Archive | March, 2011

Telecommuting: Keeping Your Offsite Employees on Task

Telecommuting: Keeping those offsite on target.

telecommutingWith the economy in the state is in today, telecommuting is fast becoming a popular alternative for employees. The question is how to keep these employees on task so that productivity is still achieved at a maximum level. Telecommuting offers flexibility which is highly desired by many employees; however, companies are sometimes hesitant to offer this opportunity due to bad experiences in the past with employees who did not pull their weight and were a drain on the company. Most remote workers understand the need to work harder than their counterparts on site and strive to make it happen.

Although there are many advantages in being an offsite employee, there are disadvantages too. Telecommuting employees are not able to participate in the water cooler conversations that happen on site. They do not get to develop strong personal relationships with their cubicle neighbors. They also tend to bear the brunt of blame when things go wrong. Looking deeper at these disadvantages; however, reveals that they might not be as negative as they seem. Water cooler is often centered on gossip, employees can still get to know their team without being in a cubicle next to them and people often try to find scapegoats wherever they can, regardless of where they are located.

Remote employees need to recognize that although a flexible schedule contributes to a better work and life balance, they need to be accountable, stay connected and communicate in ways that lets the office know what they are working on as well as establishing relationships with the teammates back at the office. Do not give off the appearance of a robot that sends emails and has an electronic voice. If you take the time to get to know the onsite employees at your company, you will be appreciated and accepted by them even if you are not physically with them all the time.

Consider these five tricks and tips to help you maintain those relationships and stay productive:

1. Track your work output – Let your manager or supervisor know what you work on every day. If it makes sense, keep your teammates up to date too. There are lots of resources on the Internet, including free online tools to keep track of work output.

2. Use Instant Messenger like it is your best friend – Most likely you are working near a computer with Internet accessibility. Utilize an IM program that allows you to send links, information or questions whenever you think of them. This makes you feel connected to those at the office and lets them know that you are actually working. The conversation that you have with IM is more fluid than simple emails.

3. Stick to a schedule – Although a flexible schedule is one of the desired outcomes for an offsite employee, having clear work hours is still a necessity. This makes you accessible to your teammates at the office so they know when to get a hold of you.

4. Set up weekly communications – If you are unable to make it to the office once a week due to distance, set up a weekly communication with key members of your team. Video chats or conference calls are important whether you perceive a need or not, so you can show off your personality and talk shop. You will find that there is always something to talk about even if you did not have a list of topics ready beforehand.

5. Make your voice heard – Just because you are not physically at the office does not mean you are not a vital part of the team. Make your voice a part of the conversation when emails are sent or during conference calls. This is an excellent way to digitally brainstorm with your fellow teammates and clarify what happens at the office when you are not there.

Keep these five tips in mind when working at a company that allows the flexibility of telecommuting. Get to know your fellow teammates, stay connected with management and communicate regularly on what you are doing to ensure that you stay accountable and visible from your office at home.

To help with the idea of productive telecommuting, why not check out our next article on the “Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), What it is and How it can Help Your Business.”

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Workplace Policies on Social Media

Social Media, Policies and the Workplace.

social mediaIt’s a simple fact of life that the vast majority of the employees in any business are also going to be users of various social media sites. As an owner or manager of a small business designing a correct set of policies for social media use is vital, not just for avoiding potential legal issues, but also for avoiding negative publicity and ensuring workplace productivity. This article will give you an overview of some of the risks, and approaches your company can take to mitigate them through intelligent policies, however it is not a comprehensive list and should not be taken as legal advice.

The first and most dangerous set of risks to the company are security risks. From an IT security point of view, every method of communicating with an employee directly is an avenue for compromising your network, and a potential means for sensitive data to leak out. In the worst case scenario this can result in your companies entire email system or knowledge base being made public, with catastrophic consequences. The second set of risks are legal, a careless statement by an employee from a work computer can create liability for libel, or under data protection laws if that employee has disclosed sensitive information. A company can also find itself at risk under copyright law, if an employee downloads a pirated piece of software, or shares music or video files. The third set of risks are public relations. Aside from the dangers of an employee complaining about the company they work for, there have been several cases where individuals complaining about a companies policies or actions on social media sites have been attacked by company employees, often resulting in negative national, or even international press coverage. One ill-judged post from an employee can blow up years of public relations work. The final risk is productivity, you’re paying employees to do a job, and unless they’re your social media manager, that job probably does not involve 2 hours a day of posting to Facebook. While productivity losses are unlikely to produce the same sort of crisis as the other 3 risks, a slack and unproductive atmosphere in a business can quickly become toxic for everyone involved.

