All posts by Alex Lopez

7 Tasks You Can Outsource to a Virtual Assistant

As a business owner, you probably have a lot on your plate. There may not always be enough hours in the day to get everything done. A never-ending to-do list can be frustrating and overwhelming. Fortunately, we live in a digital age where an abundance of virtual assistant services are available. If you’re feeling swamped, there are seven tasks you can outsource immediately.

 

1. Posting and Responding on Social Media

Networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are gold mines for lead generation. However, they also require a lot of upkeep. A virtual assistant (VA) can handle the more time consuming aspects like posting content from your blog and curating content from relevant industry sites. You can also have employees promptly respond to comments so that you don’t leave leads hanging.

 

2. Online Research

Sales and marketing research as well as researching industry trends are extremely important. This is what enables you to create valuable content and identify potential opportunities. A manual approach can be a time drainer. A VA can do the heavy lifting and provide you with actionable intel.

 

3. File Management

Do you save and store files digitally on platforms like Google Drive and Dropbox? Things get out of control in a hurry without ongoing file management. A VA can stay on top of this at all times so that your files are labeled, categorized and organized for easy retrieval.

 

4. Invoicing Clients

In terms of the financial/accounting side of things, a VA will be able to handle basic invoicing as well. They will ensure that all invoices are created correctly and go out on time without having to handle it yourself.

 

5. Proofreading/Editing Blog Posts

It’s really important that your blog posts are flawless from a spelling and grammatical standpoint. Glaring errors make you look unprofessional and can be a deal breaker for would-be customers. There are numerous VA services that will proofread and edit your blog posts to ensure they’re error free. You can even have freelance writers handle content creation entirely.

 

6. Creating Analytics Reports

Whether you’re monitoring the effectiveness of your SEO campaign, social media or PPC, you’ll need access to accurate reporting. A VA will take care of the more arduous elements of this process so that you have continually fresh reports at your fingertips.

 

7. Sending Email Blasts

According to research from Statista, “86 percent of consumers would like to receive promotional emails from companies they do business with at least monthly, and 15 percent would like to get them daily.” Why not have a VA take care of engaging and maintaining your email subscriptions? They can write emails, feature relevant promotions, respond to inquiries and so on.

 

If you’re pressed for time, hiring a VA makes all the sense in the world. These are just a few of the tasks you can outsource, and there are many other possibilities depending upon your specific needs. For more information on how the process works and advice for getting started, listen to this podcast from outsourcing expert Chris Ducker.

 

 

Excessive Workload: Has Overwork Become the New Norm?

Americans are working more hours than ever, and many are paying the price for it. We’ve arguably never seen a higher level of collective stress, exhaustion, and burnout than we’re seeing today — all stemming from an excessive workload. Has overwork become the new norm?

 

America vs. Other Major Economies

A study from CNN Money examined how many hours people worked each week in several different countries with major economies. According to their findings, America was at the top of the list with the average American working 34.4 hours per week.

To put things into perspective, here are the average hours worked per week in other countries:

  • Australia – 32.4 hours
  • Sweden – 31.2 hours
  • Switzerland – 31.1 hours
  • Austria – 30.3 hours
  • Ireland – 29.4 hours
  • Luxembourg – 29 hours

Keep in mind that this study takes both full-time and part-time workers into account. A separate study from Gallup reported, ” Adults employed full-time report working an average of 47 hours per week, which equates to nearly six days a week.” That’s a lot of work.

 

The Consequences

Chronic overwork can have a host of unsavory side-effects. Obvious symptoms include an increase in stress levels and fatigue. There can also be a plethora of long-term health complications including sleep loss, depression, diabetes and heart disease. Researchers have even found a correlation between an excessive workload and heavy drinking, especially among low-income workers.

You might expect an increased workload to result in higher productivity and output. This isn’t the case. Although you may see a temporary increase in productivity if employees raise their workweek from 40 hours to 60, pushing your employees like this has virtually no long-term impact on productivity. A study by Boston University’s Questrom School of Business found, “Managers could not tell the difference between employees who actually worked 80 hours a week and those who just pretended to.”

In a sense, an excessive workload is simply creating discord without any tangible long-term benefits. You can also bet that it’s not going to do your business any favors in terms of recruiting and employee retention.

