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Op/Ed

No more ping-pong: Working from home has changed what perks we value

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Everyone loves all the little perks of a snazzy workplace with snacks and neon chairs, but if we’re all working from home, does it really matter anymore?

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Empty startup office with open floor plan, abandoned while working from home.

So at this point, people are starting to adjust to a new reality (nothing normal about it, so maybe standard is the better word here, and leaves it room to grow and encompass a type of normal) of working from home, learning the ins and outs of Zoom, being hired without ever meeting your future team face to face, and all the other changes and challenges that have been revealed, reviewed, and revised in a connected and digital world.

Which is all a fancy way of saying that certain things that were – at one time – considered incredibly important are sliding down the priority scale at a scary and fast rate. It makes sense that a parking spot and transportation stipends might make less sense if everyone is stuck at home. That could kill an entire bullet point on a company’s list of perks. I wonder how many beer taps have cobwebs on them right now?

You know what is trending? A lack of interest in trendy offices. Which should only make sense, I suppose – who really cares how high up the windows are downtown if we’re all stuck working from home anyway? After all, if no one is in the office to enjoy them, why does it matter who has rock climbing walls and ping pong tables?

As Josh Wand – founder and CEO of recruiting agency ForceBrands – states, “When the pandemic hit and everyone decentralized, what I heard from hundreds of my clients is that people don’t care about those perks. People want to feel connected. They want to feel valued. The little things become the big things. It’s not about the free lunch or the extra perks — it’s about growth opportunities, visibility and transparency.”

Instead of focusing on things like a well designed physical space as a draw for talent, it’s all about a company fostering a sense of belonging while working from home. This has always been a concern when it comes to retaining talent, but now there’s an added degree of difficulty in resolving this issue given the distance and virtual nature of teams scattered across towns, cities, states, and nations.

One way to look at this is to see how a company’s culture can be adopted and applied, as now – more than ever before while working from home – this is falling directly on every employee to build, apply, and celebrate. Instead of the physical constructs and perks that could have been seen as a way to define and measure the vibe, it’s entirely on the shoulders of the C-suite, executive teams, and employees themselves. I.e., work with cool people, then it’s still cool even when you can’t be around them. And that is huge.

Manuel Bordé is the global chief creative officer at Geometry, and offers this insight: “What makes an agency culture amazing is the talent the agency has. If you lose that talent, or fail to replace the outgoing talent with equally amazing ones, then the agency culture is gone.” In short: everyone has to pull together more than ever before.

Maybe there’s a way to preserve such relationships virtually, or maybe tried-and-true options such as one-on-one meetings can help mitigate and preserve the feeling of a cohesive team. Andrea Diquez, CEO of Saatchi NY, relies on nearly thirty of these a week to keep close with employees and “feel the pulse of the agency.” Certainly, there will be a push to take this kind of interaction and communication much more seriously in order to bolster connections while working from home.

This could be me sounding selfish, but I am definitely on board with companies that have realized at-home stipends are a huge draw, and I absolutely champion that route. Helping to cover costs for employees in their home offices is definitely helpful, if not outright necessary.

Taking this a step further – could money that was previously allocated to certain perks be redirected to workers? Instead of paying for soda delivery, take those funds and use them for different benefits – added healthcare options (mental health would be amazing), additional days off, or the occasional happy hour with delivered treats? You can keep the swag – I’ve used my company issued hoodie a LOT recently.

Years ago, I went to a coding bootcamp here in Austin called Makersquare (which became Hack Reactor, and ultimately part of Galvanize). We talked about startup culture a lot, and several of us had experience from prior jobs. I remember that one person gave a presentation about one of their previous ventures, and his slide show included a picture of a ping pong table, “so that you could tell we were a startup.”

Everyone laughed. It’s funny because it was true at the time. Who knows if it’ll stay true now? I guess we’ll find out once offices open back up.

Speaking personally, I’d already seen a decline of interest in office perks at some jobs I’ve worked at – surveys that specifically pointed out that there was lower emphasis on endless snacks and more on lower commutes. This makes me think that the pandemic is just accelerating a shift toward incentives that return time and energy to employees while also decreasing daily stress.

I’m all for that. I know that I definitely love that my commute is twenty feet of walking, and I’m usually in comfy house slippers when I do that. I’d take that over the once-every-three-months game of ping pong any day. I do miss my coworkers, and I look forward to seeing them, of course, but seeing the big picture makes me reevaluate.

