Category Archives: Business Tips

How Analytics Can Help Your Small Business

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How Analytics Can Help Your Small Business

In our increasingly digital age, it can be all too easy for a small business owner to become overwhelmed by a sudden glut of available data. It seems like every new gadget or operations upgrade connects to the internet and includes an opportunity to accurately measure something or other to which they previously gave very little thought.

Some business owners make the rookie mistake of collecting as much data as possible, meticulously entering it into spreadsheets, and more or less leaving it at that. Successful entrepreneurs, on the other hand, understand that increased opportunities for data collection can be helpful, but only when those analytics are leveraged. Simply stated, they know the difference between raw data and actionable data.

The time to be impressed by internet-enabled devices that spit out new forms of previously uncollectible data is over. Small business owners, in particular, need to bring an increased level of discernment to data that’s merely “cool” vs. data that can help them increase efficiency and profits.

The best place to start is not by compiling all the data available to you but instead pausing long enough to write down a few simple questions. Only after you’ve decided which questions you’d like to answer can you begin to assess which analytics might actually prove helpful. Listed below are four questions just about any small business owner can adopt or adapt, along with pointers for how newer forms of data can help provide actionable answers.

1. Where are we wasting time?

The difference between time and money is that money can be replaced. Business owners and managers should be setting the tone in terms of effective time management during office hours. When management consistently demonstrates respect for the value of time, that attitude tends to filter down to the frontline staff. Conversely, managers who call meetings for no apparent reason can’t reasonably expect employees to place much value on anyone’s time.

Nowadays, there are many scheduling apps that include reporting features that will allow you to more effectively track how you’re spending time and whether or not that investment is paying off. For example, time-tracking analytics can be cross-referenced against customer billing numbers to assess ROI. This relatively simple exercise can be eye-opening in terms of surfacing high-maintenance individuals who, as it turns out, are not contributing all that much to revenue. 

Is the relationship worth the ongoing effort? Time-reporting analytics can help you decide whether to limit specific client contact to certain levels of time commitment or not.

2. Which demographics are falling away?

An investment in customer relationship management (CRM) software can provide individualized feedback on customer preferences, allowing your business to tailor its offerings accordingly. Marketing campaigns can be tweaked to highlight products and services that seem to strike a chord with your regulars. Emails can include a higher degree of personalization. Special events can be designed to respond to feedback.

Additionally, CRM data can chart changes in your customer base and help you do a little exploration. For example, visits to your salon by your 50+ customers may have driven the lion’s share of high-end sales, but those visits have declined precipitously. Is the falloff in any way related to how your business is operating in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic? Or did your product or service line shift such that your more mature customers are no longer interested? 

If the latter, are you OK with that shift? Analytics provided by just about any CRM package should provide the data you need to analyze who your customers are, what they care about, and how you can tailor your business to their needs.

3. At what point do our website visitors lose interest?

Website analytics, in particular, are one area where it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of available data. This is where your ability to formulate relevant, niche-specific questions before you start excavating data is most likely to save you from being over-informed and under-actioned. In particular, owners of appointment-based need to pay close attention to website bounce rates and abandoned scheduling forms.

Did you lose the booking when they read your terms and conditions or when you requested prepayment? Was the user confused by being presented with too many options too soon? Website analytics can provide the when, but you might need to investigate further to find the why.

If, for example, you notice a high bounce rate on a website resource that features one of your most popular offerings, that definitely merits a closer look. The problem might be tied to something as complex as mobile browser compatibility or something as easy to fix as a lousy photo. As you study online analytics, scan for any anomalies as your first step.

4. What do our Wi-Fi analytics reveal about peak business hours?

By encouraging customers to freely use your on-premises Wi-Fi, you can learn a lot. What days and times of the week see the most walk-in traffic? You can use this information to make sure you have enough staff on hand to serve these impromptu clients.

If users sign on via their social media accounts, you can glean further insights from demographic data. Are certain age groups more apt to patronize your business at certain times of day? You can tailor everything from promotions to in-office music choices accordingly.

Proceed with caution, though. There’s a fine balance to be struck between using Wi-Fi analytics to enhance your bottom line and being too nosy. Customers are growing increasingly wary of the data that any service provider collects, so you’ll want to be proactive about this. 

A simple disclaimer informing customers that you collect data to enhance their experience with your business is typically sufficient. Not every customer will agree to your terms and conditions, but many will, thereby helping you increase the overall effectiveness of your staffing and outreach.

Analytics can be powerful tools … or they can be powerful distractions.

There is no denying that objective, empirical data is a good thing. The question every business owner needs to address is whether or not specific forms of data can be utilized to foster growth. Depending on the niche you occupy, newer forms of analytics might be interesting but not helpful. Focus on data that facilitates needed changes.

Don’t fall into the trap of collecting and charting data merely for the sake of collecting and charting data. As you encounter newer forms of analytics that can be conducted, stop and ask yourself whether you should. By keeping an ongoing log of relevant business issues you hope to address with data, your data-sifting process will become much simpler.

Less Is More: People Will Attend Your Meetings When You Make Them Painless

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Less Is More: People Will Attend Your Meetings When You Make Them Painless

Workplace meetings often bring to mind the opening scene of John Hughes’s “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.” Like Steve Martin’s character, you’re probably familiar with long, boring meetings that consistently run overtime. Stuck with a boredom-induced headache, you start daydreaming about everything else you could be doing with your day. As the meeting drags on further and further beyond its scheduled endpoint, you watch the clock in growing irritation. 

Fortunately, workplace meetings don’t have to be an annoying waste of everyone’s time. The key to productive meetings lies in making them brief, focused, and as considerate of people’s time as possible. No one will object to attending your meetings when you do your best to make them painless. 

Do the Needed Prep Work

Before scheduling a meeting, begin by determining whether it is truly necessary. There are many scenarios where the information covered in a meeting could be communicated perfectly well in another, less time-consuming way. We’ve all heard the lament: “This meeting could have been an email.” Some meetings could even be a Slack message or a comment thread in your project management software. Make sure yours isn’t one of them.

If you decide that a meeting is absolutely necessary, the next step is to plan the meeting. Meetings should have a goal and an agenda before the invite goes out. 

Without an agenda, a meeting can easily lose focus or run into overtime. Your agenda should state the meeting’s purpose and the topics to be discussed, by whom, and for how long. Attaching the agenda to the meeting invitation will allow attendees to ask questions or propose other subjects for discussion beforehand.

Once you have a written agenda, go ahead and schedule your meeting. While it can be tempting to cram a meeting into any open time block, some slots are more eligible than others. A U.K study found that 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday is the ideal meeting time, but any midweek, midafternoon slot should suffice. Use your team’s calendar app to find a time when all the necessary participants can attend. 

Keep It Concise

A general rule of business writing is to use as few and as simple words as possible. The same applies to running a productive meeting. Avoid lengthy statements and steer clear of jargon. And remember that meetings aren’t supposed to be a one-way mode of communication. Open the floor for discussion, asking questions of attendees and inviting them to raise questions of their own.

That said, be mindful of losing focus during the meeting. Confine the conversation to agenda items and table unrelated topics. More narrowly focused subjects can often be handled better in smaller settings. 

In a meeting, less is always more. You want to make sure attendees aren’t overwhelmed with information. Meetings should convey enough information to enable a decision on some issue or the setting of action items. If you find yourself citing chapter and verse, you should be sharing a document instead.

Add Some Creative Flair

Meetings can’t be painful when you make them fun. With some creative thinking, you can add aspects to meetings that encourage camaraderie and deter boredom. Brainstorming new ways to run meetings can be a great way to engage participants and add some excitement to the office. 

If this sounds frivolous, note that these add-ons can be fun while helping to keep your meetings on track. At Buddytruk, for example, the team has a surefire way of ensuring its meetings end on time. If one runs over schedule, the last person speaking has to do 50 pushups. At Just Fearless, attendees get their chairs taken away when the time’s up.

Not only do these tactics encourage team bonding, they also make it clear to attendees that their time matters. When your meeting participants know you value their time, they will respect you more in turn. 

Probe for Pain Points 

OK, so you’ve tried to hold a painless meeting. You let your attendees know the meeting’s goal and provided a clear agenda ahead of time. You encouraged a discussion that was free-flowing but on point. You even introduced a few fun — but focusing — elements to the proceedings. How did it go?

