When we talk about “working in the cloud,” it’s usually in reference to the digital realm—files stored online, accessible from servers around the world rather than our local hard drives. But let’s take a moment to reminisce about the original clouds—the fluffy, white ones that float above, turning ominous before a storm.
Last year, I had the unique opportunity to work in those original clouds, and no, it’s not a metaphor. My office was 39,000 feet above planet Earth. While this might sound like a nerve-wracking prospect to some, for seasoned business travellers, it’s become the norm.
Armed with a tablet and other mobile devices, daily tasks and much more can be seamlessly accomplished while jet-setting on business trips—or, in my case, returning from a holiday in the UK.
So, how does this airborne productivity unfold? The airline I flew with provided WiFi access via satellite for a nominal fee, enabling me to respond to emails and check my calendar. All the necessary documents were on my tablet, along with the essential apps. Once I completed my tasks, I uploaded the documents to the digital version of the cloud, making them accessible to my assistant.
In the dynamic landscape of technology, constant change and improvement pave the way for enhanced productivity. For me, staying abreast of current technology transforms idle time into valuable productivity. The idea of having the option to get ahead on my workweek during a 6.5-hour flight is empowering. Yes, the surroundings were a tad cramped, but it worked.
As technology continues to evolve, the possibilities for leveraging travel time productively are boundless. Do you seize the opportunity to embrace technology while on the move, or do you prefer to use travel time as a moment to relax and unwind?
One of my favourite business books is “Raving Fans – A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service” by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. Published in 1993, the concepts in this book are as relevant today as they were then – perhaps even more so. One of the best ways to increase customer retention is to simply over deliver whenever possible. Giving your customers or clients more than they were expecting is a great way to keep them returning to your store or website (read: “raving fan”).
Who doesn’t like to get free stuff?
How can you over deliver to your customers as often as possible? Here are some unique customer service ideas to get you started (not surprisingly, it’s the little things that count and it doesn’t have to cost much).
- Give your customer a bonus, this could be a sample product, access to a coaching call or access to a private mastermind;
- Send them an article or a website link about something you know they’re interested in;
- Offer your customer a coupon for a discount on their next purchase. This also helps to get your customers visiting your store or website again. You could also offer a free sample, a consultation or a buy one get one free;
- If you offer a service, the best way to over deliver is to get the project finished ahead of time. Beating deadlines is a wonderful way to add value to your own offers and gain lifelong customers;
- Small gestures can go a long way in gaining appreciative customers. Sending a handwritten thank-you note by regular mail is one way to achieve this. Other small gestures include sending birthday and anniversary cards, or any number of other card ideas. (Tip: ‘Lumpy mail’ gets opened more often than flat mail…)
- Why not set up something such as a Customer of the Month or Customer Shout Out. Here you would thank your customer or highlight something they did that you thought was really cool;
- Invite them on an outing at your cost and go with them – a round of golf, a cycling trip, concert, festival. This is a fantastic way to build rapport with your customers and shows them you care.
Don’t forget to celebrate with your clients and customers and even fellow business owners. If they win a new contract or make a significant improvement in their business, send them a card or small gift. This sends the message that you’re paying attention.
Another fantastic way to over deliver to your present customers is to network with other business owners. Refer local businesses that offer quality services and products, which you do not carry. By doing this, you create resources for your customers and clients and you also help support local business. Always be sure to check out these sources first though because your reputation is on the line. You don’t want to recommend a bad resource or product to anyone.
When you think of the most expensive admin assistant on the Planet, you might think of someone like Tony Stark’s assistant who puts up with all his quirks, but who is handsomely paid for her hardship. Or a billionaire’s assistant who is available 24/7 and at a moment’s notice may be called upon to drop everything and jump on a plane to Tokyo to attend meetings with their boss. You might think that…… and you would be wrong.
YOU.. yes.. you… are the most expensive admin assistant on the planet.
How can this be true? It’s because studies show that administrative tasks take up as much as 25% of an organization’s time.
So, what does this mean? Before we even talk about the dollar cost of this truth let’s talk about time. As a business owner, working a very conservative 60 hours a week, this equates to 15 hours per week. Which may not seem like that much, but how about when we look at the annual cost of this truth?
720 HOURS per year the average business owner spends on administrative tasks, that’s THREE MONTHS! Take that 720 hours and multiply by your client charge out rate. Not only is that a lot of money for doing back-office work that you shouldn’t be doing in the first place, it’s also money you haven’t billed because you’ve been doing “the paperwork”. If you outsourced these tasks alone at a much lower rate (hopefully) than you bill your clients, just think what you could do with an extra three month’s worth of time and a whole lot of extra money every year!!!
- How could your organization grow?
- What activities could you do with your family?
- How could you invest in your network and members?
- How could you serve your community?
If you have ever thought, “if only I had more time…” (you know that’s just an excuse, right?!?) and yet repeatedly find yourself burning the midnight oil filing invoices, inputting information into a database, updating your social media (or wishing you had time for social media)…
Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day so why not change things up and use those hours to full advantage?
Outsourcing of services is becoming more and more mainstream and with the abundance of former corporate workers who have vast knowledge and experience and now run their own businesses, you will likely be able to find someone to help you for a reasonable amount of money. Just as business owners can operate from just about anywhere, resources can provide services from anywhere. But whatever your needs are, always remember: “buyer beware”!!
Here’s a few things to consider when outsourcing:
- The lowest priced outsourced solution may not be the best; good people cost money and beware that even these days, you still get what you pay for.
- If you’re just starting out, outsource from the very beginning with a Virtual Assistant and a bookkeeper and grow your team from there. As your business grows, you can take on a web designer, a ghost writer, a graphic designer, an executive assistant, a project manager, etc.
