My time in Japan has come to an end and I am now in the process of PCSing. For those of you who aren’t familiar, the term is used to describe the hellish moving experience for military members and their families that happens on average every three years. What makes this process so painful? All of the emails, phone calls, and signatures required to move myself and my belongings from one place to the next. Some are important and some aren’t but the one time you select “off” on your notification setting or throw items is the virtual trash, you will regret it.  Therefore, operating on a zero or one scale isn’t an option.

 

I need a spectrum or gradation. It would be amazing if I could turn my notification setting to off but still be alerted whenever an email titled “PCS” came through. Then, I could filter out the unimportant stuff when trying to remain focused.

 

Moreover, there is nothing worse than being bombarded with rings, dings, and pings when you are in a work rhythm. But, some people, topics, and projects are worth the distraction. The problem is most platforms only allow you to have all the notifications or none at all. That’s where the Hardly app comes into play. Let me introduce you to the notification setting filters of my dreams:

Notification Setting #1: Give certain people a VIP pass

Hardly Notification Customization

I love my grandmother to death but I know a conversation with her will last hours. Even when we both have the intention of simply checking in, our conversation becomes tangential and any work flow I previously had dissipates.  A phone call from her, while wonderful, is the ultimate distraction.

And I’m not alone. In our last team meeting, coworkers mentioned that their family group texts were at the top of their distractions list and something they wish they could filter out when they are in Zoom meetings or quickly approaching a deadline. We all want to know what Uncle Jack thinks about the latest COVID restrictions, just not when our website edits are due by the end of the day.

Without Hardly, my only option is to put my phone on silent or constantly be swiping away messages off of my laptop screen. With Hardly, I can silence my family drama while still receiving notifications if my deployed husband tries to contact me. Communication is few and far between so making sure I see his messages is a must!

This feature of the notification app is a game-changer. It gives you the power to hand out passes to the very important people you need to be in contact with to stay on top of your work while pressing the pause button on distractors (we want to hear from them, just not now!)

Notification Setting #2: Allow top-shelf topics to come through

Hardly App Alert Manager Notifications

In addition, the Hardly app allows you to filter notifications by topic. I love that my workplace values coworkers getting to know one another personally, not just professionally. However, I can do without the string of nonstop notifications from coworkers sending each other cat pictures while I am trying to enjoy a dinner date or working on writing a blog. 

I love this notification setting because I can limit distractions while allowing alerts from the blog or social media channels. Meaning, when my phone buzzes in the middle of getting some great thoughts down on paper, I know that it’s a notification pertinent to my work and actually worth checking. Any app that prevents me from losing my train of thought over random conversations is a winner in my book.

Notification Setting #3: Push through priority projects

Hardly App Alert Manager Notifications

Lastly, while other applications allow you to filter notifications by person or category, our software offers customization like never before. You can filter your notifications by urgent words. For instance, any messages that say “urgent,” “end of day,” or “ASAP,” can bypass my do-not-disturb notification setting on my computer so that I don’t miss anything pressing.

 

Don’t believe me? I bet you can think of at least one time where you had your notification setting off and when you turned it back on realized you had missed a question or request that was time-sensitive. Hardly will make sure you can keep your focus without missing anything that requires your immediate attention.

Why does all this matter?

Notifications Hardly Superhuman

The percentage of employees that would rather go back to their daily commute than continue sorting the deluge of emails and Slack or Teams messages. Source: Superhuman

Not sure if a notification filtering system will truly have an impact on your remote work experience? Superhuman just released a new survey that found nearly two in three remote workers would rather go back to their daily commute than continue sorting through the avalanche of emails and chat messages. Additionally, over half of men and women say they can’t go more than 5 minutes without opening a notification for an email or work communication.

 Click here to learn more about the Hardly app and let us know which notifications you love filtering out! Need more tips to keep the distractions out and the productivity in? Read our blog on how to overcome notification nerves

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In elementary school, I planted trees; cleaned up the beach; and made recycle, reduce, and reuse posters every Earth Day. After a month of learning about “going green” and estimating our own carbon footprint, I remember telling my parents they couldn’t purchase an SUV, and we needed to stop using plastic straws and be more sustainable.

Since then, my environmental awareness has taken a nosedive. However, this spring, I have been thinking about whether remote work supports sustainable living. Are we all sustainable superheroes now that we don’t commute in our pollution producing cars? Or, have we become extra energy consumers working from home?

Hardly, More Sustainable

From one office to thousands

While the future of work is unknown, we can all agree that going back to a commute would be tough. Eliminating daily commutes to work in gas guzzling cars is a major point for the affirmative side. No commute means better air quality, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and less consumption of fossil fuels. Sounds like sustainable living to me!

Highway vehicles alone put out almost 35% of the total nitrogen dioxide and contribute to the 3.3 million world-wide deaths due to poor air quality every year. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in the USA came from transportation in 2017. Conversely, remote workers in the United States avoid emitting 3.6 million tons of greenhouse gasses every year, which is the equivalent of planting 91 million trees.

Sustainable living in a singular office

While getting to one office might have had a negative impact, working in one might have been positive. Companies were making huge efforts to reduce their carbon footprint before the pandemic. Fast Company shared how Shopify launched a sustainability fund in 2019, committing to invest at least $5 million every year into technology and projects to fight climate change. Since then, they have offered remote work to all of their employees indefinitely.

Whereas before they could control their sustainability by making environmentally friendly choices for one massive building, they are now dealing with “more than 5,000 offices scattered around the globe. All these offices have different heating systems, different energy grids, and each employee making different decisions now that they’re untethered from a central office.” Therefore, sustainability is not only less controllable but also less trackable. Without clear data, the jury is still out on which is better for the planet.