Meetings don’t always run perfectly, no matter how hard you try. Instead of striving for perfection, strive for continuous improvement. 

As with most things, feedback is the best way of judging the productivity and success of your meeting. You can get a lot of natural and authentic feedback just from gauging attendees’ reactions during the event. If attendees look distracted or bored, it’s probably a sign that the meeting isn’t proving as effective as it could be. If they pull you aside to ask tons of questions afterward, that’s another indication the meeting didn’t convey needed information effectively.

Sending a short survey directly related to what was covered in the meeting is another good strategy for eliciting feedback. It will help you figure out what was clear to attendees and what wasn’t. You might also ask them to rate the meeting or state what aspects they liked and didn’t like. This information will help you make future meetings even more pain-free. 

To show meeting participants you appreciate their time and attendance, it’s a good idea to touch base with them afterward. A simple thank-you email can make attendees feel valued and respected — and more willing to turn up at your next meeting.

Meaningful Motivation: What Actually Drives Employee Engagement

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Meaningful Motivation: What Actually Drives Employee Engagement

Managing employees is tricky. While our workers tell us money is the way to maximize productivity, results tell a different story. What do we believe?

Recent experiments run by Dan Ariely, author of the book Payoff, showed that money is a poor motivator for getting the best work out of people. In fact, large bonuses for key executives produced deteriorating efficiency.

Based on these findings, if not money, what incentives produce the output employees?

Here are 3 rewards other than cash that we can give to our workforce to boost productivity. All these privileges have been shown to produce more engagement in companies than dollar-based incentives. Start using these motivation boosters in your business today, and watch your company culture and happiness increase substantially.

1. Seeing a satisfied customer

One of the worst parts about pivoting in a startup is the amount of previous work you must throw away. Imagine working 12 hours a day, sacrificing family time, and working weekends to help build a product you believe in. Then after months or years of working your tail off, the company you work for scratches the project. No one will use what you built, and now you have nothing to show for it. Your motivation is gone.

Unfortunately, this scenario is seen in companies of all sizes. While many times an instance like this is unavoidable, the way decision-makers handle a scenario like this can make all the difference.

Seeing a customer have a great experience with something that you helped create is a wonderful feeling. It allows you to see first-hand that what you are working on has a greater purpose, and you can see with your own eyes the positive effect you have caused.

To take advantage of this, if your company is going through a pivot, find ways to save as much of the work that you did as possible. Tie it into your new product, or dig into the processes that worked well before you pivoted and incorporate them into your new plan.

Throughout the building process, bring customers in and have them test the product in front of your team. When your employees see customers light up, they will light up as well.

Once the product is built, share positive feedback from your customers directly with your staff.

When I receive positive comments about the content my team produces, I share it directly with my team. It means more to them to see the customer say good job than it does for me to tell them the same.

People want to work for companies that are improving the lives of others. The best way to show your team they are working for a purpose is to allow them to see happy customers with their own eyes.

2. Meaningful motivation builds trust

Sadly, some employees view trust as more of a privilege than a right. For these organizations, motivation is nonexistent.

While having faith in your team can increase employee output exponentially, not having confidence in them can lead to your company lacking vision and any kind of connection with the organization.

While trust can be expressed in a variety of ways, one of the best is enabling a sense of autonomy to your workers. For instance, in my company, we allow everyone to work from home. There is no office, and we don’t have a set start time. We update each other on our daily schedule and all have tasks we are responsible for that day, but there is no micromanaging.

When I was deciding to build a company this way, I thought about the kind of company culture I’d want to work for. I didn’t want a company who treated me like a child. I wanted to be an equal in an organization, not a prisoner. As I’ve built an autonomous culture in my own company, the rewards have been substantial. Happier employees, increased productivity, and less burn out are just a few of the perks.

The more trust you put in people the better results you’ll get. If you don’t have assurance in your team, then you’re hiring the wrong people.

3. Congratulating Employees For A Job Well Done

When an employee is doing an amazing job, the first thought in many employer’s minds is to up their salary. The issue with this thought process is that the worker quickly becomes used to the increased pay anytime they do something well. So when they do something exemplary again, they want a bigger bonus. Then an even bigger bonus, and on and on.

Try going back down the ladder, and your worker will be furious. Once pay has become the dictator of worth, smaller bonuses are seen as a bad thing not a great motivator.

Instead, positive reinforcement is shown to be just as effective as increased pay but without diminishing returns. So, let’s say if instead of paying you a fat bonus for a project you knocked out of the park, I tell you how great of a job you did and invite you out for a drink. To most people, this will be an equal motivator as a bonus. But, when you do amazing things in the future, you won’t expect more money, you’ll instead just expect me to give you more praise.

Appreciating employees is easy. There are no monetary resources that you need to pour in. All you need is sincerity and time. Over the long term, this is a much better way to motivate your workforce, and a better way to build your company culture.

Innovate, Innovate, Innovate

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Innovate, Innovate, Innovate

Thomas Edison once said, “There’s a way to do it better – find it.” In my opinion, that perfectly sums up what innovation is. But, marketing specialist Will Purcell has a more in-depth definition. “Innovation, as a concept, refers to the process that an individual or organization undertakes to conceptualize brand new products, processes, and ideas, or to approach existing products, processes, and ideas in new ways.”

Purcell adds that in the business world, there are three types of innovation to pursue. These include product, process, and business model innovations. Chasing any of these not only sparks creativity and inspiration, but it can also take your business to new levels.

The most obvious reason is that innovation will help your company grow. In fact, according to economists, between 1870 and 1950, innovation was responsible for 85% of all growth in the US economy. More recently, McKinsey reports that 84% of executives believe that innovation is important to growth strategy.

That actually makes sense. Through innovation, you’re better equipped to reduce waste and costs, embrace new opportunities, and stand out from your competition. Moreover, it can strengthen your relationships with customers and employees. And, it encourages you to continually improves and stay on top of trends so that you’ll remain relevant.

So, yeah. Innovation is incredibly important. And, in my opinion, it’s particularly true in the world we currently live in as we’re surrounded by so much uncertainty.

The good news? There are simple and effective ways to train yourself and your team to become more innovative, such as the following 10 techniques.

1. Cultivate your innovative traits.

There’s a misconception that some people are just born to be innovative. That’s not exactly true. Victor Poirier, a professor at the Institute of Advanced Discovery & Innovation at the University of South Florida, believes we all possess this trait.

“Almost everybody [has] innovative traits,” he told Fast Company. “Some people use them; some people don’t. [I did this research] to make people aware of what traits people do have, wake up dormant traits that they don’t even know they have, and prove the utilization of those traits.”

Which traits specifically? Poirier lists the ability to think abstractly, having deep and broad knowledge, curiosity, openness to risk, grit, and dissatisfaction with the status quo as the most common. If you notice any of these in you or a team member, he suggests seeking out experiences that force you to put them to the test.

For example, you’ve noticed that you’ve got some grit in you. You decide to strengthen this trait. You can do so by developing alternative plans to handle potential setbacks.

Poirier also recommends that you put yourself in environments that are conducive to innovation. And, you should have some ego since this can push you out of your comfort zone. Just make sure to keep it in check.

2. Turn “I can’t” into “I can.”

From my experiences, we often don’t chase innovation because there are roadblocks in the way. For example, maybe the COVID-19 pandemic forced you to close your retail shop. Instead of “I can’t make money because I can’t have indoor gatherings,” look for alternatives, such as opening an online shop.

That may sound simplistic. But, it’s possible if you start small and track your progress. Most importantly, believe in yourself. As Carolyn Rubenstein, author of Perseveranceputs it, “Don’t give yourself any other option. If other people can do it, so can you.”

3. Don’t discount “crazy” ideas.

Airplanes, coffee, light bulbs, personal computers, and vaccines. All are a part of daily life. But did you know that they were initially ridiculed?

The point is, never listen to the naysayers. Whenever you have an idea, jot it down and run with it if it keeps nagging you. It might not change the world. But, life is too short to live with regrets.

4. Shake things up.

I have nothing against routines. In addition to providing structure, it pretty much automates planning. At the same time, monotony can put you in a rut.

To avoid this and light the creativity spark, find ways to diverge from the normal — ideally every day. It could be something as small as eating something different for breakfast or working somewhere besides your office. Or, it could more of a shock to the system, like rearranging your home or traveling abroad.

