The holiday season can be incredibly disruptive, especially for small businesses and their customers. You could either be in a very slow season looking for things to accomplish or so overwhelmed by business that you feel like you got run over by a reindeer. If you haven’t started making preparations yet, you need to start today.
Simple adjustments can help you gain more business or handle a heavy influx of holiday patrons. Here are several ideas you can consider implementing to end the year on a high note:
1. Decorate With Holiday Spirit
Any customer that enters your business will feel the holiday spirit if you’ve got the right decorations in place. You don’t have to go overboard with inflatable pumpkins or flashing Christmas tree lights, but some well-placed decorative touches can really bring the place together. Plus, this makes the workspace festive for your employees as well.
You can choose to highlight the general themes of the seasons or focus on specific holidays. For example, autumn leaves and fall colors can get you well into November. You could also mix things up by putting up ghosts and jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween and switching them out for turkeys and pilgrims for Thanksgiving.
The same can be done for winter. Snowflakes and snowmen will work for the entire season. If you want to get specific, you have Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s decorations to consider.
2. Work Out Employee Vacation Times
Everyone wants to take time off during the holidays, and for good reason. This is one of the best times of year to gather with family and enjoy life together. Unfortunately, some businesses can’t afford to have all of their employees taking time off simultaneously. Your job is to make sure everyone is getting fair time off while still staffing important dates around the holiday season.
How you approach this task is up to you and how you think your team will respond best. You might think it’s fair to let the most tenured employees select their days off first. You could also develop a rotation so that the same people don’t hog the same days off every year. Even a first-come, first-served approach could be considered if you think your team will be OK with it.
Remember that you deserve to take some time off as well. Being an entrepreneur is incredibly demanding and time-consuming. Taking even a couple of days off to enjoy the holidays with family can help you recover mentally and physically.
3. Encourage Calendar Collaboration Among Team Members
To ensure everyone on your team is on the same page with project deadlines, essential meetings and events, and client needs, it’s essential to collaborate on a team calendar. Most calendar software today offers team calendars.
Make sure everyone on your team has access to one another’s calendar so they are aware of when they are available. Then, team members can collaborate to help each other take on things that could otherwise be missed.
Thankfully, there are many collaborative calendar integrations available for teams to utilize in order to maximize their time. By utilizing these tools, teams can work more efficiently together. Therefore, they can minimize the chances of missing deadlines, missing meetings, or making clients unhappy.
4. Make Holiday Business Hours Known
Your customers also deserve to know how your business will operate throughout the upcoming holidays. You should communicate in advance the days you plan on being closed. This way, customers and clients won’t be disappointed when they try to visit, and nobody is there to receive them.
This is extremely important for schedule-based businesses. The sooner you block off certain days, the less likely you will have to reschedule a meeting or appointment that was booked in advance. Clients who have their end-of-year scheduled meetings rearranged or moved at the last minute will not be happy.
Consider sending out an email that details your holiday hours to any customers who have provided contact information to you. Additionally, you could also consider adding a note on your email signature that states when your business will be closed. You could implement this early on, especially for the winter holidays. At the very least, put up a notice on your front door and website that makes the revised schedule known and accessible.
5. Plan Marketing and Promotions
The holiday season is for family and friends, of course, but it’s also a commercial opportunity for businesses. (There’s a reason they call the day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday.”) While you shouldn’t lose sight of what’s most important, your business should be thinking about some promotions to run. The right marketing campaign at the right time can dramatically boost your revenue.
Marketing plans practically write themselves this time of year. Black Friday and Christmas sales are common and desirable. A salon could run cut-price haircut specials on Black Friday for those who want to escape the shopping fray. A mani-pedi promotion could capture the attention of those primping for holiday parties. Put your business’s personal twist on the season, and you’re likely to see sales increase.
What’s most important to prepare for is the increase in business during a holiday promotion. Make sure you are appropriately staffed for busy days with numerous consumers cashing in on holiday deals. If you’re not prepared to handle the business you’ve attracted, you’ll have a blue Christmas.
6. Consider Getting Extra Help
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all of the business coming your way over the holidays, consider contracting some extra help. Plenty of businesses hire seasonal workers to lend them a hand for a couple of months. Your business doesn’t have to be an exception.