Hardly, More Sustainable

Different region, different impact

In addition to the inability to track everyone’s home energy usage, where you live and work complicates the questions of whether working from home is having a positive or negative effect on sustainable living. BBC brings up two important factors.

The first factor is workers in other countries, such as Norway, were using electric vehicles at high rates. Therefore, the lack of a commute is far less impactful there than in other countries that are highly reliant on petroleum, including the US and UK. In other words, sustainable living practices were already in place.

Additionally, cities where public transportation is used at large to get to and from work might not see any major changes in energy consumed since buses, trains, and metros are still running.

Where you derive your energy matters

Secondly, where your energy comes from plays a role in determining whether working from home positively contributes to sustainable living. For example, if you live in Iceland (where a significant amount of clean geothermal energy powers commercial buildings), virtual work is not scoring you many brownie points. Conversely, if you live in a U.S. city where coal power is the main source of commercial electricity but many homes have solar power, remote work could have a positive impact.

Similarly, the temperature varies greatly across the U.S. and the globe. In places like Florida where the heat is treacherous, fossil fuels are pumping from every home all day and required in large office spaces. Therefore, cutting out the cooling of big buildings could be beneficial. Versus if you live in San Francisco where the weather is mostly mild, heating or cooling systems might be turned off when leaving the house so the change is negligible.

Hardly, More Sustainable

Small habits or big changes

Do the small habits of individuals or the big changes at the corporate level make the difference? I don’t have the answer, but here is some food for thought:

Let’s take the use of paper and plastic. I don’t know about you, but I print various things when I’m at work, using someone else’s printer. Every time there is a meeting, we receive a paper agenda, which everyone throws in the trash on their way out, and a paper copy of the Powerpoint presentation (even though it was emailed to everyone the night before). But, when working remotely, I let the digital version suffice. Who wants to pay for all of that paper and ink?

On the other side of the coin, I see plastic Starbucks cups on everyone’s desk at the office, a product of getting their morning vice on the way to work. Yet,  my guess is  most drink the energizer from a reusable mug when working from home.

Also, what about the lights? In my apartment, I get great natural light all day so I don’t use much electricity, while my office is required to power overhead lights from 7am to 5pm.

More Sustainable? The takeway

Not everyone is environmentally conscious. Therefore, minor habits might not hold a candle to the millions of dollars that corporations can put into environmental efforts. For example, Zapier offset 647 tonnes of carbon through reforestation and Microsoft charges an internal fine of $15 per metric ton of carbon emission to encourage its departments to be as sustainable as possible.

At Hardly, we are striving to be environmentally conscious on all fronts. From our commitment to the sustainable packaging of products to our CEO’s use of S’well bottles, Hardly is making sure we do our part as a company of remote workers. Are you doing yours?

The coronavirus swept the globe in the spring of 2020. What we thought would be a temporary illness for some has become a pandemic for all, for months on end. While the continuous spread of the virus might be coming to an end shortly, the wounds are deep. Work-wise, the impact is mixed; some negative and some positive. As I began pondering the future of work post-pandemic, I found I had more questions than answers.

If you read my article from last week, you know that remote workers aren’t interested in going back to the office full-time. However, they are also missing the collaboration and community that in-person interactions bring. Companies are happy to reduce their expenses by not paying for large office buildings while maintaining a productive workforce. But they also recognize the need for some physical space at least part-time.

The future of work will move towards a hybrid model. Gone are the days where all employees commute to the same building and sit at the same desk from 9-5. However, working in isolation from makeshift home offices 100% of the time will not become the new normal. Companies will allow purpose to dictate the use of office space and employees will have a choice. But more is unknown than known about work in 2021; these are the macro questions I’m grappling with…

Will remote work be an equalizer or widen the gap?

Remote work might provide more opportunities for underrepresented populations to thrive in the white-collar job market. On the other hand, going virtual might be one more thing that boxes them out. Specifically, I am interested in the impact remote work will have on women and gender inequality in the workforce. In a BBC interview, Melinda Gates said that women were clustered in low-paying jobs pre-pandemic, and therefore were 1.8 times more likely to lose their jobs. Women who didn’t lose their jobs were forced into balancing housework and work in an environment where they are both constant and competing.

In my eyes, there are two potential paths. First, remote work will help partners share household duties more equitably. Plus, the flexibility will prevent women from having to make difficult choices between children and career. Without long commutes and strict office hours, both parents will have the ability to work full-time if they choose, and participate in household chores such as cooking dinner, doing laundry, and picking up the kids. Men can spend more time inside the home engaging with their children and contributing to household chores, giving women more time to advance in their careers.

However, just because they can doesn’t mean they will. Jean-Nicolas Reyt states that women have a more difficult time advancing professionally because they are more likely to prioritize their family responsibilities over their careers. In the future, working from home might intensify these feelings making women less present, focused, and productive.

Future of Work, Hardly

Will companies start to employ a more international workforce and what does that mean for domestic workers?

Remote work has expanded opportunities for international teams, but are domestic employees still more desirable? This year, our company hired four international employees, all in different time zones. From Thailand to Japan to London, Hardly has been able to pull talent from every end of the globe. Part of me thinks we are trendsetters. Without location being a factor, the talent pool is only narrowed by language and experience. With new platforms to make working with international teams seamless, distance will play a less prominent role in hiring.

Now, we have a “virtual first” style of work: designed for the remote worker rather than adapted. Everything will be saved to a cloud, and onboarding processes will be automated. Hiring international remote workers won’t require managers to do duplicative work or go out of their way, it will just be the standard. While there are many positives to hiring internationally, there could be negative consequences for the domestic workforce. US workers might be pushed out by companies trying to maximize profits by hiring people from countries where the cost of living is significantly lower and therefore, so is their wage. But currently, companies are rewarded for supporting America and Americans through job creation. Just like there has been a push to buy local, hiring local might become a new grassroots movement.