5. Be constantly curious.

“Humans are naturally curious—anyone who’s spent time with a toddler knows that a hunger to figure things out is a primal motivating force,” wrote Neil Blumenthal, Co-founder, and Co-CEO of Warby Parker. “Learning also leads to ideation: the more you know, the more you imagine.”

“We’ve institutionalized learning in a few ways— by creating employee book clubs and establishing Warby Parker Academy, a program that offers free workshops on everything from frame design to public speaking to retail real estate to fantasy football,” adds Blumenthal. “Learning naturally leads to cross-pollination and ideation. Ideation can lead to action. Action is how innovation comes to life.

One of my favorite ways to cultivate curiosity is to just talk to others. It could be an employee, friend, or stranger you’ve just met at the airport. Actually, listening to others is a great way to learn new things and gain fresh perspectives.

6. Ban things.

While this may sound counterintuitive, Annabel Action, founder of the site Never Liked It Anyway, has a different opinion. When you have constraints and parameters in place, it can “inspire innovation by forcing you to think dynamically and creatively.”

“As an exercise, start banning things and exploring the implications,” recommends Annabel. Ban words, resources, and your primary target market. You could even take it further by banning “your default communication tools.” In most cases, “the ideas you settle on will likely be watered down versions of your initial suggestions, but the point of this exercise is to spark new thoughts on how to do the same old things.”

7. Involve others.

Even if you’re a solopreneur or pride yourself on being a lone wolf, the reality is that innovation stifles when other’s aren’t involved. You need someone to bounce ideas off of and then have them bring in their own diverse knowledge, experiences, and perspectives.

And, sometimes this can push you beyond your limitations. Take the “amazing competition” between John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

“It was a great way for us to keep each other on our toes,” Paul told Uncut in 2004. “I’d write ‘Yesterday,’ and John would go away and write ‘Norwegian Wood.’ If he wrote ‘Strawberry Fields, it was like he’d upped the ante, so I had to come up with something as good as ‘Penny Lane.’”

8. Enjoy the silence.

While you should definitely surround yourself with others, you also need time to be alone. Silence can lower blood pressure, bolster your immune system, and gives you a chance to reflect.

Silence also generates new cells in the hippocampus region of the brain, which is linked to learning, remembering, and emotions. Additionally, it can inspire creativity.

“When allowing thoughts to go where they will, inspiration may bubble up,” writes Suzanne Kane for PsychCentral. “Solutions to current or long-standing problems may suddenly occur to you, or a work-around or innovative approach may seem more feasible.”

9. Give failure a hug.

Richard Branson says: “Don’t let the fear of failure become an obstacle. You can create your own luck by opening the door to change, progression, and success.”

No one wants to fail. And, as someone who experienced it, it sucks. But, failure isn’t your enemy. It’s a friend who lets you know what works and what doesn’t so that you can find different ways to overcome obstacles.

10. Juggle multiple areas of interest.

“Truly great innovators aren’t satisfied with focusing on one project,” Deep Patel wrote in a previous Entrepreneur article. “They feel driven to pursue multiple ventures and interests, which may overlap and feed off of each other.” In other words, they possess multipotentiality, “or the ability to excel in multiple areas and fields.”

“It may seem like some creative people are easily distracted, constantly bouncing from one thing to the next,” explains Deep. “In reality, they are just wired to be interested in many things. They may feel a calling to dive into multiple projects because their wide range of creative interests pulls them in different directions.”

9 Collaboration Mistakes You’re Making With Your Remote Team

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9 Collaboration Mistakes You’re Making With Your Remote Team

According to Upwork’s “Future of Workforce Pulse Report,” by 2025, 36.2 million Americans will be working remotely. That’s an impressive 87% percent increase from pre-pandemic levels.

“Our research shows the long-lasting impact that remote work and COVID-19 are likely to have on how hiring managers think about their organizations,” says Upwork Chief Economist, Adam Ozimek. “As businesses adapt and learn from this remote work experiment, many are altering their long-term plans to accommodate this way of working. On work marketplaces like Upwork, we can already see this shift underway with increased demand for remote professionals.”

For many, the support of work from home jobs should come as welcome news. After all, people tend to be happier and more productive when working from home. It also allows you to tap into a larger talent and save money since you don’t have a large office.

But, there are also drawbacks to remote work. Loneliness is often cited as the biggest challenge. However, it can also be a struggle to meet deadlines and communicate effectively.

How can you solve all of these problems? By making collaboration a priority. And, to get started, make sure that you aren’t committing the following nine mistakes.

1. Creating teams just because.

There are over six decades of research that have show that individuals are more creative than teams. What does that mean? Well, when it comes to creative tasks, like generating ideas, you might want to scrap the brainstorming session.

“Please don’t create a team just for the sake of creating a team,” says Leigh Thompson, the J. Jay Gerber Professor of Management and Dispute Resolution at the Kellogg School. “People hate that.”

In addition to sparking creativity, having “me” time can be incredibly powerful. Solitude has been found to relieve stress, give you a chance to reflect, and practice gratitude. Moreover, this aids in planning and can strengthen your relationships.

Related: Why You Should Schedule Dedicated ‘Me Time’ If You Don’t Get Enough Right Now

2. Lack of a common purpose.

“Like many parts of leadership, this is not rocket science,” writes Ben Brearley BSc. BCM MBA. “It is not meant to be a detailed, exhaustive list of roles and responsibilities.” Rather, “purpose simply acts as a guiding vision for your team.”

`Brearley adds that team purpose should contain the following three elements;

  • A “functional statement about what your team does.”
  • Why your team is important and are doing what they do.
  • How your team delivers.

When you have all three parts, and clearly let them be known, you’ll be able to decide “whether you are in (committed) or out (choosing not to take on the work),” states Brearley. Additionally, it assists in modeling the right behavior and connect to a higher meaning.

3. Ignoring time zones/schedules.

Let’s say that you reside in the Eastern Time Zone. By 9 a.m., you’re ready to tackle the day. So, you start sending out Slack messages, emails, or even prepare for a meeting at 9:30 a.m.

The problem? Several of your colleagues are out on the West Coast. It’s unreasonable to expect them to respond to your messages or attend a virtual event when it’s only 6:00 a.m. or 6:30 a.m.

Even if you’re in the same time zone, be self-aware that working remotely means having different schedules. You might be a morning bird. But, others could be night owls and might not be online when you are.

Tools like Calendar by handling availability across time zones. So, when you’re scheduling an event, you can see what time it is for your team members before adding it to everyone’s calendar. You could also poll your team to figure out the best time for everyone to get together.

4. Building brick walls.

Are you not listening to others? Do you allow your team members to share their opinions or ask questions?

In other words, are you being stubborn and not accepting different points of view? If so, then that’s not exactly a supportive, positive, and collaborative environment. It sounds more like a dictatorship.

Let everyone voice their opinions and input. Encourage them to ask questions. And, make sure that not only listen to them but act on their suggestions.

Most importantly? Grant autonomy and let your team do things their way.

5. Over-participating.

“Over-participating and taking on too much within a team can stifle group collaboration by sapping the oxygen in the room and making team members feel unheard and excluded,” writes Sabina Nawaz for HBR. But, you can avoid overtaking the group by taking the following steps;

  • Find your unique contribution. It’s 4th, and 10 and your football team is on the 20-yard line. You wouldn’t call in your linebacker to kick a field goal. Have the right people playing the right positions.
  • Redefine what it means to be helpful. When it comes to groups, figure out where you belong. Sometimes you might just be an onlooker from the sidelines or helping out with busy work.
  • Stay quiet. “Mute before you refute to see how the discussion goes,” states Nawaz.
  • Negotiate a realistic timeline. The team should all agree on deadlines that work best for everyone, so that aren’t any bottlenecks.

Related: How to Focus Employees Who Are Too Helpful With Their Ideas

6. Not creating channels to share ideas.

If you go by the dictionary, then sharing ideas would count as collaborating. But, that’s not always the case in the real world.

Think about when you have your best ideas. It’s not when you’re forced or put on the spot. It happens more organically, like when taking a shower or going for a walk.

As such, provide multiple channels throughout the day for your team to share their ideas when the iron strikes hot for them.

