomplishments. After all, celebrating your achievements changes your physiology and psychology for the better, strengthens bonds and attracts more success.

Pat yourself on the back and treat yourself. You don’t have to go overboard. But, take a break and purchase a latte or purchase a new book you’ve wanted to read. As for team accomplishments, something as simple as handwritten thank-you notes — or an office party, to team outings are all effective ways to celebrate.

Make your workspace your own.

“Research suggests that we are more productive when we are working in spaces that reflect who we are. We feel more comfortable with familiarity,” wrote Max Palmer in a previous Calendar article.

“You know yourself best, so do what inspires you and sparks your creativity,” explains Max. “Start with functionality: You need a comfortable chair and a desk with enough space to spread out.” Personally, I’m all about standing desks. Even if you feel the same, then pair that desk with an ergonomic chair. Or, swap the chair out entirely for an exercise ball — which has been found to increase productivity.

Next, consider the form. “Maybe that means pictures of your friends and family, or perhaps it means Christmas lights and posters of your favorite ‘80s rock band,” Max adds. I’m also a fan of small plants and keeping my desk clean with the help of a basketball wastebasket. “Whatever it is, it should make you feel proud of your space and fresh well into the afternoon.”

Switch-up your environment.

Even if you love your workspace, spending too much time there can put you in a rut. So, whenever you feel like you need to kick yourself into high gear, work from somewhere else. At the time of this writing, that’s not possible because of COVID-19. But, if you’re working from home, consider setting up shop in a different part of your house or sitting outside.

Once we get through quarantine, consider working from a coworking space, coffee shop, or any other location that inspires you. It depends on your personality. If you need to be outside, work from a bench in a park. Prefer silence? Your local library is a great option? I’ve even heard of people who enjoy working in a hotel lobby or bar.

Dream of gamification.

To be clear, there are several ways that you can gamify your work. For starters, you could have a healthy competition with your colleagues. Using data visualization, you can track each other’s progress and display leaderboards.

Other ideas to gamify your life are:

  • Attaching rewards to lists, like taking a break about crossing off a to-do-list item.
  • Engaging in time-based challenges, such as giving you 60-minutes to finish a task.
  • Tapping into the element of surprise. You could send your team an unexpected gift or use dice to select your own reward randomly.
  • Making deals with friends or co-workers. Add accountability by challenging you and someone to complete several commitments by a specific deadline.
  • Using productivity apps. Download Habitica, Do-It-Now, Fitocracy, Productivity Challenger Timer, or Forest.

Get the most out of your breaks.

As noted earlier, you can’t work nonstop. You need to take frequent breaks to refresh and recharge. The key is to use this downtime wisely. Examples could be finding a sense of calm by meditating, taking a nap, or finding a creative outlet like writing. These activities can help put your mind and body at ease while also keeping you in the present.

You could also use this time to take a walk outside, exercise, engage with a hobby, or play a game. All are effective ways to blow off some steam and clear your head.

Socialize with your team or co-workers more often.

If self-isolating has taught us anything, it’s the importance of spending time with others. I mean, we’re social creatures, so it’s good for us emotionally, mentally, and physically. There was even prior research that “people who have a ‘best friend at work’ are not only more likely to be happier and healthier, they are also seven times as likely to be engaged in their job.”

So, take the time to get to know your co-workers. Have lunch with them, go on breaks together, and collaborate on projects. When appropriate, have some fun, like challenging each to some sort of competition, like a dance-off or fantasy football, and participate in team-building activities. And, it wouldn’t hurt to socialize outside the workplace as well.

Bring-in your four-legged best friend.

As a dog owner, I was thrilled about this as one study found that office dogs can reduce stress, increase productivity, and improve communication among team members. Furthermore, studies conducted at Miami University of Ohio show “pet owners are happier and healthier, have better self-esteem, and suffer less depression than those who don’t own pets.” And, researchers from Central Michigan found “that dogs fostered trust and collaboration among colleagues.”

Have snacks on standby.

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to bring some joy into the workplace is through food. In fact, according to SnackNation, “67% of full-time employees with access to free food at work are ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ happy at their current job.” So. whether if it’s for your home office or for your entire team, have plenty of snacks available. Need some ideas? Well, here are 100 healthy snacks that will boost productivity.

