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.

Frog Control in the Office

Once upon a time, on a desk not very far away, A large frog was lurking.

The frog’s owner knew that she needed to eat it, but it was just so big.

It hadn’t been very big when she got it.  In fact, it had seemed manageable.  But like most things, it had grown the longer she had kept it.

She nibbled away at it a couple of times.

Each time, the frog seemed to grow smaller and yet, the very next morning, it had grown again overnight.

This happened several times until the frog grew so large that it took over the desk.

She couldn’t see the desk for the frog.

Her whole day was blighted by the pesky amphibian.

Every day she woke up and she felt that frog, lurking in her office next door.  In the night she was sure she heard it croaking.

Every day she took a nibble at it but the deadline for delivering the frog got shorter, and the creature just got bigger, longer, and, frankly, was beginning to look quite nasty.  She wasn’t at all keen on eating him.  But she’d promised the client she’d deliver, and deliver she must.

The next day, she marched into the office and she got hold of that frog.  She struggled to lift him off the desk.  She struggled to get her mouth around his horrible, scaly leg, but she took a deep breath and bit really, really hard.  She took a really big bite, and she chewed and she chewed.  And then she took another bite.  And another.  And the frog started to look a bit smaller.  She put him down on the desk for a moment to review her progress and realised he had only got two legs now.  He didn’t fill the desk any more.  The sense of achievement outweighed the taste of amphibian.  So, with renewed energy, she bit, and tore and chewed in an effort to get through the task.

But still, the deadline was short and the frog was large.  There was only so much frog that one person could eat in the time available.  So she decided that she had no other option than to find someone who enjoyed eating frogs and delegate some of the work to them.  Quickly she looked up Virtual Assistants on Google and lo, there were several.  Choosing the most qualified in her sector, she quickly engaged her to take control of the parts of the frog she just could not bring herself to eat.

Having delegated part of the task it now seemed much more manageable and she chewed and tore her way through the parts of the frog she still needed to eat whilst her assistant tackled the parts she had been delegated.

Soon the frog was gone.  That last bite tasted almost sweet.   Just in time for the deadline too.

And they both lived happily ever after, working together to deal with the frogs in her business before they became too large to manage.

If you’ve got a frog, try and eat it before it grows too large.

If your frog is already too large, why not delegate some of the work to your local VA.

Jenni: Eating the frogs that others do not have time to digest.  You can contact me here for support with your frog.   HR Support Frogs are a particular speciality.

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.

Cast a Spelling on You

spelling, grammar, accuracy, copywriting, copy, words, language

Incorrect spelling, poor grammar and lack of punctuation can make the difference between success and failure in business.

Maybe that’s a tad overstated but it certainly doesn’t make your business look great. When I see business documentation which is littered with errors it makes me wonder about their attention to detail and, depending on the sector, their professionalism.

Not everyone finds it easy to get these areas correct.  Dyslexia, in particular, has a profound impact on how well you can express yourself in writing.  However, there are tools available that can help you to ensure your written material is clear, accurate and gives the right professional impression.

My absolute favourite is Grammarly.  I have this running all the time keeping an eye on my grammar and spelling.  I spend much of my day writing and, like everyone else, I have a mental block about some things.  I have a particular issue with commas.  I tend to add them where they do not belong.  Also, my natural writing style tends toward long, compound sentences and I have to work quite hard to keep my sentence length down.

The Advantages of Grammarly

Grammarly provides both a free and paid version of their service.  If you don’t write as a profession then the free version is perfect.  It automatically finds grammar, spelling, punctuation and style mistakes.  There is a free browser extension for Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Edge which allows Grammarly to help you write well on the web.  If you use Gmail, the browser extension will assist you with your emails as well.

It is also available for Microsoft Windows.  With the Windows version, just open Grammarly using the button it installs on your ribbon and a window opens to the right of the screen.  Grammarly’s suggestions appear in the window and are underlined in the text.

One really cool feature is the weekly review of your writing activity.  This is a fascinating insight into your writing.  Comparing the weekly reports allows you to see how your writing has improved over time.

The reports are a bit addictive.  I’m a bit of a geek with words.  Having a report arrive in my InBox telling me how many words I’ve written that week and how accurate I have been, is quite exciting.  I am always amazed at just how much I write.  Last week it was 28,200 words.  Since I started using Grammarly in 2017 it has checked 1,850,226 words for me!! Most weeks I have used more unique words than 99% of Grammarly users and been more productive than 97% of Grammarly users.  I am quite proud of those figures.

