Posts

5 Pro Tips for Quickly Pivoting to a Virtual Employee Onboarding Process

The new normal of living amidst the COVID-19 global pandemic is causing many employers to adopt new business processes…and to adopt them quite quickly.

For those organizations who are fortunate enough to continue hiring new employees, one of those business processes is to learn how to correctly onboard remote employees in a distributed workforce.

A hastily created employee onboarding process will put new hires at risk of feeling disconnected from their work and organization. On the other hand, a productive virtual employee onboarding program will forge a connection between the new teammate and the organization; thereby, positively contributing to employee satisfaction and the goals of the organization despite the uncertainty and hardship attributable to our current coronavirus reality.

Are you ready to pivot to a distributed workforce? Whether virtual employee onboarding is a brand new practice at your company, or you’re just looking for ways to fine tune employee onboarding for distributed workforces, you’ve come to the right place. In this post, I’ll discuss five best practices for quickly pivoting to a virtual employee onboarding process.

1 – Create a “remote-first” pre-boarding experience

With so much uncertainty on everyone’s mind, your new hire’s interactions with your organization in the days leading up to his start date shouldn’t further increase his anxiety. Make a toolkit of digital assets to share with a new teammate to make sure he feels adequately prepared and informed on day one. Here are some ideas:

  • Provide an organizational chart listing all employee names, titles and the hierarchy of the management structure. If you are a part of a very large organization, then a chart of the new employee’s department and/or division may be sufficient.
  • Create a task list or training schedule for the new hire’s first few days on the job. Create this in a shared document (e.g. Google Docs) that can be edited on-the-fly to include additional tasks as time progresses, as well as hyperlinked resource documents. With this approach, the employee can follow links to conduct further research to acquaint himself with your company and its organizational knowledge as his schedule permits.
  • Task relevant co-workers with creating video welcome messages to be shared with the new employee in the days leading up to the first day. We use a variety of tools at ExactHire (ranging from completely free to very affordable) such as video capture on our smartphones, and video applications like Soapbox, Vidyard and Camtasia.
  • Share a short, hyperlinked list of your company’s social media profiles with the new hire, as well as expectations about whether he is likely to be bombarded by social media invitation requests in his first week (as this can be a common way for remote workers to connect with one another).
  • Make it clear what equipment will be provided by the company (and by what date), and/or whether the new hire is responsible for bringing any of his own devices to his remote workstation. Ensure that all devices are accompanied by robust instructions on how to use and/or setup appropriate security protocols for effective work within the organization.

2 – Leverage the unique onboarding resources now available to your organization

While social distancing has caused many of us to approach the work setting in dramatically different ways, it has also led to the installation of a handful of new laws and limited regulations meant to help the American working population and employers cope with this crisis. Aside from new laws such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has also recently relaxed its normal requirements for Form I-9 compliance when hiring new employees. This change will help employees who have never hired remote workers to examine and temporarily approve employment eligibility documentation with confidence.

In particular, DHS has “[deferred] the physical presence requirements associated with Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9) under Section 274A of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Employers with employees taking physical proximity precautions due to COVID-19 will not be required to review the employee’s identity and employment authorization documents in the employee’s physical presence.”

However, not all employers meet the criteria necessary for taking advantage of the option to initially virtually examine new hire documentation. In fact, only employers who have gone 100% remote for all employees may utilize this temporary flexibility in document examination. For more details on which organizations qualify and what documentation is necessary to participate, check out this recent Forbes article.

3 – Make a short list of near-term new hire expectations

To make this pivot toward remote onboarding manageable and relatively fast, focus on only the absolutely critical expectations that you need all new hires to know right from the start. In doing so, make sure you communicate that the current situation necessitates focusing on the “must-knows” initially, but that icing-on-the-cake knowledge and nurturing will be sure to follow as things calm down a bit.

Your new hire will appreciate your candor, and be more likely to establish trust in the organization early because it is helping to flesh out priorities to ensure the new hire’s success.

Here are some examples of employee expectations that may resonate with your team. Be sure to educate your new hire about each of the items below that may be important for his work.

  • Training prerequisites that must be completed before certain aspects of a job can be endeavored (e.g. safety, password security protocol)
  • Preferred methods for co-workers to communicate with each other (e.g. email, phone, Slack, text, video conference, project management tool comments)
  • Mission-critical reports and metrics that must be updated…and with what frequency

Remember that while your ability to equip your new employee with these essential bits of information can shorten his learning curve and improve outcomes, don’t forget that our normal isn’t so normal right now. In fact, it reminds me of an unidentified quote that my co-worker shared on our Slack channel today…one that very appropriately describes the current plight for many of America’s remote workers:

“You’re not working from home; you are at your home during a crisis trying to work.”

There’s a place for grace right now.

4 – Communicate your culture

While company culture can be somewhat nebulous to describe to others, as it is often something experienced for one’s self in-person, there’s no doubt that remote cultures exist, too.

However, it may take longer to assimilate remote workers to cultural norms if you don’t take strides to help them take seed early. Here are some ways to make your virtual culture more quickly tangible:

  • Facilitate video introductions between a new hire and fellow department members and other key co-workers. Make sure all teammates take a turn to introduce themselves, explain their respective roles, and offer suggestions on how they interface with the new employee in his job.
  • Recognize that your organization likely has a multitude of multimedia approaches for communication in different situations. Create a “cheat sheet” of common scenarios to give your new employees a head start:
    • Protocol for out of office messages
    • Appropriate channels for different types of Slack posts
    • Frequency for co-worker video meet-ups and the purpose of each (e.g. is this a project-related call or a virtual happy hour?)
    • General guidelines on how quickly to respond to different inquiries and requests (make sure to allow for time zone differences between co-workers)
    • Location of a schedule of regular working hours for different employees
    • Protocol on whether to use one’s video camera on conference calls (is it preferred or required by various departments?)
    • Acceptable format for email signatures
    • Preferred software applications for different assignments (e.g. MS Word or Google Docs when both are available?)

5 – Implement employee onboarding software for remote hiring success

Depending on the industry in which you work, you likely use a set of software applications critical to the productivity of your business–it’s your tech stack. From CRMs to POS systems, and project management suites to ticketing portals, these varied forms of technology are essential to different industries because they leverage technology to automate and improve repetitive, and perhaps otherwise manual tasks for different employers.

