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Instead of letting people go, company retrains staff for new roles

(BUSINESS NEWS) Ad tech company Mediaocean prioritizes employment in a crisis, and as a result saves jobs while bolstering business capacity. An example for all.

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When times are tough, layoffs are often employers’ first line of defense of their bottom line. Human capital is by far the most expensive in-house cost, and is an obvious solution to immediate, large-scale savings.

However, human capital, despite its terribly misleading name, is in fact, comprised of humans. Humans are people with individual needs like employment, but are also people with skills and the ability to learn new things.

That’s why Mediaocean sought to find creative ways to keep all of its employees employed when the coronavirus pandemic moved business online. The New York City ad tech company sent employees to work from home on March 16. After roughly a week of analysis and a company-wide hiring freeze, Mediaocean discovered that 23 of their nearly 1,000 current employees had job functions that would be rendered obsolete during remote work.

Rather than furlough or layoff these workers, Mediaocean retrained all 23 employees for different roles. The company worked with the employees to assess their skills and interests and match them with areas of need in the business. For example, the office receptionist Brandon Stewart moved to customer experience and support and is also serving as an assistant to Stephanie Dorman, Mediaocean’s SVP for Client Services.

Although the company was financially impacted by the downturn in the economy, the software company did see an increase in customer support tickets as more of their clients moved online as well. There was an increased demand that could be met by training those 23 employees.

Of course, the process was not as simple as reassigning employees to new tasks. After the careful process of skill and interest matching – an essential step to ensure buy-in – each had to be trained in their new area of work.

Some were able to complete task-based work that required little oversight, but more training would be needed when those tasks were completed. Furthermore, some areas like customer support require months of experience and training for employees to be fully autonomous in those roles.

Instead, they were able to train new additions to this team to conduct ‘triage-level’ work, where a script and FAQ sheet were sufficient to get customer support tickets started and direct their issues to the correct team. As a result, experienced customer support specialists save time and effort, and customer needs are satisfied in a more efficient and customized manner.

Many companies have reacted quickly to the economic impact of the pandemic by laying off swaths of employees and assuming or requiring that remaining employees will pick up the slack of lost staffing. The solution is an obvious answer to the problem of saving money.

Mediaocean identified a different problem: the need to keep people employed. In as little as three weeks, Mediaocean preserved jobs, re-trained employees, and responded to increased consumer demand. In the process, only one of those 23 employees decided to leave the company rather than be reassigned.

Of course now imagine how many people would still be employed if employers priorities were centered on their people, and not just their bottom line.

Heather Buffo is a Cleveland native, a recovering Bostonian, and an Austin newbie. Heather is the Venture Growth & Partnerships Lead at Republic where she works with partners in private investing to democratize access to capital for entrepreneurs. Heather studied neurobiology at Harvard University, and is a City Year Boston AmeriCorps alum. She likes to write for AG, drink Austin beer, and ride around town on her road bicycle. His name is Pippin. Say hello if you see them.

Business News

Everyone should have an interview escape plan

(BUSINESS NEWS) A job interview should be a place to ask about qualifications but sometimes things can go south – here’s how to escape when they do.

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“So, why did you move from Utah to Austin?” the interviewer asked over the phone.

The question felt a little out of place in the job interview, but I gave my standard answer about wanting a fresh scene. I’d just graduated college and was looking to break into the Austin market. But the interviewer wasn’t done.

“But why Austin?” he insisted, “There can’t be that many Mormons here.”

My stomach curled. This was a job interview – I’d expected to discuss my qualifications for the position and express my interest in the company. Instead, I began to answer more and more invasive questions about my personal life and religion. The whole ordeal left me very uncomfortable, but because I was young and desperate, I put up with it. In fact, I even went back for a second interview!

At the time, I thought I had to put up with that sort of treatment. Only recently have I realized that the interview was extremely unprofessional and it wasn’t something I should have felt obligated to endure.

And I’m not the only one with a bad interview story. Slate ran an article sharing others’ terrible experiences, which ranged from having their purse inspected to being trapped in a 45 minute presentation! No doubt, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mistreatment by potential employers.

So, why do we put up with it?

Well, sometimes people just don’t know better. Maybe, like I was, they’re young or inexperienced. In these cases, these sorts of situations seem like they could just be the norm. There’s also the obvious power dynamic: you might need a job, but the potential employers probably don’t need you.

While there might be times you have to grit your teeth and bear it, it’s also worth remembering that a bad interview scenario often means bad working conditions later on down the line. After all, if your employers don’t respect you during the interview stage, it’s likely the disrespect will continue when you’re hired.

Once you’ve identified an interview is bad news, though, how do you walk out? Politely. As tempting as it is to make a scene, you probably don’t want to go burning bridges. Instead, excuse yourself by thanking your interviewers, wishing them well and asserting that you have realized the business wouldn’t be a good fit.

Your time, as well as your comfort, are important! If your gut is telling you something is wrong, it probably is. It isn’t easy, but if a job interview is crossing the line, you’re well within your rights to leave. Better to cut your losses early.

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Business News

How to keep Pride month going year-round (without rainbow washing)

(BUSINESS NEWS) Pride month is over and companies have deleted their rainbow website adornments. Without much effort, your company can easily keep the commitment to kindness going – here’s how.

