A Productive Environment

A Productive Environment

In the final part of this series on productivity, I’m looking at the impact of people and the environment on your productivity.  I touched on this in the first part of the series in January.  If you missed it, just go here to catch up.

Whilst discussing personality and its impact on how productive we are, I touched on the issue of noise and silence as well as busy versus quiet environments.  If you are naturally more comfortable or creative in one environment than in the other then you will be more productive.

For some people, of course, you may find that for creative tasks you need a busy environment and for routine tasks a quiet location is best.  Or vice versa.  This is one reason why it can be helpful for employers to provide collaboration areas as well as quiet areas where space allows since this can give employees a choice and thus increase productivity both across the team and individually.

Together or alone?

Problem-solving can also be affected by the environment with some people more likely to come up with innovative solutions within a brainstorming situation whilst for other a bit of silence works best, at least until you have some options to discuss.  Similarly, for some people a meeting stimulates their thoughts and they go back to the desk re-energised and ready to work.  For others, meetings can feel draining and pointless. Of course, this is also affected by the quality of the meeting.

Unfortunately, in many cases, meetings are run badly, the agenda is not adhered to and decisions aren’t made.  At their worst, they become a stadium for the loudest to grandstand whilst those who are quieter feel they cannot contribute.  If your meetings fall into the latter category, check out my blog on this subject for some tips on how to run a really effective meeting that will contribute to productivity rather than stifling it.

The Radio Debate

The amount of noise in the background can be a huge distraction or provide the necessary stimulation to increase your productivity.  As mentioned earlier in the series, often this will be affected by your location on the Extraversion/Introversion scale of the MBTI with introverts tending toward a love of quiet and extroverts tending to be uncomfortable with silence.

You will be most productive in an environment in which you are comfortable and which you don’t find overly distracting.  In many cases, a low background noise is easier to tune out than sudden, unexpected noises and for some people, the frequency of the noise makes a difference to productivity.  The debate about radio on/radio off, as well as arguments over the channel it is tuned to, is an old argument and one that ends up being refereed by the HR department in any number of organisations across the world with depressing frequency.

Space

How much space do you require?  Even this makes a difference to productivity.  Trying to work in a tiny space with everything squished up on a tiny desk when you naturally prefer a more spread out, spacious environment, can affect productivity.  I do think everyone has a need to be able to find the stuff they need, when they need it, in order to be properly productive.  That will look different in each case.

I’ve worked with someone who put every single thing away and worked on one thing at a time.  Not a Post-It note out of place, just one pen, one piece of paper and an entirely clear desk.  I’ve worked with someone whose office furniture, the floor of the office, corridor and kitchen area were all entirely obscured by towering piles of documents, from which, amazingly, he could always produce the exact thing required.  More common is the slightly untidy desk upon which the phone is always in its place, the keyboard and screen are placed correctly and at the right height for comfort and health, and you can reach your coffee mug but aren’t in danger of knocking it over.

Something as simple as having a left-hand curve on your desk when you naturally work better on a right-hand curve can negatively affect productivity.  You need to be able to move easily and have your reference documents on the side you are comfortable with.  Having a desk too close to a wall so your chair can’t move easily backwards, or setting up in a room so small that you feel claustrophobic can also reduce your productivity.

Also, and this is another one that gets refereed by HR quite frequently; room temperature.  Some people are sent off to sleep in a warm room.  Others can’t work when it’s cold.  Your productivity can certainly be affected by temperature and in a shared office, sometimes the only way around this is a bit of compromise and wearing layered clothing that can be adjusted to suit your particular needs.

Enthusiasm

This is a key one for productivity.  We all prefer to do things we like don’t we?  It’s so much easier to be productive when completing tasks we enjoy and are good at.  You will be awesomely productive when doing tasks you love.

Also, it’s not that difficult to be productive when doing a task you like.  Even if you aren’t that great at it yet, you’ll want to learn to do it more efficiently and eventually become proficient, and productive, in that area.

If you aren’t that good at the task AND you don’t like doing it, you will procrastinate, put the task off, and when you do get around to doing it, the task will feel as though it is taking forever to complete, you’ll grumble and moan to yourself, take lots of tea breaks and feel unproductive, bored and frustrated.  Those tasks are the ones that you outsource as soon as you are able to afford to do so.  Because for every task you really, really hate, there will be someone out there that cannot wait to get stuck into it.

Hopefully, this series has given you some ideas for areas where you can increase your productivity by making small changes.  However, if you are still struggling with your workload or productivity, remember:

Doing what you are best at  + Outsourcing tasks that don’t bring in money = Peak Productivity.

That’s the secret formula that allows my clients to sleep at night, spend time with family and earn more money.  If you’d like some of that, give me a call.

Meaningful Festive Gift Ideas

Gift Ideas Meaningful Gift Ideas Festive Gift Ideas

 

It cannot be denied that this year has led to catastrophic difficulties.  However, this year has also seen a raised awareness of the importance of community.  It has also increased interest in supporting those who need it and thanking those who deserve it.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who are in need at present.

This year, the gift ideas I’ve been asked to provide for clients have emphasised the personal, community and charitable to a larger extent than before.  I’ve been asked to source more unusual, locally produced, artisan and charitable giving gift ideas, in line with the new emphasis on community support.

Here are some ideas that will help you to thank clients and staff, or wish them a happy Festive Season.

Hand-Written Charity Cards

Many charities sell cards, calendars and small gifts and a percentage from the sale supports the charity involved.  Although the likes of MoonPig and Funky Pigeon are convenient, sending a handwritten charity card is a much more personal and thoughtful approach which will be very much appreciated.  Perhaps because of the time it takes to consider the message, write it by hand, and address the envelope, a hand-written card isn’t usually the first choice in business.  However, I encourage my clients to write cards by hand, or have me do this, and here is why.