While health clinics may not need POS systems, and safety equipment manufacturers aren’t desperate for software issue ticketing suites, I will advocate that all employers who are currently hiring should consider employee onboarding software.

Moreover, if you are hiring remote employees, onboarding software gives you a significant competitive advantage as you can improve the new hire user experience (aka first impression) as well as minimize documentation errors.

ExactHire’s OnboardCentric employee onboarding software can be implemented either as a stand-alone solution to meet your urgent onboarding needs; or, as a hiring component integrated with our ExactHire applicant tracking system.

As employers face constantly evolving news related to COVID-19, they are adjusting priorities and re-allocating resources on a daily basis. Our team understands the need for fluidity and responsiveness, and we’re equipped to get you up and running with onboarding software quickly.

To expedite implementation and improve your new hire experience despite the current pandemic, we recommend that you start by implementing required new hire forms (e.g. state tax forms, Form W-4, Form I-9, direct deposit, etc.) and allow us to train supervisors who need access right away.

Then, as demands on your schedule decline, our team is happy to work with you to include non-essential nice-to-have new hire forms, discuss onboarding process best practices and conduct more advanced user training with all of your hiring managers. Our responsive team is ready to work as your partner through this crisis.

Demo ExactHire Onboarding Software

Are you ready to improve your employee onboarding experience and respond to the rapidly changing hiring landscape with success? Schedule a demo of OnboardCentric today.

Remote Work While Parenting and Teaching Kids

7 Tips for Remote Work Success + Kid Activity Ideas

Can you relate to this remote work scenario?

It was about three o’clock on Tuesday afternoon and I was engaged in another Zoom video conference related to COVID-19 planning for our business. My office is in the back of the house away from the main traffic areas and is usually pretty quiet–ideal for video conferencing.

However, a crouched figure suddenly appeared at the side of my office chair with pleading eyes looking upward. This time it was my daughter, and it was the third time this afternoon that one of my two children had crawled into the office to avoid being seen on webcam, and in an effort to whisper-shout something to me.

This time took the cake though. To my chagrin (but also to my glee at her inner resourcefulness), my daughter was holding a small dry erase board with an important question for my consideration:

Remote Work Parenting | ExactHire

“Can I play FIFA Soccer [on Nintendo]?”

I’m sure all of you who are fortunate enough to still be working…and doing so 100% from home…can relate to my story. If you are a stay-at-home parent or caregiver, right about now you are also likely open to new ways to keep kids occupied while sheltering in place during the coronavirus pandemic.

I’m blessed with the opportunity to be safe and spending time with my family in a way that unfortunately has faded in recent years due to over-scheduling. Nevertheless, we all need some creative ways to balance remote work with helping to tutor and care for children at home during the work day.

In this blog, I’ll share seven tips on how to cope with the challenge before us, as well as kid activities I’ve been curating from friends, Facebook groups and word-of-mouth.

1 – Create structure

With so much chaos in the world right now, we all (not just our kids) need some stability in our lives. School-aged kids are used to the assuring rigors of the school day including a predictable schedule of different classes and activities. While e-learning coursework fills some of this gap (when your kids aren’t on a break), it doesn’t mean that they are busy for the equivalent of your eight-hour work day.

Every morning I create a list of activities that my two kids can do during the day. I might assign a time span to some activities, or schedule certain tasks for a specific time of day (e.g. let’s all go outside at noon and play soccer in the yard).

Part of this schedule may instruct them to do specific activities that don’t require my supervision during the times of day that I might need to be on a conference call for work. Having a schedule…or even just a list of to-dos…helps you handle boredom angst with a plan of action before you find yourself in the thick of it!

Ideas:

2 – Empower with control

Our current reality is one in which we have less control over our daily lives than normal. In Indiana, we are currently under “shelter in place” restrictions from our state government and so the freedom we have to travel to certain destinations and connect in-person with others is impeded–even if remote work is now offering more flexibility. A lack of control can be frustrating and isolating.

The same is true for your kids. Help them realize a certain degree of control in their lives by letting them pick from a variety of activity options. For example, with the schedule I mentioned above, let them choose an option from different categories, or ask them to choose any three activities from a list of five.

Another way of offering them more control is to allow them to earn rewards by completing different tasks. On a daily basis, I ask my kids to complete a couple of chores, do some reading, practice their typing and get exercise (just to name a few things) before I allow them to play video games. The Nintendo time slot in the late afternoon is their delayed gratification reward for doing well throughout the day. It also nicely coincides with the time of day I tend to have video calls.

Allow kids to choose from a variety of tasks:

3 – Be flexible

Before you accuse me of talking out of both sides of my mouth, while you should have structure and offer control, you have to be a little flexible, too. But, how?

Consider the schedule a fluid priority list. It’s not critical that some of the tasks happen at a specific time, but perhaps just that they happen that week. If you’re working from home, you already know that flexibility is essential to accommodate feeding your kids lunch during the day and addressing their occasional skirmishes with each other. The good news is that many employers are offering more flexibility and understanding than ever before. So, my co-workers are well aware of my kids sneaking into my office while I’m on a video chat.

Also, don’t forget the physical interpretation of flexibility, too. Make sure you’re creating opportunities for your children (and you!) to exercise and move around.

Get moving:

4 – Be forgiving

It’s not a time for our normal standards; we’re still in transition to a potential new normal. Tensions are high because we’re all under more stress than usual; therefore, grace toward others should be a priority. Don’t judge, support.

That means you shouldn’t stress or have “mom or dad guilt” because your kids are getting more screen time than you’d normally prefer. We’re doing the best we can. Make it work by helping to provide options for “quality” screen time that might teach your kids something worthwhile.

5 – Foster social connection; albeit distantly

For the sake of our sanity, social distancing can’t also mean social disconnection. While we all need to be doing our part to slow the spread of COVID-19, we should absolutely be creative about using technology to connect our kids with friends and loved ones who can help us while we work at home.

My son and a friend have a virtual playdate scheduled for today to play Battleship. They each have the game at home, so it will be easy for them to play via video conference.

