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Opinion Editorials

Work from home – are we over it?

(OPINION EDITORIALS) Studies and C-suite are starting to suggest that 100% remote work is not where most of us want to be permanently.

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Woman at computer, looking away from remote work.

In the spirit of playing devil’s advocate, can we talk for a minute about how working from home ALL THE TIME kind of sucks?

Sure, there are many great things about working remotely (Yay, no commute! Make a nice lunch! Yoga pants are now your daily attire!) but on the other hand… there is stuff you aren’t allowed to mention or complain about that can be somewhat entertaining to review.

This mostly applies if you have had the privilege to work remotely (because we recognize that that has not been the case for everyone). If anyone has lost their job due to the pandemic, they will immediately be upset with this article and our collective complaining, but here goes – for entertainment purposes, of course.

There is no division between work and home anymore.

Somehow you had to set up a “dedicated work space” in your home, but the effectiveness of work-life balance really depends on your home layout. If you live in a studio or 1-bedroom apartment, your computer and screen(s) are now on your kitchen table. If you had a spare corner in the dining room or even an extra bedroom, it is now your make-shift office.

You didn’t set it up with your motivational posters and family pictures because you had no idea how long you were going to be there. However, your work is always there and in your face, even if you’re trying to enjoy that new Netflix original.

You are single and/or you really enjoyed the collaboration and friendships you experienced at the office.

You may enjoy some of the alone time and TV to yourself now. But being completely cut off from your social outlets and work happy hours is a drag.

Your spouse has a whole lot more to say about your daily routine.

They tell you when to wake up, ask “when are you free?”, and want your attention if you’re not in a meeting. They can see what you eat all day and how you sneak chips in every day at 2:47pm. And man, forget making your own choices for lunch! You somehow have to compromise on what to eat, every time. And you definitely don’t get to go “out to eat” because that’s an unnecessary luxury now.

Your dogs need your attention every hour or so.

If you are on a quick break between Zoom or MS Teams meetings, your furry loved ones seem to sense it and get right into your space. In your best dog voice: “It’s time for a walk, it’s time for a walk, it’s time for a walk! No, I don’t care if it’s 103 degrees outside, it’s time for a walk. Yes, pet me, let’s go, oh I’m so happy you are home! Isn’t this wonderful?!”

You may have a child or children, and suddenly you are both their parent AND their educator.

The needs of our children can vary by age and number of siblings, but this is something we parents haven’t needed to manage alongside our daily work before. We were either stay-at-home parents or working parents with childcare arrangements. It seems near impossible to be BOTH of these identities at the same time, 24/7.

You feel like you’re in a constant state of failing: Either the parenting isn’t you at 100%, or your work doesn’t receive your full attention. It feels like a lose-lose and you know each day will bring the same juggling act. And to top it off, you’re not supposed to have play dates or take trips to visit loved ones to get a change of scenery or parenting support.

TechRepublic shares some results from an IBM study of 14,500 adults in Brazil, China, Germany, India, Mexico, Spain, the United States, and the United Kingdom; basically, fewer people want to work from home going forward. Not to mention that other countries have concerns about how their employers are handling health and safety as offices and hot spots open back up. Many also share concerns over their mental health from being cut off from their colleagues and the lack of teamwork. IBM says that mental health was the #1 factor influencing future working environments.

It seems it may be incredibly challenging to onboard new employees in a 100% remote environment as well. C-suite is considering why they do want to bring employees back. CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, says he sees no positive to long-term remote work and expects Netflix employees to come back to the office as quickly as they can – even if other tech giants have said they will have employees work remotely in a much longer term capacity.

The reality is, despite the good and bad parts of working from home, it does open the door for more flexibility. Many employees say they also don’t want to return to 5 days in the office per week. But many have said they would enjoy a balance between heading in and working remotely.

The thing is, we haven’t all just been “working from home” for the fun of it. We’ve been working remotely during a global pandemic, which brings with it a whole host of anxiety, worries, and feelings of uncertainty. It feels like a pendulum has swung to the extreme towards remote work. Hopefully it will work its way back to the middle – ideally letting people choose what works best for them and their families.

