Tips and How-Tos
December 26th, 2012
By Breanna Banford, Social Marketing Specialist, Xerox Enterprise Business Group
We all know that 2013 will be here before we know it. Are you prepared for what’s ahead? As a send off, we’re counting down the final days of 2012 with our bloggers’ top tips for you and your company.
- Get the lowdown on the importance of a security policy and the steps to build one for your company: Why Your Business Needs a Security Policy (and how to create one)
- Budgets are tight and projects are piling up. Tapping into the virtual workforce can keep you moving forward, but it not always rosy. Be a pro e-manager: Building a Team of Virtual Workers: 4 Issues to Avoid
- Social media will continue to be a relevant asset to grow and nurture your customer base. For the business professionals out there, LinkedIn is vital: LinkedIn for Business Professionals – Connect to Your Future
- We all want to get the most out of our work day, but sometimes there are mysterious setbacks that leave you feeling drained. Learn more: Four Hidden Productivity Killers (and How to Fix Them)
- Your team is comprised of the best and the brightest. As flex schedules and virtual teams increase, be sure to use technology to stay in tune with each other: How To Choose an Online Platform for Collaborating with Your Coworkers
5, 4, 3, 2, 1 … Happy New Year!
What business advice will you take with you into 2013?
December 20th, 2012
“I’ll just do it myself.” Or so you thought. After an hour of fruitless effort, you’re no closer to completing the task than when you started. As time passes into the second hour, your mind races with all the other things you should be doing. What a waste. It’s too bad you didn’t delegate this, right?
For many business owners and managers, this is a common frustration. Knowing when to delegate a task can certainly be challenging. This is especially true for smaller companies with limited budgets and human resources. The good news is that the booming virtual workforce allows businesses (both small and large) to efficiently delegate tasks. In this article, we’ll consider some criteria for matching business needs to delegation feasibility in the virtual age.
Snapshot of the Virtual Workforce
In case you haven’t noticed, the United States has transitioned into an economy heavily reliant on services. In fact, according to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, service industries account for 68% of U.S. GDP and four out of five U.S. jobs. The virtual workforce (i.e. the sum of all “online” workers, including virtual freelancers, work-from-home consultants, offshore sourcing centers, etc.) continues to be an expanding part of the global services industry. Millions of business owners have already benefited by building “blended teams” of in-house and online workers. However, the question still remains: when do I delegate?
Do vs. Delegate
Much like the “make or buy” decision we all studied in Economics 101, today’s business owner is faced with a similar decision point: do versus delegate. As we’ve established, it can be quite beneficial to delegate work to your virtual team. However, when is it best to do so? Below are a few questions I tend to ask myself when making this very decision.
- Do I have the budget? All things start and end with the bottom line. If there is no budget, it might be better to consider in-house resources.
- Could this be a repeat delegation? Repetition lends itself nicely to delegation. Delegate it once and then reap the benefits going forward.
- Could I do this myself in less than 15 minutes? Delegation, although efficient, does require some administrative follow up (training, project management, payment processing, evaluation). In my experience, such follow up will take at least 15 minutes of your time per project.
- Is this time-sensitive? If a fire’s burning, you can’t let the building burn down. Unless you have contractors perpetually on-call to assist you, the task may require your immediate attention.
- Will this take me away from a more value-added activity? Try to frame the decision through the lens of activity-based costing principles. If you do it yourself, technically it’s not “free.”
- Is this strategic (or not)? Sometimes strategic tasks should remain in-house. Intellectual property, corporate strategy, and risk are all factors that should be considered.
- Do I already know a contractor who can do this? Having a “go to” online worker is an important step. The recruiting process can be tricky in the virtual world. I find it beneficial to be continuously recruiting prospective team members.
- If I decide to delegate, who will be the in-house accountability liaison? Are you going to personally follow up with the online worker to ensure quality and timeliness? If not, who within your blended team will?