Other ideas:

  • Plan a Zoom video call with your baseball team or Brownie troop
  • Shoot a video skit to share with your friends and ask them to return the favor
  • Have a grandparent read a story via video conference

6 – Celebrate iteration

Because the ExactHire team is a software company, one of our internal mindsets is to iterate and improve on initial experiments…whether they be in development, marketing, sales, client service or even remote work. The idea behind iteration is that it doesn’t cause us to delay launching a concept in an effort to make sure it’s 100% perfect first. Instead, we launch a promising idea, product or service, and then constantly improve upon it as we go–after all, we can’t predict the future to know what will work perfectly the first time.

How can you instill that fearlessness to innovate in your own children? Now’s the time to talk to them more regularly about the types of things you do for work since they have a front row stage to your work habits. Additionally, there are activities you can share with them that will help them explore new skills and experiment with unique ways of doing things.

Stretch their imaginations:

7 – Remember mindfulness

Above all else, as challenging as times may get, don’t forget to be grateful for what you still have and mindful of your mental state’s impact on others. If you are anxious, then your kids will be anxious, too.

What can you do together and/or provide to them to promote relaxation, appreciation and a mind-spirit-body connection?

Be mindful together:

There are many things I would change about the current situation and my hearts go out to everyone for this unanticipated hurdle we are banding together to overcome. However, I do recognize now as an opportunity to nurture the resilience of my children, and to be a family with ever stronger values around how we spend our time.

Working and Onboarding Remotely?

If your organization is allowing more remote work than ever, you may need options for remote employee onboarding, too. Contact us for a demo of ExactHire’s employee onboarding software and make remote onboarding seamless.

 

How to Not Screw Up Remote Employee Onboarding

Whether your team’s hiring its first remote employee or its 79th, don’t skimp on putting thoughtful intention behind your new hire onboarding program for remote workers.

Go ahead, pick out your worst fear about hiring remote workers below.

  • If I can’t see them, will they just do their laundry instead of work?
  • Our employees need to be “on” during our regular working hours, how can they if they’re roaming coffee houses around Europe with a 6-hour time difference?
  • Company culture and connectivity will suffer if we can’t play ping pong in person together, won’t it?

Did you have trouble picking just one? That’s okay, so did ExactHire when we started allowing employees to work remotely over seven years go. Our organization has come a long way since then, and–with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic–we have adopted the mentality of “remote first.” That is, truly distributing the workforce in such a way that remote work is the default setting–not just an option available to some. SaaS companies like StackOverflow and HelpScout are worth further investigation if you’re considering this cultural pivot for your employer

Remote first = distributing your workforce in such a way that remote work is the default mode.

Another relevant read is Remote: Office Not Required by Basecamp Co-Founders, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. This book details Basecamp’s evolution into a remote first organization, including both the pitfalls and unexpected wins along the way. There’s no shortage of inspiration on how to make remote working arrangements possible for your organization these days.

In this post, I’ll focus on how to not screw up employee onboarding once you’ve committed to hiring a new fully-remote employee. For someone who is brand new to your organization and away from the office from the start, consider these items for your onboarding checklist.

1 – Make expectations and goals crystal clear

In the absence of in-person onboarding activities, picking up on body language and being a bystander to water cooler talk is more challenging. Therefore, organizations should put themselves in the shoes of new hires and brainstorm the details that new employees won’t necessarily absorb on their own.

Being transparent about expected working hours (despite time zone of new hire), explaining how organizational culture manifests itself and sharing milestone targets about what job success looks like at three months, six months and beyond are just a few of many possible details.

For example, in Remote, the authors talk about how it’s important for Basecamp to give its new hires a heads up that they may be bombarded by social media follower requests when joining the organization. Because their company is remote first, it has become common for employees to connect with one another on social media in order to get to know each other more quickly in the absence of traditional face time in the office.

2 – Make over communication a way of life

Nothing can trip up a remote working arrangement more quickly than a shortage of sufficient communication. If your company wants to make remote work work, then you need to embrace many modes of communication (“different strokes for different folks”) and in particular, abundant written communication.

Particularly if your remote employees are spread across different time zones, a bigger portion of your company’s internal communication will be asynchronous–with employees reading email, chat messages and Slack updates anywhere from minutes to hours after they are originally sent.

To amplify the effectiveness of asynchronous communication, be clear about your needs and consider capturing screenshots and creating short videos to better explain tasks and challenges to co-workers when big time zone differences diminish the ability to connect in real time.

Consider your communication culture and whether it makes sense to go to the extent of asking people to update their status when away from Slack, instant messenger, etc. While ExactHire doesn’t quite go this far, we do have an internal document that lists general working hours for all employees since individual availability varies widely depending on the day of the week.

3 – Organization is everything

While we’ve already established that communication is critical, committing to written communication goes deeper than the one-off messages and company announcements that happen on a daily basis. In the same way that ExactHire maintains a support knowledge base full of training documents for our customers about our products, employers with remote workers have an even greater responsibility than traditional employers to document policies, project statuses and resources in an internal knowledge base.

And, it’s not just about basic documentation, but also the style or approach you take for documentation and communication. For example, at a previous employer I was quickly indoctrinated into the organizational norm of referring to all employees by just their initials in written communication, as well as the practice of hiding unwieldy URL addresses behind anchor text in interoffice emails. Mind you, this was a decade ago…before it was a tech-based cultural norm to go to such formatting lengths.

Internal consistency in communication supports effective organization.

Additionally, having easy-to-use tools to track items is essential. For example, in addition to Slack, ExactHire has leveraged platforms such as Google Docs, Trello, Basecamp and Jira for internal collaboration on a daily basis in recent years.

4 – Paperless employee onboarding

For both new hires and existing staff members, the employee onboarding process is full of opportunities to miss details. Take the pressure off of remembering which employees should be prompted to complete which new hire documents, tasks and forms by leveraging employee onboarding software.

An effective onboarding platform automatically presents the right paperwork, onboarding tasks and training prompts to different new hires based on factors such as their geographic location, FLSA status, security clearance and role type. Because additional to-do items are only presented to new hires and internal onboarding process stakeholders when certain basic prerequisites are already satisfied earlier in the process, the experience for the new hire is positive and stress for the staff member is minimal.

5 – Create inspiration with preparation

It’s stressful enough for a new hire on her first day at a new job in a traditional office. Now imagine how much more awkward a remote employee’s first day on the job can be if the employer is unprepared for her arrival.

