All posts by Dave Caolo

Dog Napping On Woman Typing On Computer

8 Low-Cost Perks That Attract and Keep Great Employees

A good perk can make your company stand out in a sea of job descriptions and motivate existing workers to stay on board longer.

Perks are well known to lift workers’ happiness and comfort levels. Of course, you needn’t offer the legendary perks that Google does like free food, workout classes and access to trained massage therapists to compete in the job market.

Here are 8 perks that provide value without breaking the bank.

Lifestyle perks

1. Flexible work hours.
Giving employees have a say in when they work doesn’t cost a thing and lets them feel empowered. Plus, it’s a fantastic perk for parents or students who are juggling school and schedules. Options include a compressed schedule (four ten-hour days) or the chance to work remotely.

2. A relaxed dress code.
Again, here’s a perk that takes nothing away from the bottom line and is something that most employees will appreciate. You could start with the typical “casual Friday” or let workers dress down on a day they aren’t scheduled to spend any time with clients.

3. Become a dog-friendly office.
Employees in dog-friendly offices collaborate more, are less stressed, happier to work overtime, and less likely to skip work according to a study by Central Michigan University. Of course, transitioning to a dog-friendly space is a big undertaking that requires some prep work. Start off by forming a dog committee of both owners and non-owners. The Bark published a great how-to on getting started.

Financial perks

4. Help repay student loans.
Startups and small businesses often attract young workers, many of whom are just out of school. Considering that many bachelor-level graduates leave school with hefty student loan debt, this is a serious recruitment and retention tool. The best way to get this done is through a service like Tuition.io, Gradifi or EdAssist. These companies acquire funds from you (say, $1,000 per year) and then apply it to various student loan services, on behalf of employees.

5. A commuter stipend.
If your company is in a large city, consider a small monthly bonus to help with commuter expenses. This could include Lyft or Uber rides as well as public transit.

Workplace perks

6. A welcome kit of branded swag.
Put together a welcome package including a branded water bottle, notebook, and a hoodie or T-shirt. It’s a small, effective way to say “Welcome to the team.” You’ll likely see the hoodies or shirts around the office on casual Friday.

7. In-house activities.
I once worked for a small company that had monthly, in-office activities that occurred after hours. One month it was board game night. The next month it was whiskey tasting. This is a great way to build cohesive, bonded work culture.

8. Offer food.
Large companies offer employees no-cost vending machines and 24-hour access to prepared hot meals. You can do this on a much smaller scale by stocking up on bulk items and keeping containers in break areas full of pretzels or granola bars, with free drinks in the fridge.

Perks are just the icing on top of a great job

Of course, you don’t have to match the big companies to create perks that attract and retain great workers. After all, working for a small company is already rewarding for the type of worker who likes to be hands-on and influence the direction of a growing enterprise.

But even as a small company, it pays to show workers and potential hires that you take their happiness seriously. While pay, location and hours help applicants choose a job, on-the-job perks give them a reason to stay longer once hired.


Start you candidate search with Authentic Jobs.

Planning Effective Interviews

Planning Effective Interviews

Hiring new employees is a big decision. There are anxious moments when you realize you’re responsible for another person’s financial well-being, and that any hiring decisions affect your well-being and that of your company.

There are benefits too, and they’re huge. When a person signs on, they’re saying “no” to other opportunities and saying “yes” to helping to make your dream a reality. That’s a big show of faith.

Additionally, when you’ve got another person, another mind, dedicated to your vision, things start to move forward quickly. Very quickly.

This article is the first in a two-part series about hiring. First, I’ll share how-to’s and tips for conducting a traditional, in-person interview. Then, we’ll dive into hiring a remote worker. Both articles will guide you through anxious moments and suggest exactly how to begin the rewarding process of hiring the perfect fit.

Start Preparing Way Before An Interview

First and foremost, make the commitment to invest the time that recruitment, interviewing, and hiring demands. When you’re a one or two-person shop, it can seem like any time spent away from the product or service you’re nurturing is poorly spent. However, rushing into the process leads to bad hires, which is terribly expensive.

To really invest the time wisely, follow the three steps outlined below.

1. Set aside an hour at the start and end of the day

Make an appointment with yourself as you would with any important contact or associate. Maintain this appointment until you’ve completely wrapped your head around your hiring process.

2. Define your company’s core values

Your company’s core values tell prospective employees a lot about the job. Consider Apple. Words that come to mind are probably innovation, cool, “think different” and passion for design.

In a speech to Apple employees, Steve Jobs once said, “What we’re about isn’t making boxes for people to get their job done… Apple is about something more than that. Apple at the core… It’s core values… is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better.”

With your values clearly defined, it’s easier to convey them to a candidate.

3. Design an on-boarding process

There’s a tendency to ride the momentum and excitement of bringing someone new on board by handing them a bunch of work with a hearty, “Go!” However, properly bringing a new person on board builds a foundation for a great relationship.

Since many employees often work long hours—and considering they probably weren’t there for the inception and early days of the business—they really need to feel like a part of the team. Here are a few effective strategies:

    1. Have them meet the team via email prior to their start date. Or do so in person. This can be informal and even include fun ice-breakers. I once worked at a startup that held a weekly “board game night,” and as a new hire, I found it a welcoming, low-pressure way to meet everyone.
    2. Create a brief orientation day, including sessions on company policies, but also topics like company culture, company history, intent and strategies.
    3. Prepare a proper workstation with a laptop and other required tools. A mug or T-shirt with a logo is another way to say, “Welcome, you’re part of the team.”