In the end, this could represent another movement and evolution of the American workplace, especially in the tech world. It still remains to be seen if this will be a sea change, a transformation away from the hip cultures that Google and Facebook gave us to fuel our dreams of endless donuts and caffeine, and instead settling into something cozier and dependent on creating truly national (global?) teams that get by on the strength of their cooperation and desire to work separately yet together.

It’s like how I’ve got my best friend living in Japan – the few times we chat each year, it’s like no time has passed. That’s what we’re going to strive for in the new age.

Robert Snodgrass has an English degree from Texas A&M University, and wants you to know that yes, that is actually a thing. And now he's doing something with it! Let us all join in on the experiment together. When he's not web developing at Docusign, he runs distances that routinely harm people and is the kind of giant nerd that says "you know, there's a King of the Hill episode that addresses this exact topic".

Op/Ed

10 productivity tips to get the most out of yourself and your team

(EDITORIAL) Keeping up productivity can be a hard goal to shoot for, so sometimes It helps to see what others are doing. Here’s our list of 10 ways to stay productive

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productivity in a team

Funny thing about inverse relationships, they are so counterintuitive. Like working hard. That is an example of doing what you think will be beneficial, but usually just makes the job what you expected, hard. When it comes to productivity, harder isn’t smarter, as the saying goes.

And, if you are sick of the word “hack” we hear you. But, finding ease in work will allow you to be more productive and with better results.

We offer you this list of stories to meet your productivity needs. Here’s to finding work-life balance, seeking ease in the moment and rocking out a productive day!

1. If you’re trying to be more productive, don’t focus so much on time management. Instead, consider energy management to get more out of less effort.

2. Meetings suck. Wait, I mean they are a time suck. Yeah, that’s it. Everyone knows some meetings are unnecessary and could easily be handled through an email. Yet, many supervisors are hesitant. But, there’s an app for that now. Here’s to meeting less and actually getting work done.

3. Kondo your desk, for God’s sake. If you say you are more productive with a messy desk, yet you have a sandwich from last week and those TPS reports you were supposed to turn in weeks ago somewhere under a pile of crap, you need to clean up your act. Nobody wants to get a report covered in coffee, chocolate, and mustard.

4. Are you agile? I mean, really. Is your team as productive as it could be? Whether you are a PM or a real estate agent, if you need a tool that helps your team stay agile and nimble, this will help you and your crew kick ass and take names.

5. Cut the team some slack. Too many messages and you forget what you were originally doing. Slack thought about that and has a way to make the app work for your team so you can be more effective and keep the workflow moving.

6. Working remotely has some serious benefits, notwithstanding working in your PJ’s. While it is the norm now, convincing your boss you will actually work in the future and not binge on Netflix may be the challenge. And, for many folks, working from home is a much more productive option long term, even after COVID restrictions lift. Yet, anyone who has worked remotely also knows it can be easy to get caught up in work and miss human interactions, leading to burnout. Here’s how to make the remote transition work for you.

7. Sometimes more is less. That is the truth when it comes to work where quality beats quantity all day long. Our 9-5 workdays may be good for some, but not for all. And, putting in 80-hour weeks may seem righteous dude, but what do you really accomplish? Kick productivity in the butt and consider are you using your hours wisely.

8. Want to be a baller in the workplace? Then get focused. According to the experts, those at the top of their game aren’t necessarily working harder or smarter, they are just hyper-focused. Here are some good habits to have if you want to get ahead.

9. If it seems everyone has a podcast, you are correct! Some of those podcasts are useful, especially if you are trying to get ahead and find ways to use your productivity to the fullest. Here’s a list of podcasts that will fill your free time with useful information.

10. Creative folks love to start new projects. They can be like kids in the candy store any time they have a new idea they must explore. The problem is that whether you are an artist, writer, graphic/web/software designer or developer, you may start a lot of projects and finish few. Here’s how to finish what you start!

By now, you know what information to keep and you are ready to get your rear in gear. We wish you all the success with your future projects. We know you will be diligent and hyper-productive!

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Op/Ed

Living through a pandemic has us ALL on high alert, causing exhaustion

(MENTAL HEALTH) When your system is constantly in a state of unknown, you’re in a state of high emotion. After an extended period, exhaustion and burnout set in.

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exhaustion high emotion

It isn’t a stretch to say that universally, people are feeling burned out these days. Whether it’s because of ongoing COVID-19 ramifications (the top cause today) or good old-fashioned job stress, the majority of burnout cases have one thing in common – high-intensity emotions.

