Put Down the Remote: Being Productive While Quarantined

We are in a unique time and life today seems a lot different than it did just a few short weeks or months ago. One of those changes is that the entire country – almost overnight – made a push for folks to work from home.

While I normally work from home throughout the week, also having my wife at home was a glimpse into what many are going through right now – trying to work from home for the first time. This can be a difficult transition and it is not made easier when people may also have to take care of kids or other factors that take up their time.

However, this ‘new normal’ will likely be here to stay throughout the rest of March, April, and likely May – at least. Since we all have to figure out how to make it work, I thought about what we can do to make the most of our time. There are alternatives to solely focusing on watching every video on the internet…

  • Education: There are a number of free resources for taking classes online – even more within the last week. This is a great opportunity to learn something new. Anyone want to go to Harvard?
  • Certifications: This could also be a way to look into something that will give you the edge. It could be a great opportunity to find the right certification for you.
  • Resume: Even if you are not currently looking for a job or think you will be in the near future, there is no downside to having an up-to-date resume. The same goes for making sure your LinkedIn profile is in top-notch shape.
  • Fitness: Take care of yourself! I will try not to get on a soapbox here, but nothing is stopping (most) anyone from taking a walk or run outside. Can’t get to the gym? You Are Your Own Gym is the way to go.
  • Spirituality: This will mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. However you view spirituality, take a moment to get centered, be thankful for what you have, and focus on what is most important.
  • Friends: We can all take the time to email, text, call, video call, FaceTime, group chat, online hangout, or whatever your flavor may be. This will be just as fulfilling to you as the person or people you connect with.

It is time to put down the remote and get some work done…

What are some ways you have tried to be productive during the quarantine?

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Change from the Middle

change-1076220_1280A topic that has been on my mind for the last year is the idea of change coming from the middle; people like myself who have about ten years of experience, but don’t have a title with the authority to make change without approval. There were several case studies I read in my Organizational Behavior class and a few experiences from my own career that have kept it consistently on my mind. With a course about change coming up in the final semester of my MBA program, I wanted to write my thoughts about the subject now and then reevaluate in several months.

With millennials now over 50% of the US workforce, I am in a category of individuals who desire to make positive change, but are up against an older generation with different perspectives on many issues. In this situation, change can come slowly, if at all. So, how does one go about making change then? These are my thoughts.

  • Become a leader: This doesn’t have to come with a title or position, rather the feeling of those around you. Take on added responsibilities and/or volunteer for projects, don’t take shortcuts, do what is right and not what it easy. These are the practices that others see and understand the value of positioning themselves alongside.
  • Be the change: As is stated in my favorite quote from Gandhi, we have to be the change we want to see. What this means to me is that if I want something to be different, I have to put myself out there and set the example and take the risk. An example of this is challenging an established culture and choosing to blaze your own trail, such as working hard because that is what should be done, as opposed to doing the minimum because no one is looking over your shoulder.
  • Define the change: Even though those from a different generation may hold a different perspective, it does not mean they will not understand and consider a change. I think it is a matter of sharing in terms they will be able to understand. An example from a conversation I had with a client not too long ago comes to mind. He didn’t understand how spending time and money on being environmentally responsible would also be profitable. I explained that by being environmentally responsible, a different group of customers would be attracted to his business, which would increase revenue. A bit simplistic, but an example nonetheless.
  • Data: When all else fails, take the time to run the numbers and show what change can mean to the bottom line. This can result in more motivated employees, a more efficient sales force, better ways to reach potential customers and so on. Put together projections and reports using relevant data and let the numbers speak for themselves.

These are the best methods I have found and used to create change in my own environment. Now, I just have to see what new tools can get added to my “change” tool-belt this semester. I have big expectations from my professor, Dr. Bret Simmons, whom I have had for two other courses.

What other methods of positive change have you tried? Please add what has worked for you in a comment below.

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Make Their Day – FISH! Philosophy

make their day2Of the four elements of the FISH! Philosophy, I saved this topic to write about last – make their day. The reason is because it took me the most amount of time to truly wrap my head around the concept in terms of applying it to my everyday work life. As part of my personality, I tend to help others and take time to create a positive work environment. The concept of making their day, however, can come very close to working against a leader if they overdo it with the need for affiliation with coworkers (McClelland’s Need Theory). What I have found is that there is a happy medium.