There’s the typical HR stuff to complete, of course, but going a step or two beyond is worth the effort.

Designing The Perfect Interview Process

With those preliminary steps taken care of, it’s time to begin recruiting and interviewing. Thinking about this stage well before you start looking at applications gives candidates an equal chance and helps you weigh priorities before wasting people’s time.

Screening applications

When the applications start to come in, look for the following:

  1. People with startup/small business experience. True, a small business is not a startup, but someone who has worked at one is comfortable in small teams and having a lot of responsibility.
  2. Look for side projects, even if they aren’t related to what your product or service is. People who take projects on or create them for themselves are generally eager to try new things, dedicated, and not afraid to work hard.
  3. If you’re hiring for a web startup, hire people who understand the internet inside and out. Developers, coders, and designers should have a vibrant social media presence or portfolio. Twitter can give you a good idea of a person, even if it means scrolling through 100 tweets.

Once you’ve identified the best candidates, it’s time to begin the interview process.

Give candidates an initial test

First, have applicants demonstrate their skills or abilities. Many applicants know how to answer common interview questions or drop buzzwords.

Cut through all of that and have them complete a task similar to what they’d face at work. For example, if you’re hiring a salesperson or marketing pro, have them sell you something. In an interview for a sales position, my manager ended the interview by handing me a cup of tea with the instructions, “Sell me on this cup of tea. You have five minutes.”

Additionally, pay attention to who completes the task and who goes the extra mile with it. The former is good, but the latter should move directly to your short list.

Conduct the initial interview

At last, you’ve identified some candidates and you’re ready to begin the in-person interviews. Once they’ve arrived, there are some topics to address right away.

First, look for people who are real and clear. This can be a bit hard to define, but be wary of people who use cliche phrases and terms. Instead, go for the person who speaks their mind. You need people who are smart and driven, of course, but also not afraid to disagree with you.

Share your vision for the company and the likely long hours they’ll be putting in. This who don’t balk make the cut and should move on to the next steps.

Have them interview with everyone

You’ve got a small company, so let the short-list interviewees sit with everyone on the team. Particularly in startups and small companies, team members work long hours, very closely together. Therefore, it’s crucial that people get along.

That one minor personality conflict will be amplified a hundredfold when you’re all working in close quarters six months down the road. Don’t overlook it. Go for the people who can honestly explain what they like and dislike. Those are the people who care and will tell you the truth when they claim to believe in the core values you defined earlier.

Don’t forget to check references

Skills, experience, and enthusiasm are worthless in a person with a poor work ethic. Anyone who struggles to provide solid, believable references should be nixed.

Hire as soon as it makes sense

When you feel it’s time to grow and it makes sense financially, make the hire. Adding another person to the team takes whole projects and routines off your busy to-do list. The added brainpower and sheer work hours are a real lift to everyone.

Adding to your team is daunting, but when approached carefully, thoughtfully and with the right preparation, is very likely to be successful. Be sure to step back from the resume and engage your candidates, share the work culture, seek examples of their work and ensure they’ll fit in well with the team.


Let Authentic Jobs help you make that great hire.

Strategies for Side Project Success

Strategies for Side Project Success

Side projects can be a vehicle for personal growth and discovery. Even when the result isn’t long-term financial gain, the education and experience that comes with a new product launch is always rewarding.

Side gigs have allowed me to learn new skills, meet smart and interesting people, and explore aspects of business that my full-time job does not offer. Those who freelance or work from home often generate ideas for side projects, each a new rabbit to chase down a hole.

But should you follow? The answer is a resounding “maybe.”

With careful consideration, respect for the work that pays your bills, and the ability to stay focused, you can pursue a side project successfully. You can—and should—follow that rabbit, as long as you do so with patience, intention, and discipline.

Strike a balance

Pursuing a side project while another gig pays your bills is tough. Many people talk about finding the time to work on a project, and that’s a problem. You don’t find time for something like this: you designate it.

If you have an hour after dinner to pursue a new venture, write it on the calendar and make it an official date. It’s harder to shrug something off if time has been set aside for it.

Note that I suggested only designating an hour. It’s not much time, and that’s intentional. Your billable hours should be the priority, even when an idea is new and exciting. Take it slow so you aren’t robbing yourself of paid work.

Make a plan

Any successful side project should start by clearly defining the idea. I do this with a mind map, which is like a semi-organized brainstorm. It’s an excellent way to get all your thoughts, ideas and reflections on a single topic written down for later reference.

Start by writing the idea in the center of the document and then branch out all of the things that help define it and make it into reality. When you’re done, it’s easy to see all of the components of your side project in one place. From there, you can put them into categories and get to work during your designated time.

Define essentials and enhancements

Ideas usually start flowing freely once you’ve defined the new project and put it into a mind map. It’s a great feeling, but it’s important to be mindful of what’s necessary and what’s just fun.

I recommend using two lists to separate the two. Name the first “Essentials” and use it to record what must be in place to get a minimum viable product up and running. The result is a clear roadmap getting you from where you are to where you want to be.