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Pride month in the US is behind us now and already the rainbows have faded from mega-corporate logos and branding. Making a constant commitment to inclusivity and anti-discrimination isn’t always easy and marketing has minefields aplenty.

So how does a small business navigate this? We’re starting from a deficit of trust and there are a few reasons why.

The large scale, mega-corporate marketing and PR targeted at the LGBTQIA+ community that goes on in June for Pride month, collectively referred to as “rainbow washing” (or sometimes even less flattering pandering accusations), has come under fire for being largely lip service and sometimes downright harmful by community advocates.

For example, one independent journalist just penned an editorial, putting AT&T on blast for publicly supporting LGBTQIA+ causes while funding political initiatives that negatively impact the community. I’d consider this a prime example of what not to do.

Businesses who want to be genuine in their commitment to pride have plenty of options that don’t require vast marketing or PR budgets.

Pride is ultimately about celebrating progress and obstacles surmounted by the community and highlighting the work needed to promote equality for everyone, regardless of identity or orientation.

The first thing any business can do is reflect internally. Address any dirty laundry that might be kicked behind the couch in the corner.

Try asking these questions:

  • Are our policies gender neutral?
  • Do any job titles involve gendered terms?
  • Is the language in morality clauses modern?
  • How do your benefits packages handle LGBTQIA+ health issues?

The other thing businesses can do, even if you are a business of just one person, is be an active member of your community.

Below are a few accessible, actionable suggestions on how to promote a welcoming and inclusive world:

  • Listen – Be informed about what goes on in your locale. Sometimes just being aware is more than half the battle.
  • Speak – if there is something going on in your community that you have a strong opinion on, speak up. Twitter is popular these days. Few things are more impactful than a call to city hall or the commerce department from a local business owner. You have more power than you probably realize. And yes, it IS good for business because it builds trust and loyalty within your customer base. Good things happen to those who make an effort to do the right thing.
  • Ask Questions – Nothing beats good old honesty and accountability. Colleagues, customers, and the community at large will respect you more if you are willing to open a dialog. This can be individual conversations, or a short survey in a newsletter or social media post. This builds trust and gives you an opportunity to serve as a role model for others.
  • Back Local Events – Get your name and logo out there. I know this one feels inaccessible to smaller businesses, but hear me out. Obviously, organisations running events like financial or in-kind contributions. If you can do that, great! A lot of organisations struggle with finding safe meeting spaces- can you unlock the office for 2 hours one evening after work one night a month? Something as simple as volunteering your parking lot for some extra space or putting a banner on your webpage for a week makes a big difference too. Push their events on your socials. Can I borrow your printer?

At the end of the day, every day, everyone just wants to be treated equally, with kindness and compassion.

Last I checked, those are two things we haven’t put a commercial price tag on yet. So, above all else, be kind. It’s amazing how far that can get you.

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Business News

How a study on a 35-hour workweek will impact post-pandemic life

(NEWS) With a successful study regarding a shortened workweek, conscious and proactive companies should be looking at making adjustments.

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As we approach an “after” phase of pandemic life, many companies are asking for science on how to envision a new normal for the workforce. As experts warn of a silent mental health pandemic in the aftermath of COVID, employee wellbeing is top of mind for proactive companies, especially for those already losing employees to “The Great Resignation.”

One multi-year study conducted from 2015-2019 (notably pre-pandemic) coming out of Iceland, sheds some light on one method to improve wellbeing with no impact to productivity – give your employees 5 hours of their week back without docking their pay.

The study involved more than 2,500 workers, representing about 1% of Iceland’s workforce. Trials included maintaining the take home pay of the participating workers while requiring 4 or 5 less hours a week for traditional office and shift workers across a number of industries.

The results were positive for employees and employers across the board. The report analyzed employee retention, stress levels, burnout, health, and other quantitative and qualitative data.

People overall reported feeling more respected and rewarded with having extra time and flexibility. For some that was time for hobbies, travel, exercise, or simply the freedom to pick up their kids from school in the afternoons leading to more engaged, meaningful family time.

The results in Iceland have widely been codified into practice by unions. The Icelandic Committee on Labour Market Statistics reports approximately 170,200 union workers are now participating in a shortened workweek. The following is from the official report jointly published in June 2021 by Iceland’s non-profit Association for Democracy and Sustainability (Alda) and Autonomy (think tank based out of the UK), summarizing the information as such:

“This means that 86% of Iceland’s entire working population has now either moved to working shorter hours or have had new mechanisms made available to them through which they can negotiate shorter hours in their workplace.”

The BBC reports that after the overwhelming success in Iceland, similar studies are currently underway in New Zealand and Spain.

Kickstarter has announced their own testing of reduced schedules slated to begin in 2022. A report out of Platform London suggested that the carbon footprint of the entire UK could possibly be lowered by shortening work weeks as well.

Takeaways:

  • Employee well-being and burnout prevention are big items to address in pandemic aftermath.
  • A shorter workweek has been shown to maintain or increase productivity while providing benefits for employees and employers both, on the condition net pay is unchanged.
  • Now more than ever before there is opportunity, evidence, and momentum to transition away from the old definition of traditional work schedules and pioneer a new normal.

What would you do if you could have 5 hours of your week back? Carpe Diem.

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