Future of Work, Hardly

In the future, will workers and companies alike be dehumanized?

The pandemic has caused many of us to become more humanitarian. While some believe a shutdown is the best way to save lives, others believe keeping the economy running is the protection we need. Either way, we all agree that human lives have value and should therefore be treated with care. But what makes someone human and what makes us care about them? Without the break room chats or company holiday parties, the person on the other side of the email becomes faceless. 

Some say they know less about their coworkers since working from home. People don’t discuss their children in passing, their quirky habits aren’t observable from across the room, and personality goes unseen with more communication via email. Without the ability to connect in-person, we run the risk of being degraded to worker bees.

However, some have had the opposite experience. Zoom has provided them a window into coworkers’ lives outside of the office in a very real way. A colorful painting in a colleague’s living room may lead to a conversation about their experience in Thailand, or seeing books may lead to a conversation of Russian authors.

If video chats and Slack conversations aren’t enough to help management form relationships with their team, they might not be as empathetic when a personal matter comes up. Employees won’t feel cared for and therefore won’t feel connected.  On the company side,  a lack of physical spaces makes it more difficult to embody a mission or culture. In other words, companies could become empty shells where people simply work to earn a paycheck and nothing more. A soulless company attracts soulless employees who only complete the bare minimum because they don’t believe in the work they are doing. To avoid this, companies will have to encourage coworkers to converse on a personal level and find a way to keep the company’s personality alive and well in a virtual setting.

Final word

If I’m honest, I have so many more questions about the future of work. Will people become more or less defined by their work? Will there be a great migration from urban areas to small suburbs? What new skills do you need to be a competitive candidate in the remote work scene? These topics may be seeds for next year’s articles but until then, use them as food for thought and if you have any predictions about the future of work, leave us a comment on our social media below!

Years ago when I lived in DC, I would get off at Farragut North Metro Station every morning and pass by the WeWork on K Street.  I would imagine myself sitting against the huge windows sipping a cappuccino, signing up for speaker events and book signings, and networking with fellow young professionals of all industries.  To me, coworking spaces were lands of opportunity; symbols of working on my own terms, community, and collaboration. Flexibility at its finest. Lack of structure left room for pervasive creativity, and the flow of people breathed new life into each day.

Coworking Space, Hardly

Fast forward to 2020 and the realization that I could potentially be living in San Francisco after leaving Japan.

I was excited about having the opportunity to join a coworking space. In such a big city there was a variety to choose from; some dedicated to providing a space for female entrepreneurs to network, some marketed towards those in the arts who want to be in an interactive cultural hub, and some focused on becoming your one-stop-shop for morning coffee, conferences, lunch dates, and happy hour cocktails. One coworking space even had yoga rooms, nursing areas for new moms, and beauty counters! I promise I’m not the only one who was buzzing about these new spaces. Prior to the pandemic, coworking spaces comprised less than 5% of the market but were the fastest-growing type of office space in commercial real estate, said Forbes. In fact, they were expected to make up 30% of the market by 2030 according to JLL.

Here comes Covid-19! So what now? The pandemic that many of us thought would be over by now has changed the way we do life and business forever. A Stanford study found that remote workers are 13% more productive. A recent Gartner study suggested that 74% of CFOs plan to permanently shift to more remote work post-COVID-19. In addition, the whole reason people were told to work from home was to prevent them from gathering in one space, so I initially thought that COVID would be the death of coworking. However, after careful consideration, I have done a 180.

My prediction: coworking spaces will begin to thrive during and post-pandemic and here are the three reasons why:

Coworking Space, Hardly

People miss the social interaction and sense of community

I am a social butterfly. Too long in isolation and I am itching to see another human. Yes, I know we have these cool techy devices that allow us to FaceTime, but it’s not the same as striking up a conversation with someone next to you.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the flexibility and that my commute to the couch takes two seconds. But I don’t think the pajamas and pancakes make up for the camaraderie I feel when I’m in an office setting. Humans are social beings. We are better together!

Now, you could make the argument that Zoom meetings and chat platforms provide just as much opportunity for social interaction, but 9 times out of 10 I am more engaged in a conversation when I am physically with the person rather than looking through a screen. An Inc. article stated that 45% of those surveyed said they specifically missed social connections at the office the most. 

Coworking spaces provide a solution to this. We can be unsociable worker bees for three days out of the week and then get to interact with our team members in a rented space for a couple of hours on Monday and Friday to bond, brainstorm, and feel the sense of community around us.  

Coworking Space, Hardly

People want to create more separation between their personal and professional lives

One of the difficulties with working from home is that there is no physical delineation between work and home. This makes it difficult to mentally draw the line too. Using the same space for our personal and professional lives causes work time and playtime to blur. Yikes! 

While there is the perk of being able to do loads of laundry or prep dinner between traditional work hours, we are also answering emails and working on deliverables after six o’clock. For those of us who live on busy streets or with a roommate, it’s hard to get the peace and quiet we need to focus on the task at hand. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. My heart goes out to the mothers and fathers who are trying to run a daycare or 3rd-grade classroom while working.

Bottom line — people are starting to remember some of the benefits of commuting to a secondary location where their only job was to do the job they were getting paid for! Coworking spaces could provide the perfect balance between going into a corporate office and working from our living rooms. You won’t be expected to show up at 8 a.m. sharp  or take sick leave every time you have a dental appointment, but you will have a place away from the distractions of your home to work efficiently. Who said you couldn’t have your cake and eat it too?

Coworking Space, Hardly

Conventional corporate offices are unnecessary and expensive, but companies realize employees need a place to work together in person

It’s no surprise that companies are thrilled that productivity is up and expenses are down. Fast Company stated long-term lease signing in NYC plummeted 72% in the second quarter of 2020. Companies are either relocating their headquarters or nixing them all together.