Name the other list “Enhancements” and use it to record things that are fun features to have like that cool animation, integrated Twitter sharing, and so on. Only turn your attention to Enhancements once the Essentials list is completed.

This takes will power, but remain strong. You can delay that gratification.

Beware the enthusiasm bell curve

It’s normal for enthusiasm to taper as you work on the more mundane parts of a side project. If it’s a business, this could include opening a business checking account, determining the cost of the product or service, registering your business, and so on.

This is a dangerous time because it’s usually when that second idea pops into your head. It’s tempting to turn to the new idea and leave the original plan in the dust, but abandoning ideas halfway through is how side projects never get finished.

Plus, take comfort in knowing that you’ll feel the same way about the second idea once you’re halfway through launching it, too.

Know when to put it aside

Sometimes a brilliant idea comes to you at the exact wrong time. If you can’t dedicate time to work on a side project right now, it’s still possible to seize the opportunity by:

  • Filing it for later. If a new idea appears when you can’t work on it, store it for later. Put a reminder on your calendar on an appropriate date in the future.
  • Grabbing the domain name now. If you must delay work, grab the related domain name now before it gets scooped up.
  • Identifying the small steps that you can do now. This will often result from your mind mapping session.
  • Conducting relevant research. Read books or subscribe to a relevant podcast to listen to while in the car or during downtime. There’s a great book called Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky that addresses much of this.
  • Working on behind-the-scenes planning. Think about everything that must be done before you can begin work. When you’re ready to pick the project up again, all of the planning will be in place.

The keys to planning and managing side projects

Side projects take focus and planning but can be hugely rewarding—both financially and for personal growth.

Maintaining momentum when you begin a side project is key to getting it across the finish line. Break tasks down into small chunks, set attainable goals for the week, and create a series of small wins for yourself.

As Jerry Seinfeld says, don’t break the chain. Work smart, and good luck.

Continuing Education for Remote Workers

Continuing Education for Remote Workers

A pro stays on top of the game through continued education. Modern trends and tools allow you to retain a competitive advantage, and the best way to stay current is through continuing education. For home workers who run the whole show – from production to marketing and HR – this is crucial. Whether you’re a writer or a designer, a coder or a wedding photographer, you must stay current to stay competitive.

Telecommuters face a similar challenge. Those working within a reasonable distance from the home office may spend the day at the building for an in-service, workshop etc. Workers who are truly remote – in a different city or state – face a greater challenge. In that case, getting to the office is more difficult. Throughout this article, I’ll highlight options for both the freelancer/small business owner and the telecommuter.

However, getting that education isn’t easy.

Many industries have employee betterment built in. For example, my wife is a public school teacher who’s required to attend a certain number of classes and workshops, all tailored to address the latest regulations and teaching techniques. When an appropriate workshop or conference is identified, the school arranges enrollment and foots the bill, and the school day proceeds as normal when she’s away.

As a telecommuter, you’ll probably get paid during an in-service day, which is an advantage over your freelancing brothers and sisters. What’s critical for you is to clearly communicate where you’ll be for the day. Remember, you coworkers are used to not seeing you. For them, it’s just another day. Be sure that all collaborators know you’re unavailable for the day, and when they can expect you back.

If you’re a freelancer or a one-person shop, the story is different. In addition to taking the time to find a good event, you’ve got to register, possibly travel and definitely pay out of your own pocket. Additionally, time spent at a conference or workshop isn’t billable, so no money is earned on that day(s).

In this article, I’ll list several ways you can stay on top of what you do, without sacrificing a huge amount of money or precious billable hours. There are many great resources available if you know where to find them, and many are inexpensive or free. But first, a look at determining the true cost of attending an event.

Bang for your buck

The cost of attending say, a workshop goes beyond the price of admission and maybe a sandwich for lunch. There are a finite number of billable hours in a day (unfortunately we have to sleep sometime). For me, cost = money spent (tickets, food, travel) + time spent, where the latter refers to time that cannot be devoted to billable work. True, the education acquired will hopefully enhance billable work and maybe even your rate, but you’re starting out “in the hole” if you will. If I’m taking a sixty-minute workshop with an entrance fee of $1200 and my rate is $100 per hour, I’m out $1300 for that day.

To offset this, I put a few dollars away each month specifically for continuing education. It’s not a lot but is there when I want to sign up for a webinar, workshop or conference. With some money set aside, it’s time to find an event worth attending, starting with a freebie.

To the library!

Despite predictions to the contrary, the internet did not kill your local library. Those run by forward-thinking staff see them has hubs of information for their communities, not merely housing for paper books. A part of this revival is workshops and talks, often given by community leaders across disciplines. These are typically totally free and offer one-on-one time with a person who really knows their stuff.

If books are your thing, interlibrary loan can let you find exactly the title you need. Again, library cards are free and the time commitment here is very low.

Here’s a quick tip for books you own. When I’m reading a business book that I’ll refer to later, I take notes on an index card as I go. For example, when I come across a great little nugget of information, I’ll make a quick note on the index card with the page number. Then, when I’m through reading, I’ll tape the card to the inside cover, giving me an analog, custom, book-specific wiki. No more flipping to remember, “Now where was that part again?”