Why not check out Grammarly if you want to ensure your marketing, blogs and social media posts are accurate and well written.  You can find out more, and sign up for a free account, here.

And, if you are fine with the grammar and spelling but just don’t know what to write, get in touch.  I’d be pleased to help.  As you can see from the figures, I do quite like writing.

Is Your Workplace affecting your Productivity?

Productive Productivity Workplace Productivity

Does your workspace make you feel stressed or distracted?  Do you suspect that you could be more productive than you actually are?

If the answer to these two questions is a resounding “Yes”, then let me ask just one more question:    Is your workspace cluttered?

This may seem irrelevant, after all, plenty of people work in chaos.  However, researchers have found that physical clutter can negatively affect your mood, resilience and ability to work productively and efficiently.  It can become difficult to focus on just one thing when there are many things lying around competing for your attention.  You may even start to feel that things are spiralling out of your control.  There is always something else needing your attention in any business but if most of the attention-seeking things are spread around your office in plain sight, you will possibly begin to feel overwhelmed.  You might be tempted to multi-task although doing so will negatively impact on your productivity.

I guess I paint a bleak picture but never fear, it is relatively straightforward to break the cycle.

Control

First of all, dedicate a small amount of time each day to getting your work area under control.  Put away things you don’t need to work on today, or this week.  Go through everything and ruthlessly chuck out things you don’t need, file things you need to keep but don’t need on your desk.  Organise the things you do need in a way that makes sense for you and your business.   Once you have got things under control, keep them that way by having a daily or weekly tidy up to ensure things don’t get out of hand again.

De-Clutter

Don’t forget your electronic clutter. Set up files that make sense for your business and use them.  Keep your inbox under control.  Unsubscribe if you don’t read that email newsletter.  Delete things that don’t need retention (newsletters, Amazon offer emails, items you’ve answered but don’t need to keep).  File the things you do need to keep.  I have more advice about Inboxes in this blog if this is the area you are struggling with the most.

Lists and Notes

Use a To-Do List and don’t overload it.  I’ve written on this subject here and here and I do tend to bang on about this.  However, a long To-Do list is almost as distracting as a cluttered workspace.  A To-Do List,  marked up with the priorities for each task on the list,  can keep you organised, your work on track and help you to feel in control of your workload. You will be more productive as a result.

If you are a person who tends to write things on bits of paper as you go about your day, try using one notebook for this purpose and always have it with you.  This ensures that you don’t add to the clutter in your workspace by having Post-it notes, and scrappy bits of paper all over the place, competing for your attention.

Capturing routine information throughout the day without reacting to it straight away can also help you to feel more in control of your work.  If you allocate time at the end of the day to go through the things you have captured and put them into your diary or To-Do list as appropriate, you will feel much more in control of your workload.

Once your workspace is more organised your productivity should begin to increase and you should start to feel more in control of your workload too.

If you would like more help to organise your workspace to help you become more productive, get in touch for a chat.

Business Processes: The Blueprint for Success

Business Processes

At the beginning of a new year our thoughts tend to turn toward making improvements in our business which will increase its size and revenue.  Often when a business grows rapidly, information about tasks and processes are held entirely in someone’s head.  If they leave the company this can leave a knowledge gap that can be difficult to fill.  New staff come in and are not sure what the business processes and procedures are and this can lead to problems with motivation, accuracy and speed of learning.  Even if your staffing is relatively stable, people get sick or go on holiday, leaving someone to temporarily carry out their tasks.

As a business grows, written business processes to govern how tasks are carried out, by whom and within what timescale will become increasingly necessary to ensure a consistent quality outcome.  Written processes also give a benchmark against which performance can be measured and a hand over plan when staff move on or change roles.

steps, steps to improve, steps to increase

The first step when documenting a process or task is to break the process down into steps.  Identify who is responsible for each step in the process, what the outcome looks like at each stage and what order tasks should be completed in order to arrive at a consistently high quality outcome using the minimum effort and resources necessary.  Look at the stages of the process and identify any areas where tasks are handed between people. Ensure that these areas are particularly clearly documented and state who is responsible for each area of the outcome.  Add any milestones or targets required for timely completion.

checklist, GDPR checklists

List everything that you think could go wrong.  If appropriate, ask another person if they can see any areas where a failure might occur.