Companies are finding that “remote only” is not a sustainable long-term solution. Collaboration, onboarding, and team management are just a few aspects of work that are done better in person and affect company culture and profitability. Once again, it could be coworking spaces to the rescue. 

Instead of wasting money on huge office buildings 365 days per year, coworking spaces allow for companies to make office space purpose-driven rather than obligatory. With the ability to sign short-term flexible leases for the month or reserve conference rooms by the hour or the day, companies can save goo-gobs of money and still provide employees face-to-face interaction when needed.

So what do coworking spaces need to do to become the future of work?

For one, safety is key.  Remember, gathering in a space with a bunch of strangers is counterintuitive to being COVID conscious. Therefore, plans for sanitation and spacing are key.

Secondly, marketing might need to shift more heavily towards corporations playing into their desire to save money and have a flexible office space.

Thirdly, coworking spaces have to continue to innovate and maintain their personalities. Instead of being a skeleton for companies to fill, coworking spaces should still have their own theme or mission and attract companies and individuals based on that. As usual, it’s all about finding a happy medium.

Would you join a coworking space? Why or why not?

Remote work is definitely not going away any time soon and we’ve seen some benefits to it as well: less commute, which means more time to catch some zzz’s or hang with the family. However, it can also pose some challenges as we mentally and physically face our new norm. Over the last couple of weeks we have been talking about individual physical and mental wellbeing. If you are a manager, you may be thinking this all sounds good and dandy but “how do I promote employee wellbeing when my team is remote?” Sit back and relax because I’m going to share a few tips that can help boost the wellbeing of your team today.

Not only will your employees appreciate your active stand on ensuring their wellbeing, but it actually helps with team and company productivity!  As stated in a Forbes article, studies have shown that supporting your employee’s wellbeing positively impacts a company’s performance. Now you got to give it a try since it’s good for the bottom line. Am I right?

Let’s start with getting in the right mindstate, a relaxed one. A deep breath in for one, two, three, four, and hold for four. Breath out for one, two, three, four. Now, don’t you feel better? A quick and easy way to calm those nerves. Share with your team! Now that we are nice and calm, let’s dive right on in.

Champion Flexibility

Employee wellbeing, Hardly

While many of us have been working from home for some time now, it never hurts to reinforce flexibility on your team. As a leader of your team, you help set expectations and influence team morale. As such, it is important that your employees and team members feel comfortable stepping away from their laptop. What this pandemic has shown us is that more than ever, people need to think about their physical and mental wellbeing. Ensuring your team knows you are a champion for flexibility goes a long way and demonstrates that you trust them.

I remember when I first started working remotely some years ago, I was so paranoid to have my instant messenger status say “away.” I felt like I had to always be on since there was no way for people to see me in the office. I also didn’t want people to think I was taking advantage of working remotely. It wasn’t until my leader shared that it is okay to step away, take a breather, go for a walk that I felt comfortable. I felt such a sense of relief, like a weight was taken off of my shoulders.

Up until then, I didn’t realize how much it actually affected me. Stepping out to go for a walk around the block when I need a break from the screen has been huge. Make sure you not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk. Employee wellbeing will increase when yours increases.

Check-Ins (no agenda needed or required)

Employee wellbeing, Hardly

When you are in the office, it is easier to pick up on cues that a direct report may be going through something or just that they are not 100%. In this remote world, it is more difficult to see that. It’s not like we can just swing by their desk and check in. It takes more of an effort now. Check in with your team outside of team meetings just to see how they are doing. It doesn’t always need to be business so these check-ins can be to catch up, reflect and have non-work related conversations. No agendas are needed,  just what is on someone’s mind. Feel free to do this as a team or individually. As Ryan Lynch, managing partner from Beardwood & CO, says:

“When you are talking to any of your team, it’s important to be truthful, specific, and positive. Remote working has made this even more applicable.”

This is a small effort as a manager or leader, but can impact your team in a good way. Sometimes we just need to talk about non-work related items. While these don’t need to be long, these check-ins can also impact your relationship with your direct reports, improving team morale.

Set Boundaries and Expectations

Employee wellbeing, Hardly

While working from home can be so beneficial, it can be quite difficult separating work life and your personal life as it’s basically the same four walls now. I no longer have the hour-commute, but there goes that separation from being in the office to a home setting. As many of you, I have found myself working longer. This can lead to fatigue and burnout.

As your team’s leader, take it upon yourself and set those work and personal boundaries for your team. Let them know you don’t expect them to always be on. If an email comes in after hours, you don’t have to answer it right away. A healthy balance between work and personal life is needed, especially now. Let me tell you, burnout is real and setting those expectations with your team helps alleviate the stress of needing to constantly answer those “off hour” emails or calls. Encourage those boundaries and set expectations for “off work” hours.

With flexibility, open communication, setting expectations you can easily and actively  help your employees thrive in a remote environment. Let us know how these work tips work out for you and what strategies you put into place that puts your team’s well-being as a priority. 

In 2018, Wrike conducted a survey where 68% in the US reported experiencing moderate to high levels of stress on the job. Work can be stressful in a variety of ways but I find that communication overload (notifications, especially!) is the leading culprit. As much as I love that I can check my work email from my phone, I hate that I can get a work email on my phone at all hours of the day.

Anyone else roll their eyes when you’re trying to go to sleep and that notification ding goes off?

Technology has made employees more accessible than ever before. It used to be that if you are not at the office, you aren’t working. Today, work is accessible from anywhere/anytime, and there is barely any separation between professional life and personal life. One of the biggest hurdles to work-life balance is creating mental distance.

