The one life lesson I have learnt…. Travel!

The one life lesson I have learnt…. Travel!

I have been in a fortunate position to have been able to resign from my job and go and travel. Look, it isn’t the easiest thing to do, as it takes months and even years to plan. But it is something that I would highly recommend everyone does. Take the plunge and forget about having to sit in the traffic to get to a desk you will sit behind for 8 hours, only to get back in your car to sit in some more traffic.

 

Why take a sabbatical?

Why would anyone want to leave their stable job with regular income? Everyone asks, “Aren’t you scared to leave your stable job?”. Yes, it is scary to think of, but you will not have any regrets. So many people are planning and saving for their retirement, wanting to go travel only then. But realistically, would you be physically fit to do a 21km roundtrip hike to see the infamous Trolltunga in Norway, or volunteer to help build a new cattery in Sweden, at the age of 65?

A misconception for quitting your job to go travelling is that it’s expensive. It can work out cheaper than your normal day to day life with an office job. You don’t have any rent to pay or other major bills to pay. If you are smart, you can find places where you can volunteer and in return, you get accommodation and food during your stay. Volunteering can be very rewarding, and one can learn so many new skills as part of the experience.

 

Planning for a once in a lifetime experience

Taking time off to go and travel for a few months is not something you can just plan for a month in advance. It takes months or even years of working extra hard to earn money to save. One must cut all costs to save every penny. It’s even saying no to Friday night drinks with your friends because you need to save. Every penny counts, and it is worth it when you finally get on that plane for the adventure of a lifetime.

You don’t have to plan every single move; you can just go with the flow. Depending on your passport, you may have limited time in the country. You can have a rough idea of your trip, but it does have to be cast in stone. You may find that you love the south of France and want to stay an extra few weeks.

 

Nothing ‘adventured’;  nothing gained

Experiencing a new culture or ticking off the hot air balloon ride that was on your bucket list can be one of the most rewarding experiences you will have, and you will carry that experience with you for life. You learn new things every day, things that you will never be able to learn by sitting at your desk doing your 8 – 5 office job. Like stumbling across a Spanish fiesta in a small coastal town and being the only English-speaking person in the crowd, but you will have one of the best nights of your life. You will also meet some really interesting people and make lifelong friends.

Be adventurous! And take the plunge – you will not regret it.

How to get the most out of hosting online meetings

How to get the most out of hosting online meetings

You might think that online business meetings cannot possibly be as effective as in-person meetings.

Think again!

During this pandemic we have no choice but to meet online.   While a virtual meeting cannot replace personal contact, there are many ways to manage virtual meetings to get better outcomes than you would by sitting around a table.

Have shorter meetings

If your virtual meetings aren’t shorter, they should be.

‘Zoom fatigue’ has entered the lexicon – online meetings are more tiring than in-person.   The most obvious reason is that staring at your mirror image makes one self-conscious.   It takes real strength of mind not to worry about your appearance.   You also cannot shift on your chair without wobbling on video. Extroverts feel that they do not get a chance to interact with their colleagues and introverts don’t enjoy being on camera.

These are a few in-depth articles you could read for more information:

Zoom fatigue is real — here’s why video calls are so draining

‘Zoom fatigue’ is taxing the brain. Here’s why that happens.

Here’s Why You’re Feeling Zoom Fatigue

 

Get great participation

Let’s face it, getting participation during a any meeting can be a challenge – but technology we have at our disposal makes it possible to energize and involve people.  It does mean that the host needs to do more preparation than walking into a room and starting a meeting with an icebreaker, but this can be a good thing to give structure to your meeting.

Here are some of the do’s:

  • Enabling the waiting room and be online five minutes before the meeting starts to allow some socializing among colleagues.
  • Plan an activity to energize participants, particularly during those unavoidable long meetings. Here’s an article which will give your thinking a kickstart:

https://www.sessionlab.com/blog/online-energizers/

  • I nclude opportunities for interaction on the agenda.
  • Collect input with polls and surveys.
  • Your Q & A sessions are livelier and more productive with live chat enabled – more people ask more questions. You have a written record to help you collate topics and give comprehensive answers.   This also means that you can address any unanswered questions later.

