Refreshing your Work from Home Routine

Judy Rathwell Judy Rathwell, Project Director-Aha! Leadership

I am a morning person and enjoy quick news soundbites, such as ‘The Skimm’ daily email.  This appeared in a ‘Skimmed from the Couch’ January issue, and worth a repeat.  As many continue to navigate WFH from novelty to the status quo, here are  9 tips and tricks that may help you create new habits or reboot old ones.

1) Setting Up

For when you miss your morning commute…Fake it till you make it (again). Commuting into the office can help create a work-life boundary and prep you for the day ahead. The bedroom to living room commute? Not so much. So take a conmute, or con yourself into thinking you’re commuting. This can mean walking around the block listening to a podcast or a pump-up playlist.

2) For when you’ve gotten tired of your home “office”…

Find a new home. If you can, set up in the room with the most natural light or multiple light sources. This helps ward off eye strain from blue light. It’ll help you sleep better too, since you’ll be living in sync with your circadian rhythm (aka natural sleep-wake cycle).

3) For when you feel overwhelmed…

Lists, but make them exciting. Instead of a standard to-do list, make a D-List, divided into three sections: “Doing,” “Dealing,” and “Dreaming.” In the Doing section, write down the 1-3 work tasks that must get done that week. In the Dealing section, write down personal, household, or other tasks that should get done. And in the Dreaming section, write down something exciting or inspiring you’d like to dig into. This can be an article you’ve been meaning to read, a piece of art you want to look at more closely, or a (socially distanced) trip you want to plan.

4) Getting After It      

For when your calendar is booking up…

Block it off. If your work requires deep focus, you won’t be able to get that done with back-to-back Zoom meetings. Grab a few 1-3 hour blocks on your calendar every week and mark them off for deep focus work. Some people say that they do this work better in the AM, others prefer afternoon. Try both and see which works for you.

5) For when you zone out of virtual meetings (or virtually every meeting)…

Close. Those. Tabs. It’s tempting to buy that shirt with “only one left in your size” mid-meeting, but this will end up wasting your time and everyone else’s. Grab a notebook (how vintage) and take notes by hand to resist the pull of the Interwebs.

6) For when you’re feeling Zoom fatigue…

Try and pad your meetings with a 5-10 minute break in between to give your eyes and brain a rest. And opt to use a good ole audio call instead of Zoom when you can. It gives your eyes a break and lets you focus solely on listening, instead of how you look on video. We get it: The (eye) struggle is real.

7) For when you keep getting distracted…

Break up with your distractions. If you keep opening new, shiny tabs (hint: researching anti-aging serums or pulling up menus from restaurants you miss), you might need to try an Internet blocker app like Freedom. If your distractions come from your SO or family, make it clear that you need dedicated space. Say something concrete like, “Can we block off 20 minutes together at 4pm to talk about this?” Then put it on your calendar. This might feel like you’re running your personal life like a business, but structure can help manage most aspects of life.

9) For when you need a break…

Take one. Take many. There’s no hard and fast rule for how many breaks you should take per day, but Skimm HQ is partial to the post-lunch walk. Some HQ’rs also like the Pomodoro technique: 25-minute work intervals, each followed by a 5-minute break. After four 25-minute work blocks, take a longer 15-20 minute break. This helps create a sense of urgency while avoiding burnout.

10) Logging Off

For when your 9 to 5 becomes 9 to 7 or 8 or 9…

Log off at the same time every day. This might seem unrealistic, but try it for a week. Since your D-List runs on a weekly cadence, you can tackle what’s leftover the next day. Saying “bye” to the remote office at the same time every day creates a renewed sense of separation so that work doesn’t permeate every aspect of your life.

11) For when you’re answering emails in bed…

Keep bed a sacred space. No computers or phones allowed. This creates another barrier between work and life. Bonus: It’s more beneficial for sleep and mental health.

WFH can feel like a lawless land. Congrats, you’re now the mayor. Set the rules, create the habits, and productivity will have a better shot at falling in line.

Source: the Skimm, January 1, 2021

3 Reasons to Invest in Online Leadership Training

While the pandemic has created many unknowns, there is one thing we know for sure: businesses and organizations will face more disruptive changes in the next year than they have in the past 20. The way we lead cannot stay the same as the environment around us changes.