- Should this be an hourly or fixed-price delegation? Some projects lend themselves better to a “fixed price”, one-time payment structure. Others are more suited to an ongoing hourly arrangement.
Eventually You Just Know
It would be nice to have a simple decision tree that always tells you the correct answer. However, in my experience, delegation has many variables that need to be examined on a case-by-case basis. Considerations such as budget, staffing, and timelines all factor into the equation. If you haven’t already tapped into the virtual workforce, I’d recommend you delegate a few projects to get your feet wet. After a while, you begin to get a feel for the delegation rhythm.
The content shared in this blog post is the author’s opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of Xerox. Matt Keener is President of Keener Marketing Solutions, LLC and is also the author of the book Executive in Sweatpants. Visit his blog for helpful tips and tools for launching and growing a successful online consulting business.
December 7th, 2012
More often today companies are accepting the new flex schedule for their employees. This goes beyond the “working mom” status of the past, where employees today have the freedom to choose the schedule that fits their needs. If you work in an environment where you need to be creative or focused, that doesn’t just happen at 3 p.m. when that days’ meetings end; it happens when it happens. While this isn’t perfect for every industry, it does suit some people and the goal is to provide the option for those employees that will thrive in a flexible company culture, which in turn benefits the employer.
As Nichole Kelly, president of SME Digital, stated in a recent article, “This isn’t so much about the desire to work from ‘home’ as it is to work from ANYWHERE.” That means, having access to your pertinent business files anywhere, even outside your company firewall, all the while knowing it’s secure. We’re a mobile world today and want to have the ability to use the mobile technology provided to us by all those innovative companies out there!
Beyond access to virtual work documents, it’s important to remain a team, even if people are always on the go. There are ways to set up team meetings in a productive way, outside of the office with virtual workspaces and video conferencing tools. These tools behoove you to work efficiently, to make use of the time available to you as a group and avoid unnecessary conference room meetings where half the people are multitasking anyway. One thing I’ve noticed is that if you’re on a video conference call everyone can see what you’re doing, so subconsciously you’re more likely to participate and pay attention. Somehow that’s not the same for in-person group meetings. The list can go on about why flex schedules work well for employees and their employers. Here’s my takeaway:
The Benefits of Flex Schedules
- Productivity blends with creativity – You’re most efficient when you have to freedom to do your tasks when you know you can complete them, sometimes outside the 9-5 schedule, which can be limiting.
- Work/life balance – Family and friends are important in life so enjoy them while you can. It’s important to turn off your phone or step away from your computer, a difficult thing to do in the always-on world we live in.
- The employer benefits too – Employee morale improves and they’re engaged in their projects.
- Global, contract workforce – You can source talent from all over the world, it doesn’t have to reside within the circumference of your city.
- Encourage social networking – This is an instant form of idea generation and inspiration (within reason… employee guidelines for engagement are valuable). Social and online collaboration are great ways to connect people to great ideas.
- Economy- booster & energy-saver – Employees who work from home drive less, which results in lower green house gas emissions, building cost savings for companies, less traffic on the highways and more money in your pocket after saving hundreds buying less gasoline. Here’s one way to calculate the savings.
As we enter 2013, future workplace trends will impact how we work. There are pros and cons to both sides of the flex schedule story. So, what do you like most about it? Do you wish you had that option at your office or not?
November 27th, 2012
By Larry Kovnat, Senior Manager of Product Security, Xerox Global Product Delivery Group
Security is something that we all think we understand. So why is it so hard to attain good security? I think it’s because most people believe they have an understanding of the threats in their environment. I grew up in a big city. I always lock my car. My wife grew up in Rochester – years ago she never thought about locking the car. This simple example reflects the informal “training” we each received growing up in our respective environments. Threats that may exist in one place don’t necessarily exist in another.
I think that’s where people get tripped up. It’s why computer security is so baffling to so many. And it’s why it’s so important for the IT organization to put a great deal of effort into security awareness and training. Otherwise, it is very easy for people to make simple mistakes that could result in very serious security breaches.