Stop being productive and enjoy yourself.

“There’s too much emphasis these days on productivity, on hyper-efficiency, on squeezing the most production out of every last minute,” write Leo Babauta of Zen Habits.

As a consequence, we’ve “forgotten how to relax. How to be lazy. How to enjoy life.” So, Leo purposes that as opposed to increasing productivity, “it’s good to Get Less Done, to relax, to breathe,” occasionally — like when you can’t get motivated.

“Sure, we need to produce sometimes, especially if we have to pay the bills, but an obsession with productivity is unhealthy,” he explains. “When you can’t get yourself to be productive, relax” and enjoy yourself. “Let go of the need to be hyperefficient” and feeling guilty.

If that seems impossible, don’t worry about it. Just breathe and take it one step at a time. Some ideas would be to spend more time outside, allowing more time to complete tasks, and surrounding yourself with positive and supportive people.

“Step by step, learn to relax,” adds Leo. “Learn that productivity isn’t everything” and that “you don’t need to fill every second with work.” But, when it’s time to get stuff done, “get excited, pour yourself into it, work on important, high-impact tasks … and then relax.”

7 Questions to Ask Before Accepting Drop-Ins During COVID-19

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When you run an appointment-based business, scheduling clients beforehand is key to your efficiency. At the same time, you’ll inevitably have to contend with drop-ins. 

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, accepting drop-ins had its pros and cons. They may have netted you more business, but they might also have upset your staff. It was a question of how drastically drop-ins affected your efficiency. 

Now, however, drop-ins are also an issue of safety. Even if your state’s prohibitions have been relaxed and everyone is wearing protective equipment, drop-ins could still pose a danger. Not only can they make social distancing more difficult, but they increase the chances that you’ll accidentally interact with someone who’s sick. That can make customers feel uncomfortable, whether they tell you or not. 

These days, you can’t decide on a whim whether or not to allow drop-ins. There’s a lot more to consider than your bottom line. To choose, ask yourself the following questions: 

1. What are the conditions in my community?

In the U.S., the federal government’s approach to managing COVID-19 has been to put state and local governments in charge. So, before deciding whether or not to accept drop-ins, be sure you consider the conditions in your city and state.

There are two parts to this: laws and cases. First, you’ll want to look into what’s allowed in your community. Are there occupancy restrictions you might run afoul of? Must everyone wear masks in public places?

The second piece of the puzzle is active cases. Rather than checking any one day, look at trends for the truest picture of conditions on the ground. Across the last three days, week, and month, have cases generally been rising or falling? 

2. How much space do I have?

Your operating capacity has to factor into your decision. Even if you’re nowhere close to fire-code limits, you may not have enough room for people to stay 6 feet apart. 

If that’s the case, it’s important to serve the people who booked an appointment first. Customers will feel cheated if they’re denied entry because someone off the street stole their time slot. 

The larger your space, the more likely it is you’ll have room for drop-ins. If you’re working in cramped quarters, don’t take the risk. 

3. How much do I rely on drop-ins?

For some companies, denying drop-ins is no big deal. If your customers are religious about making appointments, there’s no reason to take the risk of letting random people in. 

If you’ve been keeping track of your traffic, you can get a good idea of how many drop-ins you’ve had in the past. Compare that with data from your scheduling software. Determine what proportion of your business comes from each source. 

What if your customers are mostly drop-ins? You may need to encourage more people to use your scheduling software. Offering a slight discount for booking online is a good way to do it. 

4. How much do my clients value a drop-in option?

Some clients are more likely to drop-in than others. Know your regulars, but realize that things may change due to the pandemic.

In order to gauge your clients’ feelings, send out a survey. Offer a gift card to encourage responses. In your survey, ask about:

  • How frequently they plan to come in during the pandemic
  • How concerned they are about safety
  • Whether they’re able to make appointments using your software
  • How much they care about flexibility

Surveys are great for at-a-glance feedback, but you may want to get your top clients on the phone. Set up feedback calls to get more detailed insights. Your customers are critical to your business, so they should have a say. 

5. Do I have a drop-in policy?

If your company already has a drop-in policy in place, take a moment to review it. It may be time to start enforcing it. What if you haven’t set guidelines on drop-ins? Now is the time to create them. 