- Don’t outsource a task just because you don’t want to do it. There will be tasks that only you can do because they’re important to operations and strategic plan.
- Always strike a fair deal with your resources and treat them with respect. You’re relying on them to handle important tasks for you and your business so don’t take advantage of them.
- Bartering. This is a great way to get things done for no cost in exchange for services. Make sure that you and the resource are clear about the terms and that the services you each provide are both what you want. Beware that this mode of payment isn’t for everyone.
On the personal side of your life, you might think about outsourcing to further free up your time:
- A personal assistant to help keep you and your family organized;
- Housekeeper/house cleaning service;
- Property maintenance;
- Grocery service, errand service
When I first started my remote support agency, I thought I would lay-off my housekeeper, thinking that since I would be working from home, I could manage the house myself. A very wise business coach I met during my early networking days advised me against it. The reason? “You’re going to be at work during the day.” She was correct, of course, and my housekeeper is still with me to this day. What are your priorities? What would make your life easier and be less stressful for you? Give it some thought!
One of the key questions that a remote business employer receives from clients, or those thinking of starting their own virtual business is, “How do you know your employees are getting anything done? I mean, you are paying them but, what are you getting in return?” The easy answer is ‘Outcomes and Results’, as noted in our last blog post Managing a Changing Environment.
On the flip side, this article tackles some of the big questions asked by some of our remote employees:
- How do I know if I am doing a good job?
- Is there more I could be doing? Am I just one software program away from being able to obtain more work?
- What are other employees for the company doing and how do we all fit together?
- How do I work collaboratively with other employees to share ideas?
- What is the big picture for the company and how is my work a part of this?
The ability to answer your remote employees’ questions helps them know where they stand in the big picture of your organization and can increase productivity.
Although much of a remote employee’s work is done using technology, clear communication goes a long way, even in these days of remote ‘everything’. Whether through email, a phone call or an in-person meeting, remote employees can accomplish a great deal by using all forms of communication and answers the questions above.
How do I know if I am doing a good job?
Employees should simply ask the question to their employer and be prepared for potential constructive criticism. Employers should be monitoring the progress of the employee’s deliverables and be ready to provide this feedback, whether positive or constructive. Consider the setting to provide this feedback. An in-person meeting may be warranted, as an email may not provide the sentiment and feeling behind such a conversation.
Is there more I could be doing? Am I just one software program away from being able to obtain more work?
Again, employees should ask the employer if there is any available work, followed up by asking what tools and experience are required to do this work. Employers should check in with their employees to see if they have an interest in taking on other work and checking to see if there has been any change in their available tools to help you with your business.
What are other employees for the company doing and how do we all fit together?
Employers may want to consider planning opportunities for all employees to get to together to share work ideas and get to know who is playing what role in the business. Additionally, employers may want to create an employee list with contact emails and identification of who is working on what files, if it is secure to do so.
How do I work collaboratively with other employees to share ideas?
Following on the last point, employees may want to take advantage of opportunities to meet with others in the organization and share ideas with the entire team. Perhaps send an email to keep in contact and consider asking your colleagues if you have a question or need help, if your employer is ok with that.
What is the big picture for the company and how is my work a part of this?
Employees should have this discussion with their employer not just at the time of hire, but every once and a while to check in. The organization may have changed or new projects started and it is important for one to know where their efforts in an organization have an impact.
These questions are just the tip of the iceberg; making communication with and between employees integral in a remote business is an important component to the relationship. So, if you’re feeling stuck, remember to just ask!
Over the past several years the physical landscape of the traditional office space has changed to evolve and promote productivity of its workers. Ergonomics assessments, increasing natural lighting and working with flexible schedules are examples of changes that have helped in this regard, but what if your employees are finding they are more productive outside of the office environment?
While some companies have successfully integrated the ability for workers to work from home where feasible and as shown in this Globe and Mail article,(dated 2017) some managers and leaders find it challenging to manage workers that are not located on the company’s site. Many times, there is a trust issue between management and employees or hired virtual workers that need to be dealt with to allow a successful off-site arrangement to work. These issues are as relevant today as they were when remote working was becoming more commonplace.
A common question that we hear is “How will I know if the work is being done right, or being done at all?”
The simple answer: Outcomes and Results.
The proof is in the pudding as they say. This may be accomplished by setting goals for the day, week, and month for the off-site worker to meet and if actual time worked is a concern, the worker can submit a weekly time sheet either manually, or using time tracking software online.
For the most part, when an off-site worker is trusted they may feel more invested in a company that understands the importance of working off-site and may want to have their best work shine through in those results and outcomes. So if you’re on the fence about off-site work, here are just a few benefits to this way of working:
- Your very valuable time. The day of a manager or leader can be packed,with all employees in the office valuable time is taken by “doing the rounds” to check and see what everyone is up to, but is there a value in this?
- Workers that have opted for off-site work tend to be more productive, as there may be things within the office environment they find distracting or may just work at a different pace and timeline than what has been established as the norm.
- Workers that have opted for off-site work and have been given the opportunity to do so may have greater respect for those they are working for, as they may feel they are being understood.
- Many off-site workers tend to find a better balance of their social commitments and work with less absenteeism.
- Communications with your off-site worker are as simple as picking up the phone, sending an instant message, sending an email, or starting a Skype conversation.
Remember though that remote working isn’t for everyone! Some people are their most productive working on their own in peace and quiet (like yours truly). Other people need a place to go every day and work well with interruptions and face-to-face interactions. Either way, in today’s information society it still comes down to outcomes and results however, working remotely allows for much more autonomy for the responsible human to provide the results on the due date without management knowing when the work was actually done.