Local Schools

Is there a college in your area? She what they’re offering for adult education. There’s a community college in my neighborhood that offers adult classes in the evenings, conveniently accommodating a working person’s schedule.

You can also find business classes, like guidance on writing a loan proposal, working with taxes for the self-employed and more. When I started writing on my own, I took a class like this and discovered that I had to register myself as a business with my town office. I wouldn’t have know that otherwise.

Entrepreneurial Resources

No college in the area? Look into small business support organizations. These groups are set up to help small business owners get off the ground. You’ll learn regulations that I described earlier and have some time for networking, too.

Web Based Training

There are so many great resources online for the self-motivated (that’s you, home worker). DeVry, Lynda and more are ready to go and are free of travel expenses (note that Lynda access is also sometimes offered free through libraries). If you’re a coder, check out Udacity, Treehouse, CodeSchool and others.

Conferences and workshops

Finally, the biggies: conferences and workshops. Definitely the most costly but often the most beneficial. Why not the family along and make a little vacation out of it? Also, look for a smaller, less expensive (both tickets and travel) local events if you can’t get to the biggie.

It’s important to stay good at what you do, and that means staying current. With a little work, you can find the venue that’s perfect for you. Now get to it.


Ready for your next adventure? Find a new job on Authentic Jobs.

Managing Working from Home During School Vacations

Managing Working from Home During School Vacations

The good news is that summer is almost here. The bad news is the same.

For the home worker who’s also a parent, summer break means the pitter-patter of little feet is about to invade your office. The noise is the least of your concern, as feelings of guilt could permeate your work hours. “It’s summer, I should be spending time with the kids!”

Here are our tips on dealing with all of that, plus dealing with clients around vacation time and why you do, in fact, deserve time off.

First, the kids.

Set expectations

The most important thing is the set expectations, both for yourself and for the kids. Be honest about the fact that you won’t be able to work for seven uninterrupted hours anymore. Additionally, explain to the kids (depending on their ages) that you need some time away to work. I recommend working in “kid breaks” to spend time with them, as well as adjusting your work day into smaller chunks of time. I like to get out of bed an hour or two before they do to work on my most important tasks for the day.

If you really need extended quiet time for work, consider a co-working space. Desks Near Me and Share Desk can help you find a clean, professional co-working space close by. There’s often a fee associated with these, but it’s much lower than the cost of renting an office and, for many, worth the investment in quiet productivity.

Vacation Levels

Something else to consider is the family vacation. For as long as I’ve worked from home, I’ve experienced what I call the three levels of vacation. Each has you traveling while adjusting how and when you work.

A Level One vacation is really just a change of scenery. Perhaps you’re in a novel city, state, or country, but your work schedule remains intact. You’ll rise from bed when you typically do, put in a full work day and stop at quitting time. When the day is done, you’re free to explore your new environment. Some would call this a “working vacation” but that term is entirely too depressing to me. Stick with Level One. Which brings us to the next step up.

Level Two features an abridged work day in a new setting. Perhaps you’ll put in four hours instead of a full eight, and use the extra free time for leisurely pursuits.

Finally, a Level Three vacation features no work at all. You’re offline, off the grid and enjoying time away from the grind. It’s a rare, coveted arrangement that many home workers, especially freelancers, can’t pull off without proper planning. It’s difficult but not impossible.

Addressing client needs

First, let clients know you’ll be taking time off. It’s easier said than done. It’s natural to want to be seen as that person they can always rely on or reach out to. The problem with setting that precedent is they might take you up on it. Once that happens, it becomes very difficult to get time away as that client expects your accessibility to remain consistent. Set expectations well ahead of time.

Depending on the client, note that you’ll be traveling and have limited (or no) availability between certain dates. Start this conversation weeks ahead of time. That way, when you get that “urgent” email about the update that must be in place within the next 24 hours or the world will cease to exist, you can remind that person that you won’t be around, as described earlier. Also, you should have a Plan B person waiting in the wings.

Years ago, I was doing copy editing on the side and had collected several clients. I also knew a few other copy editors with whom I’d swap war stories over a beer, including a guy we’ll call Chris. Chris was talented and efficient, and he became my go-to guy when I was unavailable. If that civilization-threatening emergency did come up, I could let Chris know, confident that he’d handle it, and receive a little pay from me in the meantime.

When choosing a Plan B person, consider that their work will reflect on you. Identify someone who’s trustworthy and good at what they do. You don’t want to return from a week of fun in the sun to discover that you’ve got to undo some damage. Additionally, be willing to reciprocate when your Plan B person wants some time off.

Next, create a budget and stick to it. One downside of being a freelancer is the lack of paid vacation time. When you aren’t working, you probably aren’t earning. Crunch the numbers and determine exactly how much you’ll lose and save accordingly. This planning also informs how much you can safely spend while you’re away.

Should you take time off?

Now let’s consider: when you work from home, do you really need a vacation? Don’t be fooled by the fact that you work from the comfort of your own home. You’re still working after all, and your batteries (for lack of a better term) drain just as quickly as the cubicle-bound. In short, you need and deserve time off.

Here’s a bit of fun for the person who can’t bring themselves to abandon email entirely: create a secret vacation-only email address. Give it to that small handful of mission-critical contacts. You’ll feel like you’re getting away with something will remaining in contact with important folks ALL while avoiding the vast majority of messages you typically receive.