The great thing about seasonal workers is that there’s no long-term commitment. You can get an extra receptionist, hair stylist, or stockroom organizer for just as long as you need. These workers are looking for some extra holiday cash and simply want the additional hours before life returns to normal.
You may even consider contracting some digital help. A webmaster can help you keep your website up and running even with double the online traffic. Your clever marketing strategy could be implemented by a third party so you can focus more fully on your customers.
Of all the above steps, the most important common denominator is to be sure your clients and customers are aware of when your business will be out, so they can plan ahead as well. This will help your business avoid the inconvenience and disappointment the unavailability may cause. Be sure to encourage in-house collaboration on important dates, in addition to collaborating externally with your clients and customers.
Keep your business on the nice list by being prepared for every upcoming holiday, whether it’s the longer holiday breaks in the winter or the shorter holidays throughout the year. With the above holiday preparation planning tips, your business can plan well ahead for this holiday season so nothing slips through the cracks.
Though it’s an extremely busy time for everyone, the holiday season doesn’t have to get stressful. There are so many ways to avoid all of the stress by planning well. The better you work together to prepare, the jollier the holiday season can be for your business and your customers as we head into the 2023 new year.
You might not feel entirely ready for 2023 just yet, and that’s fine. But by taking steps to prepare for the new year now, you’ll position your business to succeed beyond your expectations.
Published First in Calendar. Read Here.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh; Pexels; Thank you!
The Power of Human Touch in Software Development and AI Environments
Necessity is the mother of invention — a principle that has defined technological advancement and design for generations. We innovate and create new products, services, and processes based on human needs that arise. Just as these needs evolve with each generation, so too must the way we approach the innovation required to address them, and that requires a human touch in software development.
Digitalization Driving Productivity and Collaboration
In today’s era of digitalization, companies are turning to new technologies, specifically software applications, to drive efficiency, productivity, lowered costs, and smarter collaboration. As the adoption of digital transformation has increased, so has the number of software solutions enabling and supporting it.
Companies are looking to software developers for new ways to integrate technology. Operations demand process automation, improved communications, and the delivery of more value to their customers.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been an influential part of this progression and an enabler for many capabilities today; however, we must exercise restraint in relying too much on technology alone to reach business goals.
Restraint With AI Makes Better Sense Today
There’s power in the human touch that can set the stage for meaningful transformation when embraced during the software development process. As we continue to integrate digital technology into nearly every facet of work and life, we need intelligent software design to incorporate more of the human experience to thrive.
The key is finding a measured balance between purpose-driven software design and human touch and understanding how to execute this collaboration successfully and ethically.
AI’s Role in the Consumerization of Software
Historically, enterprise software was initially designed with a particular persona and a very specific set of requirements in mind. As a result, it was built to serve simply as a tool with no focus on the user’s experience, behavior, or even the potential ability of the user to change behaviors.
For example, if a person were using a software program to search for fruit, that software would need to be coded to show each specific fruit. Then, if a user searched for a peach, the software would display a peach. If they wanted to search for an orange instead, the software would need to be hard-coded to show an orange. This is a very cut-and-dry process leaves little room for interpretation.
Software Designed to Consider User’s Behavior
Today, AI-powered software is designed with realistic human values in mind, defining a set of user stories and use cases that proactively adjust to potential user behavior, with a strict focus on providing and maximizing end-user value and experience. Explained differently, rather than designing software around who a user is or what they do, the software is designed to consider the user’s behavior and the value the product can provide for an optimum user experience.
Revisiting the example above, if a user in Florida is seeking “fruit,” the initial result the software is likely to show them would be an orange. Alternatively, if the user lives in Georgia, it would likely show them a peach — since these fruits are indigenous to their respective regions.
Software Built With Human Touch Provides an Experience
In this example, the software was built to look for an outcome and design an experience that considers several factors to present the most likely desired result. This is how AI algorithms are used to design an environment meant to improve the customer experience by anticipating needs based on trends. This is also how software developers automate an experience.
