How To Keep Up . . . And Get Ahead

Productivity is always a concern for business owners, especially during this time with rising gas and food prices, consumers tightening their belts, and the need to maintain a profit.

A few stories lately have discussed productivity and once again, the ideas aren't what you'd expect.

CNN talks about our "sleep-deprived nation" and points out that American employees work more than they sleep - a disturbing trend.

"One-third of those surveyed for the National Sleep Foundation's annual 'Sleep in America' poll had fallen asleep or become sleepy at work in the past month. The telephone survey questioned 1,000 adults in the continental United States and was conducted between September 25, 2007, and November 19, 2007.

The poll also found that Americans are working more and sleeping less. The average amount of sleep was six hours and 40 minutes a night. The average workday? Nine hours and 28 minutes."

The Chicago Tribune approaches productivity in a similar way.

"'To be honest, employers may not be aware of the impact the physical environment has on individuals,'" said Steve Schiavo, a Wellesley College psychology professor who has presented papers at the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA). 'Employers may only think of financial compensation as contributing to morale, but clearly there's more than that.'"

PCWorld suggests that letting employees take breaks (even if only to view Facebook) can improve productivity.

"Feeling guilty about checking out Facebook when you should be working? Well, don't -- because according to PopCap Games research, taking a 10-minute break to surf the Net will reduce stress and sharpen your mind.

The games manufacturer claims 'electronic breaks' actually increase staff efficiency and morale, warning that by stopping workers surfing the web, businesses are contributing to a loss to of productivity worth up to US$8 billion every year.

The research will come as a blow to companies that have banned access to social networking sites. According to employment law firm Peninsula, seven out of 10 companies already prohibit workers from visiting sites such as Facebook and are even considering banning personal Internet access altogether."

I know. You're thinking why in this economy would I let my employees look at Facebook, sleep, or enjoy their surroundings?

Because it works. Productivity was up in the first quarter of 2008, even as companies cut jobs. Many industry analysts point out that our services-oriented workforce is more resilient to economic highs and lows than we were in the 1970s. And why not make a few tweaks geared toward the comfort of your employees? If productivity continues to keep up and surge ahead, the resulting strong economy will take care of high prices and job losses.

Abandoned Shipping Containers – Another way to go Green

We have been following the recent stories of ways people are finding to go green. One of the most interesting is the way some builders and companies are using abandoned shipping containers to assemble structures ranging from homes to skyscrapers.

You've probably seen shipping containers before. They’re big boxes that look like the trailers the big rigs pull across our interstates, but they don't have any wheels. They come in varying colors and have different logos on them. They’re used by manufacturers to ship their good from overseas to the United States or anywhere else in the world. They’re stacked onboard huge ships then, once they arrive in port, they’re emptied and left abandoned.

Some ingenious minds have looked at these shipping containers and seen their real potential. It seems they can be used to construct single family homes that are strong, cost-effective, durable, and weather resistant. I thought this would look much like a mobile home until I saw one being built. Done by a knowledgeable builder, they look like normal fixed-based houses. It's remarkable what can be done. It’s recycling at its finest and it doesn’t stop there.

A European company FREITAG sells bags made from recycled tarps (a whole other issue), found that they could construct their office building using abandoned shipping containers. They’re unique way of producing their bags suggested that leaving the containers exposed and unchanged would make a one-of-a-kind office building. All of the containers are their original colors and show their company logos, but stacking and permanently joining them created a structurally sound and visually stimulating office building. They’re also very inexpensive.

FREITAG

What a great way to take unwanted objects and turning them into something beautiful and functional! It just takes someone with vision to see their true potential and bringing it to life.

Manners Matter in Virtual Team Teleconferences

Even though you can't see the people in your meeting with a teleconference doesn't mean that there aren't certain rules of etiquette that you should follow. In fact for teleconferences, meeting etiquette in certain areas is even more important than in a face-to-face situations.