Yes, summer is coming and that’s a good thing. Take some time to manage your expectations and those of the kids. Take frequent kid breaks to recharge your batteries and to let them know they’re on your mind. If you do take a vacation, clearly define how and if you’ll work while away and finally, find a co-working space if quiet productivity is of the utmost importance. Have a great summer.


Looking for a new job? We’ve got your next great opportunity on Authentic Jobs.

Personality type and working from home

Personality type and working from home

Quick, which personality type is best suited to work from home: introvert or extravert? The tempting generalization to make is that solitude-loving introverts will shine as home workers while their gregarious counterparts will suffer. I’m not sure it’s that cut-and-dry.

Personality certainly affects a person’s ability to work from home successfully. Right off the bat, there are several traits that will benefit any home worker:

  1. Self-motivation
  2. Superior communication skills
  3. Resourcefulness
  4. Tech savvy

Good communication skills are so important for someone who rarely, if ever, works in the office with the rest of the team. The same can be said for self-motivation, resourcefulness, and comfort with tech tools, as those tools will often foster communication. But is that the entire recipe?

You might be tempted to add another item to that list: an introverted personality. Home-workers often spend hours at a desk without seeing another person. Virtual meetings happen, yes, but that’s not the same as working face-to-face. Does this mean extraverts are doomed to telecommuting failure? Not at all.

Let’s get scientific with it

The Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), is a questionnaire designed to identify psychological preferences. It’s where we get the terms “introvert” and “extravert” in the first place. The questionnaire was designed by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers. According to Fast Company, about 80% of Fortune 1000 companies use it to help employees the relationship between their personalities and their professional lives.

The MBTI says of the extravert:

“[I get] energy from active involvement in events and having a lot of different activities. I’m excited when I’m around people and I like to energize other people.”

Likewise, introversion is described like this:

“[I get] energy from dealing with the ideas, pictures, memories, and reactions that are inside my head, in my inner world. I often prefer doing things alone or with one or two people I feel comfortable with.”

Which one would you add to your remote team? The tempting answer is the solitude-loving introvert. However, Michael Segovia, lead trainer for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, says that anyone, regardless of their personality, can work from home successfully.

So which works best?

The key, according to Segovia, is to recognize how you feel energized — and productive — and take steps to make that happen. For example, a person who is extraverted receives energy from a bustling environment where he or she can bounce ideas off of others. A daily video check-in maybe what that person needs.

Meanwhile, a mostly introverted person may struggle to find the quiet he needs in a busy or noisy household. Likewise, these quieter folks could struggle to ask for the interaction or support they need. Again, a regular video check in is a good idea.

These two types also tend towards traits that are very beneficial for the home worker. The people-driven extravert is often a great communicator, which is crucial for a home worker.

Likewise, he or she is often self-confident and fond of talking with others. These qualities make it easier to network, land deals, talk with potential clients and customers.

On the other hand, an introverted worker is typically energized by time spent alone, protective of their privacy — important for remote work — and thoughtful. These folks won’t struggle with extended periods of alone time.

In either case, employers should be sure to offer plenty of face time. The benefits of face time have been demonstrated scientifically as well. A study published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest in 2015 suggests that “…a balance of face-to-face and virtual contact is optimal” for all home workers, regardless of personality type.

Of course, the world isn’t simply divided into introverts and extraverts. Really, the ideal telecommuter is structured and disciplined, regardless of personality type. A self-motivated individual will be more successful than their counterparts.

 

How to Prepare for a Remote Job Interview

How to Prepare for a Remote Job Interview

You’ve got an interview for a sweet remote working position. Congratulations. Now it’s time to prepare. Of course, you should follow the advice that any candidate should adhere to, like researching the company and your interviewer, appear enthusiastic and so on. There’s also prep work that’s unique to a telecommuting interview that you must not overlook.

There are questions you should ask, others you should expect, as well as things you ought to do before and during the interview to demonstrate that you are the very person to join a remote team. Here are the best practices we suggest for anyone preparing to interview for a telecommuting gig.

Do your Homework

Whenever you interview for a job, you’ve got to do your homework. There’s the usual stuff, like learning about the company and the people you’ll be talking with, understanding the field and so on. There are also a few key things you should do before interviewing for a telecommuting position. These things will help identify you as a person who can work from home successfully.

First, demonstrate that you’re comfortable using the tools that of a self-reliant home worker. If your would-be employer suggests a time that won’t work with your schedule, suggest alternatives. This seems obvious, but it demonstrates the flexibility that a remote worker just has. A tool like Doodle is great here, as it’s just the kind of communication tool that those managing remote workers love.

Also, send a calendar invite, and provide times for your location as well as your interviewers. In doing so, you demonstrate an awareness of the time zone dance and accommodate for it. Finally, suggest several options for speaking, such as Skype, Google Hangouts, UberConference, etc. With that done, it’s on to the interview itself.

Interview Logistics & Preparation

Understand that the interview for a remote job will likely be conducted remotely. You’ll probably have an audio call (phone, Skype, etc.) and a video component. Each has unique preparation steps.