Several different inputs are analyzed to the point where an assumption can be made based on a person’s behavior over time. Content is then populated, or an action taken that the program deems would be most useful for that person, all in the name of improving the user experience. But what if the person in Florida doesn’t like oranges and the person in Georgia doesn’t like peaches? This is where the human touch comes into play
Finding the Ethical Balance Between Smart Personalization and Human Privacy
AI algorithms require and collect personal user data to customize the experience in a unique and valuable way for a specific user. However, they can sometimes be too rigid when analyzing only the data without considering personal preference, free will, or choice.
AI alone, without any oversight, can also go too far, as there’s a fine line between personalization and privacy, and AI can’t make the distinction on its own. A human developer addresses this issue by providing the guardrails necessary to ensure ethical design and desired behavior while also incorporating the flexibility needed to give users a greater sense of choice.
How Do You Protect Your Customers?
Software must be built so the user can determine what data they want to provide to improve their life or minimize evasiveness. On the front end, as software is being designed, developers can build flexible architecture with certain constraints in mind to provide an ethical and secure framework around how the AI algorithm works. This allows users to define where the line is or how much personal data they allow into the architecture or the cloud.
Ultimately, users want AI to optimize the tasks they need to perform but don’t want the AI to make decisions for them without approval. This idea of choice is another critical element of why the human touch is so imperative in the development process, even as the industry has sought faster and more efficient ways of writing software programs.
The Artistry of Software Engineering From the Human Touch
As a means of automating code writing, code generators were introduced several decades ago to quickly write new code and get applications to market faster. Requiring minimal human intervention, the developer would simply set what it needed the app to do, and then code was generated for that specific purpose. It was easy to write code that would solve a particular problem and take the user from point A to point B in the most efficient way possible.
However, the lack of human touch is the issue with this model. There’s no consideration for the user experience or innovation that excites and delights; the software is simply working to solve the problem without room for interpretation. Alternatively, the human coder can push boundaries and determine how to interpret the user requirements to decide the best path between the two points.
Flexible Code Environments Make Efficient Programming
For example, if a program were coded to simply draw a tree, a code generator would produce the same tree over and over with no differentiation in color, leaf type, size, etc. There would be no artistry behind it, and users wouldn’t have the ability to choose from various tree designs. Instead, they’d have to accept the tree the generator produced. But when an engineer has the ability to integrate their personal touch, the artistry of software design is unveiled, and the experience becomes something very different.
Today, our industry has evolved even further, and low-code/no-code environments have emerged as the next generation of modern and efficient programming. Developers can now quickly build the foundation of a program from existing services and functions that have already been written by other coders, easily defining the path the user takes to get from point A to B.
This type of coding is a much more flexible way of designing software that allows engineers to adopt the preferences of the end-user and change functions as the end user changes. However, the various functions are still being coded by an individual and, thus, are constrained to the preferences of that person.
Reusable Templates Boost Productivity
So, to revisit the previous “tree” example, software developer A designs a single tree which developer B can now take and, in about the same amount of time as it took to create just one original tree, reuses as a copy over and over but in different ways.
Several copies can be placed side by side to depict a forest, or a single copy can be placed in front of an abandoned building or on a deserted island to create different applications entirely. However, because they’re all using the same original tree design, all of the trees in each environment still look the same — the artistry is limited to that of the person who originally designed the tree.
Decide and Improve the End Product to Customize
Where the human element comes into play is when the software engineer can have the ability to decide how they want their tree to look and can add features along the entire design process to augment it.
Then, the next engineer can come in and change or improve it to meet the needs of their users, and so on. Now, instead of one tree that everyone has to use repeatedly in different ways, there are hundreds of different trees that all came from the same initial version but have been customized and improved upon.
How Does AI Build a Tree?
If we relied on AI to build the perfect tree, it would calculate only one way to do so, but what if you don’t like it? It’s no longer perfect for you. So, rather than relying on AI completely, developers can choose how to embed AI capabilities into their programs to drive the best customer experience.
These AI integrations have to be customized to fit the environment, however, and this requires an actual engineer to be part of the process, which ensures the human element is preserved.