Consider the consequences: Under regulations like the Health Insurance and Accountability Act (HIPAA), or industry standards like the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards, organizations are responsible for protecting the personal data of individuals. Any compromise of the data could lead to embarrassing headlines, fines, or even prosecution of the organization’s principals. Therefore, it’s essential that everyone in the organization understand the sensitivity of the information they’re dealing with, and know the proper procedures for handling it.
Awareness is key: Regular communication to the members of the organization about security policies and best practices is a must. To be effective, the communication should be repeated often, using as many different communication vehicles and methods as possible like posters, emails, web postings, social media, etc., says John Folkerts, Director of Xerox Information Security. He says, “Security training done well turns every employee into a member of the virtual security team. We try to engage each employee at Xerox with required training, periodic communications, and reinforcements from senior management.”
A good security program should also include the availability of more focused training and employee education. For example, Sue Zak, Manager of Xerox Technical Engineering Services & Learning says, “We provide a security learning path to ensure our development teams understand key security concepts, secure coding principles, and the value of examining security risks early on in product development.”
That’s a start at a few ways to keeping your employees informed. The more they know, the better. What are your thoughts?
You can find more information about Xerox and security at our website www.xerox.com/security
November 22nd, 2012
By Breanna Banford, Social Marketing Specialist, Xerox Enterprise Business Group
In the U.S., we’re celebrating Thanksgiving today. Since my whole family will be in the same city for the first time in months, I anticipate my mom will be gathering us together for our annual Christmas card photoshoot. ‘Tis the giving season and what better way to connect with your family, friends, colleagues, and customers than by sending a seasonal card!
Who doesn’t love to receive a piece of mail? It’s a rarity these days, but an easy way to show you’re thinking of people who matter most to you during the holidays, especially if you’re miles apart.
The process is simple:
- Simply select and download the card(s) or template(s) of your choice.
- Customize with your message or photo (if applicable).
- Print and enjoy!
November 16th, 2012
By Breanna Banford, Social Marketing Specialist, Xerox Enterprise Business Group
A colleague recently shared a TEDTalk video from Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Her TEDTalk followed that same theme. I was immediately intrigued because I always felt that introverts (I am one myself) are often forced into a world of extroversion early on in life. We’re encouraged to be social butterflies when we would rather to go back to our cocoon. After watching the video, I thought about how this concept fits in the working world. How can we find that balance between extroversion and introversion in the office environment, to empower both groups of people to work in the ways they feel most comfortable? Secondly, how can we maximize our talents as individuals to benefit the organization as a whole?
Susan stated in her TEDTalk that a third to half of the population are introverts. She also quickly emphasized that introversion does not equate to shyness; a common misconception. Rather, introversion is more about how you respond to stimulation – introverts feel the most engaged and creative when they’re in quieter, low-key environments. And yet, she says the world is designed for extroversion. Creativity and productivity are assumed to come from group brainstorms and open workspaces. As a self-proclaimed introvert, I am not able to do my best work in those environments. I do my best work when I can focus in my own comfortable space. When I went from working in a cubicle to an office, I felt instantly more productive knowing I could put a barrier between myself and common office distractions, specifically when I knew I needed to focus.
With this new understanding, how can team leaders and managers strike a balance to provide introvert colleagues with a work environment in which they can thrive? Here are a few steps to consider when forming a collaborative team:
- Hiring Tips: During the interview process, incorporate behavioral questions to better understand how the candidates work best based on the role and responsibilities. What resources do they tap into for team collaboration? When and how are they at their most creative? That will help you better integrate this new member to your team, giving them access to resources that will empower them.
- Office Setup Tips: The open office setup (think newsroom, desk or cubicle farm) isn’t an automatic collaboration hub. Some people don’t work well in those environments because it’s difficult to block out distractions. After better understanding your employees (see bullet 1), know that some may work better with a place to relish in quiet time. Offer a flex schedule that allows them to work from home or set aside small conference rooms for employees to schedule time to concentrate in a quiet, closed off space.