Below are the things I try to do for those around me. These are not necessary over-the-top actions, but I find that it is often the smallest actions that have the greatest impact.

  • Take time to say hello to everyone in the morning and stop to ask how they are doing.
  • Reference an earlier conversation on an important subject to them.
  • Offer to help with tasks that are not my normal responsibilities.
  • Ask follow-up questions when someone is obviously having a noticeably good or bad day.
  • Noticing something new or different, such as a haircut.
  • Share positive feedback with them in front of the team.

What I have found is that making someone’s day has to be part of who and what you are. People have to understand that you are doing something nice with no expectation of a return. When that is not the case, people question the motives and usually will not accept the action as intended.

For many years I considered myself a “nice guy,” but that didn’t really evoke the right feeling. I now like to describe myself as a good person. That is what allows me to show kindness and make people’s day because they trust who I am and what I am about.

There are wonderful payoffs when making someone’s day. While that is not the objective, it can certainly be an outcome. Last November, I was walking to class and stopped to help a student who was having trouble carrying some boxes. We were headed in the same direction and struck up a conversation. It ended up that she was an intern in the office I was applying for a job (my current position). While she was not in a position to help get me the job, it was a coincidence that helped buy me credibility before I even started.

You never know who or what is around the corner, so it is always a good idea to be kind and choose to make their day.

What is the best example from your own professional career of someone making your day? Please share in a comment below.

Related Posts:

FISH! – Be Present

FISH! – Play

FISH! – Choose Your Attitude

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BYOD: Bring Your Own Device

laptop-phone-BYODFor a class project in the spring, I was part of a team that looked at bringing your own devices to work, instead of a company providing them. We reviewed the pros and cons of both phones and laptops. I use my personal laptop in the office and have remote access to our network, which means I can work from anywhere. The only time I am on my work desktop is when I need to print. I am also using my own phone. By doing this, I am able to be more productive through increased flexibility. Our findings were interesting and provided me new insights.

Cell phones were the first item we reviewed. The benefit of having a work phone with you at all times is that customers and coworkers can contact you, via phone, email and/or text, at all times. This can greatly increase efficiency, as well as customer service. When a company provides a separate work phone, we found that this requires many individuals to have two phones with them at any given time. That often leads to work phones not being taken from work or left at home when it is not during regular business hours, which defeats the purpose.

By allowing individuals to use their personal phone, the benefits can be seen through only needing to have a single phone. Call forwarding can be used so the employee’s phone number is not being given out or used by mistake if he or she leaves the company. There are also services that pay a stipend directly to the cell phone provider to ensure employees are not taxed on the money through a regular paycheck. Specific security measures are also available, at low-cost, which protects company information. Overall, we found the greatly reduced costs through allowing employees to use their own cell phone for work outweighed any risks.

Laptops were also reviewed as part of the project, but the outcome was quite different. In first looking at potential cost savings, there was certainly money to be saved. However, we found the savings, in this case, did not outweigh the potential risks. The security issues, theft/loss, viruses, repair, intellectual property, and commingling of data were too substantial to overlook. The main concern for any firm would be the potential loss of sensitive company data. The small percentage of dollars saved could not overcome the clear issues that were presented.

By undertaking this project, I certainly learned a lot about these different ideas and what benefits and risks arise with each. I certainly enjoy using my personal cellphone and laptop for work, but as a graduate assistant, both were my own choice. When outside of the university setting, I will certainly use this information when presented with the question of bringing your own device to work.

If you have seen specific risks or benefits that weren’t mentioned here, please let me know through a comment below.

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Working for the NSBDC

Nevada-color with bandWorking as a business development advisor for the Nevada Small Business Development Center (NSBDC) has allowed me to continue my goal of helping others achieve their greatest level of success. In fact, that is really at the heart of the NSBDC’s mission. Over the course of the last six months, I have learned a great deal and it has helped me to focus on what I would like to pursue in the future.

Since starting, many people have asked me what I do, so I created a video blog below to discuss the NSBDC and my role in the office.