Drop-in rules run the gamut. Some companies accept them unconditionally, while others forbid them entirely; most fall somewhere in between. 

An “in between” answer might be a waitlist. That way, if someone cancels an appointment, a drop-in customer could  take their slot. 

Figure out how much time drop-ins will have to wait if they show up.  Set expectations with a sign on your door. You don’t want to surprise people with an hour-long wait. 

6. How will I publicize my policy?

If you have a drop-in policy, it’s important that customers can find it. A sign on your door isn’t sufficient because some of your customers likely drive dozens of miles to do business with you.

Be sure to post your drop-in policy online. Add it to your social media sites. Consider using a business SMS service to share it with your most loyal customers. Proactively informing people of your policy doesn’t take much time, and it’s important for a sticky customer experience.  

7. Should I do it immediately?

Just as states are reopening in phases, so are many companies. It’s up to you: You could choose to disallow drop-ins until cases drop to a certain level, or until you can look deeper into your foot traffic. 

For financial and personal reasons, you probably want to get back to normal as soon as possible. The trouble is, throwing caution to the wind could make things worse than they already are. It may not seem like a big deal, but how you handle drop-ins could have big consequences for your company.

The Art of Surrendering: Learning How to Let Go of Control

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You’re not going to like this. But, as a parent, I’m so tempted to belt out “Let It Go” right now. But, well, I just have to let it go. Obviously, it’s for some people to let go of control. And letting go of control is easier said than done. Here is the art of surrendering — learning how to let go of control.

As Steve Maraboli wrote in Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience:

Renew, release, let go. Yesterday’s gone. There’s nothing you can do to bring it back. You can’t “should’ve” done something. You can only DO something. Renew yourself. Release that attachment. Today is a new day!

For so many of us, we simply just can’t let go of control. As Dr. Amy Johnson writes, there are three reasons why this is true.

The first is that control is rooted in fear. As such, we “control things because of what we think will happen if we don’t. Secondly, it’s “a result of being attached to a specific outcome—an outcome we’re sure is best for us as if we always know what’s best.” And, thirdly, when you’re in control mode, your “vision gets very narrow and focused,” and the adrenaline is pumping.

“And it doesn’t work,” proclaims Leo Babauta. “You can’t get a firm grasp on the fluidity of life.” As a consequence, “we get stressed, procrastinate, feel hurt, get depressed or anxious, get angry or frustrated, lash out or complain.”

What’s the solution then? Practice the art of surrounding.

As Leo explains, that may sound “lame to many people, or perhaps scary.” But, when you give into surrender, you’ll feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally. In turn, your performance and productivity will improve. It’s a win-win.

So, how can you stop fighting against yourself, reality, and the universe? Well, here are the best ways to let go of control and embrace surround.

Accept the truth and be thankful.

“To let go is to be thankful for the experiences that made you laugh, made you cry, and helped you learn and grow,” writes Marc Chernoff. “It’s the acceptance of everything you have, everything you once had, and the possibilities that lie ahead.”

At the same time, it’s also “about finding the strength to embrace life’s changes.” What’s more, it’s also trusting your intuition, learning as you go, realizing that every experience has value, and continuing to take positive steps forward,” adds Chernoff.

Focus on what you can control.

“We can influence situations and people, but we have zero control over what the outcome will be,” states Stefan James. “Our emotional response is the only thing at our disposal.”

Here’s the thing, according to James, focusing too much on what we can’t control, steals “precious time and energy away from what we can control.”

“Focusing on what you can control takes preparation, effort, and discipline,” he adds. “It requires that you adopt the mindset of, ‘I am going to be the very best that I can be with what I have.’” That’s no easy feat. But it is possible. For example, you might not have control over the failure of the success of your business. But, “you can control how much time you devote to building it.”

Live in the moment.

In my opinion, this can be a challenge — especially if you struggle with anxiety. But it’s not impossible. There are plenty of simple ways for you to become more present.

The most obvious place to start is practicing mindfulness. As Dr. Travis Bradberry explained in a previous Entrepreneur article, this “requires you to observe your thoughts and feelings objectively, without judgment, which helps you to awaken your experience and live in the moment.” And, more importantly, it prevents life from passing you by.

