Work From Home: Can we really extrapolate from the current situation?

ACAS has carried out a poll which shows that 50% of people working from home felt isolated and 7 out of ten were missing social interactions with others at work. This started me wondering; we’ve moved to a work from home situation in a hurry and most companies have had to put plans in place fast and without the opportunity to think through choices as thoroughly as they might otherwise.

I work from home as a VA but this took forethought in terms of choosing workspace location, layout, desk size and height, IT equipment placement and spec. It took me a while to get the right set up.

Prior to working as a VA, I worked for a company which was very invested in working from home. I was in a remote team, provided with all the kit, software and training I needed and had to sign to say my workspace met safety standards. The tech included both messaging and conferencing software and a work mobile phone. I was encouraged to keep in touch with people and to build relationships across the company. This company had been able to take the time to set things up so that they worked well for their employees, test the technology to ensure it worked flawlessly and provide training in its use. They used regular virtual meetings to keep everyone up to date on what was happening across the business and in short, were fully set up to ensure isolation was kept to a minimum and productivity could soar.

The figures from ACAS are based on a very unusual situation and made me wonder whether they were representative of what it feels like to work from home in a well planned and fully supported way. That’s not to criticise the efforts made by businesses to make the work from home thing work, nor is it a criticism of the figures from ACAS. I just wonder if the situation, the strangeness, the underlying worry, all impact and make it less like a “normal” work from home situation and thus subconsciously affect the figures. After all, we are isolated from more than just our workmates and many people are worried, for themselves and others. All of this must surely impact on how people answer such a survey.

Finder.com quote a figure of 19% feeling lonely and I believe this figure to be pre-lockdown so it may be that the speed of change, lack of general access to communication methods such as instant messaging and the general concern and worry may be impacting the ACAS figures. I suspect that it would not show such a high level of isolation in organisations where they’ve had the opportunity to ameliorate that with considered tech choices and inclusive ways of working.

It’s going to be a very interesting few months in the workplace as we negotiate our way toward a new normal. It has certainly brought working from home up the agenda, something that many in HR will be pleased about, though not, of course, about the reasons for it being there.

I expect there will be increased interest in finding ways to make this work well for a variety of sectors and HR will be at the forefront of this discussion. and it will be interesting to see whether it stays there now that businesses have seen it in action and staff have experienced it for themselves.

I’m looking forward to supporting my HR Consultant clients with the challenges and opportunities that these changes in normal working will bring and helping to support a move to a new normal where, hopefully, working from home will be an option offered more often to staff in sectors where this is feasible and appropriate.

If you are looking to work with a VA who is an expert in HR Support, you can contact me here.

A Slimmer Inbox Fast

A Slimmer In Box Fast.  Email Management.  InBox management

One of my regularly requested services is In Box taming because they can so easily, and quickly, get out of control.  Even VA’s aren’t immune to multiplying emails when things get busy, so we understand how the inbox can quickly get to a point where it feels difficult to manage.  Being able to find and move multiple emails into a designated folder location within Gmail whilst also removing them from the InBox so that it is slimmer and easier to negotiate is a really great trick to have in your toolbox.  It’s also a trick you can use for deleting multiple emails.

Labels are the equivalent of a folder and are a great way to ensure the emails you do want to keep are safely stored.  By default, emails usually have a label of InBox, (even if you add new labels) and removing that Inbox label so the email goes to its allocated folder and ceases to lurk in the Inbox isn’t super obvious.  You would think you’d remove it under Labels on the ribbon bar, but you don’t.

The first step is to create a Folder/Label for your emails to be stored in.  Name it something easy and clear such as Client X.

GMail, GMail Tips, GMail Labels, Organised Inbox

The option for labels is on the top ribbon bar.  As you can see, you can create a new label.  Click this and an option to name the label will come up together with the option to nest the label under another to create a file hierarchy.  So one option is to create a folder labelled Clients and perhaps nest a folder label for Client X under this.

Now you have your label you can go and find all your emails relating to Client X.  There are several ways to search for emails. The most obvious, though not the quickest, is to search in the search box.  This can bring up emails you don’t want as it draws in emails that mention the person as well as emails to and from them.  Useful in certain circumstances but not necessarily ideal when you are trying to streamline an inbox.

If you have conversation view selected your emails will be organised to an extent though you may still have multiple conversations running with the same person.