To be fair, this would be much easier in a physical workplace. For example, there could be in-person lunches or drop-bys. But, you can still do this remotely by;

  • Planning virtual lunches and water-coolers.
  • Shared docs or dedicated Slack channels for ideas.
  • A process for vetting ideas.

7. Using the wrong tech.

Just because you’re an Apple devotee doesn’t mean that everyone is as well. With that in mind, it wouldn’t make sense to schedule all video calls on FaceTime. Instead, you would choose a platform that all of your colleagues use and are comfortable with.

Furthermore, make sure that you’re using the right communication.

“Having a surplus of communication and collaboration tools is great,” writes Deanna Ritchie in a previous Calendar article. “At the same time, you don’t have to collect them all. We’re not talking about Pokemon here.”

“Instead, limit the tools that you’re using,” Deanna recommends. “Besides decreasing distractions, it prevents everyone from bouncing back-and-forth between tools. And, it can also help avoid information overload.

8. Getting too comfortable.

Routines can kill creativity. How can your team be innovative when everyone is nice and cozy? By that, I mean working with the same people on familiar tasks day-in-and-out.

Rather than digging you and your team into a rut, push everyone out of their comfort zones by;

  • Creating a more innovative climate. Encourage your team to take on new roles that they find exciting and challenging. You can also push them to work on side projects.
  • Assemble diverse and inclusive teams. You can do this by having a team that is comprised of people from various backgrounds, geographical settings, and/or business units.
  • Shake-things up. As opposed to a tired, virtual team meeting, freshen it up. For example, you could host something like a hackathon to get the creative juices flowing.

Related: Beyond The Comfort Zone: Building A Model Workforce

9. Your team has become a victim of natural pitfalls.

According to renowned author Patrick Lencioni, “companies fail to achieve effective teamwork because they unknowingly fall victim to five natural pitfalls that progress like falling dominos, one after another,” notes Jody Michael Associates. These include the five following dysfunctions;

  • Absence of trust. “In this context, trust is the ability of team members to make themselves vulnerable— essentially revealing weaknesses without concern about repercussions,” add the authors. To achieve vulnerability-based trust, use personal histories and team effectiveness exercises. And, profile personalities.
  • Fear of conflict. Don’t run away from healthy debates. Conflicts can encourage open-mindfulness and prevent groupthink. It’s suggested that you use tools like the Thomas-Kilmann conflict mode instrument (TKI). You can also encourage them to be “miners” and encourage engagement.
  • Lack of commitment. Commitment is simply “a function of clarity and buy-in.” You can accomplish this by reviewing key decisions, establishing deadlines, and discuss Plan B.
  • Avoidance of accountability. “In this context, accountability refers to the willingness of team members to call out their peers on behaviors that might hurt the team,” state the authors. To ensure that this happens, publish objectives and standards, have a progress review, and reward your team.
  • Inattention to details. “Avoidance of accountability creates an environment in which team members put their individual needs (such as career) or even divisional needs (such as status) above the team’s need for results,” they write. To avoid this, publicly declare your desired results and align team members’ rewards to specific outcomes.

How to Develop New Forms of Leadership

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How to Develop New Forms of Leadership

What do all successful leaders have in common? They’re on a constant quest for knowledge. Whether through books, workshops, or shadowing peers, it’s an essential leadership trait.

Why is this the case? Because it keeps them up-to-speed on the latest trends and sparks creativity. And, most importantly, it ensures that they can grow into an inspiring and productive leader.

With Gen Z entering the workforce, this is more important than ever. After all, how boomers and millennials were lead are completely different than what Gen Z would expect. One area that you shouldn’t overlook is developing new forms of leadership so that you can connect with this demographic.

Increase your leadership capacity.

“Developing leadership skills is one of the most powerful moves you can make to transform your professional and personal life,” states Team Tony. “It’s an empowering process of harnessing your natural talents to inspire others.” During this journey, you’ll also “become more attuned to your strengths and weaknesses, which creates self-awareness and the ability to relate to others.”

How can you achieve this? By asking yourself the following three questions;

  • Do I know what my leadership style is? “Understanding your leadership style opens the door for building managerial skills in harmony with your true nature,” the authors add. “Is your leadership approach democratic, visionary, coaching, affiliative, pacesetting, or commanding?” Knowing “where you fall in these categories, you’re better equipped to develop leadership skills.”
  • What are my weak spots? Be honest with yourself here. It’s the most effective way to pinpoint what skills or form of leadership you need to address.
  • How can I take action? Now that you’re aware of your strengths and weaknesses, you can take steps to develop leadership skills. For example, if you want to become more of a coach, then you’ll want to focus on areas like becoming more self-aware and how to ask guided questions. And, you also have to practice offering guidance as opposed to micromanaging others.

Get in the trenches.

Do what separates a boss and leader? Bosses believe that they’re above the team. True leaders, however, are a part of the team.

Instead of hiding out in your office or distancing yourself from your team, spend time with them. You can do this by eating lunch with, scheduling one-on-ones, and working next to them. Besides giving you the chance to get to know them better, which you can use to motivate them, you can also learn new forms of leadership from them.

For instance, maybe it’s difficult for you to give up control. That’s understandable as a business owner. But, encouraging ownership is one of the most effective ways to motivate your team.

But, after spending time with a team member, you realize that they possess more of laissez-faire or hands-off style. You can then pick their brain or shadow them to see how you can delegate more effectively, promote a more autonomous work environment, and how to let go of control.

Embrace 360-degree feedback.

A 360-degree feedback approach is when leaders use a full circle of viewpoints to evaluate their performance. Examples include feedback from subordinates, colleagues, customers, and their own self-assessment. When done correctly, this can increase self-awareness, clarify behavior, and encourages personal development.

The biggest hurdle to jump is being willing to listen to negative feedback. Don’t take it personally. Use it as an opportunity to learn, grow, and make changes.

Learn from a coach, mentor, or consultant.

Whether it’s hiring a coach, catching up with your mentor, or bringing in outside consultants, these types of relationships are priceless. They can share with you how they achieved past victories, as well as setbacks.

Moreover, they can challenge you to try out new forms of leadership. Or, you can be inspired by them and put your own twist on their style.

For example, you may look up to Steve Jobs or Elon Musk for being innovative, decisive, or encouraging teamwork. But, you don’t have to romanticize their bad behavior. As such, you could blend those styles with empathy.

Work outside your organization.

“One of the simplest and most powerful sources of learning is simply to have worked within different organizations,” writes Ben Brearley BSc. BCM MBA. “Leaders who have spent much of their time within a single organization tend to become accustomed to the status quo.”

To prevent this, spend time in other work environments. When you do, you become exposed “to new ideas, new people and new organizational models,” adds Brearley. “It also provides you access to more diverse leadership approaches, because you’ll have had many different bosses to report to.”

“If you are somebody who has worked at the same organization for a long time, you need to ensure that you continue to learn from as many different external sources as possible,” he suggests. Hopefully, this will “provide you with diverse outside information that you can bring into your current role.”

How can you work with other organizations? You could find a part-time job, volunteer, or collaborate with partner companies. Some ideas for the latter would be co-sponsoring an event, co-branding a product/service, or publishing research together.

If the above is too overwhelming, seek opportunities to take on new roles and responsibilities within your organization. Maybe you could spend a day working for your sales department manager to see how they lead.

Share what you know.

“If you want to learn — teach,” advises Sally Fox, Ph.D. “Those of us who teach leadership professionally know this secret: We have to develop ourselves, keep learning, and model what we believe.”

“No matter where you are in your career, you can mentor others, offer what you know, share your questions, exchange insights, and keep learning,” Dr. Fox adds. “By so doing, you’ll further your own education.”

In addition to mentoring, write blog boats, host a podcast, or start an online course. I also think that speaking opportunities are clutch since you can also mingle and network. Overall, there’s no shortage of ways for you to pass along your knowledge.

Schedule “me” time.

Most of us avoid spending time alone. After all, we’re social creatures. And, loneliness can be detrimental to our mental and physical health.

However, there’s nothing wrong with indulging in some solitude occasionally. In fact, this can be beneficial as this can reduce stress, encourage gratitude, and build mental strength.

Moreover, spending time by yourself allows you to plan and develop compassion. Most importantly? It gives you a chance to reflect and learn more about yourself so that you’re comfortable in your own skin.

