At the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies around the world were thrown into the deep end of an unplanned work-from-home experiment that took place on a global scale.
Now, more than two years later, and with the severity of the pandemic cooling down, many employers are embracing the much-needed benefits flexible work culture has brought to their companies and their employees.
Today, it’s no secret that working from home, or even on a hybrid basis works pretty well. Companies have reported seeing increased productivity, employee engagement, and even higher profits due to lower office expenses.
In a study by Stanford University of more than 16,000 workers, it was found that productivity increased by 13% over 9% months due to employees having a more convenient working environment.
Another survey by Aritasker from March 2020, when the pandemic only started taking off, showed that remote employees spent less time avoiding work, and more time committed to their assigned projects. The increased productivity and working hours led to some employees spending at least 1.4 more days working each month.
There are tall tales that can help support the claim that remote work does actually benefit the company and its staff.
While it’s been a challenging time for many to adjust to the virtual working environment, key skills such as good communication remain a critical factor in any role, whether it’s performed in-house or when teams are distributed.
Tips For Effective Communication
The success of any business, startup or even entrepreneurial venture lies within its ability to effectively communicate with other members of the team, management, or even customers.
Effective communication is key, that’s why employers and their teams will often need to brush up on their communication skills, both written and verbal to mitigate any issues and voice their concerns in a respectable, yet professional way.
Choose A Means Of Messaging
For employers and managers, and more likely the employees, it’s important to take a look at the means of messaging or communication your team uses. While there are multiple communication platforms to use, not all of them will be equally effective.
Some employees may enjoy using e-mail to communicate due to the nature of the message, other times a direct message on an office messaging platform such as Slack or Microsoft Team could be more suitable. Maybe your company sees more video or voice calls every day than having to communicate through written messages.
Each method can be effective in its respective way, and it’s up to you as an employer or staffer to consider which will work best to share information or receive feedback from someone else.
Learn Team Preference
Some remote team members will often communicate only through a chosen method for day-to-day activities. Depending on what each person would like to share, getting to know people’s preferences doesn’t only make it easier to get their attention immediately, but it also helps to set healthy virtual office boundaries.
In a study by Owl Labs from 2021, 70% of remote employees surveyed said that virtual meetings and video conferences were less stressful. From the survey, 64% now prefer hybrid meetings over in-person.
Be Clear And Concise
Nothing is more annoying than having to read through a lengthy email only to find the most important information in the last two lines.
For employers and managers, get into the rhythm of crafting short, clear, and concise messages. Get to the point as fast as possible, but do so in a professional way.
The same can be said for employees. When responding to a colleague or requesting information about something, avoid making small talk in your emails and messages, and be clear about your intentions. Again, it’s important to do so in a professional way to ensure no grievances arise due to a lack of communication.
Use A Good And Practical Tone
Having a lack of face-to-face or even in-person communication can quickly cause misinterpretations among employees. There is a high chance that when an email or message is sent, oftentimes someone will misread it, finding it to come across as unpleasant or perhaps rude.
When putting together an email, newsletter or simply reaching out to someone, consider how you would have read the email if you were on the receiving end. If you think it might be too abrupt, change some of the wording. It’s a good idea to think about how you say things, especially in the context of the remote office.
Not all employees or colleagues will be on the same tone as you, so it’s best to assume good intentions both when you send and receive work-related messages.
Be Mindful Of Different Time Zones
Seeing that companies can now hire from a wider pool of talented and skillful workers, many remote-only companies often find themselves having hired workers in different time zones. And while this may not be a critical issue due to the nature of digital tools, when it comes to communication things tend to become a little bit harder.
Remote teams should clearly communicate what their active working hours are compared to other members. More so, whenever an employee is “out of office” or on leave, there should be clear communication about how the remaining members will be able to work around this.
Being mindful also helps to set healthy workplace boundaries. It’s not the most pleasing experience having to wake up to a video call in the early morning hours just because your colleague is still at his 9-5. Respect the available working hours employees and teams can be contacted, and plan according to their time schedule.
Make Time For Casual Chats
The virtual office can become a desolate place, especially for teams that don’t communicate or video call every so often. As a way to keep employees engaged and encouraged, it’s good to take some time to engage in casual chats about everyday things.
Making time for employees to catch up with one another after a weekend, or right before the holidays through a video or voice call will help make the remote office feel less lonely and more personal.
Through this employees are also able to get to know their team members better, and employers will have the opportunity to engage more casually with his or her staffers as well.
When the chance arises, see how you can engage with other team members through casual conversations now and again, even if it’s through instant messaging.
Distribute A Newsletter
In the office, it’s quite easy for news or information to get around quite quickly, whether it’s good or bad. In the virtual workplace, this is a bit different, and it’s not always that you might find entire teams or businesses all being on the same page at the same time.
A great way to make sure employees are well-informed about any events, upcoming projects, or general information is to distribute an electronic newsletter. Of course, doing so every week would seem tedious, but it’s best to do so every month, or perhaps on a bi-weekly basis.
Newsletters don’t need to be boring – there’s so much opportunity here to create an insightful yet engaging circular that will keep employees interested in the business, management, and their colleagues.
To Finish Off
As a remote worker or a remote employer, it can be hard to effectively communicate with team members when they are scattered in different parts of the country or world. As we’ve learned with many other types of businesses, communication remains a critical part of any business that aims to become successful and meet its goals.
Having a communication method that works, and allows teams to be well-informed and on board with everything that is going on will help the business become more productive and improve performance.
Take time to practice good communication skills, both written and verbal, as this could help in the long run as you build a team of remote employees, or even search for a work-from-home job. Communication, in any shape and form, helps the business function properly but also creates a sense of inclusion in an era of virtual work.
Published First on ValueWalk. Read Here.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Helena Lopes; 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!