To quickly find all emails on the same subject, right-click on an email and then select ‘Find emails with this subject’. Gmail will now show you both the received and sent emails with the same topic.

You use a similar method to find emails from the same sender.   Just right-click on the email and select “Find Emails From…”  Be aware that choosing the sender will only show received emails so your replies won’t get drawn into the search results.  Good for newsletters or informative emails that you want to keep, not so good for conversation threads.

GMail Tips, GMail, GMail Labels, GMail find multiple messages

Once you have your search results, tick the box just above the emails on the left side and this will highlight and tick all the emails you’ve found. You can then go to Labels and add the correct label to the emails or right click to get the menu shown below and choose “Label As”.  If there are some emails you don’t want to move to that label, just untick those before you choose your label and they won’t be labelled.

Now for the magic bit; evicting them from your Inbox.  The label “InBox” doesn’t show on the list of labels so you can’t just remove the label that way.  Instead, keeping the relevant emails ticked, go up to your email menu bar, choose Archive and your inbox label is magically removed, streamlining your inbox in one click.  Or, right-click and choose Archive from the menu as shown above.  Clever or what?

For those of you dealing with a seriously overweight inbox, it can be helpful to temporarily instruct Gmail to show 50 items so that you can examine and move as many messages as possible in one go.  To do this, click the three dots on the section of inbox you are trying to thin out (usually the Everything Else section) and you can choose the number of items it will show.

For very obese inboxes you may well need to do multiple searches for the same information to get all the items into the right folder and delete the antiques leaving only the collectables behind.

You can use a similar approach if you want to put your Gmail on a strict diet.  Find your target emails, highlight all, untick anything you actually want to keep, then instead of labelling the messages, delete them.  Once you’ve deleted a few screens worth, don’t forget to go into the Trash can and empty that out to permanently delete things, otherwise they may well hang about longer than you’d like them to, taking up storage space you could use for other things.  Particularly important if you deal with sensitive information as I sometimes do.  You want that information completely gone, not lurking in the trash can.

In the past, I’ve recommended apps that can unsubscribe you from newsletters and so forth to try to keep the level of incoming mail to a manageable level. However, there have been issues with at least one of these services selling personal data so now I recommend unsubscribing yourself from things manually, as they come up in your inbox.  Yes, it takes longer, but at least you don’t get zillions of offers of stuff you don’t need from companies you’d not want to use, who purchased your data so they can spam your inbox with rubbish.

A further option for newsletters and other interesting information is to have a folder into which you can move emails that might be needed in the future.  However, for some people, including me, this renders the information “out of sight, out of mind” and they rarely, if ever, visit the folder to retrieve the information, so this is one to treat with care and a realistic understanding of your own working practices.

Hopefully, this will help you to slim down your Gmail inbox to manageable proportions and once you have it under control you might find some useful tips here on keeping it slim and efficient.

Alternatively, if you are one of those people whose inbox is so huge that it contains every email you’ve ever received or sent, and you just can’t see where to start, why not call in an expert VA to get that bad boy sorted and under control, and set up some systems that will work for you, so you can keep it to a healthy weight in future.  Click here to contact me to discuss your requirements.

Elves in the Workplace: The Role of Elven Resources

He speeds through the sky in his sleigh, delivering gifts to every good little boy and girl in the world. He’s done it for so many years that he makes it look effortless.  But have you ever stopped to consider how much organisation lies behind the magic of Santa Claus and his amazing Christmas Eve exploits?

Naturally, Santa Claus uses VA’s throughout the year;  it’s the most flexible and cost-effective way to ensure everything is organised properly and happens on schedule.  He has a team of them and you can read about how they support him here and here.  These helpful souls ensure that everything from the sleigh maintenance to the warehouse stock control are kept rigorously under control.

In most cases, Santa needs only two or three of each type of VA.  The exception to this is his Elven Resources Support.  In common with many business owners, Santa Claus uses external Elven Resources Consultants and HR VA’s to help him to ensure he remains on the right side of the law, acts in a fair and reasonable way toward his staff of Elves, recruits effectively and without bias, and of course provides a safe, fair and inclusive environment.  Despite the speed at which he drives that sleigh, Santa is basically a law-abiding gentleman and in addition, he is deeply compassionate and really cares for his team of Elves and reindeer.  Even when those same Elves are testing his patience to its limits.