Introduce yourself to new and disruptive ideas — as often as possible.

As a leader, I’m positive that you’re surrounded by your favorite books, podcasts, and websites. And, there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, these resources are proven ways to keep learning and growing.

But, you should also expand your horizons. Ask your network what book you should read next. Listen to a brand-new podcast while you commute or exercise.

You can also subscribe to innovation blogs like Innovation Management or Both Sides of the Table. Another idea would be following influencers on social media or stay updated with hashtags. And, you should become a TED Member and dig into leadership reports from organizations like Criterion.

The Psychological Price of Meetings

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The Psychological Price of Meetings

With so many personalities within your organization, it’s not every day that you can reach unanimous decisions. However, if there is one thing that everyone can agree upon it’s how much they despise meetings.

People dread meetings for several valid reasons. For starters, most people view meetings as unproductive and inefficient. That’s because there isn’t a clear purpose and a lack of clear, actionable outcomes. What’s more, meetings often drag on for far too long. As a result, attendees are pulled-away from meaningful work.

Other culprits include:

  • Having to wait for late arrivals — which wastes even more time of participants.
  • Believing that there’s too much talking and not enough listening.
  • Inviting too many people because you don’t want anyone to be left out.
  • Not having any structure — such as an agenda or allowing others to go off-topic.
  • Feeling bored or not engaged.

While that is not an extensive list, the point is that people really can’t stand meetings. And, the numbers seem to back this sentiment up.

The Psychological Price of Meetings

Research from Atlassian found that the average employee attends 62 meetings per month, with half being considered “time wasted.” The research also shows that we spend approximately 31 hours per month in unproductive meetings.

According to research from Fuze, unproductive meetings cost more than $37 billion annually. It also wastes 15 percent of an organization’s collective time. However, for middle management, that figure increases to 35 percent and 50 percent for upper management. That’s a lot of time and money when 67 percent of executives consider meetings to be failures.

Because of this, it’s no surprise that some organizations, like Asana, have banned meetings on specific days as a solution to the meeting problem. Other businesses have even scrapped meetings altogether.

But, few of these organizations have examined the most detrimental part of meetings; the psychological price it has on employees.

The Toll on Physical Health

Wait. Wasn’t this article supposed to be about the psychological price of meetings? Yes. However, there’s a strong correlation between physical and mental health.

While it’s no secret that physical health reduces serious health concern like heart problems, diabetes, or concern, it’s also a proven way to reduce stress and anxiety. Being active also improves your mood, focus, and concentration thanks to the release of dopamine and serotonin.

Exercise has also been found to stimulate other chemicals in the brain called “brain-derived neurotrophic factors.” These allow for new brain cells to grow and develop. Furthermore, research shows that older adults who are physically fit have a bigger hippocampus and better spatial memory.

In short, when you prioritize your physical health, you’re improving your mental health.

Considering that the average person already sits for 12 hours per day, slouching at a conference table only adds to this sedentary lifestyle. No wonder living sedentary has become the fourth leading risk for global mortality.

To counter physical inactivity, it’s suggested that we need at least one hour of physical activity a day. Of course, this is no easy feat during a hectic workday. The good news is that instead of sitting throughout a meeting you implement standing meetings.

While this won’t completely resolve physical inactivity in the workplace, it’s an excellent starting point to improve employee health — they’re also 34 percent shorter. Additionally, standing meetings come with the following benefits;

  • Releases endorphins and boosts energy levels.
  • Decreases distractions.
  • Encourages better collaboration, a sense of purpose, and creative thinking.
  • Keeps attendees focused and alert.
  • Improves posture.
  • Burns 50 percent more calories than sitting.

Added Workplace Stress and Anxiety

Workplace stress has already been dubbed the “silent killer.” The outcome known as a silent killer is because when left unchecked stress can result in physical alignments like headaches, trouble sleeping, and increased blood pressure. It can also affect concentration, confidence, and mood disorders like anxiety and depression. 72 percent of people who have daily stress and anxiety say it interferes with their lives at least moderately.

Meetings can add to an already stressed out workforce due to issues like being afraid to speak in public and interacting with an authority figure. There’s also legitimate worry when there isn’t access to an agenda or resources before the meeting. I mean is there anything worse than not knowing what to expect when entering a meeting? Worse, have you been asked a question for which you didn’t or couldn’t prepare an answer?

When it comes to reducing workplace stress and anxiety, there isn’t such a thing as “one size fits all” approach. However, one solution is to provide all attendees with the required information, resources, and agenda in advance. Giving meeting attendees advanced information offers them the opportunity to prepare — so that they aren’t afraid of the unknown. The dividend is money back in your pocket in saved time.

You may also want to consider offering meditation classes and encouraging employees to take frequent breaks. Also, create a friendly and positive company culture through team building exercises, socializing outside of work, and not tolerating bullying. When employees feel comfortable and respected with their colleagues, it can ease stress related to areas like the fear of public speaking.

FOMO

Despite the evidence that regular meetings are unproductive and costly, why do we keep scheduling or attending them? There may be a simple explanation; FOMO.

FOMO, which is stands for the “fear of missing out,” is defined as “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere.” It may explain why leaders schedule weekly meetings. If they don’t see their team, they’ll worry that they don’t know what everyone is working on, or assigned.

Personalities can also play a role. Extroverts, for example, are naturally drawn to recurring brainstorming sessions and group activities. As a result, they set face-to-face communications because they believe it’s necessary.

The truth of the matter is that when everyone within your organization is in-attendance, performance decreases because the group size is too large. C Northcote Parkinson addressed this first with his“coefficient of inefficiency.” Parkinson stated that meetings consisting of five people were “most likely to act with competence, secrecy, and speed.” Above nine, Parkinson added, “the organism begins to perish.”

Via Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”:

The “evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups,” writes the organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham. “If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.”

Before inviting your entire staff to the next meeting, review all current recurring meetings and ask yourself the following questions;

  • Does the meeting still serve a purpose?
  • Is the meeting necessary?
  • Does everyone need to participate or can you invite only the key stakeholders like department heads?
  • Can you use Slack, email, or a project management system instead of in-person?
  • If you must meet face-to-face, can you replace the meeting with a 5-minute inspiration break?

It’s never easy to start eliminating meetings from your calendar. But, start experimenting with alternatives. It may take some trial and error, but you may find a more productive option.

Decreases Morale and Engagement

When meetings are irrelevant to invitees and don’t serve a purpose, they can kill morale. Instead of being able to focus on more critical work, attendees are stuck in a meeting that is an utter waste of time.

When employee morale is low, you can also expect engagement to drop as well. Initially, this may not seem overly significant. But, employee disengagement leads to;

  • Dissatisfaction with their jobs.
  • Unproductivity.
  • Causes people to withdraw, which harms collaboration.
  • Less employee input.
  • A lack of growth, empowerment, and improvement.
  • An increase in costly mistakes.
  • More absenteeism and turnover.

Again, avoid scheduling meetings that are a waste of time. Make sure they have a clear purpose and work towards a common goal. And, make sure they’re short, concise, and engaging.

Unnecessary Information Overload

Do your meetings contain too many facts? Are you throwing stats at attendees left and right? Are you boring them with slide after slide packed full of information?

Annoying people to death or overwhelming them with information may seem innocent. Unfortunately, when exposed to too much information our brains become unnecessarily stimulated. This information overload can result in negatively affecting our mental well-being in the following ways:

  • A decrease in productivity.
  • Drained energy.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Strong compulsion to check emails, social media, etc.
  • A decreased cognitive performance which can impair decision-making.

When planning a meeting keep in mind that the brain can only handle to so much information at one-time. Additionally, our brains can only focus for so long before starting to wander. If a meeting is an hour-long and delivers too much data — processing and focus will be dull, and everyone will lose interest.

As such, only share the most critical data points during your presentation. You can send any supporting information to your team in the form of a word document that they can view at their leisure. A quick, readable piece will also ensure that the event will be short and concise. Ideally, you should take a page of the TED Talk playbook and keep your presentation under 20-minutes.

Multitasking Damages Your Brain

A whopping 92 percent of people have admitted to multitasking during meetings. Whether if this is checking their email or during other work, multitasking does more harm than good.

