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Back…to the office

The only certainty about life after a pandemic is that there isn’t much certainty. Masks on or off? Six feet of distance or three? Shake hands or nod hello? It depends on who you ask.

Given the changing and conflicting information out there (or the lack of it), it’s no surprise that after a year (or more) at home, the prospect of returning to a building filled with other human beings is stoking office workers’ anxiety. A 2021 American Psychological Association survey found that 48 percent of vaccinated respondents were still apprehensive about face-to-face interactions.

If you’re among those facing a return to your workplace and aren’t sure how you’ll handle it, take a deep breath and read through this collection of suggestions to help you prepare for office re-entry.

Before you return

Do some mental preparation. Psychologists use imagery to help people cope with anxiety-inducing situations. It may help you to spend a bit of time now imagining some of the scenarios you fear encountering at the office, and how you’ll deal with them. That can help you prepare emotionally if they do happen.

Have a dress rehearsal. If you can, go into the office before your return date. Look around and see what’s changed. Sit at your desk. Do a little tidying up after the year of disuse. Stock your drawer with masks and sanitizer if you’re still using them. Organize your desk, add some updated photos and maybe a new plant if you’re allowed. Make it welcoming for your first day.

Reset your sleep schedule. It wasn’t just stress that played havoc with many sleep schedules. When you can work late into the night, roll out of bed five minutes before starting time or grab a catnap at lunchtime, it’s easy to get into bad sleep habits. A week or so before your return date, gradually adjust to your new/old schedule by 15- or 30-minute increments each day.

Once at work

Wear a mask if you choose. If you live and work in an area where masking is based on an honor system, how can you know who’s being honorable? You can’t. So, if you’re more comfortable wearing a mask during the day, don’t apologize and don’t let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t. It’s your decision, full stop.

Keep washing and sanitizing. Even though touch is a less frequent method of COVID-19 transfer, wash your hands often. As a bonus, it will help protect you and those around you from other bacteria and viruses. It also doesn’t hurt to wipe down your work area with sanitizer wipes at the beginning of your day—especially if you share a desk.

Set your boundaries and stick to them. If you’re not comfortable with hugs or handshakes yet, it’s okay to say no. If you’re not up to going out into crowds with co-workers, that’s your right, too. Explain to them what feels comfortable and safe for you in a clear, kind and non-judgmental manner—and be willing to understand others’ thoughts and boundaries, too. Use “I” statements to let them know why your boundaries are important to you: e.g., “I have little ones at home who aren’t vaccinated yet, and I don’t want to risk bringing something home to them.” Honesty is the best way to re-establish a respectful and compassionate working relationship.

Remember, some anxiety is normal. Even if they don’t say it out loud, your co-workers probably have anxieties, too. Allow yourself some time to adjust—after all, your surroundings may be familiar, but the world is definitely not the same as it was the last time you walked out the door. And if you do find yourself struggling, please don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor or mental health professional, who can help you take the steps needed to ease your way into your next normal.

Summer’s here, and the world is opening up again. However, not everyone feels comfortable traveling just yet. And that’s fine—there’s lots of fun to be found in every area. Here are some ideas to help you and your family have an enjoyable summer close to home.

female sitting with young girl standing wearing hat and backpack with backs looking at an outdoor elephant habitat at a zoo

Stargaze—You don’t need a telescope to watch the stars; some advanced research, a pair of binoculars, a free astronomy or NASA app, and time for your eyes to adjust to darkness will help you see stars. Grab some pillows and blankets, turn off or get away from all the lights you can, and lie back to identify constellations or look for the space station.

Create a garden—If you don’t have the room or the inclination for vegetables or flowers, create a wondrous fairy garden in a corner of your yard or a yummy herb garden in a planter. Playing in dirt is always fun, and if you include little ones in the process, it’s a great chance for them to enjoy fresh summer air and learn more about nature.

Visit local outdoor attractions—It’s likely the outdoor museums and zoos in your area will be open with appropriate safeguards this year. Whether you have kids or not, why not get out and visit these places? They’ll be thrilled to see more patrons, and you’ll have the chance to reconnect with local attractions you may not have visited in years.

Go geocaching—If you’re not familiar with this activity, defines it as: “A real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.” It’s popular, fun and easy to get started with information you can find online. There’s a whole community and unending adventures just waiting for you.

Take a scenic drive—Pack up the car with snacks and drinks, hop in, turn up the music and get outta town. You don’t have to go far; just drive out to the country or to the next town, take the kids on a tour of family landmarks, or stop at a local metro park for a picnic and to let everyone stretch their legs. You’ll be surprised how good a change of scenery feels.

Other ideas include mapping out a walking tour of your town, shopping at local farmers’ markets (summer produce is the best!), or enjoying an old-fashioned backyard water balloon fight when the summer heat and humidity climb. No matter your age and no matter how many people in your circle, have fun like a kid again and enjoy everything your area has to offer.