The NSBDC is celebrating its 30th year of helping entrepreneurs and small businesses across Nevada. Funded through partnerships that include the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the University of Nevada, the NSBDC offers its services at no charge. This allows individuals and businesses to receive support they would otherwise not have been able to afford.

As a graduate assistant and businesses development advisor, I have been given a tremendous opportunity to help others. Specifically, I work with clients to provide whatever they need to succeed. This includes creating and reviewing business plans and financials, researching market and industry information, developing marketing plans and creating partnership that include various University departments. The clients I have been able to help range from needing help with financial projections for a loan to move to a larger location to generating a business plan to raise $20 million for a large project.

In addition to working directly with clients, I also write articles for the Reno Gazette-Journal, recruit and train student interns, writing grant proposals and helping to improve the efficiency of the office. Everything I have done for the NSBDC has been a great opportunity to use what I have learned through my MBA coursework, and continue to develop my professional skills.

To learn more about available resources, visit the websites for the NSBDC and SBA. To find a Small Business Development Center near you, click here.

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Put a Little “Play” in the Office – FISH! Philosophy

FISH!-PlayI recently wrote a post about the FISH! Philosophy and choosing your attitude at work. That got me thinking about the other ideas in the book and, specifically, the idea of play. This came up in my office just the other day and I have been thinking about its impact ever since. I began a good bit of self-reflection about what play means to me.

To me, play is all about adding smiles to the office. This comes in many shapes and forms, but I feel it is about making people happy to the point where they show it on their face. Below are a few examples of what has stood out to me from my own experiences.

  • Trivia: Something that many people do for fun after work was started a few months ago by an intern at my office. Each day he writes a new question up on the board and most everyone gathers around in the intern room to offer up a guess. Gradually, everyone has gotten into it and there is real competition against those who are in the lead.
  • Donuts: While it doesn’t have to actually be donuts themselves, when someone brings in a treat (on all levels of the healthiness scale), there is commotion in the office. The discussion that comes about from people bringing in treats gives everyone a reason to come out of their office and socialize; that typically leads to jokes and laughter. Even those who gripe about having the temptation of eating sweets end up cracking a smile.
  • Retreats: These can range from an hour spent outside together doing some team-building exercises to a weekend at a wilderness retreat with a ropes course. Both can be really impactful and provide many benefits for the office, but should also be a lot of fun. If you don’t come back from a retreat filled with purpose and fully engaged, then something wasn’t done correctly.
  • Culture: To me, this is the most important part of play. Everyone needs to be involved. The Man can’t be walking around wanting to stop all of the fun being had. This also means that it can’t be forced – assuming that celebrating a birthday is going to get everyone having a good time. Creating a culture is a much larger issue, but one that must be in place to truly get the most out of play.

These are just a few of the elements that I have seen that make an impact on play in the workplace. Creating smiles and improving happiness has a dramatic effect on performance. With that being the case, there is no reason that everyone in a company or business should not get on-board with play.

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Working Remotely: Maximizing the Benefits

home-office-laptopI am a big fan of working remotely, and there are many pros and cons. My previous post focused on those. Here I will discuss what I feel allows me to be successful and productive when working outside of the normal office environment.

  1. Set alarms: They are not just for waking up, but for when to start and stop projects, break for lunch and end for the day. Over time, they may no longer be needed, but they can help keep you on track as you get started – especially not over working.
  2. Use Your Commute Time: By not having to drive, that can add anywhere between ten minutes and three hours to your available productive time each day. The average American spends 6 hours and 18 minutes commuting per week. That is almost an entire extra day of work. This means you can work almost one full day less per week, or you can look at it as time to be more productive. If you are a salaried employee, think about the massive amount of extra work you could get done and stand out among your peers. At 50 weeks a year, an extra 6 hours per week is 300 hours that could be used for being an all-star; at home and for work.
  3. Run Errands More Efficiently: My goal with working remotely is to minimize wasted time. Run errands during the middle of the day when traffic and lines will be shorter, if there at all, is another way to do this. I am a big proponent of waking up early and taking breaks as needed. By running personal and business errands in the middle of the day, you are saving time that can be better spent with family or accomplishing more objectives. A work/life balance is extremely important. Even if this only saves you an hour a week, that is an extra hour that you wouldn’t have otherwise had.
  4. Distractions: This is one of the toughest parts of working remotely. They come in all shapes, colors, sizes and ages. Everyone has their own items that will pull them away from work, so there is no point in trying to list them out. However, they fall into a few categories that I will discuss. If it is a spouse or roommate, then let them know what you need to get done and when; keep them in the loop and set boundaries. Sometimes that is easier said than done, but it is a great test on relationships. If it is little people – children – then I am truly unqualified to make any recommendations. If this issue is TV, food, or nice weather, then find ways to focus on work. Perhaps spending the few minutes to put on business attire will get you in the mindset of work; this can certainly be a helpful tool when you first start working remotely. Tracking exactly how many hours you worked in a day by writing it down will let you know if there is a distraction or focus problem.
  5. Work Station: It is easy to sit on the couch, or in bed, when working remotely, but that may not be your most productive location. Find a place where you can focus – the kitchen table, an actual desk, etc. Like distractions, when you first get started, it is easier to transition from a work desk to a desk at home.