Research out of the University of Sussex found that multitaskers have “ less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region responsible for empathy as well as cognitive and emotional control.” A study from the University of London discovered “that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ score declines that were similar to what they’d expect if they had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night.”

One solution would be to ban gadgets, like a smartphone. Former President Obama, for example, had people place their phones in a basket before entering a meeting.

Another option would be to make meetings more interactive. Interactive meetings take up more time though. But an occasional question-and-answer session can be helpful, group activities, or ditching the chairs and implementing standing meetings can also be beneficial.

Distractions Derail More Than Just Productivity

It’s no secret that distractions harm productivity. For example, if you’re interrupted by an email, it will take around 16 minutes to refocus your attention. As for meetings, it can take 2 hours to recover from these disruptions. The reason? Switching between tasks leaves us with a frantic sensation. As a result, this over-stimulates the brain.

However, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Because distractions lead to productivity loss, the work day gets longer. Eventually, this leads to frustration, stress, and a lack of engagement and motivation. And, because we’re attempting to catch up on work, we make more mistakes.

As if that weren’t bad enough, workplace distractions impair employee IQ scores.

Once again, if possible, avoid having too many unnecessary meetings. If a situation can be handled electronically, then go that route as opposed to interrupting people from working. If meetings are necessary, keep them under 30-minutes and at least have one day per week where meetings do not take place.

Can Lead to a Sense of Failure

As mentioned above, a majority of executives feel that meetings are a failure.

Failure isn’t always a bad thing. It allows you to learn and grow from your mistakes. At the same time, that doesn’t make failure an enjoyable experience.

Failing time-and-time again can make the same goal less attainable. It also distorts how you perceive your abilities, makes you believe you’re helpless, causes anxiety, and unconscious self-sabotage.

Every meeting on your calendar should have clear goals and objectives. Calendar info involves:

  • Identifying the desired outcome and how it can be achieved.
  • Determining why the outcome is essential. In other words, how does it align with the bigger picture?
  • Deciding when the outcome should be achieved and establishing roles.

Meetings Aren’t a Good Waste of Time

Meetings aren’t just a waste of time. They’re a terrible waste of time. This doesn’t even account for the psychological price of meetings on a human soul.

While our brains require downtime, instead of sitting in a useless meeting you should provide opportunities for yourself and team to meditate, new learn a skill, exercise, build hobbies, or work on a passion project. In other words, you shouldn’t be watching Netflix for an hour. Instead, you should focus on activities that have some potential positive value.

When time is spent as an investment, productivity increases, it also encourages creativity, solidifies memories, and replenishes attention.

Meetings Can Still Be Beneficial

You may believe that all sessions are a waste of time? But, that’s not honestly always the case. When done correctly, meetings can;

  • Keep everyone in the loop and on the same page.
  • Share problems, concerns, and solutions to problems.
  • Promote leadership and the chance for employees to step into new roles.
  • Opportunity to give and receive feedback.
  • Provide training opportunities.
  • Promote team collaboration. Teamwork can improve the flexibility of the organization, keep everyone engaged, spark innovation, and improve the health of employees.

Even more promising is that meetings can encourage group cohesion. While meetings should be as short as possible, letting participants spend a couple of minutes before or after engaging in informal communication boosts productivity.

A study from MIT backs this statement up by stating that “with increased cohesion likely comes an increase in things such as shared tacit knowledge, shared attitudes and work habits, and social support.”

Moreover, a Microsoft survey discovered that people crave face-time. In-Person meetings are the communication method that makes them the happiest.

Proven Ways to Improve Meetings

Although there have been suggestions throughout this article to help make meetings successful, a team of psychological scientists have developed the following recommendations;

Before the Meeting

  • Assess current needs. Meetings should only be held to solve a problem, make a decision, or have a substantive discussion.
  • Set and share the agenda. An agenda will make the purpose of the meeting clear. It will also keep the meeting organized.
  • Invite only the right people. Attendance should be kept to a minimum. As such, only those who will help achieve its goals and initiatives should be invited.

During the Meeting

  • Encourage contribution. Ask questions. Encourage feedback. Facilitate group discussions. Or, have a little fun by playing games.
  • Add a little humor. Humor breaks the ice, lightens the mood, and creates a more positive environment.
  • Redirect complaining. Complaints change the mood of the meeting and gets the discussion off-track. Squash complaining and address it one-on-one following the meeting.
  • Keep discussions focused. Stick to the agenda and only allow reviews that are relevant to the meeting objective.

After the Meeting

  • Share the minutes. Attendees can refer to this when they need a reminder of what to do next and who’s responsible for specific roles. Those who couldn’t attend can also use the minutes to stay in the loop.
  • Seek feedback. Feedback will help you plan the next meeting to ensure it’s productive.
  • Look ahead. Keep the momentum going by encouraging everyone to think about future actions, follow-through, and short-and-long-term outcomes.

Additional suggestions;

  • Don’t schedule meetings in the morningMornings should be spent on priorities that involve deep work and focus. Instead, schedule meetings in the afternoon, like around 3:30 or four pm since it’s unlikely that any other project will get started at this time.
  • Pick the right location. Where the meeting is held needs to be large enough to accommodate participants, be an environment that inspires creativity and has the right tech if needed.
  • Eliminate distractions. Again, don’t allow phones into the meeting — or ask them to be turned off. Also, do not allow small talk during the presentation.
  • Set a time limit. Meetings that range between 15-45 minutes are ideal.
  • Step-up your virtual meeting etiquette. If working with a remote team, make sure you’re using the right technology, stop multitasking, close unnecessary programs, and mute your mic when not speaking.

How Much Customer Information Does Your Business Actually Need?

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How Much Customer Information Does Your Business Actually Need?

The majority of companies handle a lot of data and sensitive information every day. Appointment-based businesses, in particular, regularly keep track of individually identifiable customer details. Keeping the personal information of your recurring customers safe and confidential is increasingly vital for maintaining a positive brand reputation.

You may not need to ask for every piece of information you’re currently collecting from customers. Unnecessary information contributes to database clutter and makes the information that much more susceptible to malicious attack. The first step toward keeping a firm grip on the integrity of your data is to collect only what you need in the first place.

Personal Details

Start with the basics. You’ll of course need a first and last name. Other than that, you may not need many specifics. You can ask for general demographic info if you’d like, which may help with future marketing efforts. While information such as age, gender, and ethnicity are useful, they aren’t often required unless you work in a medical field where the information is relevant.

Sometimes it can add a personal touch to gather some information even though it’s not required. Birthdays, for example, provide an opportunity for you to reach out. With that piece of information, you can send the client a personalized message with a unique offer just for them to enjoy.

To protect your customers from identity theft, make it clear what information you will be requesting and what you don’t need. Knowing this will protect them should a hacker posing as your business attempt to scam them. For example, make certain that your customers know not to give their Social Security number to anyone, even if they claim to be speaking on behalf of your company.

Contact Information

Being able to contact your customer when needed is extremely important for appointment-based businesses. For starters, sending appointment reminders cuts down irritating no-shows. In addition, appointment reminders enhance your customer service strategy, as the lack of a reminder can be frustrating to clients juggling busy schedules.

There will be situations where an appointment time needs to be changed. Being able to contact affected customers will prevent confusion and alert customers about an adjustment before it’s too late. Ask for either a phone number or an email address, depending on customer preference. Let the customer decide whether they want to be notified via phone call, text message, or email.

Appointment Specifics

The information you collect at this stage will depend in large part on the industry you’re in. For example, a doctor’s office will record symptoms, prescriptions, and diagnoses to patient files to provide the best care possible with each appointment. Hair salons will record information about haircuts and treatments to easily refer to past appointments. Appointment-based personal trainers will keep track of workout information and so forth.

This type of customer information enables you to provide a personalized experience to each individual. Given the nature of this information, you might need to create your own documents to store information where it can be easily — and securely — accessed. Be sure to keep the notes section of your online appointment software or customer portals up-to-date with any necessary specifics.

Payment Information

If a customer makes payments at your store location, there’s no need to record payment information. They will have to authorize their payments each time and may want to switch cards on occasion, so saving payment information does you no good. Given that credit and debit card information is a primary target for hackers, you don’t want to store this information unless it is verifiably secure. Data that is not maintained on your servers can’t be breached.