Elves, Elven Resources, Christmas Elves, Elf-On-The-Shelf

Santa’s Elven Resources Support staff is quite numerous.  The reason for this is simple;  Elves are, how shall we put it politely?  A bit giddy.  All the time.  But especially in the run-up to Christmas.  Elves can test the patience of the most saintly person and even Santa Claus is not immune to frustration when faced with a deputation of Elves complaining about an Elf cooking fish in the warehouse microwave and stinking up the room.

Every year the ER department and an increasingly irascible Santa are forced to add new and sometimes very specific, clauses into the ever-expanding Staff Handbook and the Elf and Safety Handbook.  Clauses which have been added in 2019 include:

“Elves that pin other Elves slippers (or any other part of an Elf or an Elf’s clothing) to any inanimate object will be disciplined”.

“Shaving rude words into the Reindeer’s fur whilst they sleep will not be tolerated”

“Do NOT tie, stick or pin anything to the Reindeer, especially not other Elves”

“Do not place fake dog turds on the conveyor belt”

“Elves may not ride on the conveyor belt”

“Joyriding in the sleigh is a disciplinary offence”

“Do not pin “Kick Me Hard” notices to the back of Santa’s jacket.

Elves, Elven Resources, Elf-On-The-Shelf

And so it goes on.  And every year, partly to assuage their frustration, the Elven Resources Department creates an informal top ten of the most interesting and original disciplinary cases they’ve dealt with.  Because when it comes to Elves, you just never know what they are going to do next.

And here, for your delectation, are the top ten for 2019

10 – the Elf that tied Rudolph’s legs together whilst he slept and then videoed poor Rudolph waking up and falling over.

9 – The Elf that broke wind in the cafeteria and tried to light it, causing damage to himself and the floor when he dropped the match and it set fire to his slippers and the carpet.

8 – The Elves that had a fistfight over whether one of them had let the other Elf’s chair down half a inch whilst the Elf in question was out at lunch.

7- The elves that sneaked into the Jewellery warehouse and were caught on CCTV getting very friendly indeed.

6 – The elf that sneaked into the cafeteria and put vodka into the water carafes so that all the Elves got drunk and had to be sent home.

5 – the Admin Elf who didn’t know how to process orders.  Rather than ask, he hid the orders in the cupboard.  Something that was only discovered when Stock Control VA realised that the 14 million LOL dolls she’d ordered had not arrived, and had subsequently sold out across the world, causing a large number of children to be disappointed on Christmas Day.

4- The elf that claimed his mother had died four times this year in order to gain extra time off.

3- The elf with a bad back who posted a video of herself on Facebook, waterskiing in the Bahamas during her sick leave.

2- The Elf that shaved the word Poop into Blitzens’ fur whilst she slept.

1 – The Elf that got drunk at the office party, stripped naked and streaked around the room. When Santa Claus intervened, the Elf threw up on Santa Claus’ boots.

As you can imagine, with all these Elf-y amusements going on, there is a great need for HR VA’s who can keep a straight face and take rapid notes in grievance hearings and disciplinaries.  Elves talk as fast as they move, so speed is of the essence in capturing the key points of the discussion and writing them up clearly and rapidly after the meeting.  To read more about the importance of note-taking in such meetings, go here.

If you’ve enjoyed this blog, do check out some of my other Christmas posts, including this one, which is also HR Related.  Of course, you may prefer to check out my more serious, and probably more useful, posts also.  And if you are looking for a VA with HR experience, or just a VA with a sense of humour and a love of organisation, get in touch.  You can contact me here.

The Art of Managing Change

The Art of Managing Change

Changes.  David Bowie wrote about it, and we all experience it.  Whether you find it scary or exciting, change is a fact of life.  The pace of change picks up with every passing year and the ability to successfully negotiate, and be flexible in the face of, change, is a critical business skill.

Changing your habits generally forms part of any change.  Habits take a while to change.  I did try to research this but there is conflicting information about how long it takes to form a habit.  It takes at least 21 days.  Many people say it takes longer.  It can take as much as 66 days.

Changing things not only takes time but it can also take real concentration.  So is it any wonder that things like changing a job or setting up a business are seriously challenging?  So many habits need to change at once.   In this circumstance it can be helpful to list the changes you want or need to make and then prioritise them.  Start with the first change and get comfortable with that.  Get that change bedded into your day to day routine before you take on a new change.