Leadership development and training and are essential for organizations to stay competitive and thrive. With travel and group restrictions, training programs have been halted, leaving HR leaders to deal with the fallout from pay cuts, furloughs, and eliminations. As we learn how to change and recover from the pandemic crisis, organizations are rethinking their development strategies and turning towards an online platform.

Companies waiting for the return of in-person leadership training risk falling behind companies that continue to grow their skills using other methods. In fact, market research from the Center for Creative Leadership report that 82% of organizations feel investing in leadership training gives them an advantage over competitors.

While online learning is not new, this method of developmental delivery has skyrocketed in popularity. But not everyone’s on board. Organizations without previous experience with online training may remain skeptical of the advantages of online learning. Others may have had a subpar experience with online deliveries in the past and prefer face-to-face training as a result.  However, organizations cannot afford to wait for in-person development programs to resume. Online learning is here to stay, and these programs can create similar engagement and results as in-person programs.

There are many advantages to online leadership development.

  1. According to market research from the Center for Creative Leadership, satisfaction with virtual leadership development equals that of face-to-face training.  At Aha! Leadership, we have found our online classes have similar scores as in-person workshops as well.
  2. We’ve also seen similar positive results for learning objectives and achievements.
  3. Both formats deliver an engaging experience and include the same effective elements as our in-person training, with breakout rooms, polling, quality videos, etc. 
  4. In addition to the high impact of online training, virtual leadership development programs are easily scalable to be delivered to a number of leaders.
  5. Virtual training programs are also convenient for organizations and leaders, allowing them to participate from anywhere in the world without additional travel expenses.

Online leadership development joins the remote workplace in growing with the current times and challenges. At Aha! Leadership, we seek to help you navigate these times with effective and impactful training that generates the results your organization is looking for!

Reference from the Center for Creative Leadership

5 Reasons Why Teleconferencing is Draining Your Energy & What to Do About It

For a lot of us, the current situation we are in means we are spending a lot of time working from home and in video meetings. But why do virtual meetings seem more tiring than in person ones?

  1. We miss out on non-verbal communication. We pay attention to the facial expressions, gestures, and tone of others and respond accordingly. During in-person meetings, this processing is automatic. However, video chat requires we devote significant energy and attention to pick up on non-verbal cues.
  2. What’s going on in the background? We feel anxious about our new workspace and how it appears to our colleagues. We worry our kids, partners or parents could walk in at any moment. We also focus more of our attention on the backgrounds of others. The environment where meetings are held is also very important to our processing. We attribute certain meetings to specific rooms and adjust our behavior accordingly.
  3. No more in-passing small talk. In-person, we often meet people on the way to a meeting and have time for small talk and catching up before the meeting starts. On video, it’s all business right from the start.
  4. Watching ourselves is stressful. The heightened focus on facial cues and the ability to see ourselves has proven very stressful. Viewing negative facial expressions can intensify those feelings and emotions in ourselves and others.
  5. Silence is awkward. Silence in real-life meetings is normal and provides rhythm. However, over video, we don’t know if the other person is listening or frozen. Silence makes us anxious about technology and lagging connections.

So, how can we reduce fatigue?

Experts suggest limiting video calls to only the essentials. Additionally, turning your camera off or your screen to the side can make the call less tiring.

Restructuring meetings may also be helpful. Try introducing a shared document in addition to the video call. Make time at the beginning of the meeting for small talk and catch-ups. Check-in on the well-being of others.

Lastly, building in transition periods can help us adjust. Try stretching or doing some exercise before a video meeting. We need buffers to allow our minds to transition our focus from one thing to the next.

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change” -Wayne D. Dyer

12 Tips for Effective Emails

Email is a communication currency that can lose its value very quickly if not used appropriately.

We “hear” what is being said through our senses, so when we can’t see verbal cues or hear someone speak, there is a greater chance for miscommunication.  Working from home as a ‘new normal’ for many makes our email communication clarity even more critical.