When I worked for an organisation with a large team,  I persuaded my manager to let me send Christmas cards to everyone.  I wrote them all by hand, signed my name and then had the other managers sign them too.  They were well received.  The following year, the managers decided that signing the cards had taken too long.  They had a card made in the printing department, everyone in the management team signed it, and it was reproduced.  Unfortunately, this card wasn’t well-received by the teams as they felt that management didn’t care enough to bother to write the cards by hand.  A hand-written card shows more thought and care.  The fact that you’ve taken the time to do this is appreciated by the recipient.  Plus, who doesn’t love an envelope arriving in the post which contains something personal rather than a bill?

Shop local for small gifts to send to clients and staff.

If you can’t get out to the shops then look on Facebook and Instagram for locally based businesses who offer gifts.  You’ll be supporting your local business community at a time when this is very much needed.  Ideas include candles, food items such as pickles, brownies or cakes, locally produced artisan wine, spirits or, in the case of my home town, Gin.  There are so many really great options available when you look closely.  Alternatively, Not On The High Street and Etsy are both great sources for beautiful, unusual and quirky gift ideas, hand made with love.  There is something for just about every person you can think of.

Charity Initiatives

You may be working from home, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a fun charity initiative.

The MD could volunteer to wear fancy dress to your regular Video call catch up meeting in return for a donation to your nominated charity.

You could have a food drive with everyone donating what they can afford to the local food bank.

If finances allow, the company could offer to match the amount donated by staff so that your team can make a bigger difference to the chosen charity.

You could also make a donation to charity on behalf of each of your regular or key clients.  You could add this information to their (handwritten) Christmas card detailing the amount and the charity involved.  Using cards sold by the charity itself will further help your charitable cause.

Encourage staff to volunteer in the community.

Providing free time off for staff to do this will benefit your business and your team.  This type of initiative has a range of benefits including:

  • Making a real difference in your local community
  • Increasing mental wellbeing for the individual
  • Boosting the company’s social responsibility credentials.
  • Greater visibility for your business.

Gift Ideas that support your community

Christmas can be a particularly challenging time of year for those in need.  Sadly this year there will be a lot of people in this category.  If you manufacture something that could be useful then you could donate your product to charities who would benefit from that.  Businesses which produce something lovely or luxurious might offer the product as a raffle prize or a direct gift for service users.

For a service-based business, offering time pro bono to a charity is a cashless way of spreading good cheer.  Most will be very glad of volunteers and it is incredibly rewarding to know you are helping others.  Giving your time is one of the most valuable gifts you can give to a charity.

Looking for some help managing your festive rewards?  Look no further.

Wondering how you will find time to do all this?  Wonder no longer.

Whether you need someone with neat handwriting to write your cards.  Someone to source the right gift for each client.  Or some research to find out how best to help your chosen charity, I can help.  Which leaves you with the time you need to source the family gifts, make the Christmas cake or look after the business needs of your lovely clients.

Click here to buy some of my time so you can spend your own time better.

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.

VAVA Voom: Value Added Virtual Assistance

Virtual Assistance, Virtual Assistant, Administration Support, Value Added Service

Something a client said recently really made me think.  Not that my clients don’t make me think regularly you understand, but mostly it’s about how to do things quickly and efficiently to save them time or how I can improve the way I provide my Virtual Assistance so that clients get even better value.

My client, let’s call her Sue, had a phone enquiry.  A few minutes into the call their enquirer asked what it was Sue actually did.  You see, they’d decided that they needed what Sue provided but hadn’t really been clear on the value that this would add to their business once they had engaged her services.

So, today’s post is not about what I do, but about the value Virtual Assistance can add to a business.  The value is more than the sum of the tasks after all.

As my strapline says; I create time for business.  I give you back the time you’ve lost trying to juggle multiple roles as a small business owner.  This is the single most valued outcome of working with me according to my client feedback.  A desire for a better work-life balance is often the reason people initially approach me for assistance.

Rescue your relationship.  Yes, that did happen.  Discretion forbids detailing it though.

Help you to see options to move forward with tasks that you are stuck with.

Suggest different ways to tackle tasks that will make them quicker and easier or will create a better outcome.

Organise tasks and even people when you don’t have time or energy to think about doing so.

Pick up the routine stuff that could get lost in the heat of battle.   The stuff that in a corporate environment you would just ask someone to help with….  Those “Can you just…?” and  “Would you be able to…..” type tasks that your colleague might pick up for you.

Give you a helping hand with the things that are taking up too much of your valuable time.

Make sure things that need to be remembered don’t get forgotten.

Ensure accuracy.  Whether that’s your documentation, appointments, blog posts or the notes of that disciplinary meeting.  Done right, done fast and done the way you like it.

Make your business look good.  A VA answering your emails and organising your diary gives a great impression of an organised and efficient business.

Contribute expertise on the administrative and time management aspects of any new business ideas and expansion plans you might have.

Virtual Assistance is about working in partnership with you, supporting you in achieving the business goals you are striving towards.    I actively look for ways to make your life easier, and implement them (with your permission of course). Sometimes that’s a big thing like suggesting a re-organisation of the inbox or creating some graphics or a video for your business, sometimes it’s a tiny thing, like just going into your InBox and tidying out the rubbish that you really won’t ever read.

I work with you.  If you tell me what you are trying to achieve, I’ll do my best to help you realise that.  I can’t know everything.  There will be areas I can’t cover (finance and cold calling being two that spring to mind) but in my chosen field of HR Support, I am, though I say it myself, pretty good at what I do.  If you were inclined to disbelieve me, I have the testimonials to show it.

If you would like to add this level of service and value to your business, then you can click here to find out what other people think about working with me and here to start the conversation.