In fact, there is one specific aspect of working in the digital age that prevents me from ever truly checking out… You know what I’m talking about… A ring, beep, or chime will have me rushing like a speed racer because I feel obligated to respond in a matter of seconds.  Sometimes I even wake up paranoid that I’ve missed an email or a Slack notification. So what is the answer? Here are 5 tips to help you keep your cool when the level of communication becomes overwhelming.

Tip #1: Set Your Notification Preferences

Notification, Hardly

In 2017, an RSNA study on smartphone addiction found that notifications can create an imbalance in your brain, higher levels of anxiety, and cause a pattern called ‘switch cost’: when an interruption, such as a notification, distracts our attention from a task we were working on to view the notification. You take more time to complete the original task, which leads to repetitive behavior, time lost, and inefficiency.

Most apps automatically want you to be more engaged, so they provide notifications for everything. When I joined Hardly, notifications were blowing up my phone all night and during meetings at my other job. I was getting notified for everything! It wasn’t until later I discovered there was a way to only be alerted if a task was assigned to me specifically. When I made that small change, it was like a cold drink of water on a scorching hot day: relief! I was no longer bombarded with flashing lights during the night! If I did hear a ding, I knew it was important and worth my time to stop what I was doing and have a look.

Prevent notifications from interrupting deep work or killing your happy hour vibes. Take the time to adjust your alerts. It makes all the difference for your own mental and emotional wellbeing.

Tip #2: Set Expectations Appropriately

Notification, Hardly

Why do we feel so pressed to keep checking our email and messaging platforms? The key here is to set communication expectations. If your boss, coworkers, and clients know that you will get back to them within a reasonable time frame, they won’t expect an immediate response. Remember, unless you work in the ER, whatever they need is rarely urgent. Most coworkers understand that you do not work 24/7— you need to sleep, eat, and go to the bathroom. However, if you set a precedent of responding immediately every time, they will be disappointed when you do not. Instead, inform others that you will respond to emails within 24-48 hours, and if they have a time-sensitive request they can call your phone directly.

Tip #3: Turn off Social Media Notifications

Notification, Hardly

There are enough pings during the workday; you don’t need to attract even more by having your personal notifications blowing up too! Turning off your social media notifications will help you stay focused on work and allow you to prioritize communication with colleagues rather than feeling like you have to attend to friends too. At first, you might have some FOMO. Eventually, you’ll love the peace and lack of social media harassment. 

Tip #4: Limit Your Communication Channels

Notification, Hardly

Every day there are new platforms to manage workflow. Companies get excited about trying them out to increase productivity, streamline project management, and stay abreast of new technological advancements; however, if they are only adding new forms of communication without getting rid of others, it can feel like your inbox is under attack.  It is up to you and your team to figure out which communication platforms to narrow down to and what triggers a notification. In addition, don’t forget that phone calls still exist. Oftentimes, it is the email back and forth that becomes overwhelming, which can be avoided by talking on the phone. Just because we are in a digital world, doesn’t mean we can resort to an old-fashion phone call.

Tip #5: Shutdown the Computer and Self-Isolate

Notification, Hardly

Last but not least, the antidote to communication overload is communication detox. Set aside certain times when you are going to completely unplug— no notifications! It is so important to cut off all communication, even if it is only for an hour or two a day. Set up an automatic email response: “I am gone for the day” and turn your phone on silent. With practice, it will feel liberating and you will be able to be truly present away from work.  

Or, download the Hardly app!

If you can’t avoid the communication craziness, at least tone it down! Our app helps you customize the notifications you want to receive and when. And it’s easy to set up!

Want to learn more about the people behind the app? Check out our team.

There is a lot of buzz about how working from home affects our mental health, but there is less discussion around how remote work affects our physical health. Over the past week, I have been trying to answer this question:

Is remote work better or worse for your physical health?

It boils down to whether you establish good habits or poor ones. Working remotely typically affords us more flexibility and time to make healthy choices. But with freedom comes responsibility; we can no longer justify fast-food lunches, a lack of sleep due to a commute, or back pain because the issued chairs are uncomfortable, and we are chained to our desk. While remote work provides a lot of opportunities to make better choices regarding our physical health, it can be harder to create good habits at home. For every way in which working remotely can improve your physical health, it can also damage it. To prevent you from choosing the wrong side of the coin, here are the dos and don’ts of how to make remote work benefit your body rather than destroy it.

RECOMMENDATION #1

Replace your commute with more sleep

Remote Work Health, Hardly

Skipping the commute is one of the advantages of working from home. That means a later alarm and the opportunity to catch more Zzzzs.  There is a significant amount of evidence that suggests a good night’s sleep seriously boosts productivity. One study of U.S. workers found significantly worse productivity, performance, and safety outcomes among those who slept less. In addition, long-term sleep deprivation is found to be associated with health problems like weight gain, blood sugar dysregulation, indigestion & gastric problems, heart diseases, etc. Overall, sleep quality and duration has a direct impact on our functioning on multiple levels. Those few extra minutes in the morning could make a bigger difference than you think.

RECOMMENDATION #2

Don't snack throughout the day

Remote Work Wellness, Hardly

One of the things I struggled with the most when I started working remotely was snacking. I was constantly eating anything and everything in my cabinets just because it was there. When I was working at the office, I only ate what I packed for lunch, but working from home it was like I had all the chips and granola bars at my fingertips. I gained 10 lbs after the first three months of working at home.

Limit yourself to 2 healthy snacks per day: 1 between breakfast and lunch and 1 between lunch and the end of the day.  Anything more is typically out of boredom, not hunger. Instead, focus your energy on making a nutritious lunch. One huge benefit of working from home is that you don’t have to wake up earlier to pack your lunch or be tempted by fast-food around your workplace. Remote work allows us to enjoy a healthy breakfast and lunch, which ultimately decreases the likelihood of obesity. An article in Health Magazine states people who commute through areas surrounded by drive-thrus are more likely to stop at them and have higher BMIs. This study even found commuters with the most exposure to takeout joints were almost twice as likely to be obese.