 

Addressing the Issue

If an excessive workload is pervasive at your company, it’s something you’ll definitely want to address. Left unchecked, it could hurt morale, drive valued employees away, hurt your company culture and diminish your overall brand equity.

Here are a few ways you can prevent overwork and give your employees a healthier work/life balance:

  • Offer flexible scheduling
  • Allow employees to telecommute whenever possible
  • Mandate that employees must use their vacation days
  • Allow employees to completely disconnect from work during vacation time (contact them only for absolute emergencies)
  • Offer unpaid time off for major life events

 

Pushing employees to work longer hours can be tempting because of the perceived upswing in productivity. However, experts seem to agree that this usually does more harm than good. There’s no denying that overwork has become the norm in America, but there are several things you can do to ensure that this isn’t an issue for your company.

 

Keeping Employees Happy Without a Raise

It’s all about the money. Or is it?

Getting a raise is obviously enticing to employees. It plays a role in keeping them happy and for minimizing turnover. But sometimes it’s just not in the cards for your company. Fortunately, there are several other ways to keep your employees happy without a raise.

 

Offer Flexible Scheduling

Flexible working arrangements like telecommuting, compressed workweeks and reduced hours are very alluring to modern employees. One of the best alternatives to a raise is to offer flexible scheduling. This enables your employees to achieve more of a balanced work-life schedule.

In fact, some employees are even willing to earn less in order to telecommute. According to a study from Harvard University that surveyed roughly 7,000 job applicants, “Workers were willing to accept eight percent lower pay, on average, to work from home.”

With more and more workers suffering from burnout and fatigue, flexible scheduling is a huge perk. Not only can this increase overall employee satisfaction, it can help your business tremendously from a recruiting standpoint.

 

Offer More Vacation Time

Maybe a raise isn’t feasible, but increasing the amount of vacation time for your top employees may be. Even a 10 percent increase in vacation days can be appealing. Keep in mind that you don’t need to do this for everyone — just your superstars who consistently perform at a high level.

 

Make Gratitude Part of Your Culture

Employee recognition plays an integral role in job satisfaction, productivity and overall morale. Unfortunately, it seems to be something that’s overlooked by many employers. A study from Socialcast found, “39 percent of employees don’t feel appreciated at their jobs, and 69 percent say they’d work harder if they felt their efforts were better appreciated.”

Although you may not be able to increase someone’s salary, you can make a concerted effort to consistently show your appreciation and recognize their efforts. Making gratitude a part of your culture should keep your employees more engaged and reduce the likelihood of them jumping ship. As Socialcast suggests, be sure that you recognize your employees in a timely manner and avoid playing favorites.

 

Create a More Pleasant Working Environment

Companies like Google, Facebook and Flickr are known for their fun working environments. They are workplaces where the “work hard, play hard” mantra reigns supreme. Given the success of these companies, there are definitely advantages of creating an atmosphere that’s pleasant and where employees feel comfortable.

Here are some specific ways to spruce up your workplace.

  • Incorporate elements of nature – According to the Human Spaces Global Report, “Employees who worked in environments with natural elements reported a 15 percent higher level of well-being, a six percent higher level of productivity and a 15 percent higher level of creativity.”
  • Provide games for employees in the break room – A foosball table or video games are great ways to relax and encourage bonding.
  • Offer free food and drinks
  • Ditch the cubicles and opt for an open working environment

 

Employee satisfaction should be a top priority. More money certainly helps, but there are several ways to keep employees happy without a raise. In some cases, these strategies can actually have a bigger impact than money and encourage your top performers to stick around.

Should Your Business Offer Flexible Scheduling?

Flexible scheduling has gained considerable momentum over the past few years. This shift is largely due to the high volume of millennials entering the workforce who view things much differently than the baby boomers who are leaving. Does flexible scheduling make sense for your business?

 

A New Labor Force

There has been a significant shift in terms of age demographics in the labor force. Millennials (people born roughly between 1980 – 1995) now account for a sizable portion of the workforce. The Pew Research Center reports, “There were 53.5 million millennials in the workforce in 2015 even eclipsing Gen Xers at 52.7 million.”

Why is this important?

Millennials think differently than most of their Baby Boomer and Gen X counterparts. Many millennials crave a healthy work-life balance and value flexible scheduling. According to a study from Bentley University, “77 percent of millennials say flexible work hours would make them more productive at work.”