To ensure your email communications are clear, we outlined the following: 

  1. Include a clear, direct subject line.   Examples include:   “New Meeting Date,” “Quick question about your presentation,” or “Suggestions for the proposal.” People often decide whether to open an email based on the subject line, so ensure yours is clear what it contains.
  2. Think twice before hitting ‘reply all.’ Refrain from hitting “reply all” unless you think everyone on the list needs to receive the email.  IF you do copy everyone, write why you are doing so – outline why the person (s) were included. 
  3. Include your auto signature. This allows your email recipient to easily contact you, in case they want to call you in reply.
  4. Use professional salutations“Hey you guys,” “Yo,” etc .  While the email may have a relaxed tone, you should still address an email professionally.
  5. Use exclamation points sparingly.  If you choose to use an exclamation point, we recommend using one to convey excitement.  If overused, you can appear too emotional/immature.
  6. Be cautious with humor.  This is one where it can get lost in translation without the right audio tone and/or facial expression.  This is best left for in-person or videoconferences.
  7. Factor in different cultures speak and write differently.  Tailor your message to the receiver’s cultural background or how well you know them.
  8. Reply to your emails.  This includes when the email was accidentally sent to you, especially if the sender is expecting a reply. Or if you were “copied” on it, you should let them know that you are intending Cathy to respond if directed to Cathy and Cathy is better equipped to handle.    Example:  “Cathy, I will assume you will reply to Joe on this issue.”
  9. Proofread every message.  Don’t rely on spell-checkers. Read and re-read your email a few times, preferably aloud, before sending it off.  Grammarly is a free tool that helps with grammar beyond email spellchecks.
  10. Add the email address last.  It is easy to hit “send” by mistake before finishing your message.  This will save a lot of headaches as you compose and proofread your message first.
  11. Double-check that you’ve selected the correct recipient.  Pay extra attention when typing a name from your address book on the email’s “To” line especially since it may autofill similar names.
  12. Nothing is confidential—so compose your emails accordingly.  Every electronic message leaves a trail.

Using DISC to Power and Support your Remote Team

Knowing your team’s DISC assessment results is always beneficial since you can tailor everything from assignments to workstations to match your worker’s skill sets and preferences.

For remote workers, the knowledge imparted by a DISC assessment is even more meaningful.

You’ll know how much support, attention and feedback each member will need, and even get a good idea of which of your team members can handle the sometimes-isolating aspects of remote work. Since each individual style needs different support and will value different aspects of remote work, knowing what to offer is essential if you want to have a successful remote program.

Click here for an overview of how to support your remote team based on their DiSC style.   

Two Mood-Changing Actions

The way we feel can be triggered by outside events.

And that can change how we act.

And the way we act can reinforce how we feel.

Of course, the opposite is true as well, and far more in our active control.

How we act always changes how we feel.

Two mood-changing actions:

1. This is a perfect moment for upskilling. For a sprint in learning something difficult to learn. Not because a teacher or a leader made us do it, but because we chose to. Not only do we get to keep that skill forever, but the act of taking control and expending the effort will change our mood.

  • My upskilling focus?  Continuing to add skills and practice conducting activities for our interactive virtual learning experience sessions. 

2. And this is the perfect moment for generous connection. Going way beyond the news of the day, we have the chance to create intimate digital interactions that last.

  • How are we creating connection at Aha! Leadership remotely?  We are holding virtual coffee breaks.   We are designating 20 minutes for casual conversation via video chat.  We are celebrating wins, exchanging personal updates and even sharing a funny meme or two.  It provides us the positive connection people crave. 
  • Who says you can’t have cake with coffee?  Our intern turned 20 years old this week and here is a picture of us celebrating with her virtually…pajamas and all!  While it may not be her ideal way to celebrate her new decade, I am sure it will be one she will retell fondly for years to come.  A little coordination with a family member for the surprise went a long way!

It’s a significant posture shift, one which might change who you see when you look in the mirror.

We might not be able to do anything about external events, but we have control over our actions. Sometimes, it’s hard to stare right into that opportunity, because it comes with a lot of responsibility.

As leaders of our teams, our families, people are watching….what can we model?  What will you learn today? Who will you teach?

Warmly, 

Judy Rathwell, Project Manager-Aha! Leadership

Excerpt from Seth Godin Blog  3.23.20

16 Tips for Effective Videoconferencing

As we acknowledge our ‘new normal’ for engaging in business, including working remotely, we want to help make your online meetings meaningful and productive with these tips for video conferencing.