Prepare new hires to hit the ground running quickly by sharing a super detailed onboarding plan and training schedule with them before their first day. Include links to your internal knowledge base and make resources for additional learning easy to find and searchable. This written documentation will easily fill the gaps between video conference calls and virtual job shadowing sessions with co-workers.

From a hardware standpoint, outfit new employees with the equipment they need to start work on day one. Your approach to this will vary depending on whether you ship a computer, phone, headset, etc. to your remote employees or have a policy in place that allows them to bring their own device (BYOD) to work. Regardless of your approach, make sure that all equipment and software access follows internal security protocols and that new hires are trained on how to handle secure data and what to do in the event of a breach.

Be sure to give new hires access to relevant communication groups, recurring calendar events and internal online resources in time for their first day–along with instructions or a description of each item’s objective. There’s no quicker way to alienate your remote employees than to forget to add them to your monthly all-hands meeting call, and then interrupt it fifteen minutes in to invite them to join last late.

6 – Tell your culture story

Fostering connectivity can be a struggle in a remote-driven workplace–especially in an organization that has transitioned from a traditional in-person office to a distributed workforce. While veteran employees instinctively understand the core values, mission and unwritten ways of doing things, newly hired remote employees won’t become a thread in the organizational tapestry without understanding its roots and also being prompted to share their own background.

Create a series of videos about key aspects of the company’s past that can be embedded into the onboarding process. Host a monthly company trivia session where employees log into Google Meet or Skype to answer questions and compete for swag.

Telling the organizational story to new hires is a best practice, but savvy employers will also build in the opportunity for its diverse new employees to make their own mark and share their own background. This might be accomplished with a virtual employee directory that features fun facts about new hires; or, occasional “lunch and learn” webinars that invite new employees to do a show and tell about their own city/country or hobbies and interests.

7 – Promote peer mentoring

Mentoring is not a new concept for employee onboarding; however, adopting it as a practice for a remote workforce is an emerging trend. From job shadows with veteran employees in a new hire’s first few days to monthly milestone check-ins with a designated “buddy,” virtual mentoring has a great deal of possibility for remote-friendly workplaces.

When creating a virtual mentoring program, account for factors that may influence likely success between mentor and mentee; such as, time zone difference, job role, interests and behavioral tendencies as evident from an employee assessment.

Take 1-on-1 mentoring a step further and invite mentors and mentees to quarterly tweet-ups or video conferences in which newer hires have a forum in which they can ask questions of mentors in real-time and within a group format. By listening to the questions and answers of peers, as well, new hires will likely shorten their own learning curve.

8 – Make time for face time

When done right, remote work allows employees to focus for longer periods of time without interruption. While distractions may occur in both the office and at home, there’s a distinct difference between immediately responding to someone knocking on your door versus waiting a few minutes to finish a task before responding to an email.

Utilize video conference platforms such as Zoom or GoToMeeting to allow all employees to synchronously connect whenever the need arises. Perhaps your cultural norm is even to ask employees to always use video chat rather than voice-only phone calls when connecting for a meeting. However, when planning such video calls, and to be considerate of potential time zone differences, be intentional with the time allotted to focus on social connectivity rather than just covering things that might be more efficiently discussed via email.

Even in modern, 100% remote first workplaces, there’s a place for in-person interaction. Many employers that have largely distributed workforces still make time at least once per year to gather in person for social connection–as an entire organization. And while this type of event can inflate the company travel line item significantly, that is the tradeoff between having the overhead attributable to a physical office location versus employing a remote first approach. If that approach would break your budget, then consider smaller meetups between departments instead.

9 – Feed off of feedback

Emojis were once reserved for text-happy teenagers lamenting their latest breakup; however, in recent years they’ve earned their place as a remote work mainstay because they help express tone and emotion in a situation that might otherwise omit context for one’s mood.

And while it might still be a stretch for some to include them in email messaging, they thrive in messaging platforms such as Slack. And, they’re particularly helpful in a remote workforce when employees may have never met in person and do not yet understand the nuances of their peers’ personalities. Emojis are one way of leveraging feedback on a micro level so that remote employees can gauge how they’re communicating or performing.

On a macro level, employers hiring remote employees must give and receive feedback early and often throughout the onboarding process.

  • Gather new hire input in the pre-boarding phase to make sure that incoming employees have a firm grasp of the resources available to them to get started.
  • Hold virtual town hall meetings for new hires three months into their employment tenure for ideas on how to improve remote employee onboarding.
  • Make sure that supervisors have a regular cadence of offering constructive feedback to direct reports throughout the first year of employment, especially.

Successful Remote Employee Onboarding

Make your objective to create experiences in which remote employees feel as assimilated and supported as traditional in-office employees. Remember that it will take some experimentation, careful hiring and an open mind. If you don’t get it exactly right the first time, gather feedback to make an adjustment and try, try again!

Download ExactHire's Employee Onboarding Checklist

Healthy Working From Home: Part 2

If you work from home, your friends have likely told you how lucky you are, or how they wish they could work at home too. Their minds immediately go to the benefits of working from home. They overlook the challenges of working remotely.

In the first part of this blog series, I wrote how remote workers can maintain good physical health by making a plan to avoid bad, unhealthy habits. However, in order to stick to any plan, a person needs to be mentally strong and disciplined. And as with your physical health, there are certain bad habits to avoid in order to maintain mental fitness.

Please Note: the following advice does not attempt to resolve, minimize, or otherwise simplify the seriousness and complexity of mental health disorders.

Bad Habits That Affect Your Mental Fitness

 


You’re Not Sleeping Well

This bad habit could very easily be discussed with physical health because it is foundational to your overall health. However, poor sleep can often be the first domino that falls in a series of bad habits that affect your mental fitness. Not getting enough quality sleep negatively impacts your judgement, mood, and memory. Poor performance in these areas can lead to further negative outcomes–physical health being one of them.

So any discussion of improving your mental fitness while working at home must begin with establishing a prerequisite for good sleep. The National Sleep Foundation quantifies that as 7 to 9 hours per night for most adults. Seems easy enough, but why is this a challenge for remote workers?

The late weeknight has many temptations: television, page-turning books, social media…a few drinks with friends. These are possible temptations for all workers, but there are little justifying thoughts that can pop into the head of a remote worker: “I’m working from home tomorrow. I don’t need to get ready for work. I don’t need to drive to work. I can sleep in a little. I can stay up a bit later.”