We live in a data-driven world. And because data is so readily available, businesses have the ability to tap into key metrics to measure against set goals. Whether those goals are to reduce staff turnover or client churn, increase profits, or extend the average client life cycle…having a KPI (key performance indicator) strategy in place is essential for long-term success.

While data tracking and monitoring key metrics is critically important to business success, the abundance of data available can cause information overload. To help you navigate the world of KPIs and build a “starter plan” of sorts, this article offers three tips to creating a sound KPI strategy.

#1 – Choose the right KPIs

Not all KPIs are created equal. The first step is to understand the difference between lagging and leading indicators and why both need to be monitored.

Lagging indicators show results over a period of time (e.g., total sales in the closing quarter). These are easy to measure and provide quick answers on whether set goals have been met. For example, if you set an ambitious goal such as doubling sales by the end of Q4 (compared to Q2 sales), the ultimate lagging indicator is annual revenue or profits.

Leading indicators capture data that has an effect on an outcome. This makes leading indicators useful for predicting outcomes. For example, if an online retail store shows a sharp drop in the purchase of a popular item, the company could predict a drop in overall quarterly sales. Monitoring leading indicators helps you get ahead of predictable trends and make adjustments to influence positive outcomes.

#2 – Foster a KPI-driven culture

The goal here is to get your entire organization talking about data! When everyone speaks the data language, it better supports a company-wide KPI strategy.

To build a KPI-driven culture, be sure to offer regular staff training on the value of KPIs and the metrics each department is responsible for tracking. Also, be sure to assign the proper leads to champion KPI progress and ensure staff are kept updated as your strategy evolves. Finally, make sure you have the right technologies in place to collect and analyze data, and make KPI dashboards available to required staff.

#3 – Implement a process for KPI refinement

It’s important to understand that KPIs are subject to change. You can bet that over time customer behaviors will change and business goals will evolve in response to market trends. This calls for businesses to refine their KPI strategy on a regular basis.

Over time, you may discover that a KPI is not helping you progress toward a specific goal or that it’s driving the wrong actions. For these reasons, commit to consistent KPI evaluation and enhancement as you move forward. The formal process of refinement requires you to monitor what is working and what is not.

You exercise your body to stay healthy, but how often do you exercise your brain? Research has shown that keeping your brain cells strong and sharp can help lower your risk of developing dementia. Here are four ways to make sure your body’s busiest organ keeps running smoothly.

  1. Keep doing. Brain activity stimulates new nerve cell connections and may even help your brain build new cells. Activities that can help jump-start that process include:
    • Reading and writing.
    • Taking courses through local programs (adult education, community programs, community colleges) or online.
    • Solving crossword, jigsaw, Sudoku or any other types of puzzles you enjoy.
    • Taking up hobbies and crafts that require creativity or manual dexterity.
    • Attending lectures or plays.
    • Trying new things: learn to play an instrument, travel to a new city.
  2. Move often. When you use your muscles, you help your mind by increasing the number of blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to your brain. You’ll also help develop new nerve cells and build connections between your brain cells. Plus, the usual benefits: lower blood pressure, cholesterol, sugar, and stress. And you don’t need to run a marathon; walking, gardening, dancing, playing tennis, or swimming all fit the bill. Aim for 30-60 minutes several times a week.
  3. Eat healthy. Feed your body, feed your mind—but feed them well. It’s been proven that people who eat a Mediterranean-style diet are less likely to develop dementia. That means less red meat and salt and more polyunsaturated oils, colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, plant proteins, and fish. Foods that are especially brain-friendly include:
    • Wild salmon
    • Blueberries
    • Beans
    • Avocados
    • Dark chocolate
  4. Stay social. People with strong social networks have a lower risk of dementia, since social connections are believed to strengthen the connections between your brain cells. Social interaction also helps fight off stress and depression, which can contribute to memory loss. Stay alert for opportunities to connect with loved ones, friends, and acquaintances, and consider volunteering or being part of a book club or hobby group if you’re missing the company of others.

As we get older, we all have the occasional memory lapse. But practicing these four basic habits—along with getting enough sleep, limiting alcohol, and not smoking—can help keep your blood flowing and ensure your body and brain stay active and vibrant for many years to come.

Now that you’ve been working remotely for several months, how are you feeling about your shared office apps? If you’re still scrambling to put together a set of tools that meet your virtual needs, here are some applications that will go a long way toward making everyone feel like they’re working together as a team…even when you’re not in the same office.

Video meetings

  • Zoom—The most popular way to meet virtually, Zoom offers several levels of service. One of those is a free option that lets you meet with up to 100 participants for 40 minutes.
  • Google Meet—With a Google account, you can create a video meeting, invite up to 100 participants and meet for 60 minutes free. Paid plans offer more options.
  • GoToMeeting—No free plan, but since it’s made for business, you’ll find hi-def video and other features for smaller teams that you’d normally see in enterprise-level plans.