RECOMMENDATION #3

Make your remote work space ergonomic

Remote work wellness, Hardly

Step one is to get a good chair. For the best posture, make sure to get a chair that is height adjustable and has lumbar support. It might also be beneficial to have a standing desk. The more variety, the better. The optimal position is one where your feet touch the floor. Keyboard and mouse placement is also crucial for comfort and preventing yourself from looking like the hunchback of Notre Dame. Ideally, your keyboard should be positioned away from you and slightly down. Next, your keyboard and mouse should be shoulder-distance apart. This will ensure you aren’t reaching unnecessarily. Finally, position your screen where you can sit back in your chair and still see clearly. This will prevent you from craning your neck. Magical, instant remote work health!

RECOMMENDATION #4

Stay active

Remote work wellbeing, Hardly

Remote work = we are moving even less. When working in the office, you might have to walk from the metro station, get up to go to the copier machine or a colleague’s desk a couple of times a day, or walk to the coffee shop across the street every day. BGR states, “sitting for such long periods can have significant and adverse effects, resulting in higher risks of muscular-skeletal disorders, obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and more.” A simple solution is to build in time for physical activity each day. Whether it is a walk or a gym session, a moving body is healthier. Don’t have time for an hour-long high-intensity session? Every hour, just get up and walk around your house for 5 minutes.

RECOMMENDATION #5

Eye health is remote work wealth

Remote Work Wellness, Hardly

Between the Zoom meetings and constant emails, all of our eyes are glued to screens for extended periods of time. The first thing you can do? Blink! This will keep your eyes moisturized, making them less irritated and less likely to feel like SpongeBob SquarePants without waterForbes also suggests using the 20/20/20 rule. Every 20 minutes take 20 seconds to look at least 20 feet away. It gives your eyes a chance to recuperate from the harsh lighting in a minimal amount of time.

Try out these tips for staying healthy while working remotely and comment below what your favorite technique is! The goal is to crush your work, not let you work crush you.

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Earlier in 2020, there was an inflection point when we all shifted from a mindset of “I just gotta get through this” to “This is my new reality. What can I do to be OK?” 

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs2.svg

We all reached this frame of mind at different times, particularly when we each individually moved up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from the bottom two rungs to the top three. Or whenever we decided to stop hoarding toilet paper and canned food— whichever came first.

Being “OK” in the madness of 2020 involves taking care of yourself mentally and physically. We all know this is important, but why? AND HOW?

With work, I’m all about maximizing my productivity and making every minute count. But when it comes to taking care of myself physically, I’m the worst. While I watch others running 10 miles a day, you will catch me and my sweet tooth scooping ice-cream into coffee when I run out of oat milk. I’m not one to workout. In fact, I have always hated it. While I may not be the best example when it comes to physical wellbeing, I’m an honest one! And if I can work in a few small ways to take care of myself, then you can too.

TIP #1

Take a moment to breathe

Do you have 30-seconds to spare? Damn right you do… you are reading this blog post. I encourage you to take a break from reading after this paragraph. Set a 30-second timer on your phone, put yourself in a comfortable position, let your hands drop naturally, and breathe in and out— deeply and slowly.

 

Don’t you feel better? That’s because you just shifted your body closer to its “rest and digest (R&D)” mode and away from “fight or flight” mode. In R&D mode, your body is able to focus better, since you are supplying your brain with the necessary oxygen to work optimally. Apple Watch has a built in app to remind you to breathe, or you can check out Headspace, which has a section specifically for work. 

TIP #2

Encourage yourself with repetition

Repetition is powerful. Just think about all of the actions/words that you repeat on a daily basis: inputting passwords, looking at your homescreen, texting loved ones, etc. These tiny things really add up.

 

A month ago, I switched my passwords to be encouraging.

 

Obviously, I’m not going to share what they are with you (duh!), but sometimes it is nice to type something like “YouMakeYourOwnLuck47” instead of your standard run-of-the-mill password. Think about what you need to hear often— affirmations, a mantra, whatever. Typing it regularly will help train your brain to believe it.

TIP #3

Do what you can stick to

Do I wish I loved jogging and yoga? Definitely.

Am I going to wake up one day and do one of these? Yes. Maybe!

Everyday? Hell no.

But you know what I can do everyday? Walk.

Sometimes it’s more important to do something consistently rather than your ultimate goal sparingly. I try not to beat myself up about not doing more, and instead concentrate on the things I can do. If you do something for 21 days consistently, it becomes a habit.

What is something tiny that you can commit to every day?

Here are some ideas:

  • — Take 5 minutes to have your coffee in silence before starting your day of meetings
  • — Before you go to sleep, read a few pages of a book
  • — Reconnect with a different friend each day through text. They’ve been in your phone for 10 years, so you may as well!
TIP #4

Double up on good vibes

Grab a friend

My husband and I have been really strapped for time lately. Though we are working and living in the same house it is hard to catch any time to just be us without distractions. We decided to start taking morning walks together so we can encourage each other to be more active, and have some time to just talk.

 

Reframe chores

I had a workout coach that told me she lost 30 lbs just dancing while she did chores. Since then, I’ve been trying to find productive ways to stay active. My favorite productive workout is gardening. You can easily get plenty of squats, lunges while gardening, and if you are lifting, your shoulders and arms can get in on the action too.

TIP #5

Focus on the things that you can change

We are all in different situations— some of us feel comfortable and in-control and some of us (probably most) feel completely out of control. It is painful to watch the news, provide and care for your close family, and stay in touch with the rest of your family and friends, meanwhile staying productive in your day-to-day.

 

Wherever and whoever you are, there are things within and outside of your control.