Yes, there is gratitude in the ability to work from home but it didn’t come with zero mental health costs.

Erin Wike is a Career Coach & Lecturer at The University of Texas at Austin and owner of Cafe Con Resume. Erin is fueled by dark roast coffee with cream AND sugar, her loving husband, daughter, and two rescue dogs. She is the Co-Founder of Small Business Friends ATX to help fellow entrepreneurs + hosts events for people to live a Life of Yes with Mac & Cheese Productions.

Opinion Editorials

Serial procrastinator? Check your mental energy, not time management

(EDITORIAL) Need a hack for your time management? Try focusing on your mental energy management.

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productivity

Your author has a confession to make; as a “type B” personality who has always struggled with procrastination, I am endlessly fascinated by the topic of productivity and “hacking your time.”

I’ve tried most of the tricks you’ve read about, with varying degrees of success.

Recently, publishers like BBC have begun to approach productivity from a different perspective; rather than packing days full of to-do items as a way to maximize time, the key is to maximize your mental energy through a different brand of time management.

So, why doesn’t time management work?

For starters, not all work time is quality time by nature. According to a study published at ScienceDirect, your average worker is interrupted 87 times a day on the job. For an 8-hour day, that’s almost 11 times per hour. No wonder it’s so hard to stay focused!

Second, time management implies a need to fill time in order to maximize it.

It’s the difference between “being busy” and “being productive.”

It also doesn’t impress your boss; a Boston University study concluded that “managers could not tell the difference between employees who actually worked 80 hours a week and those who just pretended to.” By contrast, managing your energy lets you maximize your time based on how it fits with your mental state.

Now, how do you manage your energy?

First, understand and protect the time that should actually go into deep, focused work. Studies continually show that just a few hours of focused worked yield the greatest results; try to put in longer hours behind that, and you’ll see diminishing returns. There’s a couple ways you can accomplish this.

You can block off time in your day dedicated to focused work, and guard the time as if it were a meeting. You could also physically retreat to a private space in order to work on a task.

Building in flexibility is another key to managing your energy. The BBC article references a 1980s study that divided students into two groups; one group planned out monthly goals, while the other group planned out daily goals and activities. The study found the monthly planners accomplished more of their goals, because the students focusing on detailed daily plans often found them foiled by the unexpected.

Moral of the story?

Don’t lock in your schedule too tightly; leave space for the unexpected.

Finally, you should consider making time for rest, a fact reiterated often by the BBC article. You’ve probably heard the advice before that taking 17 minute breaks for every 52 minutes worked is important, and studies continue to show that it is. However, rest also includes taking the time to turn your brain off of work mode entirely.

The BBC article quotes associated professor of psychiatry Srini Pillay as saying that, “[people] need to use both the focus ad unfocus circuits in the brain,” in order to be fully productive. High achievers like Serena Williams, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates build this into their mentality and their practice.

Embracing rest and unfocused thinking may be key to “embracing the slumps,” as the BBC article puts it.

In conclusion, by leaving some flexibility in your schedule and listening to your body and mind, you can better tailor your day to your mental state and match your brainpower to the appropriate task. As someone who is tempted to keep a busy to-do list myself, I am excited to reevaluate and improve my own approach. Maybe you should revisit your own systems as well.

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Opinion Editorials

6 skills humans have that AI doesn’t… yet

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It’s not unreasonable to be concerned about the growing power and skill of AI, but here are a few skills where we have the upper hand.

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Man drawing on a roll of butcher paper, where AI cannot express themselves yet.

AI is taking over the workforce as we know it. Burgers are already being flipped by robotic arms (and being flipped better), and it’s only a matter of time before commercial trucks and cars will be driven by robots (and, probably, be driven better).

It may feel unnerving to think about the shrinking number of job possibilities for future humans – what jobs will be around for humans when AI can do almost everything better than we can?

To our relief (exhale!), there are a few select skills that humans will (hopefully) always be better at than AI. The strengths that we have over AI fall into 3 general categories: Ability to convey emotion, management over others, and creativity.

Let’s break it down: Here are 6 skills that we as humans should be focusing on right now.