Bradberry adds that even if you have a packed schedule, you can practice mindfulness by focusing on your breathing or going for a walk. He also suggests that you repeat one positive thing yourself and to stop what you’re doing whenever you feel stressed.

And, if you don’t have a chance to stop what you’re doing, touch your body. It “requires you to observe your thoughts and feelings objectively, without judgment, which helps you to awaken your experience and live in the moment. This way, life doesn’t pass you by.”

Other ways to live in the moment? Well, here are some techniques that I’ve tried out:

  • Become more minimal. I’m talking about decluttering your entire life. And I mean everything from your calendar to possessions to people that you no longer need or don’t bring your joy.
  • Focus on your priorities. Take a look at your to-do-list or calendar. While everything may appear to be a priority, the reality is that this isn’t the case. So, start focusing only on the things that are bringing you closer to your goals.
  • Stop and smile the roses. Excuse the cliche. But, what this means is slowing down and savoring what you’re doing at this exact moment. For example, let’s say you go for a walk after dinner with your family. You notice a stunning sunset. Just stop for a second and admire its beauty.
  • Don’t live in the past. Learn how to forgive and move on from past hurts. And, don’t obsess over your recent accomplishments. Instead, use both experiences to grow.
  • Stop worrying about tomorrow. It doesn’t exist. But, telling yourself that doesn’t always silence these thoughts. Try coming up with a plan to overcome most obstacles or turn to healthy distractions, like reading or speaking with a mentor.

Stop perfectionism in its tracks.

“Perfectionism prevents you from improving and discovering new opportunities,” writes Deanna Ritchie in a Calendar article. “And, it also wrecks your productivity since you’re spending too much time second-guessing yourself.” Overall, “it’s a terrible trait that can do serious damage to your business, relationships, and health.”

So, how can you let go and move if you’re a perfectionist? Well, here some strategies that you might want to employ:

  • Accept that perfection doesn’t exist and enjoy the process instead.
  • Set realistic goals that you’ll reach.
  • Welcome feedback.
  • Stop comparing yourself to others.
  • Use “hypothesis” testing, like sending an email without proofreading it. You’ll realize it’s not the end of the world.
  • Thwart ruminating. For instance, distance yourself from a past event if you’re dwelling on it.

Conquer your fears with a list.

“Control is rooted in fear,” notes Lauren Stahl. “We try to control things because we are scared about what might happen if we don’t.” Here’s the key takeaway here, “fear is an allusion.” It’s “false evidence appearing real.”

Writing a fear list gives you a chance to identify what frightens you so that you can find ways to overcome them. Furthermore, a fear list can also help you track your progress.

And, speaking of lists, Stahl also suggests creating a freedom list. “Freedom means surrendering,” she explains. “It means you are at peace with yourself and have trust.”

Express yourself creatively.

Whenever I really can’t let go of something, I write my thoughts down in a notepad. There’s no rhythm or reason. I just pour whatever’s on my mind to that piece of paper. And, sometimes, that’s enough to acknowledge my feelings so that I can proceed.

Some people will burn that piece of paper, while others get more creative by composing lyrics instead. And, if you’re not a writer, then express yourself however you like through drawing or painting. Besides feeling like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders, you may be able to use these creative juices for improving your business.

Be your authentic self.

“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are,” writes Brené Brown in The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. “Choosing authenticity means cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable.”

In short, welcome vulnerability and stop viewing it as a weakness. Instead, realize that this means embracing your mistakes and shortcomings. When you do, you can highlight your strengths and be comfortable with who you are.

Seek moments of silence and solitude.

I know that this doesn’t seem possible. But, take a closer look at your schedule. The chances are that there are moments throughout the day for you to have some peace and quiet. For me, it’s in the morning before everyone else wakes-up. For others, it could be during their commute, in between meetings, or during an afternoon walk.

Regardless of when you have time to yourself, the idea here is to eliminate distractions, reflect, and enjoy your alone time. When you do, you’ll have an opportunity to make plans that align with your purpose.

Team Service Opportunities That Build Character

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Character, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “one of the attributes or features that make up and distinguish an individual.” It’s often composed of having the right values, doing the right thing, and being the right kind of person. Suffice to say, character plays a significant role in our success in life. The reason? It helps us develop personality traits like honesty, trust, courage, patience, and leadership.