Write it all down but then put it away for a day or two.  When you go back to read it again, try to follow the steps.  Would you add new steps?  Do you understand what you wrote?  Could you express the task more clearly?  Would a diagram, screen shot or better explanation help?  What would you clarify?

business procesesses project planning project management

Ask someone you trust to follow the process as  you have written it.  Can they follow it easily?  Do they understand it clearly or do you explain some elements more clearly?  How do they think it could be improved to make the outcome happen faster or more efficiently?  What input can they give which will help the overall process to move smoothly?

business processes project planning project management

Provide links to all supporting information.  This might be a “How To” guide for a task that forms part of the whole, a manual that governs company process, legislative rules, or a related instruction that is already in place.

Include the locations of any files or forms that must be used.  If your documentation changes infrequently, example forms are fine to include.  However, if you can store the form on-line and publish a link in your process document this will make your documentation more future proof.  If the form is updated, your manual will remain applicable.

Contact details for all the teams involved in the process are also critical.  Using a link to the company contact list is helpful here.  Again, it future proofs your documents, reducing the number of amendments required.

If you must use jargon or acronyms, please explain it in a footnote.  It is particularly important to avoid these in induction manuals since your new team member will think they’ve landed in outer space without knowing the language.

Before a process is released into the world it should ideally be tested to identify any missing steps or incorrect information.   If you can, ask a representative of all the teams involved to look at the process to make sure it will work at every step in the process.

All business processes are live documents and should be subject to regular review, particularly when there have been major changes in the organisational structure.

An outsider can often view business processes more clearly than those who are within the organisation.  They come in with a fresh eye and new questions that you might not have thought of.  It can be a challenge to “see the wood for the trees” when you are so close to the action.  A new perspective can also help clarify priorities for change where there seem to be a lot of issues to resolve at once.  If this is an area you are struggling with, then do get in touch.  I have experience in setting up and improving processes and would be glad to help.

The 12 days of C-HR-istmas

As we count down to Christmas, for those who celebrate it, I do like to provide a little light relief.  Last year it was Santa’s VA which you can read about here and here.  This year it’s the 12 days of C-HR -istmas.  A short, light-hearted gallop through some of the issues that HR might find itself involved with.  Naturally names, where used, have been changed.

Doughnuts, treats, On the first day of Christmas HR dealt with:

The man who loved doughnuts way, way too much.  In a very physical way.

date night, holding hands, relationships HROn the second day of Christmas HR dealt with:

John and Daisy being exceptionally friendly in the stationery cupboard.  If only they’d locked the door.  If only Doris from Accounts had not chosen that moment to break her stapler and go in search of a new one.

Fight, office fight, HR issuesOn the third day of Christmas HR dealt with;

A fist-fight between Russ and John in the middle of the cafeteria.  Russ had thought that he was happily married until he heard that his wife, Daisy, had been found in the stationery cupboard with John.

Office party. HR ChallengeOn the  fourth day of Christmas HR dealt with:

The fall out from the office party:  four vomiting sales personnel, three complaints about inappropriate behaviour, two photocopied bottoms, one MD with a black eye, and the junior staff member who launched the unprovoked attack on the MD.

Fish office complaints HROn the fifth day of Christmas HR dealt with:

A deputation of 5 staff complaining about Tim cooking fish in the office microwave and stinking up the office.

sleep, bed, relaxation, health, HR challengeOn the sixth day of Christmas HR dealt with:

The woman who rang in to ask how many sick days she had and could she take one today as she was really tired and didn’t want to come to work.

On the seventh day of Christmas HR dealt with:

The person who thought it would be amusing to add pornographic images to their Health and Safety Powerpoint presentation.

dancing, party, On the eighth day of Christmas, HR dealt with:

The person who was really unwell with flu and couldn’t make it into work but had managed to find the strength to drag himself to the local nightclub where he was seen by several co-workers dancing with energy and enthusiasm.

drinking, alcohol, HR challengeOn the ninth day of Christmas, HR dealt with;

The woman whose carafe of water had something more interesting than water in it.