If you’ll be interviewed by phone or other audio call (Skype, etc.):

  1. Don’t “check out” during the conversation. It’s easy to be distracted or otherwise let your attention drift when the interviewer can’t see you. No looking out the window or letting your gaze drift to Twitter for a second. Act as if you’re in the same room as your interviewer.
  2. Be aware that you can’t rely on facial expressions or body language to convey information. If you’re smiling, they don’t know it. Therefore…
  3. Your voice takes on increased importance. Since you can’t rely on visuals to convey enthusiasm or interest, speak clearly and with energy. They can’t see the spark in your eyes, so let them hear it in your voice. I’m not saying to be artificially animated, but be aware that of how you sound.

If you make it past the phone- interview, you may have to participate in a video interview via Skype or Google Hangout. Additionally, I once had to record a video of myself answering questions I received via email. Both are common practices when interviewing for a remote job. Here’s how to prepare for this bit and do well.

  1. Look presentable. Again, this goes without saying. Yes, you’re home, but this is not a casual affair. Get dressed.
  2. Be aware of your background. That epic Led Zeppelin poster is awesome, but an interviewer doesn’t want to see it. Ditto the pile of laundry. Make sure your environment looks professional.
  3. Be aware of lighting. Is your face visible and easy to see? Sit aside a window for nice, natural light.  
  4. Be aware of audio. No, you don’t need a professional mic but if you’re in an echo-y room, move. Even the mic on your ear buds will often be better than the one that’s built in on your computer.

Remember, a part of a video interview is to test that you can work with the tools you’ll need to communicate with your employers. If you struggle with a simple video call, the probably won’t want to have regular remote meetings with you.

Lastly, just before you get started, kill bandwidth-hogging apps like Dropbox, etc., turn off any unnecessary noise in the area like the TV or a noisy air conditioner and finally, wear headphones and a mic, even a cheap one.

Questions to expect

First off, you’ll hear the questions that pop up in most interviews, like “What do you know about the company?” and “Why should we hire you?” Prepare for these remote-specific inquiries as well:

“Have you worked remotely before?”

An interviewer will want evidence of your ability to work independently. Past remote experience will be good here. If you don’t have any experience with remote work (or very little), emphasize the experience you do have. Did a snow day force you to work from home on a wintry day? If so, how did you cope? Does your current brick-and-mortar job require a lot of independent, self-directed work (for example, photo editing at your desk)? Explain how this demonstrates your ability to be self-directed without a lot of interaction/supervision from others.

“Do you have a home office?”

While an employer may be happy with having you work from home, they might not want you at the coffee shop where prying eyes can look over your shoulder and see something that ought to be confidential. Additionally, they may require that you have certain basic equipment in place, like a certain internet speed or a scanner. If you’re on an audio interview, do your best to paint a picture of your workspace.

“How do you handle distractions?”

You know this question is coming. Have an answer ready.

Questions to ask

The questions you ask can be just as important as the answers you provide. As someone interviewing for a remote position, these three should be on your list:

  1. How do remote workers communicate with each other and people back at the office?
  2. How long has remote work been offered at the organization?
  3. How many employees work remotely?

By and large, interviewing for a work-from-home position is much like any interview you’ll take. With the tweaks and preparations mentioned above, you’ll greatly enhance your chances of nailing it. Good luck.

 

The Time Zone Dance

The Time Zone Dance

“It’s a small world after all,” claims the infectious Disney earworm. That’s true at the Magic Kingdom and the modern workplace. High-speed internet and ever-evolving communication tools mean employers can find talent without geographic boundaries.

Previously I discussed the challenge of increasing productivity across remote teams. Today, I want to look at another aspect of managing remote workers: time zones. When part of your team sleeps as another group eats breakfast, it can be tough to foster effective communication, delegation, and accountability.

In this article, I’ll highlight strategies and tools to help you manage the “Time Zone Dance.”

Actively engage remote coworkers

Imagine this scenario: You’re in a meeting with seven co-workers. Four are in a room at HQ, while three others are on a conference call. The conversation grows, ideas are flying around, trouble spots are being identified and solved. It’s been a good, productive 15 minutes.
Then everyone jumps when a disembodied voice fills the air.

Then everyone jumps when a disembodied voice fills the air.

You overlooked the group on the phone.

It wasn’t malicious or intentional. It’s just so easy to do. A virtual presence doesn’t necessarily have the same weight as someone who’s in the room, making eye contact, using body language, and engaging with peers. With this in mind, be careful not to overlook the teammates you can’t see.

You might even go so far as to designate someone to be the “point person” for the virtual attendees. His or her job is to ensure that the remote participants have a chance to share. Something as simple as “Thoughts on this?” directed at your virtual attendees goes a long way to making them feel a part of the team, and reminds the room that there are other people at the meeting.

Get a status update

Here’s another practice to make a part of every meeting that includes remote workers in various time zones. Before saying goodbye, pose these three questions to the group:

1. What are you working on today?
2. What did you work on yesterday?
3. What roadblocks are currently in your way?

By asking these questions every time, you’ll identify and address trouble spots, but more importantly, you’ll require all employees to show what they’ve accomplished.
Additionally, this practice lets those in the “early” time zone communicate with those in the “late” shift know what’s being handed off, what progress has been made and what can be expected in the morning.