The same is true if you have a team of people.  There will be some who are more resistant to, or afraid of, change.  Introducing change slowly, or waiting until people are comfortable with the first change before introducing another one, is a great way to implement changes successfully and ensures that your team remain on board.    Not everyone can embrace change well and for some, even a small change can be very challenging and they may need more support to negotiate that change successfully without becoming stressed and upset.

Explaining the reason for change is also a key part of successfully steering a company through a period of change.  Most children hate those parental expressions, “Because I said so” or “Because I told you to”.  They would rather know why they must do whatever it is you are asking of them. So why, as managers, do we sometimes expect to keep our staff moving through changes without telling them why those changes are necessary?  Treating them like children who cannot be told the reasons for a change displays a lack of trust.   Not being open about things can lead to all sorts of destructive rumours as people try to guess the reasons why change is happening.  Destructive rumours can then lead to real dissent in the workplace, affecting relationships and ultimately productivity if the dissension becomes entrenched.

Where the change involves carrying out an activity or part of a role in a different way, it is very important to provide both face to face training and supporting documentation.  People learn in different ways so a mixture of visual and written information can be helpful in both the documentation and the training materials.    Providing a written crib sheet, step by step reminder sheets and similar can be very reassuring for people.  Many of us don’t want to keep asking for clarification and managers may not always be available to answer questions as they arise so crib sheets are generally welcomed.

Change can also arise due to the expansion of a business.  When a business expands very rapidly, it can seem as though processes and procedures can wait until the situation has settled down a little.  However, if you are taking on new staff but they are not sure of your processes, then they won’t work effectively, might feel unsupported and then might not stay with the company.  For these reasons, prioritising the creation of processes and procedures can be a great investment in your business expansion.  There are a number of companies who specialise in helping businesses to create processes and in the area of HR there are some excellent independent consultants who can deal with this side of the business expansion for you in a sensitive and time-efficient way.  I work with a number of HR consultants who offer this service.  They are experts in designing processes that protect your business and ensure your staff get the training that they need.

I work with HR Consultants and small business owners to save them time and money.  Part of my service involves examining admin processes and habits for small business owners, suggesting changes which will help them to have more time to implement their business plans, and of course, documenting these changes for them.  Get in touch if you’d like to find out more.

Accounting For Receipts

Accounting For Receipts

Receipts for business expenditure.  They are small and they often go missing.  Do you know where all yours are?  If you had to complete a tax return tomorrow, could you provide your accountant with a carefully recorded, tidily managed pile of receipts for them to work from?  Or would you have to hand over a shoe box or plastic bag full of documentation that has little or no organisation to it?

As a sole trader, finding time for all the varied tasks required of you in business can be a challenge, particularly if your business is booming and you have no administrative assistance.  However, the time it will take to unravel records which have not been kept up to date will be considerable at tax return time so it is worth having an ongoing system that will avoid you having to spend three days with your receipts spread out across the living room carpet, scratching your head and cursing the cat for walking over the piles you have created.  You could hand the entire thing to your accountant to sort out, but the bill would be quite considerable.  By planning ahead you can avoid all the pain.

Have a System

You don’t need a complicated system when you are first starting out.  A set of well labelled envelopes for the receipts and an Excel spreadsheet for the accounts themselves will do for many smaller businesses.

Every transaction has its own unique reference number and this should be written on the receipt and the accounts spreadsheet so they can be matched up easily.  Any transactions that will go through the bank are treated in this way.

Keeping it Together

Keep all receipts for credit card transactions together in one plastic envelope, ideally in date order.  Then, when the bill comes in, you can number every line on the bill sequentially.  It is then possible to match the receipts to the items on the bill, recording the relevant number on the receipt itself.  I find that it is credit card receipts that tend to go walkabouts, and by reconciling the bill in this way every month, you can more easily search out the errant receipt before it goes into hiding and, like Lord Lucan, is never seen again.

The settled credit card bill and its lovely set of numbered receipts can be placed in an envelope with the date marked on it, and filed with the rest of the receipts for that month.  Obviously when you have paid the credit card the transaction is entered on the accounting spreadsheet so the bank account remains correctly balanced.

Don’t forget your petrol receipts if you are accounting for these.  One client keeps these in the car in a small folder and then hands them to me every couple of months for recording.  If you get in the habit of putting the receipts in the same place each time this can make a real difference and massively reduce those awful “dig through every possible drawer to find that receipt” moments.

