Finally, the days of hibernation are over, and spring is here. In Japan, springtime is marked by sakura or, as we say in the States, “cherry blossom” season. The delicate pale pink petals are in bloom for just 10 short days before they fall or are swept away by wind and rain. As I hanami, which is a Japanese term for “enjoying the transient beauty of flowers”, through the streets of Gion, I am reminded howI need to conquer some spring cleaning so that my workflow and productivity could bloom, too. What about you?

 

Here are Hardly’s tips to help you eliminate stressful chaos and bring order to your workday this spring season:

Spring Cleaning, Hardly

Declutter your desk to destress

A clear desk equals a clear mind. Common sense tells us that a cluttered workspace literally prevents us from getting as much work done in a set amount of time. Everyone knows searching among a sea of papers for notes from a specific meeting or having to stop your workflow to clean up yesterday’s coffee you elbowed and spilled is a waste of precious time but the Harvard Business Review shares how a mess at your desk can affect your mind too. Research has shown

 

“cluttered spaces can have negative effects on our stress and anxiety levels, as well as our ability to focus, our eating choices, and even our sleep.”

 

In 2009, an American study found levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that can lead to anxiety and depression over time, were higher in mothers whose houses were cluttered.

 

Scientists at Princeton University found that our brains respond best to order. In fact, they have proved constant visual reminders of disorganization such as pens strewn about and overstuffed filing cabinets deplete our cognitive resources and reduce our attention span.  Therefore, it’s not surprising that when you clear your desk the results are positive; you are more likely to focus, process information, and manage your emotions effectively. The moral of the story is to get rid of the distractions!

 

So what’s the best way to go about cleaning your workspace? 

Step 1: Assess what gadgets you frequently reach for and which ones are in the way. Then determine what is working for you and what isn’t. 

Step 2: Sort through all the papers and cabinets and return everything to its rightful home.

Step 3: Purge! Ruthlessly throw out anything that is not helping you be productive, feel good, or is a duplicate of a tool you recently upgraded. 

Step 4: Actually break out the cleaning products, the broom, the mop, the wipes, and the soap and water. A fresh start is best when it smells fresh.

Spring Cleaning, Hardly

Organize your emailing for smooth sailing

One of the biggest headaches of remote working for me is emails. I feel like I receive 10,000 emails a day; some important, some from a subscription I signed up for just to get 10% off three years ago. The worst is when I am looking for a prior email to or from coworkers that was not clearly labeled in the subject line so I have to sift through one by one to find what I’m looking for. 

 

What’s the solution?

 

I highly recommend unsubscribing to anything you no longer read. Fewer emails coming in means fewer notifications, which means less anxiety from your phone or computer buzzing. Next, creating digital folders and having emails automatically file into them is a godsend. Last but not least delete all the emails that you no longer need. I know, this last one is crazy time-consuming, but the peace of mind you gain from having 1,000 emails instead of 10,000 emails is blissful and will definitely take your work stress from an 8 to a 4.

Spring Cleaning, Hardly

Get your apps in order for a productive quarter

The more apps the merrier, right? Wrong. There is an app for everything these days and it’s up to us to make sure they are helping not hurting our workflow. Take stock of how frequently you use the applications you have. If you are using them less than once a week, chances are they aren’t that helpful and there is a better solution out there that meets your needs. In addition, try to find apps that serve more than one purpose so that you aren’t wasting time checking multiple apps throughout the day.

 

Spring Cleaning, Hardly

Renew your routine so you can be a lean, mean, working machine

Now that you have gotten rid of all the things that no longer benefit your workday, it is time to recreate your daily routine. Take the hint from nature and make some changes with the season. It could be as small as switching from hot coffee to a cold brew or as impactful as clocking in and out an hour earlier. Additionally, look at your habits such as how often you need a break to step away from the computer or what times during the day you are connecting with colleagues the most and gauge whether adjustments can be made to streamline your schedule.

 

Spring Cleaning, Hardly

Refresh your mind to redesign

Finally, you made it to the fun part! You have done all of the hard work of spring cleaning and now it’s time to re-envision your home office. Breath in the freshness of the space and think about how to curate a space that encourages clarity, calm, and creativity. For example, an aromatic diffuser or picture of the ocean. Maybe reposition your desk to get more light or swap out the bookshelf for a comfy reading chair. The important thing here is to not replace junk with more junk. So be judicious with your choices and go for more of a minimalist aesthetic. 

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