Use a rotating schedule

I spent eight years on a team that had members on three continents. Most of them were on the East Coast of the U.S., and every time I noticed a time zone bias that negatively affected the whole team. Everything started on the East Coast and went from there. It’s possible to benefit from a “home base” like that, but in my experience, it caused trouble.

Scheduling everything around East Coast time placed a recurring burden on those living elsewhere. Some folks had to routinely wake up very early to attend meetings, while others were forced to delay bedtime by a troublesome length of time.

The compromise was a rotating schedule. Over the course of a month, everyone on the team, from New York City to New Zealand, had one morning meeting, one midday meeting and one at night.

Think before you hit submit

My final tip is to be aware of when you hit that submit button. For example, if you’re working on a project and it’s nearly 5:00 PM and you decide to call it a day and resume work in the morning, colleagues in Asia now must wait a whole additional work day to receive that update. In this case, it might be best to work through 5:30 or 6:00 to ensure those remote coworkers have what they need at the start of their day.

With the tips laid out, let’s move on to tools. I’ve spoken about productivity tools before, and now I’ll look at three tools that are perfect for doing the Time Zone Dance, starting with Every Time Zone.

EveryTimeZone.com offers a great-looking presentation of the local time across all time zones. Your local time is displayed by default, but you can click anywhere on a grid to see what time it is anywhere in the world.

You can get a little more specific with World Time Buddy. Enter the names of the cities where your team or collaborators reside, click on a time period and view local time across your custom cities.

If you use Slack, consider Spacetime. It lets you get worker-specific, in that you can type “/time @username” to see that person’s local time. Note that Spacetime is still in beta, but in my testing, it did what I expected.

Remember the golden rule

If you’re a hiring manager, go out and employ the best and the brightest, no matter where they live. If you’re the worker, take that dream gig that’s a thousand miles away. Then employ these tips and tools to help ensure it all goes as planned.

While you’re at it, remember the golden rule of working with remote teams: Respect the Time Zones. You don’t want to blow up someone’s DMs or otherwise send noisy push notifications to someone’s bedside phone in the middle of the night. If inspiration or the solution to a problem strikes, use one of the tools described previously in this article to decide if you should let your teammates know right away, or if it can wait.

Working from home is a dream and a great privilege. With a little planning, it can be a very productive dream, too.

Increasing Productivity Across Remote Teams

Increasing Productivity Across Remote Teams

In today’s connected world, your next star employee could be in Los Angeles or London, and hiring managers are taking advantage of the global marketplace. Research by Global Workplace Analytics (GWA) found that, as of January 2016, “…3.7 million employees (2.8% of the workforce) now work from home at least half the time,” and “…80% to 90% of the US workforce says they would like to telework at least part time.”

There seem to be financial benefits of engaging a remote team as well GWA notes that, “If those with compatible jobs and a desire to work from home did so just half the time…a typical business would save $11,000 per person per year, and telecommuters would save between $2,000 and $7,000 a year.”

Remote teams foster unique challenges, like maintaining productivity among people you might never meet. When Jane Employee works outside of the building, for example, you can’t visit her desk to check on progress. Likewise, Jane can’t step into your office when she’s stuck or has a question. How can you as a manager maintain peak productivity from remote workers? That’s what I mean to describe in this article.

Having managed a team of eight writers and a stable of freelancers across two continents for more than ten years, I’ve picked up a few tricks and strategies for keeping a remote team productive and focused. Let’s get to it.

Build a team

First and foremost, make your remote workers feel that they’re a part of the team at large. I recommend using real-time chat as the virtual office and making sure that all employees – local and remote – are logged in while on duty. Not only does this foster communication between all workers, it helps those on the “away team” feel a part of the decisions, conversations and overall project goals that happen every day. Feeling like you’re a part of a vibrant, active team keeps motivation and productivity high.

As for the right tools, choose from Slack, HipChat or even good old IRC if you want to go old school. If you want to add project management/task assignments to your collaboration, consider Basecamp or Asana.

Respect Time Zones

Next, and this is a biggie: respect the time zones. You’ll likely have workers whose 9–5 isn’t the same as a site-based employee’s. While this can potentially be troublesome, taking steps to respect the difference will keep everyone on track.

This comes down to trust. If you selected people for your remote team successfully (more on that later in this article), you’ll have a group of motivated workers who thrive in that setting. Give them their assignments, set up methods for regular check-ins and let them get to it.

Also, focus on schedule overlap. There might be two hours, one hour or even thirty minutes when everyone is “on duty” simultaneously. Identify that time period for check-ins, video meetings and critical communications.

Lastly, smart delegation will serve you well here. If the on-site workers are several hours ahead, give the away team assignments that pick up where the local folks leave off. Communication is critical here, which brings me to my (predictable) next point.

Communicate

Communication is critical. Here’s where a solution like Slack, Basecamp or Asana will pay huge dividends. Each can store an entire project history, including communication, assets, meeting notes and more in a single, searchable location. Centralizing communication like this lets workers tag each other, share files, have meaningful discussions in one place. Get disjointed conversations out of email inboxes and reap huge benefits.

Finally, identify a process for addressing any lapses in productivity. The best way to get started is to look for “overlap time.” That is, the block of time during the day or evening that all parties are online and available. Perhaps there’s a two-hour block in the morning or 90 minutes in the afternoon where all team members – remote and local, management and front line – can connect. Schedule a consistent, predictable review for this time period.