While some believe that character is something that you’re born with, others argue that it can be changed and grown through some work. For example, you can develop your character by continuing to learn, improving soft skills, meeting new people, and spreading kindness.

If you’ve ever helped someone else, then you may see a link between volunteering and developing character. After all, giving back allows you to build important character traits like wisdom, confidence, and courage. It gives you a chance to strengthen your empathy, spread justice, improve your temperance, and encourage you to transcend.

The benefits of volunteering.

In addition to developing character, there are other perks of helping others. It’s been scientifically proven that volunteering is good for your mind and body as it counters the effects of stress, anxiety, and depression. It can also lower high blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease, and lessen the symptom of chronic pain.

Moreover, helping others gives you a sense of purpose and satisfaction. It opens up new opportunities to network and honing your skills — or trying out new ones.

But, hold on, there’s more. Giving back also comes with organizational benefits. It’s perfect for building stronger bonds among teams, gives your team a sense of achievement as a group. can be used as a learning event, and improve employee attraction and retention. Volunteering also has the power to boost morale, engagement, demonstrate your company’s values. And, if that’s not enough to sway you, it’s also beneficial for your bottom line

With all that being said, the point I’m getting at is that volunteering is one of the best things that you can do individually and as a part of a team. And, because of this, it’s time that you explore the best service opportunities for your team if you want to reap the benefits of volunteering, such as building character.

Getting Started With Team-Based Volunteering

For your team service to have an impact within your organization and others, you first need to take the following 8 steps. These have been developed by MovingWorlds, who have over 50 years of collective experience designing volunteer programs for individuals, companies, nonprofits.

Define your intentions.

Why do you want to volunteer? Is it altruistic or is there another reason? It’s alright to have another motive, like using volunteerism as a team-building activity. Discuss this with your team so that you can identify the purpose of giving back.

Audit your team’s strengths and weaknesses.

Evaluate the skills that you and your team possess. What industries are you familiar with? And, what knowledge or resources can you use to make the world better?

Document your learning and impact goals.

You don’t have to create a formal document. But, you should write down your goals so that you can refer to them as needed. To get you started, Mark Horoszowski, co-founder and CEO of MovingWorlds.org, suggests writing down goal-related statements like:

  • What can I learn about the organization and the industry I’m volunteering in?
  • What can I learn about communication and collaboration by working in a new setting?
  • Do I have any personal development areas that I can put into practice while volunteering?
  • What would indicate that we’re actually making an impact?

Pick a cause and find a partner.

Solicit ideas from your team on how you want to give back. Use your team’s strengths, interests, and passions to narrow down a cause. For example, if you’re all skilled coders who believe that this is a talent children need to learn, then you could work with a non-profit like Code.org, Mined Minds, or Girls Who Code.

You can do this during a brainstorming session or adding to an agenda of an upcoming meeting. Another way would be sending out an employee survey, poll, or questionnaire. Or, you could also work with placement partners like MovingWorlds, VolunteerMatch, or United We Serve who can connect your company with a non-profit.

Consider opportunities and threats.

Despite your best intentions, sometimes giving can have a negative impact. For example, if you’re not a doctor or teacher, then why volunteer to go to places in the world that are in need of these professions? Also, don’t get frustrated by the positive changes you are making aren’t always the most exciting, such as doing administrative work or coaching.

Develop a sustainability plan.

All good things must come to an end, like your team’s service opportunity. Come up with a plan on how you’re going to end the project. And, have a process for how others can seamlessly continue doing the work you’ve done.

Find support and sponsors.

Besides getting your team on board, find out if anyone within your network would also like to join. You should also look for other businesses to join in as well. Maybe you could get several local businesses to support various teams in a baseball little league.

Document and publicize your work.

Documenting your experience can “increase exposure of the organization and mission you worked on,” writes Horoszowski. It can also encourage you to reflect, learn, and inspire others to follow you and your organization’s lead.

Team Service Ideas

Now that we have that out of the way, here are 62 team service opportunities that you should pursue.