Five episodes of Game of Thrones later, you’re finally getting to bed at 1:00 AM. You plan to get 7 hours, but you’ll wake up at 6:45 AM, unable to get back to sleep. So you put the coffee on and start your day.

There’s no getting that sleep back, even with a midday nap. Your day is off to a bad start and you haven’t even started working. This provides the mindset for a host of bad habits to follow–some that are listed below or covered in part one.

Your Solution: Set a bedtime that provides for enough hours of quality sleep. And go to bed on time! To help yourself in this task:

  • Move to your bedroom at least 30 minutes before you plan to fall asleep.
  • Use that time to read, meditate, sudoku, crossword puzzle, or talk to a loved one, but NO screens (phones, tablets, TV’s, etc.)
  • Ensure that you have a completely dark and quiet room–blackout blinds, non-visible alarm clock, and a white noise machine will all help with this.

You’re Not Focusing

It’s hard to focus on a task when you’re tired, but there are other things that can cause you to lose focus as well. Stress–internal stress and external stress–can cause your mind to wander while you’re working anywhere, but at home it can become more prominent.

Internal Stress

When most people hear the word “stress,” they think of internal stress–worry, anxiety, dread. Often times internal stress is the result of outside factors associated with work, interpersonal relationships, or other ongoing responsibilities and commitments. It’s these factors that initiate the stress, but then it continues to exist in your mind.

When working from home, internal stress can often be exacerbated. Work stress is higher when communication with coworkers is weak or inefficient. Interpersonal relationships may be strained if family members fail to respect your home/work boundaries. And then there is the constant temptation to attend to house chores that you’ve been putting off–laundry, vacuuming, lawn care…that DIY project.

External Stress

External stresses are short-lived and immediate, though they may occur frequently. These are almost always a result of the environment and affect one of your five senses. They may also be a factor that contributes to internal stress.

If you’ve ever been dutifully working from home, only to be interrupted by the sound of your neighbor cutting grass, then you’ve been affected by external stress. That interruption might, in turn, remind you of the need to cut your own grass (internal stress), which you can’t do tonight because your child has a soccer game (more internal stress)…suddenly you’ve lost focus!

Your Solution: As best you can, make an effort to control your work environment and structure your schedule. One of the great benefits of working remotely is the ability to enjoy the coziness of your home. However, this should not be confused with working anywhere within your home at anytime. Set boundaries with the following tips:

  • Print out your work schedule and share it with your family members and overly neighborly neighbors. Let them know that you cannot be distracted when working.
  • Create a quiet, clean space with a quality desk and chair, free from distractions, to help you maintain focus on your work and keep external stresses at bay.
  • Lean on the side of over-communicating via email with co-workers. For particularly complex or important discussions that must take place while you are at home, call or use video chat.
  • Structure your free time wisely. Sometimes working at home makes you feel like you’re always on the clock. It can be difficult to transition from working for your employer to working for yourself, but by using your free time wisely to take care of household chores and personal commitments, you can lower internal stress while working from home.

You’re Not Engaging With Coworkers

Good communication with coworkers is important for productivity and to reduce stress when working from home, but it also serves another purpose when working at an office. Communication helps coworkers engage with one another through the sharing of experiences. This sharing can easily be threatened when a team is working from home.

We all know about the dangers of working from your email, or allowing email to manage your work schedule. Because of this, recipients often prioritize the emails they receive, and senders streamline the emails they send (no one wants to be the annoying emailer). Although these strategies help keep the focus on work, they also reduce the opportunities to share.

When working from home, there is no water cooler or break room for small talk. You really have to go out of your way to engage with coworkers, and it may seem forced or unnatural. The physical space between you and your co-workers may even make you feel that engaging in small talk while “on the clock” is somehow wrong.

Your Solution: Team bonding is difficult for remote workers, especially if they are working from home full-time. To a large degree, a team’s ability to overcome this really depends on their personalities. But organizations can facilitate bonding by creating a structure that provides opportunities for sharing. A few ideas for this include:

  • Schedule at least one day per week when the entire staff works from the office.
  • When a physical office is not available, have a weekly department meetup for remote workers at a coffee shop, co-working space, or library. Or have a team member host at their house!
  • Require staff to share a short, weekly “non-business” update with the team on Mondays. This could be a weekly “How was your weekend?” email chain.
  • Conduct remote meetings via skype or another video enabled chat service. Seeing each other’s faces may make you feel closer.
  • Host monthly, low-cost gatherings that are “non-work” such as a happy hour, miniature golf, or bowling.

You’re Not Motivating Yourself

Finally, your mental fitness can really be at risk when you fail to motivate yourself through work. No one wants to work in an office with a manager constantly looking over their shoulder, suffocating them. But the opposite scenario can be equally challenging.

Working from home by yourself can be, at once, both empowering and isolating. This is especially the case when communication or engagement is low or poor. Even for those who are intrinsically motivated, it can take some time to adjust to working remotely. Thankfully, there is no shortage of resources on self-motivation! But first, you have to recognize that your motivation may be lacking.

Your Solution: Take inventory of your current level of motivation.

  • Do you feel that you are accomplishing something meaningful everyday?
  • Are you staying “on task” on a consistent basis?
  • Are you contributing new ideas to the organization?
  • Do you feel that you have grown as a professional over the last 3 months?

The full answers to these questions can tell you a lot…more than just whether or not you are motivated. But what’s most important to know is that you are in control of these answers.

Answering “yes” to these questions will not always be easy. It requires self-motivation, goal setting, and discipline. And answering “no” to these questions cannot be automatically blamed on your employer. An organization can create a structure for you to succeed, but it’s ultimately up to you to get to “yes”–especially when you’re working from home.


Working From Home | Plan Healthy Habits

Sleep, focus, engaging with coworkers, and self-motivation are four key areas of mental fitness that are vital to maintain when working from home. Building strong, healthy habits in these areas can be challenging, especially for those who are transitioning to remote work.

A good strategy is to structure your workday as if you were, in fact, in the office. Arrive and leave at the same time everyday, and schedule breaks consistently. Do everything you can to simulate an office environment in a designated area of your house, and let your family and friends know your schedule–and its importance. To stay motivated, you can write reminder notes of your goals and post them in your workspace.