Perhaps a quick “stand-up” could happen at the start of each overlap period. A weekly wrap-up via Skype is a good idea, as is a monthly all-hands lets all employees – remote and otherwise – know when their work will be reviewed and expected. Lastly, here’s a great time to talk work performance with anyone who needs a boost.

Managing a remote team can be rewarding and challenging. Take the steps outlined above to keep your workers on task, productive and happy.

Avoiding Remote Office Burnout

Avoiding Remote Office Burnout

For many, working from home is a dream come true, or a goal to strive for. Those of us lucky enough to achieve the dream work from the comfort and convenience of our own homes. While others spend twenty, thirty or even forty minutes commuting, we simply walk from Room A to Room B. We enjoy meals in our own kitchens, sit on our own furniture and take a break to pet the dog whenever the mood strikes. How can one possibly burn out on such an enviable arrangement?

Easily.

Remote office burnout threatens even the happiest of us. Consider the unshaven worker who looks up from his laptop to realize, “I haven’t left this house for two weeks.” Or worse, the temptation to work more hours, since it’s so easy and convenient to do so. A few weeks of 18-hour days will leave even the most dedicated person burned out.

Fortunately, there are many easy, effective things you can do to avoid burnout. Let’s get started with avoiding remote office burnout.

Take frequent breaks

You’re lucky enough to work from home; take advantage of the perks. Prepare a lunch that you really enjoy. Walk the dog. Work from that coffee shop that you love so much. Meet a friend for lunch. I’m not saying you should shirk your duties just because you’re home. But you ought to take advantage of the perks that many cubicle-bound employees dream of.

One thing you should definitely embrace is breaks. Short or long, time spent away from the task at hand gives you time to process what you’re working on and have ideas (think of all the great ideas you’ve had in the shower). There are a few ways to build break times into your work day.

One method is to formalize the process. The famed Pomodoro Technique teaches practitioners to alternate between timed periods of work (usually around 20-25 minutes) and break periods. The first three breaks are five minutes long, followed by a 15-minute rest. After that the process repeats. It’s effective for those who embrace routine as well the more “attention challenged.” For example, when the temptation to browse YouTube hits, you know there’s a break time during which that will be appropriate right around the corner.

Another way to work a break time into your day is to split it into two. For example, spend the morning working from home, and after lunch, transition to a cafe, local library, co-working space or similar location. The drive serves as a great break from the day’s duties.

But don’t take my word for it. A study conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2011 demonstrated that “…even brief diversions from a task can dramatically improve one’s ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods.”

Get some exercise

Research conducted by University of Georgia in 2008 suggests that regular exercise can make you feel more energized within a few weeks, while effects on your mood are immediate. You don’t need a costly gym membership to reap these rewards, either. A simple walk outdoors for 30 minutes a day encompasses many of the burnout-busters I’ll discussed in this article.

First, it’s a break from the grind, which gives you brain time to process input, like that new design you’re working on, that lengthy article or the newest problem that just seems so daunting. The link between physical activity and cognitive health has been demonstrated scientifically.  

A stroll on your own terms is a perk of working from home, and I’ll encourage you not to overlook those. Finally, when part of a daily schedule, including consistent work hours, exercise becomes even more powerful.

Set work hours and follow them religiously

“I’ll just pop over to my desk and check email for a minute.”

“I can work on this tonight after the kids go to bed.”

“I’ll finish this on Saturday.”

Sound familiar? I’ve said all of these things to myself many times. Ultimately, they lead to my being overworked, overtired and stressed out. An office-bound worker has a clear start and stop time to his or her day, and you should, too. While it’s tempting to pull an all-nighter, try to avoid the temptation. Even a “five minute” email check can swell to 20 minutes with ease.

It’s not always easy to be strict with yourself in this manner. For years I’d work while my kids were at school and once they got home, either: 1) work and feel guilty that I wasn’t in “dad mode” or 2) spend time with the kids, resentful that I wasn’t working. Today, I tell myself that the work day ends at 3:00 PM and that’s that. This decision forced me to devise a routine for the hours I have to myself and really enjoy family time.

Sticking to set work hours also fosters good working habits with clients and/or coworkers. The first time you immediately respond to a last-second, after-hours request, you set a precedent that your time is really their time. Yes, emergencies happen and sometimes these extra hours are inevitable. I get that. Just convey to all involved that that’s the exception, not the rule.

Make time for human interaction

Remember the worker I mentioned who was lamenting his home-bound predicament? Don’t let this be you. Many home-workers are introverted on some level. I’ve enjoyed working from home all these years because I actually enjoy the quiet of an empty house. It helps me concentrate, focus and be productive.

But too much of a good thing, isn’t.

A few years ago I began getting together with like-minded home workers once every two weeks. I grew to love the opportunity to talk with compatriots, share stories and strategies for doing what we do. Years later we get together (more regularly) and I find those gatherings just as beneficial as they’ve ever been.

This is especially effective when dealing with burnout. A great way to escape the dreaded state is to get a moral boost from others. A good conversation with someone who has “been there” can go a long way. You can vent, work through problems together or act as a sounding board for ideas.

You’re among the lucky few. You work from home. With a little effort and planning, you’ll continue to do so — happily — for years to come.