Using online appointment software presents an interesting dilemma. Typically, a customer will continue to use the same payment method online since cash is clearly not an option. Online shopping is also more convenient when card info is saved to a local device. In this case, leave the option to the customer. Allow them to decide whether your system stores their payment information or not instead of collecting it by default.

Wherever you do store financial data, place the highest priority on keeping it safe. Look at options for encrypting data, make sure your website has a firewall in place, and choose storage options with state-of-the-art security. This way, even when your customers willingly provide their information, they can do business with you knowing their info is in good hands.

Referral Notes

What brought customers to your business in the first place? Did they see your billboard while driving by, or were they attracted to your business by social media? Collecting this information holds no value or sensitive details, so acquiring it poses little to no security threat. Knowing which marketing strategies are successfully bringing in business will also help you adjust your efforts to focus on the most effective ones.

Additionally, you’ll probably want to keep track of customer referrals if you have any sort of incentive programs in place. That way, you can make sure loyal customers who are bringing in friends and family are properly rewarded.

Customer Feedback

Any information you don’t collect from customer intake forms can be solicited through surveys and questionnaires. This is how you can get volunteer feedback either on-site or through online messaging. Examples of information you might want to pursue include:

  • Likelihood to refer the company to a friend
  • Customer service rating
  • User experience feedback for the website, mobile app, and online appointment software
  • Reason for not returning, if applicable

Knowing how your customer thinks and feels allows you to better cater to their needs. Without this information, your business can grow stale and out-of-date while customers move on to greener pastures. 

As you seek to make improvements, you’ll want to refer often to the feedback you’ve been given. It’s easy to miss the mark if you focus on making changes based on the thoughts of employees and management. Prioritize customer experience first, then move on to making changes manageable for everyone else.

What data your business chooses to collect is ultimately your decision to make. Just be sure to start out only asking for what is absolutely necessary. You can always open up the information funnel later on. 

Spend the extra time and care to protect your customers by being sensitive to their privacy and security concerns. Customers enjoy getting birthday coupons, sure, but that bit of company goodwill will go up in smoke if you’re responsible for exposing them to a serious data breach.

Still Working From Home? Here are 10 Must-Read Books

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Still Working From Home? Here are 10 Must-Read Books

Even before COVID-19, remote work was having a minute. Global Workplace Analytics estimates “that 56% of the U.S. workforce holds a job that is compatible (at least partially) with remote work.” Moreover, “25-30% of the workforce will be working-from-home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.”

Regardless if we ever actually return to a pre-COVID world, it does appear the working from home isn’t going anywhere. And, that’s both a blessing and curse.

For years, remote workers have proclaimed that they’re more productive and happier. Numerous research has backed this up. As for business owners, they have more productive teams — and are saving money like scaling back on the size of a physical workplace.

The thing is, it appears that we’ve hit a wall. Between Zoom meetings, social distancing, and yearning to finally get back to normalcy, we’re flat-out exhausted. Additionally, there are unique WFH distractions, knowing when to disconnect, and overcoming isolation.

Still Working From Home? Here are 10 Must-Read Books

In short, the honeymoon with remote work is over.

If you’re in this position — here are 10 books that we should read to help you fall back in love with working from home.

1. The New Corner Office: How the Most Successful People Work from Home by Laura Vanderkam

For my money, Laura Vanderkam is one of the best sources to turn to if you need advice regarding productivity and time management. During her career, Vanderkam authored some of the best books in this area, such as I Know How She Does It, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, and168 Hours.

In 2020, she released this timely book that shares the following hacks;

  • Managing tasks, as opposed to time. For example, only setting 3-5 ambitious goals per day.
  • Getting into a rhythm by allocating time for work, breaks, and downtime.
  • Constructing broader and more effective networks

2. Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

Although written in 2013, Remote did an excellent job convincing people of the perks of working remotely. In the wake of COVID, though, the book has seen a resurgence. And, it definitely deserves that.

Authored by the founders of Basecamp, the book has timeless lessons for both employees and leaders. These include;

  • Building trust and collaboration through messaging tools, virtual water coolers, and focusing on outcomes instead of “time in the chair.”
  • Being aware of “dragons.” To avoid pitfalls, make sure that you have the right equipment, ergonomic furniture, maintaining healthy habits, and socializing.
  • To effectively manage remote teams, use asynchronous communication, don’t overwork them, and schedule one-on-ones.

3. Working From Home: Making the New Normal Work for You by Karen Mangia

Written by Karen Mangia, Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce, Working From Home is another timely book as it was released in August 2020. And, like Remote, it covers tried and true advice for those working remotely.

Key takeaways include;

  • How to build an inspiring and budget-friendly workspace in your home.
  • The importance of establishing routines, rituals, and boundaries.
  • How to break boulders into smaller pieces.
  • Igniting innovation by creating new processes.
  • Tips on sprucing up your virtual meetings.
  • Advice on how to handle burnout and Zoom fatigue.
  • Redefining success by focusing on what you can control.

4. Work-from-Home Hacks 500+ Easy Ways to Get Organized, Stay Productive, and Maintain a Work-Life Balance While Working from Home! by Aja Frost

Aja Frost, Head of Content SEO at Hubspot, put together over 500 quick and easy solutions in one handy book. It’s quick and to the point.

It contains popular advice ranging from setting up your workspace to overcoming distractions. There are also tips on how to stay organized so that you can be productive.

This book is more geared to WFH newbies. Those who are seasoned at working remotely are probably familiar with the hacks in this book. For example, putting on real clothes and establishing boundaries. Still, if you’re still struggling with this new normal, it wouldn’t hurt to go back to basics.

5. Surviving Remote Work by Sharon Koifman

Sharon Koifman, DistantJob’s President and Founder, wrote Surviving Remote Work in the wake of COVID-19. In the book, Koifman shares insights on his remote management. After all, he has more than 15-years of experience in this arena.

Going beyond obvious and common-sense advice, Surviving Remote Work provides strategies for onboarding employees and building a connected culture remotely. Koifman also has tips on managing extroverts and introverts and what tools should be in your arsenal. And, how to protect yourself from cyber-threats.

6. Work from Home Superstar: How to Stay Focused and Rock Your Day by Jack Wilson

Released in the good, old days of 2017, Jack Wilson offers a crisp guide into working from home based on his own hilarious experiences. Through his experiments, he discovered what the biggest distractions are when working from home — I’m looking at you Netflix — and how he structured his day for productivity.

Wilson also has recommendations on how to get into the right mindset and develop self-discipline. And, Work from Home Superstar also stresses the importance of prioritizing your health and occasionally getting out of the house.

7. The Remote Facilitator’s Pocket Guide by Kirsten Clacey and Jay-Allen Morris

According to one review over at Goodreads, “Everyone who does online meetings should read this book.” And, I couldn’t agree more.

Clacey and Morris begin The Remote Facilitator’s Pocket Guide by going over the challenges of virtual meetings, such as;

  • Virtual events often feel more intimidating than in-person events.
  • It’s harder to focus and encourage engagement as 8 in 10 participants are multitasking.
  • These events are more dependent on the mood and style of the facilitator.

To overcome these pitfalls? The authors provide strategies like how to create equal opportunity, enable flow, and nurture connection. They also recommend using visuals to your advantage and encouraging playful learning.

8. The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership by Kevin Eikenberry and Wayne Turmel

Published in 2018, The Long-Distance Leader can actually be a resource for anyone in a leadership position. However, as founders of the Remote Leadership Institute, Eikenberry and Turmel have essentially written the book on remote leadership.

The book covers all the basics like using technology as a tool, focusing on outcomes, and building trust. There are also tips on how to set goals, seek feedback, and avoid burnout. To companion the book, there are also online tools and resources, such as a team goal clarity assessment and pre-conference checklist, to help you become a stronger remote leader.

9. How to Declutter Your Home or Work Office to Improve Productivity by Sarah Adams

Clutter may not be on the top of your mind. However, it can interfere with your productivity. It can also increase stress, sleep problems, and make it difficult to relax.

With that in mind, it’s crucial that you keep your home and work area tidy. To assist you in that department is How to Declutter Your Home or Work Office to Improve Productivity. Although it’s a short read, it’s still packed with inspiring and practical tips on how to keep get, and remain, organized.

10. Unhackable: The Elixir for Creating Flawless Ideas, Leveraging Superhuman Focus, and Achieving Optimal Human Performance by Kary Oberbrunner

While not specifically written about working from home, Unhackable is a must-read as we navigate through the “Attention Economy.”

