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Op/Ed

Surprise: Savings have mostly grown during the pandemic

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Even in the midst of the COVID pandemic, some portions of the American populace have been able to – paradoxically – bolster their savings.

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Plastic clear piggy bank representing savings.

What I’m about to say will sound strange – for many Americans, the pandemic has proven to be a vehicle for increasing their savings. Perhaps even stranger, a significant portion of this group may even have more discretionary funds to spend during this holiday season.

I’ll repeat that for emphasis – the pandemic has given rise to an improvement in finances for American families, as the overall debt has lowered, spending may remain unchanged, and savings continue to increase.

I’ll quickly add in that this certainly isn’t the case for everyone, and do not want to paint a picture that is entirely rosey – many are still struggling, job growth recently saw its lowest numbers of the year, and others worry that we could be facing down another potential storm of instability. What will follow is not meant to discount or ignore these issues, but to highlight a somewhat puzzling and weirdly hopeful piece of the American landscape.

Bloomberg Wealth reports that trends reflect Americans holding more cash in reserves. This has been the result of a number of factors, such as the government stimulus earlier this year, record-low mortgage rates fueling refinancing to help decrease monthly payments relative to income, and residual inertia from the strong economy prior to the pandemic.

“The consumer here in the U.S. is relatively stable and, honestly, somewhat relatively better than we might have feared back in the height of the pandemic in the second quarter of 2020,” Marianne Lake, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s chief executive officer for consumer lending, said Nov. 9 at a virtual investor conference .

Many believe that this means the final quarter could see better-than-expected results (though some disagree given current data). Retail confidence is relatively strong in the face of so many potential hardships. Even working class families that bore the brunt of the downturn are shown – on average – to have more money in the bank now, and may in turn spend it to help the economy during the festive months.

One advantage that the current situation affords over the prior 2008 recession is the position that many were in to begin with, giving the average American a better starting point to deal with the downturn. “The consumer came into this crisis in a pretty strong position in terms of household balance sheets and household liquidity and debt service burdens,” JPMorgan’s Lake said.

Pessimistically speaking, part of these savings are the result of an uneasy and volatile future. Lockdowns still loom in the distance, and layoffs dot the horizon in numerous industries (including air travelentertainment, and food service). This in turn causes people to hold onto what they have now, whether it be pre-pandemic savings, unemployment benefits, or side gigs until a sense of economic normalcy can be re-established.

It remains to be seen how 2020 will end in terms of consumer confidence, but several potential options exist that could bring the year to a productive close. For example, there is hope for another government stimulus package, and money in the bank could be tapped to drive sales further. Americans may approach sales with eagerness, guided by the idea of “comfort spending,” and a willingness to console friends and family through retail.

In any case, while the pandemic continues into the wintry months, there are numerous perspectives on how to view the economy and where it may or may not go.

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

How to keep your business partner on your same page during COVID-19

(EDITORIAL) COVID-19 has a lot of people worrying about themselves, their families, and their friends, but one that doesn’t get brought up much is business partner.

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Business partner

In the age of COVID – we are all having conversations about our personal wellness. Story after story, we are encouraged to be reflective about our self-care to ourselves, our families, and our employers.

Our business partners, while being in the same storm as us, are not always in our same boat.

They have unique situations, perspectives, and needs. To maintain that business relationship, you need to start thinking about how you can communicate your situation to them.

This is a critical piece of communication. You should be mindful of this beyond a simple “I’m at home and may be delayed in answering email” kind of message.

Honesty and openness are essential to good business partnership, but you want to craft the right message to assure your business partner and protect yourself. Here are some thoughts to keep in mind for the content of your message:

  • Identity your primary message. What are you trying to do? Why is it essential for them to know? What do they need to know to keep the business afloat, and manage their expectations. You may need to refresh yourself on any existing structural agreements or roles. We often pick business partners for their skills sets in relation to our own – if you’re doing all the numbers and purchasing, explain to them how the current situation will impact your ability to do that.
  • Say “why”. You do not need to dump all the things you have going on to your business partner – but rather explain things in a way that is relevant to them. This will keep your conversation brief and to the point. A good example of this is to say “We normally have morning meetings with clients, but since my kids are being homeschooled in the morning, I need to have them in the afternoon”. This gives a clear explanation of what you need, and why your business partner should care.