As you become accustomed to working at home, you can begin to make small adjustments to your schedule, like working on the patio for an hour or taking a trip to the gym over lunch break. This will make it easier to adjust to changes and allow you to enjoy the full benefits of working from home.

 

ExactHire provides paperless hiring software that makes it easier for teams to complete their work from anywhere. Our applicant tracking software and employee onboarding software provide HR teams with the tools they need to communicate and manage hiring processes effectively.

 

 

Healthy Working From Home: Part 1

Working from home can be a fantastic benefit. You avoid stressful commutes. There’s no need to pack a lunch or get all dressed up. For that matter, you really don’t even need to change out of your pajamas. You can just roll out of bed and get to work.

However, the convenience of working at home can also lead to some convenient bad habits. Those bad habits can negatively affect your physical and mental fitness. Fortunately, you can keep bad habits at bay by anticipating them in advance and developing a plan to avoid them.

Working From Home | Bad Habits That Affect Your Physical Fitness

Most of the time poor fitness is due to poor choices. We all have the opportunity each day to make positive or negative choices for our health. While the choices available to some will vary, the following are the ones that I have encountered as I’ve worked remotely at home.

You’re Not Moving

Your home is comfortable. Your bathroom and fridge are nearby. You have a dedicated office space. Everything is at your fingertips. All of this helps you complete your work efficiently at home. However your super work efficiency can also translate into inefficient physical fitness.

I occasionally use a FitBit to track my movement at home. On some days, I log only 700 steps. Those are bad days. My back becomes stiff. My eyes are strained. And I’m exhausted at the end of my day–even though, physically, I’ve done very little.

To address this challenge, I schedule “active breaks” throughout my day that accompany other required movements. Here’s an example:

  • Bathroom break? Complete ten push-ups as I return to my office.
  • Just completed a task on my checklist? My reward is 10 “mountain climbers”.
  • Thirsty? Do some light stretching and arm rolls.

These active breaks–for the most part– are quick and easy. Along with these active breaks, I plan more intense exercise at the beginning and middle of my day.

  • Breakfast? Walk 15 minutes around the neighborhood.
  • Lunch? Run 2-3 miles, or spend 45 minutes in the gym.

Scheduling workouts for the morning and mid-day provide you with energy for the few hours that follow and allow you to relax at the end of your day–no pressure to go to a crowded gym after work, you earned some couch time.

You’re Not Clean

As mentioned before, working from home makes it tempting to avoid “getting ready for work”. It’s just you in that house, so who cares whether you shower, change your clothes, brush your teeth, or otherwise attend to your hygiene?

Well, you should care. Good hygiene is important not just for how people see and perceive you, but for how you see and perceive yourself. And although you might not face the results (or embarrassment) of poor hygiene on one particular day at home, those days will add up.

Fortunately, avoiding this bad habit is pretty straightforward. Just get ready for work in the morning as if you are going into the office. This means getting up, showering, dressing, and “leaving the house” at the same time each day. I like to listen to the radio for 15 – 20 minutes before “leaving” and “arriving” at work.

You’re Not Eating Well

This kind of goes along with bad hygiene. When you’re at home, you have a lot of freedom and privacy to structure your time however you like. This is a good thing when used wisely, however it can very easily become a health liability.

For instance, working from home affords you the opportunity to prepare and eat whatever you want. There are no challenges associated with packing, refrigerating or reheating your meals. You can cook up a strong smelling meal and eat at your desk without fearing the ire of your coworkers. However, this freedom may also open the door for some bad habits like:

  • Skipping Meals: While you might view this as being more productive, becoming overly focused or immersed in your work and forgetting to eat can drain you of energy. You may be working more, but the quality of your work–both the product and your experience–will be poor.
  • Bad Snacking: Failing to set aside time to eat well, and instead snacking throughout the day, can  be dangerous. A bag of tortilla chips can disappear over the course of an afternoon, and man (or woman) cannot live on tortilla chips alone. Healthy snacks between meals are fine, but they shouldn’t substitute for well-balanced meals that power you through the day.

It’s tempting to avoid structured breaks for breakfast and lunch, but by respecting and planning for mealtimes you will bring more energy and focus to your work.

You’re Not Sitting Correctly

That couch looks comfortable. Real comfortable. You could probably lay down on it, place your laptop on your stomach, and…STOP!

Your eyes will be too far from the screen, forcing you to lean forward, which will likely result in a rounded back and hunched shoulders. Or the screen will be too close, scarring your retinas, forcing you to bend your neck, arms, and wrists in a weird way. All of that nonsense is a recipe for pain and discomfort. Not to mention, your laptop will be gasping for air as it burns your stomach. Couches are meant for lounging, not working.

Office furniture has come a long way. Most chairs have several adjustment options and boast “enhanced ergonomic designs.” Although these aren’t cheap, or as comfortable as lounging on that inviting couch, investing in one will save you aches and pains in your back, neck, shoulders, eyes…basically your whole body.

Not only do armchairs, couches, and patio chairs lack the proper support for your work, they put you in the wrong mindset for work. Mixing a recreational space with a workspace introduces the temptation to relax and indulge when you should be focused on your work. So the way you choose to sit (or stand) can affect a lot more than just your comfort; it can negatively influence your entire work experience.

Working From Home | Plan Healthy Habits

Exercise, hygiene, diet, and posture are four key areas of physical health that you must maintain when working at home. Unfortunately, the comforts that are inherent in your home can make it tempting to neglect your physical health. In this sense, some of the benefits that come with working at home can actually be liabilities.

To resist the temptations that lead to bad habits and poor health, it helps to set goals for health and work, and then structure your workday accordingly. This can be done using an app such as “Balanced”–which has tons of capabilities–or simply use your current calendar program to schedule your health activities. Regardless of how you approach your planning, it’s important to document and track it as you begin. Bad habits are hard to break, and good habits take time and accountability to develop.

 

ExactHire provides paperless hiring software that makes it easier for teams to complete their work from anywhere. Our applicant tracking software and employee onboarding software provide HR teams with the tools they need to communicate and manage hiring processes effectively.