Here are a few tips to help you to have the best teleconference possible:

  1. Make sure to send your agenda before the meeting so people may be properly prepared. You may want to send it out more than several hours ahead. Depending on the nature of the call, you may need to send your agenda several days to a week ahead of your planned call.
  2. Include your starting and expected ending time. Use Outlook to schedule your meetings electronically and ask for participation approval automatically. Let your participants clear their calendar to allocate you the time you need.
  3. Make sure you have communicated your expectations clearly to all participants. This will help to keep your meeting on-track and allow you to have metrics for which to measure your teleconference meeting success.
  4. If you have had previous problems with attendees putting your call on hold and sharing their canned hold music or promotional message with the group, consider discussing the issue privately with the party before your next call. If you cannot identify the person clearly, send with your agenda a gentle teleconference protocol reminder listing this item specifically to help your team get and stay on track.
  5. Keep your message short, concise, and closely follow your agenda. Doing so, will keep attendance high and keep participants focused.
  6. Follow-up in writing your plan of action and who has been tasked to perform which activities. Good follow-up assures that the plans you have discussed will be implemented and that team members can be accountable for specific tasks.

How To (Really) Help Employees Stay Healthy

Workplace Wellness

Here's a smattering of news articles to prove it.

Keeping your employees healthy is good for business.

Channel 17 news in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill talks about local companies who are not just adding fitness rooms at the office to encourage employees to stay fit and healthy.

"[F]itness centers are no longer the backbone of corporate wellness programs, said Dave Gardner, manager of corporate and community health at WakeMed.

'Employers can look at policies and how their environment is structured,' said Gardner. 'Do they provide access to food and beverages? It may be just vending machines, but what's in the vending machines?'

Companies with on-site cafeterias are leading the charge with healthier menu items. A poster in Quintiles' cafeteria touts organic items and snacks with no trans fats."

The Economic Times in India touts helping employees with their stress as a path to workplace wellness.

"As industries mature, one of the fallouts has been that employees have been bombarded with excess workload to meet the water-tight deadlines. The outcome-stress, which takes a direct toll on productivity as people tend to slack when burdened with huge portions of work. Fortunately, organisations are waking up to this reality and are manifesting their concern for their employees' health by carving out several initiatives to build a stress-free environment for them."

A New York Times article focuses on politicians who are encouraging small businesses to focus on healthcare issues just as if they were a large company and able to offer multiple health benefits.

"Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, said smaller employers need to apply the same principles to health-care as they do to any other business.
'The question should be how do we get the best value for money,' Gingrich told the standing-room-only crowd of several hundred small-business owners.
He also prescribed changing workers' attitudes and behavior by offering healthy snacks in the workplace, access to wellness programs and fitness centers, and year-end bonuses based on a health assessment. At a panel discussion on small-business health-care costs, workplace wellness programs were seen as the most effective tool to cut rising prices."
In this age of rising prices (food, gas, health care) as well as the cost of doing business, companies may be tempted to scale back benefits, but perhaps the long-term effects of health and employee wellness should matter more.

Stay Smart and Stay Ahead

The Street looks at the recent Microsoft bid to acquire Yahoo and draws three very good tips out for current small business owners, summarized below.

  1. Do the basics very well: No matter what business you are in, you cannot take things to the next level, or withstand a recession, if that is your situation, if you are not handling the basics.
  2. We need to innovate: No business stays in business long if it does not adapt, change with the times and innovate. . . . One easy way to innovate is to just keep an eye on what your competition is doing. What is their Web site like? How do they market their business? Keep abreast of what others are doing and consider making changes accordingly.
  3. We need to change the game: [C]hanging the game means that the savvy small business person will also consider changing even essential ways of doing business when necessary.”

SearchEngineLand.com highlights a story about a small business that is not only surviving, but thriving in the midst of harsh times for businesses of all size.

"There's a battle going on in the floral industry, and many small, independent florists are losing. Like other small businesses, they don't have the time or knowledge to keep up with the latest marketing trends and tactics.