Working remotely is an opportunity to work on your own terms. I have found it is the chance to maximize the amount of work that can be accomplished, as well as the amount of extra time dedicated to your personal life. For some, it needs to be eased into because it is a big step and there are many potential distractions. However, I have always looked at working remotely as the opportunity to get ahead while having more personal time to keep the batteries charged.

Please share your own helpful hints for staying focused or maximizing your time while working remotely in a comment below.

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Working Remotely – Friend or Foe?

The idea of working remotely can seem like a dream – sleeping in, wearing sweatpants all day, avoiding traffic, no weather issues and not having to find parking. However, it can also turn into a disaster if you are not ready for the transition. It all depends on your personality and ability to self-motivate. Having worked remotely for over six years, I found it to be an amazing situation that ended up benefiting me and my employers.

This is where important aspects of personality come into play. To start, I have listed a few potential pitfalls and items to consider.

  • Salary vs. Hourly: Assuming the honor system is in place and working well, tracking your time should be easy. I believe working remotely is easier in a salaried position, but hourly can work just as well.
  • Trouble getting started: Getting started can be difficult. When you are at a physical office location, you have already traveled from home and are now fully aware of your changed surroundings. However, working remotely, you move from the bedroom to the couch, table or coffee shop – not a significant journey.
  • Distractions: TV, food, family, phone, internet, your bed, etc. This can be the linchpin of being able to work remotely. There has to be a balance and personal understanding of how you are going to work and what your expectations are for yourself.
  • No whistle at quitting time: Like Fred Flintstone at the end of the day, many office employees watch the second-hand tick to End O’clock and leave the office. When you work from home, when is the end of the day? Is 4:30 good enough? Does finishing one last thing turn into working until 6:00? It may change every day. You have to make the call.
  • No water-cooler and no boss: When at home, it is difficult to form meaningful professional relationships with your coworkers, which can be deeply important for networking and your career. And, you can’t just pop into your boss’s office to ask a question. Trying to get him or her on the phone can be a major challenge – I know from experience.

If any of the items above make you feel like an issue will arise, then perhaps working remotely isn’t for you. An honest discussion with your supervisor is always a good place to start. Now, if you can get the secret sauce just right, working remotely can become the most rewarding and professionally important time of your life. Here is why:

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  • No commute: It saves time and money, limits stress and is a rare opportunity to actually create more time in the day.
  • Flexibility: Taking a break, running an errand or attending your kid’s baseball game, a remote office can make it easy to not miss out on important life events.
  • No interruptions = high productivity: Turn the phone over and work for hours without interruption. People will need to actually schedule time to connect with you. Remember though, this is important time you need to schedule to maintain positive professional interactions.
  • Go to the office when you want: Unless it is in a different city, you can head in for a day to change it up. If you schedule a meeting, plan to stay longer; make sure you talk to your coworkers, boss and others at work to keep relationships strong.

During my time working remotely, I found a great middle-ground that allowed me to produce high-quality work, surf almost every day and enjoy my job that much more. Working remotely isn’t for everyone, but if you can overcome the potential pitfalls, it can become as wonderful, mutually beneficial, work experience.

If you can think of other benefits or potential pitfalls, please let me know through a comment below.

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Related Article: Working Remotely – Maximizing the Benefits