Our ability to undertake non-verbal communication

What does this mean for humans? We need to develop our ability to understand and communicate body language, knowing looks, and other non-verbal cues. Additionally, we need to refine our ability to make others feel warm and heard – if you work in the hospitality industry, mastering these abilities will give you an edge over the AI technologies that might replace you.

Our ability to show deep empathy to customers

Unlike AI, we share experiences with other humans and can therefore show empathy to customers. Never underestimate how powerful your deep understanding of being human will be when you’re pitted against a robot for a job. It might just be the thing that gives you a cutting edge.

Our ability to undertake growth management

As of this moment, humans are superior to AI when it comes to managing others. We are able to support organization members in developing their skillsets and, due to our coaching ability, we are able to help others to grow professionally. Take that, AI!

Our ability to employ mind management

What this essentially means is that we can support others. Humans have counseling skills, which means we are able to help someone in distress, whether that stems from interpersonal relationships or professional problems. Can you imagine an AI therapist?

Our ability to perform collective intelligence management

Human creativity, especially as it relates to putting individual ideas together to form an innovative new one, gives us a leg up when competing against AI. Humans are able to foster group thought, to manage and channel it, to create something bigger and better than what existed before. Like, when we created AI in the first place.

Our ability to realize new ideas in an organization

Think: Elevator pitch. Humans are masters of marketing new ideas and are completely in-tune with how to propose new concepts to an organization because, you guessed it, we too are human. If the manager remains human in the future (fingers crossed!), then we know what to say to them to best sell our point of view.

Using what we know, it’s essential for almost all of us to retrain for an AI-driven economy that is most likely just a few years away. My advice for my fellow humans? Develop the parts of you that make you human. Practice eye contact and listening. Think about big pictures and the best way to manage others. Sharpen your mind with practicing creative processes. And do stay up to date with current trends in AI tech. Sooner or later, these babies are bound to be your co-workers.

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Opinion Editorials

Your business model doesn’t have to be a unicorn or a camel to succeed

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It’s not unusual for people to suggest a new business model analogy, but this latest “camel” suggestion isn’t new or helpful.

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Camels walking in desert, not the best business model.

This year in 2020 I’ve seen a great deal of unique takes on how our system works. From 45 all the way down to children instructing adults on how to wear masks properly. However, after reading this new article published by the Harvard Business Review, I don’t think I’ve ever seen something so out of touch with the rest of the business world. Here’s a brief synopsis on this article on business model.

The author has decided that now of all times it’s drastically important for startups and entrepreneurs to switch their business tactics. Changing from a heavy front-end investment or “startups worth over a billion dollars” colloquially called “Unicorns” to a more financially reserved business model. One he has tried to coin as the “Camel”, using references to the animal’s ability to survive “long periods of time without sustenance, withstand the scorching desert heat, and adapt to extreme variations in climate.”

The author then goes on to outline best practices for this new business plan: “Balance instead of burn”, “Camels are built for the long haul”, “Breadth and depth for resilience”.

Now I will admit that he’s not wrong on his take. It’s a well thought-out adjustment to a very short-term solution. You want to know why I’m sure of that? Because people figured this out decades ago.

The only place that a “Unicorn” system worked was in something like the Silicon Valley software companies. Where people can start with their billions of dollars and expect “blitzscaling” (a rapid building-up tactic) to actually succeed. The rest of the world knows that a slow and resilient pace is better suited for long term investments and growth. This ‘new’ business realization is almost as outdated as the 2000 Olympics.

The other reason I’m not thrilled with this analogy is that they’ve chosen an animal that doesn’t really work well. Camels are temperamental creatures that actually need a great deal of sustenance to survive those conditions they’ve mentioned. It’s water that they don’t need for long periods, once they stock up. They have to have many other resources up front to survive those harsh conditions the article writer mentioned. So by this analogy, it’s not that different than Silicon Valley’s strongly backed “startups.”

If he wanted to actually use the correct animal for this analogy, then he should call it a tortoise business plan. Actually, any type of reptile or shark would work. It would probably be a better comparison in temperament as well, if we’re talking ‘slow and steady wins the race.’ Whatever you do, consider your angle, and settle in for the long haul.

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