Ultimately, software engineers have to find the right balance of enabling smarter technology that can proactively anticipate and solve our problems while also ensuring end users have the ability to exercise their right to choose and decide what’s right for them based on the facts presented.
Human Touch at the Heart of Modern Software Design
No longer are software solutions built for a single defined purpose. Instead, they are built to learn and evolve based on the creativity, artistry, and ethics of the human touch. As emerging technologies have helped enable modern innovation with unprecedented speed, and invention can now be born out of demand and pursuit of progress rather than out of necessity.
As AI continues to be integrated into the software development process, the human touch will play an integral role in teaching the software how to adapt to each user’s needs, values, behavior, and privacy priorities.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Andrea Piacquadio; Pexels; Thank you!
5 Ways to Find Balance at a Startup
Startup founders and employees find that achieving work-life balance can be challenging. 43% of entrepreneurs agree that work-life balance is one of their biggest challenges. As the start-up grows, demands will also grow. Founders and employees need constant motivation and fresh ideas to keep up.
As challenging as a good work-life balance is to achieve, it is very important for your personal and professional lives. It can be as important as a business plan for your startup. This article gives a better understanding of work-life balance, what it means, and why it is important. It also highlights a few ways to find work-life balance at a startup.
Work-life balance meaning
So what is work-life balance all about? In simple words, the term work-life balance is about how you manage your time between work and outside of work. It gives you the flexibility to get things done in your professional life while still having time and energy to enjoy your personal life.
There is no perfect work-life balance template to follow. We are all different, and so what a healthy work-life balance looks like will differ between us. However, the primary goal of a better balance is that you should have a greater sense of well-being and lead a better quality of life.
Why work-life balance is important
Work-life balance is important for many reasons. Some people are willing to give up money for a better work-life balance. This is a true testament to the stress levels of the modern workplace. In a 2020 Deloitte survey, it was found that 44% of millennials say they are stressed all or most of the time. Companies that help their employees have a good work-life balance in their professional and personal lives have higher retention rates.
A good work-life balance has many perks. Some of these include:
- Fewer health issues
- Higher productivity levels
- Fewer burnouts
- More mindfulness
Poor work-life balance has some dire consequences. It can wreak havoc on your health, home life, and personal relationships. Some of the drawbacks include:
- High-stress levels
- Feelings of dissatisfaction with life
- Increased rates of family issues and divorces
- Escalation of substance abuse
- Low productivity levels
- Dissatisfaction at work
- Lower levels of motivation, commitment, and loyalty.
5 ways to find balance at a startup
To create a better work-life balance, think about how you can achieve balance in your personal and professional life. What works for someone else may not work for you. However, here are some tips you can try to improve your work-life balance.
Develop some time management skills
Many entrepreneurs struggle to manage their time correctly. This is because they spend most of their time working long hours to complete their to-do list. There are only 24 hours in a day, so prioritizing may be the best way to manage your time better.
Create a daily, weekly, and monthly to-do list. Try focusing on the most important tasks on your priority list. Doing so can increase the chances of things being done with greater care and focus.
Another thing you can try to do is to say no to the less important stuff. You can simplify your work and delegate the less important stuff. Also, turn off your phone and email notifications. Set a scheduled time to respond to emails and make phone calls. Replying to emails and checking messages as they come in can be distracting. It can make you lose focus and mess with your productivity.
Try to leave work at work
How often do you find yourself taking work home and working remotely from home? The answer is probably too often. You may find yourself working on weekends and holidays. This leaves you with little to no time to relax or spend with loved ones. Try to do work during work hours and stop once those hours are up.
It is important to have a strict policy when it comes to work and other areas of your life. You can try having a no-work-on-the-weekend rule. Having the rule is one thing, but sticking to it can be hard. Try your best to follow this rule and make no exceptions. The weekend can help to reduce stress from all the issues you dealt with during the week. It can even give you time for ideas and solutions to emerge. It is vital to give your body and mind a chance to rest and recover.
Set aside family time
Making time for your family with a busy schedule can be hard. However, you need to remember that your family is your main support system. When things aren’t going smoothly at the startup, your need for support is greater. This is where your family comes in.