- Brainstorming Tips: Instant idea generation is not an inherent quality among introverts so brainstorming sessions can feel stifling when put on the spot to be creative. Share guidelines or an agenda for your next brainstorming project a week before the team meets. Introvert employees can have time to process the information on their own and come to the meeting with the creative ideas that they feel most comfortable sharing with the group.
Overall, it’s important to recognize the differences among your employees to play up their strengths. The more you know about them and how they work well, it’s more likely they will feel inspired and able to contribute beyond your expectations.
I’m curious to hear your thoughts – does this resonate with you? Would it be a culture change for better or worse in your office?
November 1st, 2012
Your business goals are obvious….to you. If asked about your short-term and long-term priorities, you could probably speak for hours. Profitability is a necessity; however, a higher calling is what really drives you. This need for self-actualization is an underlying motivator for many entrepreneurs and business professionals.
As business owners know, this level of passion can be difficult to ignite among your team members. The reality is that some employees and contractors are simply interested in collecting a steady paycheck from you. Furthermore, with an increasing number of businesses tapping into the virtual workforce, management issues can become even more complex without an effective game plan. Let’s take a look at a few ways you can translate your vision into a happy and productive virtual workforce.
Start (and End) with Your Vision
What is your organization’s true purpose in the world? Are you simply in the business of developing software for hospitals, or are you actually in the business of helping hospitals save more lives and reduce the cost of healthcare (through the use of your software)? It’s much easier to build rapport with prospective team members when your vision is clearly defined and serves a greater purpose. It is important to communicate your vision during the interview process. Try to identify contractors who share your vision and express an interest in bringing it to fruition.
Virtual workers, like traditional employees, want to feel they are being helpful. Many workers are motivated by regular positive reinforcement and encouragement. Once you’ve built your team, it is important to hold regular progress meetings. During these meetings, you should start with the “big picture” and provide your perception of how things are progressing. This type of meeting is especially valuable in a virtual work environment, as there are fewer opportunities for interpersonal communication. Don’t just assume that your team knows what you’re thinking.
Build Trust Through Automation
When your team is spread throughout the world, it’s easy to lose track of simple administrative tasks such as payroll. Forgetting to pay your team members can quickly damage the trust you’ve built with them. Luckily, there are tools that can help you automate this process. For example, oDesk’s Time Tracker automatically tracks your team’s hours and pays them for the exact amount of time they bill. No invoices, no payroll hiccups, no oversights… just happy team members.
As an added perk, such automation tools are also in alignment with the business owner’s goals. Streamlining the payroll process saves the entrepreneur time, frustration, and reduces the probability of operational disturbances. As any business owner will tell you, staying out of the weeds will help you stay focused on the bigger picture (i.e. realizing the corporate vision).
Set Clear Deadlines but Don’t Micro-Manage
As discussed in the book, “The One Minute Manager”, managing a team doesn’t need to be a daily headache (even in a virtual setting). In fact, by leveraging technology, the one-minute delegation is actually more feasible than ever. Set clear expectations, check progress against those goals, and provide honest feedback. It’s OK to be firm with your team members. If he or she is not performing to your expectations, express your concerns and provide constructive criticism. Other than that, stay out of the way and let your team use its creativity to accomplish its goals.
Today’s the Day – Get Motivating!
Your team is looking to you for leadership. Whether you’re leading a small team of onsite employees or hundreds of online workers, the need for leadership remains constant. Will you lead by communicating your vision, building trust through automation, and setting clear goals? By focusing on these three key areas, you will be well on your way to success. There has never been a better day to get started than today.
The content shared in this blog post is the author’s opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of Xerox. Matt Keener is President of Keener Marketing Solutions, LLC and is also the author of the upcoming book Executive in Sweatpants. Visit his blog for helpful tips and tools for launching and growing a successful virtual consulting business.