On the tenth day of Christmas, HR dealt with:

The man who thought it would be amusing to give a box of chocolate willies to a young female co-worker as a secret santa gift.

office chair, office politics, office complaints, HROn the eleventh day of Christmas, HR dealt with:

8 people who all arrived mob handed to complain that Alice the temp had sat on Tarquin’s office chair and altered the height of it even though the team had all told her not to do so.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, HR dealt with:

Bob and Sadie.  Bob made himself a cup of tea in Sadie’s mug, which apparently had Sadie’s name on it and everyone knew it was Sadie’s mug.  Sadie wanted HR to issue a statement banning people from using other people’s mugs.  Bob just wanted a cup of tea.

If you are an HR Consultant and need someone to take notes of meetings, or provide general or HR specific administrative  support you can get in touch with me here.

Are YOU Outsourcing these five tasks?

Outsourcing Virtual Assistant VA Admin Support

Following on from my post about the intangible value that outsourcing to a VA can bring to your business I thought it would be helpful to discuss some of the specific value-added tasks a VA can complete for you.  If you missed the first blog, you can read it here.

A VA is the “Can you just…” person for your business.  We deal with the things that don’t need your expertise.  The routine admin tasks that take time.  The day to day support tasks.  The last minute research and so much more.

Most of us have a large amount of very varied experience in a range of areas and you’d be surprised what we can help you with. It is our transferable skills that make us effective.   The detail of the task can be different for each client but the benefits are the same; a better return on investment for your precious and limited time.

The work I do is very varied but there are five key tasks that I carry out for almost all my clients.  Unsurprisingly, these are tasks that are time consuming but do not directly contribute to income generation.

Diary and Meeting Management

Ensuring you are where you should be, in plenty of time. Managing the often time-consuming back and forth involved in setting up meetings between very busy people.  Ensuring best use of time by laying out diaries in a way that ensures enough time allocated for client work.  Booking meetings into the diary in a way that makes best use of your limited time.

In-Box Management

Managing your Emails and flagging up the important items.  Dealing with the routine rubbish. Highlighting interesting opportunities that might align with your brand.  Politely responding to approaches that you aren’t ready to consider yet but might want to look at in the future.  Corralling newsletters into a separate area to read later and keeping things tidy so emails can be found when needed.

Social Media

Social media and marketing is a necessity for a small business and outsourcing it is easy.   I provide support with the more time consuming elements of this.  Writing content.  Sourcing articles to share, creating graphics and making videos from blog posts so content can be reused effectively.  Scheduling posts based on an agreed content schedule.  Researching for blog posts.  Help and support with marketing tasks and ideas.

Data Input

This is a popular service.  I can type up most documents you might need but data input is much more than that.  I can input into popular CRM systems, Excel, and any bespoke software that you are using for any purpose.   If you need information added to a system, I can do that for you.  Quickly, accurately and effectively. Data input can be time consuming, particularly if you aren’t a touch typist so outsourcing this can save you a lot of time.

My most popular ad hoc service is input of business cards into CRM systems or Excel.  I often perform this one for new clients so they can get a feel for how accurate and responsive I am.  It’s a good one to choose if you’ve never worked with someone virtually before as it gives a good feel for how the process works and how responsive the service can be.

General Admin Tasks

Returning calls and emails, correspondence, stuffing envelopes, chasing up missing information, mailing out documents, tidying offices, filing and generally getting stuff under control when it’s gotten out of control.    Just to show you how bespoke outsourcing can get, one client has me handle all the vouchers that go through their business.  Another uses me only for proof checking.

Although my specialism is HR support, I work with a number of businesses who need a variety of general tasks carried out.   If you are ready to make more money and have more time to spend with your family, you can get in touch with me here for a chat.

Note Taking: Investigation, Grievance and Disciplinary

Note Taking; Grievance; Disciplinary; Investigation; Hearings; HR Support

When things go Wrong

No matter how careful, or how caring, you are, things can occasionally go awry in the workplace.  Issues arise which need to be investigated, people raise grievances which need to be heard and unfortunately, not everyone complies with the company rules, no matter how many times you ask them to sign the Staff Handbook.  If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, it is necessary to deal with the investigation, grievance or disciplinary quickly and thoroughly, and to keep good records throughout the process.