 

One of the most helpful books I’ve read for my own mental wellbeing has been The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. I’m the type of person who cares too much about most things, and whenever someone asks me to do something I tend to go way too overboard. In the past few years, I reached a breaking point of what I could care about. Mark Manson helped me reframe my brain to focus on what really matters to me and only truly stress about the things within my own control. So now, instead of watching 40 documentaries on animal welfare and beating myself up about using chicken broth in a soup, I choose to reduce my meat intake to 1-2 days a week. That is the level of f*cks that I can give and still maintain my own sanity.

See, all it takes is a few steps here and there to do what you can to destress and not burn out.

Luckily, we have others on the Hardly team that are way better at taking care of themselves than me.

Let us know in the comments what you do to not burn out.

The pandemic has taught all of us a variety of lessons, but one of the more unexpected truths it has highlighted is how greatly globalization impacts us all. For me personally, globalization has touched my life in the most positive and influential ways.  It has afforded me the opportunity to make international friends while on vacation, study abroad in China (coincidentally where I met my husband), and now live in Japan for three years. While living across the world has made my personal life highly instagrammable, it has made my professional one much more challenging. Being that I don’t speak Japanese, continuing to work for an American company was pretty much my only option.  But, having international team members is not every company’s cup of green tea. 

Just before coming to Japan nearly two and a half years ago, the market research firm I was a contractor for decided to drop me due to the relocation. They thought communication and task management would be too taxing on the team due to the major time difference, contrasting holidays, limited real-time communication, and mismatched software and tools I had at my disposal. However, the recent surge in remote work due to COVID-19 has required many businesses to work with international remote teams. With the right attitude, technology, and practice, a seamless, effective partnership with international remote teams is achievable. So, my old company obviously missed out. 

International Team, Hardly

1) Establish Common Ground

Keep teams on the same page by writing a communication rule book.

Everything from the big picture of the company, including mission statements and company culture to the details such as daily practices and expectations, needs to be consistent across the board. For example, ensure all employees are aware of the company’s value on quality control over speed or innovation, or that the standard response time frame for client communication is 24-hours rather than 48.  Make sure everyone has constant access to everything they need.  Use document sharing platforms, like Google Drive, to keep everything up to date. Sick of Google Drive? Try One Hub or Dropbox instead.

Update your software!

I can’t stress enough how frustrating it was for my project team to have a less updated version of PowerPoint than I had. All those tedious hours of formatting and animation went right out the window when they opened my presentation. On the flip side, the team shared sample templates for everything from proposals to focus group discussion guides. This meant that when I sent an assignment for review, they were able to spend less time editing, only having to make a few tweaks before sending it to the client. The moral of the story is, sharing is caring.

International Teams, Hardly

2) Develop Empathy and Trust

As a remote international team member, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to build real relationships with my coworkers. I have found that the better you know someone, the better job you want to do because you actually care about their opinion. You also gain a more holistic perspective of their motivators, strengths, and communication style which makes teamwork one-thousand times easier and more enjoyable. In an article focused on what makes global teams work, HBR found the key ingredient for success lies in the level of social distance.  In other words, the greater the emotional connection between team members, the more effective they become. 

Develop emotional connections through empathy and trust. 

Companies need to increase facetime, encourage informal communication, and value productivity over perfection.  While the time difference does make real-time communication challenging, virtual face-to-face meetings through Zoom or Google Hangouts are crucial to helping team members feel connected. Can’t synchronize? Send video messages instead of text. It’s easy to feel detached from someone we only talk to on the phone or send e-mails to, but once we know their face we become significantly more engaged and trusting. 

All work, all the time makes people antisocial. 

Promote small talk to build trust and empathy. Companies should lead meetings with five minutes of informal conversation or create a Slack channel labeled “coffee break” where coworkers can talk about their vacations, tv shows, or pets. When we find out a coworker has similar hobbies as us, has an anniversary coming up, or is even going through family hardship, we are more likely to be understanding.  

Lastly, trust is the consequence of empathy. 

Stress to employees that perfection stifles productivity and we can only produce great work across teams with practice. Initially, ripping someone to shreds if they make a mistake is counterproductive; instead, using empathy will incite your coworkers across the globe to complete tasks without unnecessary hesitation and trust one another’s critics as constructive rather than superfluous. Remember, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. 

International Teams, Hardly

3) Communicate Frequently While Maintaining Boundaries

Without desk-side chats or impromptu meetings you need to communicate frequently and with intention. Reinforcing the same message in a variety of ways helps to minimize confusion. If a task is lost in translation, completion can be delayed not only for a couple of hours but for days due to the time difference.  I found it incredibly helpful to practice active listening with my boss at the end of meetings. First, she would summarize what my responsibilities were. Then I would restate what I heard to make sure I didn’t forget or misinterpret anything. It is also helpful to have team members acknowledge the receipt of an email or message.  Even though this might seem excessive at first, it gives the team member on the other side peace of mind that their message was seen.   

Setting boundaries for communication is important since working with team members in different time zones can have your phone buzzing with notifications late into the night. Let’s be honest, our anxiety is heightened the moment our screen lights up with a work email and ruins date night vibes. Especially when working from home, it is difficult to separate personal time from work. The National Association of Foreign Student Advisors (NAFSA) recently wrote an article about managing remote and global teams. They emphasized the importance of tempering demands for communication too far outside of “normal” working hours by clearly defining rest periods to safeguard team morale. Peer pressure to respond at all times of the day is real, and leadership being transparent about taking breaks or time off is necessary to instill a status quo of work-life balance for international remote teams.

International teams, Hardly

4) Share the Burden

One thing that can be really irritating as a foreign team member is always having to assume the burden for the time difference. If you need to have two team meetings a week, try to make one more convenient for the east coast team and the other more convenient for the west coast team, so everyone feels there is a balance.  