Finally there are those pesky online bills.  Don’t forget to enter these to your spreadsheet and either save them with a clear reference number (in line with your chosen naming process above) on a memory stick that you can send to your accountant, or print, add the reference number, and then file in the relevant envelope.

Still Need a Hand with those Receipts?

If you struggled to get the supporting information for your tax bill organised for the last tax year and vowed never to go through that again, why not get in touch?  I can help you to set up a process that works for you so that your accountant doesn’t hide from you during tax return season.

Dream to Achieve: The Importance of Sleep

Lack of Sleep Sleep deprivation Sleep, Dream, Dreaming

As a society we push ourselves to work long hours, viewing this as a necessary evil in the pursuit of success.  Technology ensures we are constantly connected to our work, even when we are not physically at work.  Popular off-duty activities include fast moving sports and video games.  Even if we take up something calming like yoga, we often rush from yoga class to the supermarket, then home to deal with domestic responsibilities, negating the calmness brought about by the yoga.  With leisure time shrinking and the length of time we work, both per week and over our lifetime, lengthening is it any wonder that many people suffer from lack of sleep?

Many of my clients come to me complaining that they are too busy and have to work exceptionally long hours.  They are tired, stressed and beginning to feel resentful toward the business that they once loved because its demands are getting harder and harder to manage.  Often I hear them tell me they are skimping on sleep in order to keep on top of everything they need to do.

It is World Sleep Day on 15 March so what better time to investigate the impact of lack of sleep on our mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.

Long work hours result in not only tiredness but also a lack of attentiveness which in certain circumstances can have really dangerous outcomes.  Driving whilst tired is just as dangerous as driving whilst drunk;  our reactions are impaired and it is not unheard of for fatal accidents to result from people actually falling asleep at the wheel.  Those super long days driving between meetings are really not good for your health.

Distracted and Inefficient

Lack of sleep will make you distracted.  Concentration will be more difficult and you will possibly flit about from task to task, unable to quite finish anything.  The plethora of half done tasks will then start to annoy and upset you.  As your judgement and ability to plan is also impaired by lack of sleep, this may lead to poor decision making. You may also fail to realise that the time has come to stop doing a task because you are not achieving anything useful.

When we sleep we are not just laid in bed recharging ourselves like a battery.  Sleep is the time when our brain sorts out all the stuff we have done and learned that day and puts it into the right order to make sense of things.  If you don’t get enough sleep, that won’t happen and you will find you are struggling to learn.  In today’s fast paced world where continued learning is a critical skill in the workplace, lack of sleep can therefore cause real problems.

Memory Failures

Both long and short term memory are affected by lack of sleep.  We might notice that we have to try harder to take on board new information and keep it available in long term memory.  The impact on short term memory is more immediately obvious; we can’t recall things that happened two minutes ago.  This is the point where you go up and down stairs fourteen times before you finally manage to remember that you went up there to get your glasses.

(Not) Getting Things Done

Efficiency and productivity are reduced, so an all-nighter will usually make you less efficient and productive rather than more so.  Brain imaging studies have shown that your brain must work harder when you are sleep deprived, making it less efficient and as a result you are also less efficient.  Taking the time to have the right amount of sleep will actually mean you get more done rather than less.

Because your brain is tired it will rely on the well-worn pathways created by habits. This is fine if the habit is useful, effective and appropriate.  It’s not so good if the habit is unhealthy.

Relationships

Lack of sleep affects our relationships as well.  We have less empathy when we are sleep deprived and can’t read facial expressions as effectively.  This can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts can arise, particularly if both parties are tired.  This can have an impact on relationships as well.  For example, new parents who are being woken throughout the night by their infant may find this places a strain on the relationship.

The Solution

The good news is that just one or two good nights sleep can reverse most of the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation.  The occasional late night/early morning can be coped with but for long term health as well as optimum efficiency and productivity, a regular sleep pattern is recommended.  The type of sleep is more important than the number of hours you are physically laid in bed as well.  There are four sleep stages and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is the most important.  Research suggests that we need about two hours of REM sleep per night in order to feel alert the next day.  Whether you are a morning or evening person makes a difference as well.  If possible, early birds should retire early and get up early whilst night owls might sleep from 2am – 10am and feel wonderful on waking.

If you have too much work and not enough sleep, why not outsource some of your admin so you can sleep in peace, knowing you don’t need to worry about your admin backlog.  Click Here to see the services I offer and  Click Here if you’d like to have a chat.