 

 

Working From Home

Most Americans wake up, take a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, pack lunches, drop off the kids, drive to work, work, eat lunch, work some more, drive home and pick up the kids every day. The rat-race, Groundhog Day, déjà vu…. whatever you call it — it can be a drag. And if the employee is dragging, his/her work most likely is too. In this modern day and age, telecommuting is becoming a major benefit to employees and employers. Since the vast majority of the workforce is already using technology and SaaS (software as a service) programs, it is easy to transfer the daily workflow into the home office environment.

Gone are the days of loathing traffic every day! You can even work in pajamas!

You can mow the grass, go swimming, buy groceries, clean the house, or any other number of activities on your lunch break. Some practical benefits include reduced transportation costs, elimination of travel time, and comfortable clothing. These simple pleasures are translating into employees working longer hours, enjoying that work more, reducing personal stress-levels, and increasing productivity. To the dismay of some traditional thinkers, employees will work without micro-management. They might even work better that way.

Rush-Hour Relief

It is common to lose an hour or more each day during the commute to and from work. After an hour of public transit or driving alongside a myriad of road-rage, close-calls, and stop-and-go traffic the average employee can be grumpy or worn-out by 8AM. The employee has been up for hours without producing any work yet. On the other hand, an employee that telecommutes merely rolls out of bed and opens a laptop while brewing that first cup of coffee. Emails can be read in leisure while awakening the body and brain for a great day of working from home.

Balance

Job satisfaction is much higher when the employee has some control over the environment and daily schedule.  Working from home can make the joys of juggling children, a relationship, and work a lot easier.  Doctor appointments? Kids have school/ activity obligations? Need to get dinner started early? Somehow, these tasks are a lot easier to accommodate when you are operating from your home. Telecommuting is a wonderful way to ease the responsibilities of adulthood. However, going into the office two – three days a week can really improve the general office demeanor. Most of us like some personal interaction with our co-workers, at least when we aren’t missing our child’s game just to ‘show face’ at work. Workers are happy to get into the office and see their co-workers, maybe go out to lunch or meet up after work. And the office can be fun, especially on those days when Martha brings homemade cookies or Katie brings her famous lemonade. Balance can be just as important for the workplace as it is for the home life.

Technology

Smart phones, tablets, 3-D movies, touch-screens, and a little thing called the internet have all made our personal lives better. Businesses are also benefiting from the new technologies that are available today. Companies that utilize cloud-based data centers and SaaS applications are saving money on hardware and equipment. At the same time, these types of technologies allow employees to save time and money by working from home.

ExactHire provides SaaS recruiting and employee onboarding applications. For more information, please visit our resources section or contact us today.

Image credit: MySpace by Risager (contact)

How ExactHire Makes Telecommuting a Competitive Advantage

Let me start by saying that I realize telework options won’t work for every company…there are many factors that contribute to the feasibility of this increasingly popular employee benefit such as the products/services offered by the organization, nature of specific jobs, company culture, behavioral characteristics of the employees, etc. However, let it be known that flexible work arrangements are a tremendously beneficial aspect of our culture here at ExactHire. We incorporate them in a number of different ways, including employees that work from both the office and from home, others that work entirely from home, and some that work part-time during different blocks of time during the day. In this blog, I’ll share some insight from a few teammates about what telecommuting means for them personally, as well as our organization as a whole…including some lessons learned, pitfalls to avoid and how to use it as a competitive advantage.

What Qualities, Values and Personality Traits Should a Flex Worker Possess?

Given the nature of our business which is to help organizations use technology to automate and improve the results of the hiring process, it isn’t an accident that we have a fairly involved and comprehensive selection process for our own employees…even when hiring for part-time people. Job fit is so critical for a small organization, especially, as we all wear so many hats and rely on everyone on the team to pull his/her weight. That being said, we always say that “we treat each other like adults” and instill trust in one another to get the job done — often (physically) unsupervised. Our own Randi Shuck adds…

“We’re more efficient. Everyone ‘knows their role/position’ and if you’re not playing your part, it’s evident. We don’t have the luxury of not doing what we said we would do because if you don’t have your piece completed, the engine stalls. Whereas if we were working in the same office, someone else would notice you’re not doing your part and pick up the slack.”

You might think that its easy to say that we just rely on trust…but its not as simple as that. We can do that because we first thoroughly screen applicants by examining past performance and using behavioral-based employee assessments that give us a view into the hard-wiring of an individual as it relates to his/her natural inclinations and motivations. And, by knowing one another’s personality traits (we actually have everyone’s behavioral assessment scores on a shared drive we can all access), it allows us to approach each other in the manner most likely to be productive. While there’s no perfect benchmark for the bionic telecommuter, there are a few important characteristics that we tend to share…

Nancy Meyer, Client Services Associate, says:

  • Organizational skills and the ability to prioritize tasks
    • Because we are a small team, we rely on clear communication around setting expectations with others so that they understand how we are prioritizing tasks and when to expect things to be completed.
  • Self-starter who can handle multiple projects without over-the-shoulder direction
  • Comfortable with asking questions as necessary
  • Quick learner of new software platforms
  • Proficient nonverbal (i.e. through email and instant message chats) and verbal communicator

Christa Wynk, Financial Manager, says:

  • Dependability
  • Self motivation
  • Being able to think outside the box
    • So true…as when you happen to be working at home and perhaps can’t reach someone on the phone (and certainly can’t bop into another’s office) in order to ask for help, your creative problem solving skills need to kick in to think of an alternative solution to a problem.

Randi Shuck, Project Manager in Client Services, says:

  • Someone who is willing to find solutions on his/her own using available resources
  • One who is willing to communicate in a clear and concise fashion
    • A great example of this is using email subject lines strategically so that with one glance the recipient knows what type of action is required, when it is due, and to what topic it is related (thanks to Randi for bringing this innovation to our office!).
  • Someone who has no interest in being micro-managed and can get work done without that micro-management
    • Of course most people won’t say they want to be micromanaged…it has a negative connotation. However, we can’t afford to employ people who can’t stay on task unless they have constant direction and decision-making assistance.
  • One who wants to be part of a team (but is okay with lots of independent time too)

Jeff Hallam, Co-Founder, added:

  • Accountability (on top of the items mentioned above)

Of course not all of us are a “10” in each of these categories…but, in general we favor the side of the spectrum on which each of these characteristics lie. Plus, since we are completely up front about the availability of flexible work options during the hiring process, we improve our odds of attracting people who have the maturity and passion for making it work. Don’t get me wrong…you’re sure to attract people who aren’t well-suited for the opportunity, as well…but that’s where a rigorous screening process and the inclusion of validated employee assessments comes in!