This month's small business online marketing success story is about a business owner who's using search marketing smarts to win this battle, along with some blogging and social media thrown in.
Meet Cathy Hillen-Rulloda, owner and Design Director at Avante Gardens, an award-winning florist in Anaheim, California. Cathy started working for a local florist during high school in West Virginia, and opened Avante Gardens in 1984 after helping design flowers for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Since then, Cathy has become one of the floral industry's most accomplished Internet marketers. ‘She's a watchdog for the floral industry and keeps the rest of us aware,' says Ryan Freeman of Strider Inc, the operator of FlowerChat.com. ‘Her Web site ranks well and performs well, she blogs intelligently, has a smart mind for business and PR, and has enough chutzpah to take action when it's needed.'"

For small business owners like Hillen-Rulloda, it's about doing the basics well, using innovation to stay ahead, and changing the game when required. When those three elements are in place, small businesses will thrive.

Register for Better Tracking

If you really want to keep track of your participants, use a registration page for all of your conference calls.  Registration systems will record any data you want and store it for use later.  Also, during a live call, you can see the data next to that caller - speaking directly to users and knowing who they are increases the personal touch of your call (not to mention it is impressive).  Also, each participant receives their own unique code for the call - again, more personal.

After your live event, you have data on who registered, who attended the live call as well as who did not - great for follow-up.  For paid services like teleclasses, this is a great way for tracking attendance and keeping control of who gets it.  For required employee calls, the data will keep everyone accountable.

Best of all, it's free.  Try it out!

When Multi-Tasking Works Against You

We've all been in this situation, sitting in a "boring" teleconference, our mind starts to wander, we decide maybe we'll look at our email, and then out of the blue, the speaker asks your opinion!

Wow, talk about an embarrassing moment, how do you say you had been drifting? It's better to follow these few tips to keep your focus in a teleconference particularly when your mind starts to wander.

  1. Close your email program and your browser. You won't be tempted to multi-task if you don't have these applications open.
  2. Turn off your cell phone and PDA. Don't be tempted to lose your focus with these distractions to the call.
  3. Get a piece of paper out and make bulleted notes of the meeting.
  4. As you think of it, write down your questions on a specific topic or write down the name of the person and task that they have just been given.
  5. Write down the follow-up actions you will personally need to take and the dates to take them. Writing will help you to stay tuned-in and keep your mind actively involved in the teleconference as well as provide concrete follow-up for you to log into Outlook after the conference call.

How to Lead In Tough Times

Forbes discusses leading in tough times and gives five essentials "for leadership through difficult, and how to bring them to bear."

"Leading an organization through hard times is challenging by definition. It requires a deliberate focus and extra attention to a few critical areas that can make the difference between a quick rebound followed by sustained improvement in performance--or by a downward spiral that may become irreversible.
And it's in facing headwinds, of course, that the captain of the ship proves his or her mettle."

The five Forbes essentials include:

  1. Communicate continually and honestly.
  2. Hatch a plan based in reality.
  3. Hang on to your best talent.
  4. Act decisively.
  5. Alter your perspective.

There's a few more I would add:

  1. Don't try to be the superhero.

Nobody likes someone who tries to do it all and fails. Everyone will be in awe of you if you do what you do best and let others do the rest. A leader knows how to delegate to other members of his/her team so that she/he can focus on the essential core tasks of leadership. Trying to impress your team by agreeing to everything they request or point out will get you nowhere.

  1. Give out more praise than criticism.

This does not mean simple flattery or half-truths. There are ways to praise so that people realize what they missed or did wrong. Try rewarding strong work and recommending alternative ideas for less-strong work at the same time. And don't criticize. If you find this difficult, get Giving Feedback: Expert Solutions to Everyday Challenges, by Harvard Business School Press.

"Good feedback is essential to helping employees perform better at work. It lets people know when they are meeting or exceeding expectations, and when they need to get back on the right track. This practical guide shows managers how to develop and refine this necessary skill."

Feedback is communication. Are you giving feedback or a performance review? Are you wanting a different approach or just want to tweak the approach already taken? Learning to differentiate between what you want to accomplish and then saying it to accomplish that is a sure sign of a leader.

Anything else to add to this list? Feel free to add your thoughts.