Preplan as much as possible so that one team is not always bearing the brunt of a tight deadline. When I was working in market research in D.C., I remember our L.A. office always complaining when a presentation was due “end of day” east coast time, because it left them scrambling to fit 8 hours’ worth of work into 5.  To prevent the overseas group from always working under a time crunch, ensure deadlines are created with their time difference in mind, that way you are setting your extra-distant coworkers up for success. 

International Teams, Hardly

5) Brainstorm the Benefits

Attitude is everything.

Help team members get excited about the perks of working with international remote team members. As an aspiring social worker, I have become very familiar with cognitive restructuring (a fancy term for changing a negative perspective into a positive one).  For example, you can view working in different time zones as an inconvenience, or as an added bonus since work can continue while you are asleep. Instead of moaning about having to wake up early for a meeting at 7 am, think about how this allows you to clock out 2 hours earlier and make that Pilates class you have been wanting to try.

International teams also bring fresh and diverse perspectives, voices, and inspiration. 

If I were working for a branding company, I would be able to incorporate the Japanese attention to detail, floral patterns, and origami into new packaging designs that others may not have ever been exposed to. Culture fosters creation which is something all businesses can capitalize on when having team members from a mixture of countries. 

Lastly, having global teams expands your reach.

In this vast, remote world we now live in, everyone—and I mean everyone—is a consumer. The other day, an ad popped up on my computer for a designer bag that I had never heard of. Turns out the company was based in Kenya. Having international teams can help you tap into a wider market by providing insight on how to appeal to them, ultimately leading to an increase in revenue. 

Sources:
Neeley, Tsedal. “Global Teams That Work.” Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business Publishing, Oct. 2015. 

Sandberg, Jessica. “Best Practices for Managing Remote and Global Teams.” NAFSA: Association of International Educators, 1 Apr. 2020

On a bright day in 2015 (before working remotely), I put on my black long-sleeved dress and a denim jacket. I faced myself in the mirror and said, “Do I really look cool enough to be a brand strategist? No. But this is what I got.”

I had just graduated from my Masters in Branding program earlier that summer— a year of my life absorbing qualitative and quantitative research methods, brand strategy work sessions, creative voice, and business basics. I felt confident walking into that NYC coffee shop for the interview with… let’s call him “Daniel.” At first, he questioned why I was there because my resume was design-focused. I explained that my background was in identity design, but my real strength was in brand strategy and I had received awards for leadership in my program. (You know… the stuff you say in interviews).

And wonders beyond wonders, Daniel wanted to hire me. It started great! The onboarding process was fairly straightforward.

A month into the job, sh&% hit the fan. Daniel quit. He told me that the owners had promised that he would have the ability to better the company culture and hire a larger team to alleviate stress— and well, that never happened.

Suddenly, I reported to the company owners who, I later found out, didn’t really want me there. I was Daniel’s hire and not theirs, but they felt stuck with me. I went above and beyond to win over their favor— I started doing account work, design work, video production work, and strategy work simultaneously.

My plate filled up so fast that I started to drown in my own “yesses” in order to please them. 

My 1hr subway commute to the office in the morning started to feel like a waste of time. On one especially stressful day, I called in and said “I have to stay home today.” And they said “Why!?! Are you sick?” “No, I simply don’t have 2hrs to spare for coming into the office today.” 

Though they complained often, most strategists at that consultancy worked from home at least once a week. But my string of remote working the next few months rivalled the month I skipped of my junior year Spanish class— at the end of which, my teacher said “Allison better show up with a broken leg or cancer.” (Sorry, I don’t mean for this to sound callous to cancer survivors…. or high school Spanish teachers… )

Why would I spend 2hrs in a train when I’m already not sleeping more than 4-5 hours a night? I had so much to do that sleeping felt like a privilege that I didn’t deserve. In that time, I learned I could be self-motivated at home, and if I really focused, I could get more accomplished. In the end, found out that I loved the quiet of it all.

2hrs each day x 22 workdays a month = 44hrs on the subway

The pros of remote work vastly outweighed the cons to me.

  1. No commute. 2hrs each day x 22 workdays a month = 44 hours. That’s a whole work week every month back in my grasp. Boom-shakalaka.
  2. Ability to focus. Nobody asking me for quick favors or distracting me with small talk.
  3. Fewer meetings. Magically, meetings that would normally be called during the middle of the day just disappeared.
  4. I felt like an adult. Having someone literally (yes, literally) breathing down my neck while I was finishing a presentation made me feel like a child. By this point, I was 26. Yet somehow, I felt more like a child than I did when I was actually a child.
  5. And, obviously, I could spend more time with my cats.

That was 2015! Now in 2020, it is easier to work from home. In the past few years, I went to another agency that swore up-and-down that remote work didn’t work for creative teams. But thankfully, they gave it a try before the 2020 apocalypse happened. 

There are tons of resources out there for creative teams and other types of companies needing to collaborate.

Miro, a whiteboarding collaboration company, allows for multiple people to move images, text and other items around the screen. As the person who previously had to copy all the Expo marker scribble from the physical whiteboards onto the computer, I would like to send my personal gratitude to Miro for existing.

And dude, I started using Wrike a month or two ago. You can set up projects, create subtasks and assign to team members, designate priorities, automatically generate charts, and provide context around everything. Even *MY* chaotic brain gets organized when I put my tasks in there.

We have this incredible world of digital work at our fingertips. Did it arise out of a global pandemic and a year that has felt like being shoved into Satan’s armpit? Yes. However, I believe our growing knowledge of digital communication tools will positively change our work environments moving forward.

We have to fight to stay focused, and we have to fight to pull away

Hardly makes remote work easier for everyone, and ensures that work-life balance exists in a world where there is no physical separation between work and life.

I’m looking forward to starting this journey with you. Let’s do this.