General Ideas

  • Plan an item drive, such as canned food, coat, book, or toy drive.
  • Cleanup up an outdoor area like a park or beach.
  • Donate or raise money for a nonprofit like the Red Cross.
  • Host a fundraiser for a local nonprofit.
  • Assemble care packages for nurses, first responders, or the military.
  • Plan a charity team building activity, such as “Pay it Forward.”
  • Participate in a charity race.
  • Mentor students or underserved communities.
  • Do pro bono work, such as the Accessibility Internet Rally in Austin, TX.
  • Help community members register to vote.
  • Volunteer as staff at an event, like a 5K or festival.
  • Offer to promote a cause or nonprofit event.

Helping Children and Schools

  • Coach or sponsor a youth sports team.
  • Tutor students.
  • Donate presents to a children’s hospital.
  • Perform at a children’s hospital.
  • Pack back bags filled with essential school supplies for teachers at an underserved school in your community.
  • Babysit so that parents can attend a PTA meeting or have a night out.
  • Donate used books to a school library.
  • Collect baby and children’s clothing so they can be donated to those in need.
  • Volunteers at a camp or afterschool program.
  • Sponsor a child in a foreign country.

Assisting Senior Citizens and Veterans

  • Pick-up groceries or medicine for elderly family or community members.
  • Visit nursing homes and spend quality time with the residents.
  • Host a bingo night for senior citizens.
  • Drive those who can not get to their doctor’s appointments.
  • Make birthday, holiday, and thank cards.
  • Host a holiday meal for seniors or veterans.
  • Plan a Memorial or Veterans Day parade.
  • Mow lawns, rake leaves, and shovel snow.
  • Teach the elderly how to use technology, like computers and smartphones.
  • Raise money for organizations like Wounded Warriors, or Charity Water.

Helping Animals and the Environment

  • Volunteer or donate food and cleaning supplies to local animal shelters, or women and men’s shelters.
  • Train service dogs or foster animals until they find a home.
  • Organize a spay and neuter program.
  • Take your pet to a retirement home or hospital.
  • Sponsor a recycling program.
  • Build a community garden or clean-up an existing one.
  • Participate or organize the cleanup of a body of water, park, or along roads.
  • Offer to watch your friends, family, or neighbors pet when they’re on vacation.
  • Adopt-a-highway or sponsor an acre of rainforest or wetlands.
  • Organize an office carpool or permit more work-from-home opportunities.

Improving Your Community

  • Help the homeless and hungry in your community, such as donating food and clothing.
  • Build a house with Habit With Humanity.
  • Volunteer at food banks, homeless shelters, firehouses, or schools.
  • Start or join a community watch.
  • Become CPR certified.
  • Paint over graffiti and repaint benches.
  • Become a local tour guide.
  • Create or sponsor a piece of pubic art, playground equipment
  • Clean up after a natural disaster.
  • Participate in and promote a community event.

In-house and Virtual Ideas

  • Celebrate as a team, like having a pizza party after accomplishing a major milestone
  • Create professional and personal development programs so your team can learn and grow together.
  • Establish a mentorship program.
  • Offer childcare for the parents on your team.
  • Raise money for an ailing or struggling team member.
  • Pick up the slack for a colleague who is ill.
  • Set up an Angel Tree during the holidays.
  • Assemble kits during work hours, such as hygiene kits, that can be distributed.
  • Host an event for your team, like a family-friendly picnic or team building activity.
  • Encourage your team to volunteer virtually if they can’t do so in-person. You can find virtual volunteering opportunities on VolunteerMatch, Serve.gov, or AllForGood.

6 Virtual-Meeting Dysfunctions to Nip in the Bud

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Even once the pandemic has passed, virtual meetings aren’t going anywhere. When team members return to their offices en masse, they’ll continue to hold digital meetings due to their convenience. 

But just like in-person meetings, you can waste a lot of employee time with virtual meetings. Whether long or short, you need to make sure that every minute of a meeting is worth it. A single hiccup can throw off an otherwise productive meeting. 

Take control of your virtual meetings. Avoid these six dysfunctions in order to keep them on track:

1. Technical Difficulties

At the best of times, technology can be tough to manage. If the meeting’s leader is having issues, the resulting disorganization can derail the entire thing. 

Don’t assume that everyone knows how to use the program. In the meeting agenda, include a tutorial about how to log into the meeting space. Offer alternative ways to attend, such as calling in by phone instead of using video.