Written by coach and author Kary Oberbrunner, this compelling book presents 30 daily missions that will help you develop superhuman focus and organize your life around your “flow.” As a result, you’ll get more done in less time and live the life you truly want.

Steps to Reopen Your Office — What to Expect from Employees

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Steps to Reopen Your Office — What to Expect from Employees

Like so many other business owners, you’re rearing to get back to work in your office. Specifically, going back to what life was like before COVID-19. Your main goal for right now maybe simply returning to the office.

That’s not unreasonable. The rollout of the vaccine is here — and things are looking up. According to JLL’s “Human Experience” report, three in four workers wants to return to an office in the future. However, as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

In other words, don’t’ haphazardly and rush your reopening. Instead, start developing a plan that will ensure that you can safely and efficiently reopen your office. And, if you don’t know where to begin, here are some pointers to get the ball rolling.

Steps to Reopen Your Office — Brush Up on the Law and Health Guidelines

Without question, the step you must take is reviewing the legality of opening back up. For example, check your local guidelines to actually see if you can resume business operations. Even if you can, there may be limitations on how many people can be in the building simultaneously. The vaccine is helping a lot in getting permission to get back to work.

Because guidelines vary across states — you’re going to have to do this part on your own. But, simply Googling your state and business reopening guidelines should steer you in the right direction. If you rent your office space — you could ask your landlord. Or you can schedule a virtual meeting with stakeholders to discuss your reopening.

Another helpful tool? USA Today’s real-time tracker or COVID-19 trends and restrictions. It can at least give you an idea of whether or not your state is tightening or loosing-up regulations.

If you have the green light, there’s another legal matter to dig into. And, that’s if you can force employees back to work.

Well, that depends on the state. However, if your employers are considered essential or have a contract, employees must show up to work. But, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and/or the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) offers paid leave if an employee or someone they care for has been impacted by COVID. If you have any high-risk team members, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may compel you to let them continue working remotely.

Create a Written Return to Work Plan

“Most employers will return to the office in stages, with some employees continuing to work at home for an extended period of time,” writes Dawn Ross, Partner at Carle, Mackie, Power & Ross LLP. To be frank — expect this new hybrid workplace to be “the norm over the next several years.”

“Instead of allowing this to happen haphazardly, create a written return to work plan detailing who will be returning to the office,” advises Ross.

At the minimum, your “return to work plans” should include information like, “When they will be returning, and outlining what precautions have been put into place to keep employees and the general public safe.” Many “of these steps will take a month or more,” start planning earlier than later.

What should be in your written plan?

As a part of your plan, Ross also recommends doing the following;

  • Survey your employees to find out who wishes to come back. While JLL found that a majority of employees want to return, another online survey shows that close to 30% would quit if forced back to the office.
  • Order PPE. Place your order for cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, masks, and gloves.
  • Daily health checks. Both the CDC and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)” recommend that all employers consider some kind of health check for employees coming into the workplace,” adds Ross. Additionally, “several counties have issued Health Orders instructing all employers to create policies that require employees to complete a health check before coming into the office. Many counties have created a daily health check app for this purpose.”
  • Temperature checks and COVID-19 tests. At your expense, you can conduct and require employees to take temperature checks and COVID-19 tests.
  • Have positive COVID-19 contingency plans. If an employee tests positive, you need to have a plan. It must “address contact tracing, notifying local health officials, and cleaning the affected area, and must include a written notification to employees working in proximity to the positive employee without disclosing the employee’s identity,” advises Ross. You should also have a procedure in place in case you must quickly shut down if there is a spike in numbers or the virus mutates faster than we think.
  • Update IIPP plan. Your state has guidelines “requiring employers to include COVID-19 prevention measures in their Injury and Illness Prevention Programs (IIPPs).
  • Worker’s compensation. Employees may be entitled to worker’s compensation if they test positive for COVID-19. If so, you should initiate the claims process.

You should also think about how many people will be allowed in the office? And, will have shifts between work-at-home and work-at-office?

Other reopening considerations.

You’re not done just yet. If employees are working from home because they don’t want to return, or you’ve had to reclose, you should have the following in place;

  • “A written work from home policy that clearly states your expectations and requires your employees to commit to those expectations,” states Ross.
  • Depending on your state, you may be required to reimburse employees for work-related expenses.
  • Workplace safety can also apply to remote workers. You should provide them with ergonomically correct desks, chairs, and keyboards.
  • Changing employees from salaried exempt to non-exempt.
  • Taking a measured approach for those who do not want to return to the office.

If your business interacts with the general public, post required local postings for them to see. You can also refuse to serve customers who do not comply with safety precautions. And, you may also an Assumption of the Risk policy for customers.

Redesign the Office by Taking Recommended Safety Actions

Even with written policies in place, you’re still going to have to re-design the workplace before reopening. After all, you want to make sure that your team remains safe and healthy. Moreover, you have to follow local or state ordinances.

While this may seem overwhelming, the CDC has put together an extensive list of guidelines that your office should adopt. For starters, if the building has been unoccupied for an extended period of time, you should check for mold, rodent/pest, or mechanical problems. Don’t forget about looking for stagnant water and ensuring that ventilation systems are working properly.

In terms of decreasing transmission of COVID-19, concentrate on;

  • Encouraging healthy hygiene practices by providing each employee with sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Also, put up signage reminding people to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds and coughing into their elbows.
  • Practicing social distancing by keeping chairs/desks at least six feet apart. You could also install physical barriers and stagger arrival/departure times.
  • Reconfiguring walking areas so that everyone is walking in one direction.
  • Replacing high-touch communal items, like coffee pots, with pre-packaged or single-serving.
  • Discouraging large gatherings and canceling non-essential travel.
  • Intensifying cleaning and disinfection, such as asking everyone to wipe down their workspaces at the ends of the day

To ensure that everyone is on the same page, the CDC suggests including and involving all employees. Also, you should hold seminars, workshops, and drills, so that you are aware of new workplace safety practices.

Bonus tip: If you don’t have the funds to do much of the above, unlock capital. For example, selling off assists that you no longer need. You may also be able to receive assistance through organizations like the Small Business Administration.

Implement Safeguards For The Ongoing Monitoring Of Employees

You should be commended for coming this far. But, this is another critical step to take before reopening. And, that’s implementing safeguards that will monitor your team. These include;

  • Even if it’s not COVID, encouraging employees who are sick to stay home.
  • Conducting daily in-person or virtual health checks.
  • Monitoring absenteeism and offering more flexible time-off policies/schedules.
  • Having contingency plans if an employee gets COVID-19.
  • Keeping the lines of communication open with employees and Creating and testing emergency communication channels for employees and state and local health authorities.

What happens if an employee tests positive?

Cleaning and disinfecting the area where they were present is a must. The employee should also be quarantined until released by a physician or public health official. And, if any other employees were in close proximity, they should also be isolated for 14-days.

It’s important to keep all your employees notified. And, if they voice concerns, you may want to close the office back down until everyone tests negative.

Encourage Vigilance and Lead By Example

I get it. You’ve put in a lot of time in effort in reopening your office. However, that doesn’t mean things are going to go back to normal. You still need to maintain a regular cleaning and disinfection routine. You should also keep tabs on the number of COVID-19 cases in your area — if there’s a spike, you may want to be proactive and shut things down.

But, this shouldn’t completely fall on your shoulders. Even with these protocols in place, your employees need to hold themselves accountable.

Who is responsible for stopping the spread — all leaders and all employees

“The only way to create and sustain change is to have 200% accountability,” writes corporate trainer and author Joseph Grenny for HBR. “Employees must understand that they are not simply responsible for following safe practices themselves (the first 100%), they are also responsible for ensuring everyone around them does as well (the second 100%).”

Moreover, lead by example. If you aren’t practicing precautions like social distancing or mask-wearing, then why would your team follow suit? And, Greeny also recommends using moral messaging. “Make the moral case for changing behavior by telling stories of affected friends, family, or clients to bring the risks of non-compliance to life,” he writes.

Finally, create a culture of transparency. Don’t penalize employees if they experience symptoms or aren’t comfortable being around others. Let them know that it’s acceptable to remind others of the new workplace policies if they notice someone not following them.

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