As a result, many companies simply ban individuals from using social media sites during work hours, and install filtering software or editing firewall settings to block employees from using social media. While simple, this approach has its own drawbacks. First, this will create resentment, particularly amongst skilled employees who are used to independence of action, and capable of finding work elsewhere. Many managers will assume that if an employee is on Facebook or Twitter, they must be wasting hours of company time, however, it’s worth remembering that many people communicate with friends and family through short messages social media sites. A blanket ban is like banning people from making personal calls while on lunch or on break, it’s bound to create negativity amongst the workforce, and it gives the impression that management are either clueless or punitive. While it’s unlikely an employee will quit just because they can’t update their Facebook page, it could be the difference between an employee accepting an offer from another company and turning it down.

A better policy is a combination of monitoring and education. Speak to your IT department about monitoring employee Internet usage. Make sure your employees are aware that you’re going to be monitoring their Internet usage, and make sure they are educated about the need to maintain security, confidentiality and the correct public image while communicating on line. Set acceptable use guidelines covering both the time alloted to social media sites and in terms of content. As an example an employee should not be spending more time on line than they have for their breaks, nor should they be making any statements that harm the company’s interests. Make sure your employees are aware of the consequences for exposing the company to legal liability or compromising network security, and public image. Have a lawyer review your proposed policies to make sure they do not run afoul of any laws protecting certain sorts of employee communication. In particular many jurisdictions have labor laws protecting employees discussing their wages and terms of employment and whistleblower laws protecting employees who disclose criminal activity. Finally, make sure these policies are correctly and evenly enforced. While you will not completely mitigate the risks, you will have gone a long way to protecting yourself against the dangers posed by social media, while not denying yourself or your employees the opportunities for enhancing their jobs and furthering the interests of the company that social media provides.

Social Media is not the only workplace concern. “Telecommuting: Keeping Your Offsite Employees on Task”

Quickly Removing Duplicate Contacts with Scrubly!

Quickly & Easily Remove Duplicate Contacts using Scrubly!

scrublyEliminating one more hassle from modern everyday life is This innovative online application lets anyone quickly and easily clean up their email address book(s). Use it to get rid of duplicate, junk, and mismatched contacts, plus integrate those containing identical elements.

Scrubly uses cloud computing to accomplish this simple yet so important task, no matter if you use one or all of the following email platforms:

  • In MS Outlook you can scrub one or all of your folders, clear out duplicates in all or any PST files, and supports Microsoft Exchange folders (even public contacts). Scrubly is compatible with all Windows Operating Systems from NT through 7. Outlook versions include 2000, 2002 (XP), 2003, 2007 and 2010 (the only non-compatible version is Outlook Express).
  • You can easily clean up email contacts in a Mac address book to eliminate formatting mistakes, conflicting data and duplicate contacts. Operating systems supported are both the 10.5 Leopard OSX and newer, and the 10.6 Snow Leopard OSX.
  • GMail from google will also tidy up nicely with Scrubly. Fix formatting errors, get rid of any duplicate contacts and straighten out any conflicts. Scrubly works incredibly well to de-clutter the contacts in your Google Apps address book as well.

The secrets to Scrubly’s success are its unique method and powerful algorithm that quickly compare each field of an address book contact. Whether it’s exact duplicates, closely matched contacts, or conflicting data, Scrubly is designed to find and flag the problem contacts for your perusal, prior to deletion.

The “Conflict Resolution Wizard” speeds up the entire process by identifying and eliminating the commonly found error patterns that are the result of syncing various platforms. The Wizard also takes care of mis-matched data across contact fields. Doing this work manually would be a horrible, time-consuming project!