Before logging in, cover your bases. Make sure you have a solid internet connection and the latest version of your video conferencing software. Start early to make time for troubleshooting.

2. Poor Speaking Dynamics

During in-person meetings, speaking dynamics tend to be pretty natural. In a virtual meeting, however, even the closest team may struggle to balance listening and speaking. 

Virtual meetings make it more difficult to see cues that indicate someone wants to speak. The trouble is, the most important contributions are often made in the moment. The solution is to designate a facilitator to keep things moving.

A facilitator can take on the following responsibilities:

  • Opening and closing the meeting
  • Reviewing action items
  • Polling the group to check for consensus 
  • Calling on people to give their thoughts
  • Reframing talking points when there is a disconnect
  • Ensuring nobody only speaks or listens 

A good facilitator knows when to step in and when to step back. Natural conversation isn’t the enemy, so long as it’s on-topic and constructive. Choose your facilitator prior to the meeting, ideally through a team vote to ensure the person has everyone’s respect. 

3. Waning Participation

When people attend a meeting in person, they have more incentive to participate. But in virtual gatherings, it’s easy to go unnoticed. People can mute their voices or turn off their screens altogether. 

This is another issue a facilitator can help with. By throwing out a new prompt, he or she can revive discussion if it’s died. It isn’t always obvious to the wider group when it’s time to move on. It’s the role of the facilitator to make those decisions. 

Another solution is to lay out the ground rules before the virtual meeting begins. Discuss the kind of participation that is expected in the meeting. Decide whether people should respond through the chat or audibly. You can also provide a shared document for silent brainstorming.

4. Personal Distractions

When you’re not in the same room during a meeting, distractions can be a big problem. Someone’s child or pet might interrupt them during the meeting. Their computer may make notification sounds that reverberate in the meeting room. 

Personal distractions can quickly become group distractions. Don’t be rude about them, but do address them promptly. Remind everyone of the meeting’s goal, and remember to be compassionate. There’s no reason to get upset if the distraction is one they can’t control. 

5. Too Many People

You could hypothetically fit a whole company into a virtual meeting. But just because you can include the whole team doesn’t mean you should. Huge meetings can be overwhelming for everyone involved.

The only exception? General meetings intended for a specific announcement. But that’s a situation in which you could pre-record your message and let employees watch it on their own time. 

Instead, utilize breakout groups. Convene multiple virtual meetings, perhaps divided along departments or functional groups. Ask the leader of each meeting to report back with the consensus and action items.

6. Unprofessional Aesthetics

Just because a meeting is virtual does not mean it should be unprofessional. Paying attention to your surroundings and personal presentation is key.

To make sure your look doesn’t distract attendees or communicate “I don’t care”:

  • Use a neutral background.
  • Emphasize books or plants around you.
  • Make sure your room is silent.
  • Keep your camera at eye level.
  • Dress as you would for an in-person meeting at your company.

That isn’t to say you can’t have fun on certain video calls, such as team happy hours. With that said, it’s important to distinguish between meetings that call for professionalism and those that let you cut loose a little bit. 

Don’t let digital meeting dysfunctions get in the way. There’s never a good time for kinks, so work them out now. Otherwise, you’ll be dealing with them at the worst time: when the team needs to get down to business. 

Should Your Startup Have Summer Hours?

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It happens every year as the weather gets warmer — employee productivity comes to a screeching halt. Employee productivity taking a slight dive at the beginning of summer isn’t breaking news. Business owners have noticed this trend for years. It’s said that when agencies in New York realized that employee productivity decreased in the summer, specifically on Fridays, they began to offer “Summer Fridays.”

More recently, studies show that productivity drops by 20 percent, attendance dips by 19 percent, and project turnaround times increase by 13 percent. Additionally, 45 percent admit that they get more distracted. In particular, 63 percent socialize more with coworkers, 51 percent take longer breaks, and 49 leave early a few days a week.

While there some ways to keep your team motivated throughout the dog days of summer like having meetings outside, providing refreshments, encouraging more frequent breaks, and rewarding proactive staff, is there something more useful than establishing summer hours?

Some research reports that having a shorter workweek is counterproductive because to leave earlier on Friday; people have to put in more time Monday through Friday. As a result, they become more stressed and less productive. At the same time, most people can work from home — which can improve their output.