Work decisions and responsibilities become easier to manage with your family’s support. Spending quality time with family members can relieve stress, nurture positive behaviors and promote a healthy lifestyle. Time spent with family can improve both your professional and personal life. Plan family trips, game nights, and other activities. These can help build quality relationships with your family.
Schedule personal time
In today’s fast-paced world, it can be hard to find time to indulge in personal interests. However, one’s personal life is as important as one’s professional life. When you unplug and take a step back, you will experience a whole new perspective.
If you feel overwhelmed with everyday life, it may be time to take some time off work. Take your vacation time to rest and recover. Choose an activity that you love and one that relaxes and rejuvenates you.
You can try to make time to meditate, travel and do things you love. Personal time is best for self-reflection and setting goals. Self-care is also essential for your mental health.
If you cannot get much time off, simply ensuring you sleep and eat well can help. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and the Sleep Research Society (SRS) say to aim for at least six to seven hours of sleep. You should also be mindful of what you’re putting into your body. Constantly chugging coffee and eating junk food will eventually affect your health. Try to eat at least one or two healthy meals a day.
Outsource when possible
Technology has come a long way. It has gone to great lengths that we can now replace much of the work necessary to run a business. Try to outsource repetitive tasks that take up too much of your time. This can allow you to focus on your goals and have more time to deal with personal matters. For your personal reading, here are 10 reasons you should be outsourcing your marketing.
SET FLEXIBLE HOURS
A flexible work environment can lead to a healthier work-life balance. Flexible hours, telecommuting opportunities, and other systems can relieve stress. They also allow you to attend to personal matters and spend time with your family. At the same time, it can also help to increase your productivity levels and effectiveness.
Exercise can improve your physical health and mental health. It can also help to improve your productivity. Exercising for just 30 minutes a day can keep your body and mind active and fresh. This can lead to higher energy levels, increased focus, and completion of tasks faster. Exercise can also help with creativity, so when you’re faced with a challenge, exercise. It doesn’t have to be anything too intense; a simple 30-minute walk may help.
MAKE WORK FUN
The only way to make an 80-hour work week bearable is to integrate some fun. Play is crucial when it comes to working. It can improve employees’ work-life balance as well as founders. Some fun can make you both more productive and lead to a more engaged workforce. It can keep everybody motivated and happier. Try to keep the happy spirit alive as much as possible. You can do this by promoting play, encouraging hobbies at work, etc.
A change in scenery can work wonders. It is great for your mental and emotional well-being. Traveling to new places can free your mind, body, and soul from stress. It can help you reflect on personal goals and interests. Aside from these, it can enrich and transform your perspective on life. Traveling can also improve productivity, sharpen problem-solving skills and increase creativity.
Staying positive when dealing with entrepreneurial failures and threats can be hard. However, a positive mindset may be able to help you pull through. It allows you to focus on the positives of the situation and help you visualize your goals. Focusing on the positives and having a clear idea of your goals can result in you meeting them. A positive attitude is awesome, even though it can be tough to maintain.
Inner Image and Featured Image Credits: Provided by the Author; Pexels; Thank you!
The Impact of AI as Companies Address the Skilled Labor Shortage
Due to a combination of Baby Boomer retirements and a declining birthrate leading to smaller subsequent generations like Gen Z — employment firms predict that the talent shortage we’re experiencing now is likely to last for years to come. While this has the potential to be disastrous news for the economy, it doesn’t have to be, thanks to another growing trend in business: AI acceleration.
We’re currently seeing an increase in the application of AI in the workplace that moves beyond typical machines and into areas of law, medicine, software, and even art. While many have predicted that the acceleration of AI would lead to the demise of human labor, it may very well be this technology that solves the labor problem — at least for those willing to work in tandem with these AI solutions.
Taking Advantage of AI
So what does working with these AI solutions look like? What challenges are businesses facing due to this labor shortage, and how can AI help solve them? I’ll answer these questions and offer some strategies on how organizations can best position themselves to take advantage of AI and combat the continued labor shortage.