Another study from PwC found:

  • 64 percent of millennials would like to occasionally work from home
  • 66 of millennials would like to shift their work hours
  • 15 percent of male employees say they would give up some of their pay and slow the pace of promotion in exchange for working fewer hours
  • 21 percent of female employees say the same

 

In short, flexible scheduling is something that appeals to most millennials. With Bentley University reporting, “By 2025, millennials will make up as much as 75 percent of the global workforce,” flexible scheduling is at least something to consider. This could serve as a valuable recruiting tool and is likely to reduce employee turnover — something that’s very costly.

 

Other Benefits

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are several other advantages to offering flexible work schedules. One advantage is lower overhead costs. When employees telecommute even part of the time, it reduces expenses like utilities, office equipment, paper consumption and more.

There also appears to be a correlation between flexible scheduling and lower absenteeism and tardiness. When employees are able to address their personal needs and work around their families, there’s a tendency to show up on time and be more fully engaged. Many employers have even found that their employees use less of their sick days.

Besides this, flexible scheduling often boosts job satisfaction and overall employee morale. When workers are empowered to structure their work schedules in accordance with their personal needs, it’s only natural that they’ll be happier.

 

Software and Apps

One reason many employers are reluctant to embrace this working arrangement is the fear that communication will break down and output will suffer. Fortunately, there are a myriad of software platforms and apps available that make for seamless telecommuting. They enable you to manage your employees just as effectively as if they were physically in the workplace. Check out Inc.com for tools you can use to manage a remote team.

As Bob Dylan would say, “The times they are a changin’.” The millennial generation has brought with it new ideas on what constitutes a well-run workplace. While flexible scheduling doesn’t make sense for every business, it’s definitely something to consider and can make your company more competitive on many levels.

What Role Will Artificial Intelligence Have on HR Moving Forward?

Artificial intelligence is no longer a futuristic notion. It’s very much a part of present reality and evolving every day. If you’ve even seen the movie Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson, you know where digital assistants like Siri will be in the not so distant future. What role does artificial intelligence have on HR and what will its long-term impact be?

 

AI and HR Converge

Artificial intelligence has come a long way in a relatively short period of time. The collective interest we have in AI is evident by the amount of financial backing it has received in recent years. A study from CB insights found that AI financing grew from only $282 million in 2011 to nearly $2.4 billion in 2015.

Numerous industries are now using AI in some form, and HR is no exception. Research indicates that it has received a warm reception, and there appears to be plenty of fascination and intrigue with the long-term implications of this union.

According to a survey of nearly 400 chief human resources officers by the IBM Institute for Business Value, “Half of the survey sample recognize the power of cognitive computing to transform key dimensions of HR, such as HR operations, talent acquisition, and talent development.”

 

Common Uses of Artificial Intelligence

This begs the question. How exactly can businesses use AI for HR purposes?

One of the more common uses is to provide better customer service. More specifically, some companies are now using “chatbots” to engage with customers around the clock. With more and more consumers expecting a lightning fast response, companies are starting to use AI to answer questions and improve the customer service experience.

This ensures that consumers immediately get the attention they need in real-time. Unlike their human counterparts, chatbots don’t require breaks or vacation time and can work 24/7 365 days a year.

 

Applicant Screening

Applicant screening is notoriously meticulous and time-consuming. It can easily take hours to filter through applicants just to choose a few worthwhile candidates. Artificial intelligence can streamline this process significantly by having candidates interact with an AI tool to answer pre-selected questions and provide relevant information. This allows recruiters to cast a wide net and find highly qualified candidates in an extremely efficient manner.

 

Employee Onboarding

Proper onboarding is necessary for getting new hires started out on the right foot. However, it can be time-consuming and requires considerable manpower. Artificial intelligence is a viable solution. It is perfect for getting employees up to speed and can provide a fairly robust onboarding experience.

While AI tools may not be able to answer highly specific questions (at least not yet), they’re more than capable of providing answers to general questions and supplying new hires with information regarding company policies, processes and more.

 

Additional Uses

It doesn’t stop there. Here are some other uses of AI in HR:

  • Employee scheduling
  • Workflow automation
  • Providing employee performance reviews (this could really take the awkwardness out of it)
  • Automatic documentation of workplace incidents

 

Although there’s still a long way to go, there’s no denying that artificial intelligence can have a big impact on HR moving forward. With all of the energy and investments going into AI, this could be a reality sooner than you may think.