So, before making a final decision, let’s go over the pros and cons of your startup having summer hours. And, if you think it will work for your business, I’ll throw in some pointers on how you can implement them.

The Benefits of Summer Hours

The main advantage of summer hours is that it grants employees a more flexible schedule so that they can maintain a healthy work-life balance. While this is important for year-round, this is especially true during the summer. For example, if you have children, you may want to work four days a week so that you can enjoy a three-day weekend with them. Or, you may have to adjust your hours so that you work when they’re not around.

Having a flexible schedule increases employee productivity since it prevents burnout, builds trust, and makes people happier. “Our policy is basically that if you need to leave early to get somewhere, you come in early to finish your work or make sure all of your responsibilities are handled before you leave,” David Heath, CEO, and Co-Founder of the sock company Bombas, told Entrepreneur. “It shows your team that you trust them to handle their own responsibilities.”

Consulting firm Adecco also found that shortened workweeks “increase employee morale and all the good things that go with that, such as higher retention, candidate attraction, and productivity.” Roy Cohen, author of “The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide,” tells CBS News that “A half-day on Friday motivates employees to work as hard as possible to get as much done as they can in four hours, and it is empowering.”

Finally, technology allows most of us to work whenever we want. Believe it or not, getting away from common workplace distractions, and changing up your routine can boost your productivity.

The Drawbacks of Summer Hours

Of course, there are some disadvantages to summer hours. Most prevalently, it’s the additional stress some of your team members may have. They may feel too much pressure to get as much done as possible in less time. Instead of having five days to complete all of their work, they’re done to three or four days.

Moreover, some people may use shortened workweeks as an excuse to slack off. It can also be more challenging to schedule meetings since employees aren’t in the office as much. And, it may be conducive for your specific business.

“Flexible schedules may not work with certain client-facing positions that are heavy on client service and which require the same employee to interface with the client,” Midge Seltzer, co-founder and executive vice president of Engage PEO told Business News Daily.

These types of schedules are also harsh on new business ventures. “Companies just starting need every minute of every day to ensure their success,” David Daneshgar, co-founder of BloomNation.com told Care.com. “We are a growing startup facing major competitors.” For his company, June through August is a summer hustle.

Types of Summer Hours Policies

As you weigh the pros and cons, you should also take into consideration the various types of summer hours models. These include:

  • Half-day Fridays. Here employees can leave work early, such as noon or 1 PM. To make-up, for these hours, they will have to put in an additional hour Monday – Thursday.
  • Early Friday dismissal. Another option is to let your team depart in the afternoon, such as around 3 PM. Having an early day allows them to wrap-up their priorities and still get out early.
  • Shorter hours on any day they chose. Having a few days where employees can decide a shorter day can be a win-win since it keeps your startup open five days a week while also allowing employees to enjoy their summer.
  • Every other Friday off. Another way to keep your business operating while also giving people Fridays off is to alter their schedules. The schedule means one employee works on Friday but will have off next week. Another employee is working when their colleague is off.
  • Every Friday off. You may wish to shut-down the shop every single Friday. Again, your team may have to put in more hours during the week. Or, you could be generous and give them unlimited time off.
  • Allow employees to work from home. Working from home doesn’t have to be on Fridays. For example, you may only need your team to come in three days a week. They can then work from home the other days.

Making Summer Hours Work For You

If you want to implement summer hours at your startup, there are a couple of final factors to consider. At the top should be knowing how flexible your business and specific jobs are. If you provide a service, you may need to have some technical support available as much as possible.

Additionally, you should be aware of deadlines, the stress level of your team, and whether or not they’re reliable. To get a better understanding of this, you may want to survey them to gather their feedback. You could also give the shortened hours a trail run and track your team’s progress.

If you do decide to go forward, make sure that you communicate the new policy and stay consistent with it. You don’t want to start off giving employees off every Friday to backtrack and implement half-days on Fridays. It’s confusing, and they may have already made plans.

And don’t forget to keep track of everyone’s hours. Depending on the state where you operate, you may have to pay overtime to employees if they work more then 8 hours per day — this is the case in California.

If your startup has summer hours, how have they worked out for you and your team?

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