Before you get on the meeting:

  • Recognize differences and see where you can compromise and where you cannot compromise. Your health should be number one. This is not the time to endanger your health or radically disrupt the things you do to stay healthy. But also, if there are places where you can adjust or be flexible, be willing to do that. This is useful when you and your business partner are in different time zones or life situations. The situation around us is changing every day – and is different by region, state, or even city. Communicate changes or challenges promptly and with clarity.
  • Set up the conversation. When is the best time? Is it in evening with an informal “Zoom happy hour?” When does your partner prefer communication? Are they morning people? Are they better after a few hours and coffee? Timing is everything. Especially if the conversation is tough.

Number one? Keep communication open. Nothing makes people more anxious than a partner you can’t get in contact with. There are lots of tools and technology we can utilize. Have a regular check in – and communicate frequently. This will keep heads cool and ensure that the relationship you have is protected.

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Op/Ed

The music you’re listening to may dictate your productivity levels

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Whether it’s a podcast, news, or music, most people are listening to *something* while at work – so what listening improves your productivity?

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music for productivity

For some, productivity requires a state of concentration that can only be achieved in silence. But workplaces are seldom so quiet, and truth be told, most of us prefer to have some background music playing while we work. Some people swear they can’t work or study without it.

Personally, I find music helpful for encouraging productivity and creativity. It distracts the part of my brain that would normally be chattering away – the voice in my head worrying, wondering, and daydreaming. I find that music neutralizes this inner voice, freeing up my brain to focus on the task at hand.

More and more research backs up what many of us experience – a state of enhanced calm, focus, and creativity when we listen to music while working. Deep Patel at Entrepreneur.com has a list of the best types of music to serve as the soundtrack to your workday.

Typically, music without lyrics is best for working or studying, since lyrics tend to catch our attention. Research has so consistently shown classical music to boost productivity that the phenomenon has it’s own name – the Mozart effect.

But other forms of wordless music can work as well. Patel recommends cinematic music for making the daily grind feel as “grandiose” as a Hollywood epic. Meanwhile, video game music has been specially designed to help gamers concentrate on game challenges; likewise, it can help keep your office atmosphere energized. Soothing nature sounds, such as flowing water or rainfall, can also help promote a calm but focused state.

Music with lyrics is okay too, as long as it doesn’t turn your office into a karaoke bar. Cognitive behavioral therapist Dr. Emma Gray worked with Spotify to identify the characteristics of music that can actually change our brain waves. She found that music between 50 and 80 beats per minute can trigger the brain an “alpha” state that is associated with relaxation and with being struck with inspiration.

Really, any music will do, as long as you like it. Research from the music therapy department at the University of Miami found that workers who listened to their preferred artists and genres had better ideas and finished their tasks more quickly.

What styles of music help you focus during your workday? I myself enjoy the collection of “lo-fi” or “chill-hop” playlists on YouTube. This music has a consistent beat that is engaging without being distracting, and the accompanying video generally features an adorable cartoon character to keep you company.

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Op/Ed

You don’t have to like working from home, that’s ok

(EDITORIAL) The work-from-home life isn’t suitable for every worker – and that’s okay! There’s pros and cons, acknowledging the differences can help.

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working from home vs office

Working from home has become the new normal for many of us. And while some of us have been doing it for years and love it – and some of our new work from home homies are loving it, as well – there are some that are aching to get back to the office.

Yes, you read that right, there are some people who would prefer working in an office over working from home. While I’m not one to take part in that water cooler chatter, there are some major benefits to working in an office. And, even if those benefits don’t float my boat, it doesn’t make them any less beneficial.

First of all, you get social interaction – something that can be lacking while working from home. Even if you have others living in your house, it’s not like you’re shooting the work breeze with them during the work day, nor do they have the ability to help you with your work-specific tasks.

I will say, some days when I’m working from home all day and happen to not have any phone calls, I sound kind of like Yoda when 5pm rolls around and I’m talking with friends or family. It’s like I get rusty and I’ve jumbled up the ability to properly interact. Just as social interaction is important in our personal lives, it’s important for some people to thrive in a professional setting.

Second, when you’re working on a team, communication can be much more difficult in a remote setting as certain elements get lost in the computer-mediated shuffle. It’s so much easier to pop over to someone’s desk and ask a quick question than to wait on an email or instant message that includes little explanation and zero non verbals.

Lastly, when the workday ends at the office – you get to go home. When the workday ends at home – you’re still at home. This diminishes the excitement of getting to sit on your couch (because it’s likely you’ve already been sitting there for a while).

It also makes it harder to stop working. Working from home has the ability to blur the lines between personal and professional life. Just as we may take a break to throw in a load of laundry during work hours, we may find ourselves working on spreadsheets and proposals during personal hours. Having that set, in-office schedule helps separate work and life.

Like anything else, working from home, like working in an office, comes with its pros and cons. Which style do you prefer?

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