Bridging the Gap
The growing skilled labor shortage is already baked into the next 15 to 20 years, thanks to existing and continuing demographic trends. However, the opportunities to innovate within the labor shortage space are massive in the areas of cloud computing, AI, and robotics. Investment in these areas can help U.S. companies compete in a world that’s increasingly fractured and regional.
Robotics and AI systems have already proven reliable in repetitive, precise, and dangerous tasks. Businesses transitioning their supply chain away from globalization and toward more regional approaches can use AI to automate many of the tasks necessary in warehouse and factory environments.
Plenty of Use Cases
In construction, AI is being adopted to complete tasks such as drywall installation and painting, allowing humans to focus on more complex jobs such as plumbing and electrical installation.
In industrial projects, remote-controlled machines handle the more dangerous duties, like demolition and movement of heavy materials. For office environments, artificial intelligence and automation are handling repetitive occupations — taking over tasks like data gathering, clean up, and prep.
More Than Mundane
However, repetitive tasks aren’t the only places in which AI prioritization is making a difference. It is being employed to help existing workers do their jobs more effectively and efficiently.
A great example of this is OpenAI’s Codex. Codex is an AI solution that scans and analyzes petabytes of code, questions, and answers from websites like Stack Overflow. With this tool, developers no longer need to search for answers or examples of code. Instead, Codex is directly integrated into the code completion of their IDE, saving them hundreds of hours of searching and increasing their productivity.
Creating More Creative AI
Meanwhile, systems such as Stable Diffusion and ChatGPT show how AI can take over, creating more derivative works and freeing employees up to tackle creative tasks that are still well out of reach of AI.
This isn’t to suggest that AI is an eternal solution to the skilled labor shortage. But it is a critical stop-gap that can be leaned on until the workforce grows again — something that’s projected to happen sometime in the early 2040s.
In the meantime, for organizations to maintain competitiveness as the talent shortage continues, it will be necessary to strategically integrate AI into the labor force wherever possible.
1. Don’t build your entire strategy on top of a third-party AI platform.
While there are speed-to-market benefits to third-party solutions, using the same platforms as your competitors means you’re relying on the same data and, consequently, will wind up with the same business model as everyone else.
By developing your own platform — at least in some use cases — and focusing on the data within your niche instead, you can create a cone of differentiation that protects your business and creates long-term opportunities within your niche market. This will also ensure you don’t get trapped within the vision of a third-party company rather than following your own.
2. Invest in skills acquisition over education.
To combat the skilled labor shortage, you don’t need more employees with general education. Instead, you need candidates with specific skills who can help you close the widening skills gap. Technology certifications such as AWS, Azure, and GCP are great examples of the skills required to build the necessary cloud solutions and AI platforms you’ll need to compete.
This focus on skills isn’t just about hiring. It’s also about changing your focus on internal employee training. Apprentice and licensing approaches like those used for electricians and plumbers are great models for training people in new skills as they’re needed.
3. Align your investments with global shifts in geopolitics, economy, supply chain, and demographics.
As the U.S. and the rest of the world move toward more regionalized supply chains and manufacturing, the combination of human creativity and advanced technology, such as AI and robotics, will be critical. But that will only be true if this combination is pointed in the right direction.
Make sure that your investments in AI and skills acquisition are guided by your environment rather than a desire to invest in technology for technology’s sake.
The Necessary Human Touch
In summary, labor shortages, the current supply chain crisis, and inflation that organizations and leaders face will continue to impact their operations over the next few years. The rise of AI-based solutions could be a key technology to help organizations combat those challenges and maintain a competitive edge if they adopt AI solutions and integrate them effectively with their greatest assets: human creativity and problem-solving.
The strategies I outlined will help leaders prioritize as they begin selecting and adopting those AI solutions and navigate the current and growing issues associated with the shift from globalization to regionalized supply chains and labor.
Realizing AI’s Vast Potential
It’s important to remember that today’s artificial intelligence and automation solutions are designed to enhance human capabilities and improve their potential to solve problems and create explainable knowledge. They aren’t meant to replace humans in the workforce.
Leaders who remember this and focus on the symbiosis of human creativity and AI rather than on using AI to replace people will have a strategic advantage in the decades to come.
Featured Image Credit: Provided by the Author; Unsplash; Thank you!