1. Computer positioning. Position your computer back a little to create a shoulder/headshot view vs. face only, so everyone does not feel on top of each other.
2. Prop to eye level.  Prop your computer webcam up to eye level.  Try using a ream of paper under your laptop to position it up for web calls.
3. Turn on your video camera.  Humanize the meeting by turning on your camera so people can see you – and set the standard for others to do the same.  We are social creatures and this aids connection. 
4. Use a headset.  Use an external microphone or headset to eliminate background noise.
5. Hit mute.  When you’re not talking, hit mute.
6. Unclutter your background….position it for a less cluttered background.  Some services even allow you to blur your background.
7. Momentarily unshare if… you need to walk away, let the team know and unshare your screen for a moment.
8. Add a professional picture to your webinar profile, so if you are unable to share your screen, people can still see your smiling face.
9. Don’t sit with the window behind you. The glare is blinding for others.  A little effort on lighting goes a very long way.
10. Look at the camera.  When you’re talking, spend some time looking at the camera, not the screen. You’ll appear more earnest and honest this way.
11. When you’re talking, go slow. To ensure understanding while using this new medium for many.
12. Don’t walk if you’re using a phone. And if you’re using a laptop, put it on a desk/table and prop it to be eye level vs. on your lap. 
13. Organize yourself and materials before the meeting if you are hosting.  Have all your documents open that you will be sharing during the meeting so you can share your screen vs. scrolling through your computer folders while on the call.
14. Assign a partner to aid you as the meeting host. They can help with follow-up or aid people with technical issues or manage the webinar chat box so that it does not derail the rest of the participants.
15. Have an email/cell phone list of participants available if you need to email or provide information while on the call.
16. …and remember to SMILE!  It uplifts you and all during this social distancing time in our lives.

For many, working remotely is new and for others, it is not.  We all need to practice patience and empathy as we learn this ‘new normal’ together.

People want to connect and have a conversation. They don’t want to be talked to.  So remember to slow down, engage and talk with people. Connecting as human beings will add more value than making sure you get through all of your content.   

We, at Aha! Leadership, have been working remotely and conducting training in a webinar format for 10 years.  If we can help answer any questions or just want to pick our brain, please reach out to us.  We would be happy to be there for you!   

Sincerely,
 
Robyn Marcotte
Founder and CEO, Aha!  Leadership
Robyn.marcotte@ahaleadership.com

“The human has been working from home the last couple of days and every so often, they let me participate in the video calls.  All the other humans cheer when they see me.  I am the only thing holding their company together.”  — Dogs everywhere

Staying Focused Amid Distractions

Working from home can be a welcome change – whether your workplace offers a flexible workplace schedule, allowing you to work from home some days while the kids are off for the summer, or this is your official office workplace.

While it has many benefits to you and your employer, be careful not to fall prey to distractions – One scenario….He sets his computer up on his dining room table, and is ready to get to work. Three hours later, however, he’s shocked to realize that he’s completed very little. What’s he been doing? Well, he had to make coffee. Then he did a load of laundry, took a phone call from a friend, and sorted through the mail when it arrived. One thing led to another, and now he’s really behind!

Working from home can be incredibly productive. But it’s also full of distractions. If you work from home, it’s up to you to make sure you’re doing a full day of focused, productive work. Below are some benefits and challenges to working from home and tips to help you be at your most productive during the day.

Benefits and Challenges

There are many benefits to working at home. For instance:

  • You can be more productive when you’re not distracted by casual phone calls, impromptu meetings at your desk, or interruptions from other team members.
  • You can be more relaxed and have better morale because your schedule is flexible and fits your needs. This can lead to less stress.
  • You can save money, including the costs of commuting, lunches out and work clothes.
  • You’ll have more time, as you won’t need to commute to work.

Of course, for all the benefits of working at home, there are also a number of challenges:

  • Working at home can be incredibly distracting if you’re not self-disciplined, especially if family members are also around during the day.
  • Without interaction with team members, you can feel isolated.
  • You may find it more difficult to be productive when you’re unsupervised. (This also includes “supervision” by the people you manage!)
  • Working from home can make it hard to separate work hours from off hours, causing you to work more.
  • People at the office can forget that you exist, meaning that you’re not selected for interesting or high profile projects.