According to Yale lecturer, Emma Seppälä, any kind of high-intensity emotion – be it fear, joy, rage, or anything in between these feelings – can lead to sheer exhaustion after a certain point.

And while these emotions are completely justified in today’s tumultuous world, it’s also apparent that the range of extreme emotions one can feel in an ordinary day is widening, making burnout all the more inevitable.

What Seppälä says many people don’t know is that those positive, high-intensity emotions, while contributing to burnout in their own way, lead to a feeling of “crashing” after elation rather than the soul-sucking despair one often tends to feel after experiencing a wave of negative emotions.

The exhaustion one experiences may feel different depending on the emotions inspiring it, but the outcome is often the same – a complete and total depletion that “taxes the body.”

Seppälä also points out that some people experience emotions in a more acute fashion than others, with “15-20% of people” being classified as “highly sensitive.” People who fit into this category may be more susceptible to exhaustion from high-intensity emotions.

The past few years have been extremely emotionally polarizing, with things like social media, social justice movements, elections, and, yes, pandemics jeopardizing the otherwise-calm natures of many across the world.

Burnout isn’t surprising in a world in which one can see every public thought each member of their family has had in the last decade, nor is high-intensity emotions becoming more present a shock.

Seppälä posits that the solution to living in such a world is emotional balance, which entails making intentional time for calm, low-key activities to counteract some of the more stressful ones you may encounter from day to day. Staying off of social media, setting boundaries with friends and family, and participating in the news cycle during the day rather than before bed are all good examples of ways to minimize your stress throughout the week.

It’s a stressful world we live in, and if this last year and a half has taught us anything, it’s only going to get more stressful. Emotional balance, where possible, is perhaps the best solution to an otherwise ubiquitous problem.

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Op/Ed

Arguing that next deal can be hard, here’s where to focus

(EDITORIAL) If you have to start arguing then you need the right understanding of what is convincing and what can be dismissed out of hand.

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arguing people

Take a look at your Facebook and Twitter feed or the comments on any news post. If there’s one thing it would seem nobody has any trouble with these days, it’s arguing.

There’s arguing for fun and frustration … OG/prequels! Cake/Pie! Over the roll/under the roll! Yelling, trolling, poking with a stick.

And then there’s ARGUING… reasoned, productive, and substantive discussions that get you somewhere in the real world.

No, wait, hear me out!

More than 10 years ago, tech entrepreneur Paul Graham laid out a “hierarchy of disagreement,” attempting to sort out the various levels of argument into a tool that could turn those arguments into something useful. Lately – just in time for 2020’s inevitable fracas, right? – the infographic makers at Adioma have laid that hierarchy out in a simple visualization that aims to make disagreement simpler to navigate and agreement easier to reach.

Essentially, the easiest arguments to toss out there are the ones you post without a pause. The inflammatory “YOU SUCK” (level 1) and “whaddaya expect from an over-the-roll bro?” (level 2). The reactionary “oh YEAH?” and “well WHAT ABOUT” (level 4). They add nothing to the discussion, change nobody’s mind, and pretty much keep the hostilities simmering.

Back in 2008 when he wrote the essay, Graham pointed out “a danger that the increase in disagreement will make people angrier. Particularly online, where it’s easy to say things you’d never say face to face.” Welcome to the Thunderdome. The most innocuous comment can be taken completely the wrong way (level 3), and this toxic shift in tone spills more and more often into offline interactions as well.

But here’s where the real-life benefits to this hierarchy come into play. Leaving Facebook and Twitter and the news comment sections aside – because let’s face it, all pretty much black holes where reasonable people can be sucked into nothingness – there is value to constructive argument.

Constructive argument – levels 5, 6, and 7 – deals with an issue at hand, not personality. It keeps civility on the table. It allows for back-and-forth, for discussion. Put it to work in the office, and it smooths the way in staff interactions and negotiations. Put it to work in the marketplace, and it creates stronger client and customer bonds. And yes, put it to work online in a company feed, and it strengthens customer service and can even help you build relationships based on respect for your open communication.

Coming at a disagreement with an eye towards understanding the other point of view and reaching agreement, rather than an eye towards scoring easy points, isn’t painless. The years since Graham pointed out the peril of online anger have not been kind to public discourse, and the person you’re arguing with may not be there right away for your empathy and bridge-building. But as one of the great (country and) Western philosophers once asked, what would you be if you didn’t even try? You’d be stuck down on level 1 of Paul Graham’s pyramid with the trolls and the cranks, that’s what. Level up.

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