In the case of investigations it is necessary to take witness statements and if the matter progresses to a disciplinary meeting these statements will be critical.  The disciplinary itself must be carried out in accordance with good practice.  You can read more about this here on the ACAS site where you can download a number of very useful documents.

Whenever something goes awry, accurate and effective note-taking and evidence recording forms a critical part of the resolution process.

Confidential and Discreet

It can feel quite personal when these things arise, particularly if the issue involves a breach of trust, or could impact negatively on the business you have spent so long building and nurturing.   It is certainly a challenging time for any business.  One thing you absolutely do not need is gossip or discussion of the issue within the workplace.  This will potentially create problems further down the line, allow the individual to raise issues relating to lack of confidentiality and of course, gossip can de-stabilise your team.  Issues must be dealt with rapidly but effectively.  It’s never good to rush these things and certainly you should never miss out a step, but everyone involved will be keen to get the matter resolved effectively so a timely progression through the steps is always the best approach.

Impartial and Experienced

Whether you are an employer or an HR Consultant, having an independent person to take the notes in disciplinary or grievance meetings can be hugely beneficial.  They will be totally impartial and will have no pre-existing knowledge of the company or team so will not have any bias or make any assumptions which could affect their note-taking.

In a small organisation it can be difficult to find someone who is both an experienced note taker, capable of taking the notes accurately, and is also unknown to the person involved.  In situations of this kind it is critically important that what happens in the room, stays in the room, no matter what the size of the organisation.  However, in smaller organisations there have been cases where the information left the room because the note taker was inexperienced and was unaware that they should not discuss the case they had just noted.

Trust

Often in situations of this kind feelings are running high.  The person involved will be upset. They may feel distrustful, angry or betrayed.  It’s very important that everyone in the room is able to be trusted by the individual involved and it can help if the person taking the notes is not from within the organisation.  It is clear the note taker will have no preconceived views about anyone or anything which is mentioned and this can help the individual to feel they can speak freely.

In this type of situation, explanations can become frantic, emotional and difficult to follow at times.  It can take a level of confidence and experience for a note-taker to ask the individual to stop, and to wait whilst they catch up, and then for that note taker to calmly read back the notes and ask whether all the key points have been included.  It also helps if your note taker has an HR background as it is easier for them to accurately pick out the important points from the irrelevant and note only the key issues.   Notes must be taken long-hand to enable them to be reviewed by all parties at the end of the meeting and, if appropriate, initialled to show agreement.

Sometimes being in a room with the people whom the individual feels had not listened previously, and being able to fully explain their concerns and issues, can be enough to allow the issue to be resolved.  And if there is a set of really good notes as an outcome of the meeting, the formality of this can be appreciated by the individual.  If matters cannot be resolved quickly and the next stage of the process is required, then the notes will be a critical part of the process at that stage.

Practical and Effective

When chairing the meeting, you need to feel confident that the notes will be full enough to rely upon throughout any stages that might follow, and  certain that they include all the relevant details (and none of the irrelevant ones).  Having someone with HR knowledge to take the notes can be invaluable for ensuring this.

Of course you can also record the meeting and in this case, the recording can be transcribed, allowing a full record of the proceedings to be made.  Even if you choose not to have the recording transcribed, it can useful  for cross-checking facts in the notes if that proves necessary at a later stage.

Minute-Taking-Service

For the HR Consultant, having a dedicated note taker rather than trying to multi-task can be a huge benefit.  It can be very difficult to chair the meeting, ask the right questions, and note the answers in meetings where feelings are running high and people may be shouting, crying or arguing.  This is particularly true in disciplinary hearings.  Trying to both take notes and consider the evidence and information being provided can be hugely challenging in some meetings.

Writing up the notes of meetings needs to be done very promptly following a meeting of this kind.  The individual and the company will both need a resolution to the situation quickly.  It can be a challenge for the HR Consultant to get everything written up in a timely way and often involves working late into the night.  I have returned notes with a 24 hour turnaround for cases in the past.  This ensures you have the information you need to make a decision quickly and accurately.  This can be particularly important if the person involved is suspended from work for a potential disciplinary offence.

Naturally the note-takers hourly rate is less than that of an HR Consultant so there are cost savings when you consider how long it can take to type up the notes.

If you are an HR Consultant or a small company and you are looking for support in this area of your business, you can contact me here for a no obligation chat.