Working at home is definitely not for everyone. Some people love the freedom and have the required self-discipline, while others need supervision to be effective, or yearn for the energy and camaraderie of a busy office environment.

Tips for working from home, whether temporarily or as part of your regular schedule:

Workspace – Having a productive and comfortable workspace is particularly important when working from home:

  • Have a dedicated workspace –preferably not your kitchen table! Ideally, this space should be a separate room with a door that you can close to shut off distractions. The more you make it feel like a real “office,” the more productive you’ll be and able to close the door after you, means you’re “off work.”
  • Get an ergonomic office chair – If your chair is uncomfortable, you’ll probably find plenty of reasons to get up and go somewhere else.
  • Make sure your “office” is a place where you enjoy spending time – Put some effort into making your working area appealing to you.

Organization – It’s important to keep your home office organized:

  • Make sure your desk is big enough – This will vary, depending on the type of work you do. Keep essential tools in an area that you can reach from your desk; this reduces frustration, and avoids the need to get up repeatedly when you need something.
  • Tidy your desk daily – Spend a few minutes at the end of each day clearing off your desk and filing papers.
  • Organize your information – If you work on several different projects at once, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and disorganized because you’re handling so much information. Pull out what you need as you work on it; everything else, file until you are ready for it.

Time Management – Good time management skills are essential for productive working at home:

  • Create structure for your day – Get up, take breaks, and quit working at the same time you would if you were at the office. This helps create a rhythm for your day and a sense of normalcy.
  • Prioritize daily tasks with a to-do list   – Knowing that certain items must get done by the end of the day will help you avoid distractions.
  • Make a to-do list of “in between” items – These are tasks that won’t take more than 10 minutes to complete. For instance, if you have a conference call 15 minutes from now, you can choose one of these shorter tasks that you can complete quickly.
  • Keep a timesheet – It’s easy to lose track of how much time you’ve spent on a certain project or client. Avoid this by keeping detailed timesheets. By tracking your time, your organization will be able to see how you’ve spent it. You can also identify when you are most productive.

Communication-As you’re not “visible” in the office, communication is especially important when working from home:

  • Communicate effectively with your managers and co-workers – They need to know that you are, indeed, working productively and available, even when you’re not at the office! If possible, redirect your office phone extension to your home phone.
  • Use tools like Skype or instant messaging – These allow people to check in with you during the day if they have questions or need an update. You can always set your status to “busy” or “unavailable” if you want to focus on a particular piece of work.
  • Go into the office on a regular basis – Where possible, do make the effort to go into the office one or more days each week. Not only will this help you remind others that you exist, it helps with the social relationships

Time tips

  • Train your children to let you work – Working from home with young children in the house can be especially challenging, and it’s almost impossible to do work of any quality while you’re looking after them. Make sure that you have appropriate childcare in place, and teach your children that when you’re in your office, you’re “away.” Put a sign on the door to help them remember. Although don’t be too rigid here: one of the real joys of working from home is, for example, being around to welcome your children home from school. Make sure that you take a little time to enjoy simple pleasures like these!).
  • Beware the Internet! – If you find yourself drawn, for example, to Internet news sites, use some of the time you save commuting to read these in-depth before the start of the working day. They’ll have little attraction if you’ve already read the most interesting content. And if you’re still struggling, you can use tools like Freedom and Anti-Social to block Internet or social media access for a pre-determined length of time.
  • Set alarms – If you tend to waste too much time on the Internet or with other distractions, then set an alarm clock or kitchen timer for one hour at a time. Do one hour of focused work – and when the alarm goes off, reward yourself with 5 or 10 minutes of doing whatever distracts you. Then set the timer for another hour of work.
  • Dress in work clothes – You’ll probably feel more productive if you dress just as if you were going into the office.

Home working is becoming more and more common. Make sure you have a dedicated, comfortable workspace that you like. Schedule your day just like you would at the office. If you often lose focus, identify what’s distracting you and try to eliminate it from your day. And, if possible, get involved socially with your team. Working from home can be isolating, so you need to make an extra effort to build your work relationships.

 

Source: MindTools.com