With the above email platforms, Scrubly backs up your contact data before beginning a clean up. This backup is kept on the Scrubly server, so if you need to reload your previous settings it’s easily accomplished; you never lose your information even after a de-cluttering is complete.

In addition to ease of use, a very important consideration is data security, and Scrubly has that well under control. They use a sophisticated combination of complex password requirements, multiple server locations across the country (Seattle, Dallas and DC), server firewalls, and 128-Bit SSL encryption.

Just like the clean up process itself, setting up Scrubly is fast and efficient. The first step is to sign up with a username, your email and a unique password. Next, set up your Scrubly profile by choosing what type(s) of email address book platform you’d like to de-clutter. If you’re a Mac or Outlook user you’ll need to install a small client file. Then you just hit “process” and while you watch, Scrubly resolves conflicts, merges matches and eliminates duplicate contacts. The final step is to “update” and the newly tidied contact list is imported into your email address book(s). It’s that simple!

You should go to and take this uber-convenient email clean-up tool for a test drive. You won’t have to pay a dime to try it out – Scrubly offers a trial version that will clean up to 250 contacts! Once you’ve tried it – you’ll love it!

As business professionals, Scrubly can be used for your professional contact lists as well! Next we talk about implementing Social Media Policies in the Workplace.

Social Media in the Workplace, Beneficial or Productivity Killer?

Can social media be beneficial to your business?

A big controversy today exists on the matter of whether or not social media in the workplace is beneficial or a productivity killer. Pros and cons of each side make a consensus difficult to reach. Some firms view the accessing of social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook during work hours as an attack on productivity. Although employees may be blocked from sites on their work computers, any smart phone still offers easy access. Communicating with business contacts and peers is often considered a productive networking tool. So where do businesses draw the line?

How does social media traffic impact business efficiency? How much time are younger generation employees spending on Facebook? It is technologically feasible to block access to a website that is a productivity problem, but is it necessary? One approach is to view social media sites as a communication tool and determine which groups of people in a business need access to it. For those who need unrestricted access to potential clients or are tasked to improve operations, the resources offered through these sites are critical.

One extreme or the other does not seem to be the answer. For employees who are not executing their job and are incapable of limiting their time on social media sites, global blocking is an option to consider versus terminating these people who do not seem to be able to self-police their own impulses. However, global blocking is impractical in that this easy way out does not solve the underlying problem. Lack of trust has a huge impact on employee satisfaction in the workplace as well as recruiting and retention efforts.

Consider these following solutions when social media in the workplace starts to be an issue:

1) Time Restrictions – Restrict the time that these sites can be accessed to a certain window each day. For example, pick a two hour window around the lunch hour. The time restriction shows employees that the activity is not necessarily supported during business hours but the company realizes that employees need access.

2) Group Restrictions – Restrict the groups that are allowed access to these sites. Have different access permissions based on the different roles of the employees in the business. If a group has not been granted access and feels that it is needed, have them submit a proposal outlining the reasons why.

3) Identify Abusers – Have your employees sign a policy that outlines their code of conduct concerning online activities. Then use the proxy servers to isolate the top users of certain sites to see if they are abusing their privileges.

4) Review Websites – Review the different social media sites to determine their intended purpose. Obviously Facebook and LinkedIn are different sites and offer distinct advantages and disadvantages.

5) Clarify Expectations – Spell out what you require from your employees. Let them know your productivity milestones so they are able to reach them. Use policies to explain how certain sites are to be used in the workplace.

There is a huge benefit to using social media sites but it is important that balance is maintained. Employees need to understand the value of personal productivity and develop a strong work ethic. Generally removing temptation or micromanaging behavior does not solve the problems as inherently employees will find another way to goof off or access these sites. In certain cases, the implementation of selective blocking may be necessary but this is where the above solutions come into play, such as time and group restrictions. It is also important to keep in mind that websites constantly evolve based on the needs of the user and the environment of the Internet. A site that may seem unnecessary at the time might offer a new opportunity in the future.

Next in line for Social Media in the Workplace: “Workplace Policies on Social Media”

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