How Has Teleworking Impacted Our Company?

I think one of the most rewarding effects of our flexible policy is that when people are “on the clock”…they are truly present (whether in the company or home office) and passionate about the work they are doing. It is rare for someone to miss work because of illness (either his/her own or a love one’s ailment), too. Since at least on a part-time basis, all of us work from home here and there, we eliminate our commute (I love this part since mine is 50 minutes!), lower our monthly gas expenses, and have more time to spend with our loved ones at home. That makes us happy. And, you tend to be more loyal to an organization that brings that balance to your life while at the same time offers you the chance to really enjoy the type of work you are doing, too.

Harlan Schafir, Chief Visionary Officer, says:

  • It allows us to attract people who need real flexibility in their schedule. As the job market tightens, this practice opens up different people to us that might not be available if we were more restrictive in our working arrangements.
  • Additionally, it helps with the cost of real estate because it allows us in some cases to have rotating employee workstations vs. assigning everyone dedicated work spaces.

Jeff says:

  • The chance to work from home, even on a part-time basis, is a great attraction tool for new employees.
  • Happier team members are less stressed because of their better work/life balance — i.e. things can be done around the house while still being productive…even when working from home.
    • I couldn’t agree more Jeff…instead of spending an hour and a half in the car every workday, I can work out, get a few loads of laundry done and start dinner in the crock-pot in the morning!

Nancy says:

  • Productivity and employee loyalty are strong because ExactHire shows a commitment to work-life balance…which is a motivator to do well in return for the company.
  • Also, teleworking allows us to keep abreast of new technology and resources for us to complete our tasks more efficiently.
    • We walk the product talk here…as since we offer software-as-a-service (SaaS) products, ourselves, we are naturally inclined to be huge users of them, too (i.e. Gmail Chat, SalesForce, Formstack, Google Voice, Cirrus, Google Docs, GoToMeeting and the list goes on!). They allow us to work anywhere we have an Internet connection while we collaborate remotely.

What Are the Disadvantages of Working from Home? How Do We Cope?

Of course some employers will have nightmares of their employees glued to soap operas or playing video games all day long, and as we discussed before, that can happen without due diligence in the hiring process and attention to accountability roles within the organization. However, being aware of the pitfalls is half the battle in overcoming them in the first place. Here’s a run-down of our take on potential distractions and how to beat them:

Christa says:

  • Maintaining motivation – when stuck at home for a week due to a snow storm, for example, I could tell I was losing my productivity. For me, its important to split time between the office and working from home. (Christa works mostly at the office)

Nancy says:

  • Lack of consistent verbal conversation (work and non-work related) with colleagues – I make the effort to reach out to them and find ways to verbally communicate with them (via phone or visits to the office)
  • The winter! Watching the snow was a downside because I was tired of the tremendous amount we received; however, I was glad not to be driving in it.
  • Weight gain – working in yoga pants and easy access to snacks doesn’t help the waistline…so I find ways to be active outside of working hours.

Randi says:

  • Lack of face to face socialization…but then you join organizations and participate in those meetings if that is of interest to you.
  • Distractions can also be a downside. So I make myself a dedicated work space and say “only during these times will I get up and venture to the washing machine.”

Jeff echos:

  • Less face time with other team members. We offset that with weekly A.M. “catch-up” discussions, periodic potlucks, etc.
    • Every now and then we’ll plan an optional activity for everyone and their loved ones to attend outside of working hours, too.

The irony lies in the fact that every single one of us happens to be on the higher end of the social scale…yet despite that, we’ve made it work well in our company and we all recognize our need to get our daily social dose in other ways that don’t affect our productivity or our enjoyment of our work.

I’ve shared what works for us and how it has impacted our company so positively in recruitment, technological resources we make available to be more efficient and sustained engagement. Our formula won’t fit every business, but I hope that it helps start the conversation as to whether flexible work arrangements are plausible for your company. We’d love to hear how your organization creatively incorporates them, as well!
For more information about employee assessment tools available from ExactHire, please visit our pre-employment testing features page or contact us.

Image credit: Day 2: This is what I call Tellecommuting by Tina Lawson (contact)

Umm…I Can’t Come to the Office Because of the #Polarvortex

A snow day! The best words of winter to anyone under the age of 18… and often 21. Here in Indiana we’ve been impacted by the “polar vortex.” The winter witch dropped over 14 inches of snow within 24 hours. While it created incredible sights and terrific workouts (shoveling snow), we were all stuck in our homes for days.

Think of all the great things you could do! Wash all of the bed sheets, mop the floors, reorganize the home office, get a headstart on that New Year’s resolution of exercise. Sounds lovely, huh? Based off of my Facebook news feed, however, I believe most of my friends actually have messier houses, have eaten everything in sight, and several can’t stand to be trapped with their loved ones in a house for a few days.

Similar to my friends, I did not have an opportunity to tackle all of those great things (aka household chores) I mentioned earlier because I was busy having one of the most productive work weeks I’ve had in a very long time. That’s right, no snow day here; it was business as usual.

The Wonders of SaaS During Snow

Just because it’s snowy where I am, doesn’t mean it’s snowy where my clients are located. As long as we have electricity and internet, we can keep the doors open for business. We often talk about how our ExactHire technology solutions are SaaS products. Software as a Service, or SaaS, applications can be accessed anywhere you have an internet connection. Forgot your laptop at work before the snowstorm? No worries…grab your personal laptop or tablet and access the software via the internet.

Because many people are confined to their home during these snowy days, I noticed an uptick in the amount of jobs being posted. Way to go administrative applicant tracking system users! Good job on working through the “distraction” of snow, and children, and anything else staring you down during your time at home. I also noticed an increase in the number of people applying for jobs.

Clearly we cannot tell, too far in advance, when the weather will give us such a large amount of snow, but we can file this bit of information away for later this winter or next winter. If people are snowed in, it’s worth your time to share your posted jobs to social networks – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

If you’re not currently using a SaaS product for your hiring process, I would recommend checking out our selection of applicant tracking and employee onboarding software options by visiting our resources section or contacting us for further information. If you are already on board, I hope your snow day was productive.

Keep warm everyone!