Instant chat/messaging

  • Slack—In addition to direct messaging, Slack makes it easy to share files; access archives; and create channels, groups and reminders. There is a free option, but it’s limited.
  • Microsoft Teams—Close connectivity with Office 365 and lots of features makes Teams the perfect messaging app for your company if you already use Microsoft tools.
  • Google Chat—If you already use Google’s paid G Suite, Google Chat can help your team connect with each other by direct message or group conversations.

Calendar management

  • Outlook—One of the most common calendar apps, Outlook’s familiarity is a major strength. If you know how to use Office 365, you know how to use Outlook.
  • Calendly—This scalable software works with your calendar to automatically check your availability, cutting down on the amount of back-and-forth when scheduling meetings.
  • Google Calendar—If you use Gmail or any other Google app, Google Calendar can sync your calendar across all of your devices as long as you’re logged in with your Google account.

A final option to consider that doesn’t really fit into any of the categories above is Google Drive, which contains Google Docs, Google Sheets,and other apps. It’s more of a file storage system, but it’s free and a great way to create, circulate, and review documents and spreadsheets.

With any of these applications, you’ll take significant strides toward creating an efficient remote office that feels much less remote.

Smartphones. Most of us can’t live without them. They’re an indispensable addition to our daily lives, so it’s always nice to find new ways they can help us save time. Here are some smartphone productivity secrets that can help you dial up more efficiency during your day:

  1. Charge your phone faster
    Turn on your phone’s airplane mode while charging. Even better, turn your phone off. The benefit? Your phone won’t burn energy in a continuous effort to connect to cell phone towers. For the fastest results, don’t use your phone while it’s charging.
  2. Avoid having ads in your apps
    Any in-app ad that slows down your phone can be avoided by turning on airplane mode or turning off your internet connection. If ads keep popping up even with the internet off, clear your cache to enjoy your app ad-free.
  3. Use your iPhone’s call and reply reminders
    The iOS operating system for iPhone includes auto-reply and “remind me later” features that can help you deal with calls when you’re busy. The “remind me” feature uses a GPS- or timer-based prompt and can be triggered while the phone rings. If you choose the option, you’ll be reminded to call back.
  4. Picture recognition can save time
    It used to be that you had to search in a browser by typing to find the information you were looking for. Now, thanks to image recognition software you can identify specific objects in a picture using applications like the Google Goggles photo recognition tool. Simply upload your image and Google Goggles will run the query against its massive image database to provide near-matches.
  5. Turn your smartphone into a master remote
    Many smartphones now come with infrared (or IR) blasters that can be paired with IR-controlled devices—which means you can use your phone as a remote. You can also use your smartphone to check whether an infrared-based remote is working.
  6. Delete the last digit in iPhone calculator
    Imagine that you’re calculating a chain of long numbers and you mistype one digit. Just swipe right or left—problem deleted!
  7. Measure up with your smartphone
    If you find that you need to measure an item but don’t have a measuring tape handy, check your phone (or the app store) for the measuring tape feature.

Use your phone to lighten your load
These are just a few smartphone hacks to help you simplify your daily life. You can look online or browse your phone’s app store for more tools that will help put little-known smartphone secrets to work for you.

The case for content

young female sitting and reading content on a tablet

If your business has a website, you’ve heard about the importance of content. Lots of content—educational, timely, entertaining, and frequently updated information that helps boost your search rankings and engage visitors.

Still, you might be asking: Our customers come to us because of the products and/or services we offer, so is it really that important to push out a steady stream of content?

The short answer is yes. And here are four compelling reasons why:

  • Good content develops trust—The goal is to not only attract prospective clients with engaging content but to keep them coming back and build relationships. But like any relationship, it’s easier to commit if prospects see that you clearly understand their challenges and can help solve them. Authoritative, user-friendly content that addresses their concerns and shows them how to solve a problem—without a sales pitch—will establish you as an empathetic expert they can rely on and trust.
  • High-quality content takes on a life of its own—Website visitors are more likely to read and share content if they find it valuable. A clear and concise blog or social media post on the latest trends in your industry or common pain points (and how to resolve them), for example, serve as useful information that visitors will be more compelled to share.
  • Engaging content makes you stand out from the competition—When consumers are comparing businesses online, what makes one stand out from the others? Yep, you guessed it: helpful, thoughtful content. Take the blog or social media post example from above. If the information presented proves to be timely and helpful to readers, they are more likely to come back to your site (while forgetting all about your competitors).
  • Valuable content builds your email list—A website visitor is just that: someone who pops in, looks around, and pops back out. But if visitors have the option to download, for example, a free eBook that focuses on how to solve a common issue or simplifies an otherwise complex topic, they are more likely to provide their email in exchange for your content. And that means you can add another prospect to your list.

Content is a must in today’s web-driven world—enabling businesses to stand out from the competition and provide both clients and prospects with helpful, educational information. If you have not yet, it’s time to jump on the content bandwagon.