 

Take control

You can control participation and eliminate most disruption by setting your preferences for each meeting.

  • If you want everyone’s full attention – disable private chats.
  • To encourage discussion – enable chats.
  • Use opinion polls and surveys to dynamically involve your audience.
  • Control who attends with unique passwords.
  • Prevent disruption in your meeting preferences – you control whether participants can mute their microphone and/or video.
  • And you can avoid those potentially embarrassing moments which go viral on social media too! Simply take what precautions you can to avoid disruption at home and remember that you are on video.

 

Bring in the experts

Do you need a consultant to give a quick insight?  No problem – give them a time slot and they can join online for as long as their time allows.   You will find that it’s much easier and cheaper to have outside experts speak at your events when they don’t need to travel at all.

 

Find the right service for you

The tech giants and the newbies are racing to bring more and better features to market.    Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and Zoom Meetings are the biggest names in the news at the moment, but more and more options are available almost every day.

If you are shopping for the best platform for your business, visit technology comparison sites such as G2CrowdPCMag Business Software Index or Capterra  to compare features, benefits and pricing.

These are some features to consider:

  • Which face to face view do you prefer?
  • Do the analytics provide all the information you need?
  • How secure is the software?
  • Does it integrate with all the collaboration tools and software you are already using, or offer new aspects you will benefit from?

Use collaboration tools

You might be content with the collaboration tools built into your software but need additional features.  No problem – you will find technology which integrates with systems you are already using.   Some of the features which I find most useful are:

  • Screen sharing.
  • Whiteboards and parking lots.
  • Live chat (group or private). Chat is your opportunity to increase collaboration and keep everyone on the same page.  Some of the actions you can take are:
    • Link your agenda in chat.
    • Link shared documents.
    • Answer questions as you go, or park them on a whiteboard.
    • Solicit and expand on ideas.

 

Record keeping made simple

Record your meeting with a mouse click and save it to the cloud where you can access it later.    Depending on the software you use, you can even get a transcription within minutes.

 

Analyse and monitor your progress

Use the analytics provided by your software for ongoing improvement.  Find out which topics are popular, view and save poll results and create infographics.

 

Make the paradigm shift

In conclusion, although we have no choice other than meeting online during a pandemic, we can choose to make the most of the options we do have. Whether you are new to video conferencing or an old hand, technology changes provide ongoing opportunities for improvement.

Embrace the benefits, be more effective, and enjoy your meetings!

 

Image by Lynette Coulston from Pixabay

How to Manage Production Remotely:  Tips and Tricks

How to Manage Production Remotely: Tips and Tricks

“Working remotely” is the new buzzword nowadays.  It’s a new concept for many businesses to have their staff working from home.   But virtual assistants have been doing this for many years.   I have been a virtual production manager for the past ….. years.

I have been asking myself the last couple of months “How is it possible that there’s a whole world of brilliant virtual personnel out there, and many companies still do not know they exist”? 

Only now have some companies realised you do not need a production manager, HR, accountant, video editor, marketing manager and many more human assets to sit in an office to complete a project with professionalism and success.  I only wish that my first employer (me fresh out of varsity) knew that before he pushed me into an office that killed my spirit and enthusiasm for anything production-related.  Someone looking over my shoulder and expecting me to work effectively from 14:00-16:00 is the worst management trick to pull on a person like me.  I often thought that “production management is not for me, maybe I wasted my time, maybe I am not good enough”, etc. I am sure many of us have felt like this at work.

Not everyone is made for remote working, especially in production, but if you get the balance right, managing production remotely can be as easy as any other remote position out there.  My first VA client, and still my client a few years down the line, is a wonderful human who designs bespoke suits.  At first, I thought it was impossible to create something as personal as clothing for someone when your production manager is not on site.  I was stressed, slept little and read my email every 5 seconds.  Eventually, I started to find my rhythm and understood my client’s pace and work ethic.   I realised remote production management is my thing.  You know – your “thing”, that thing that you love doing even over weekends.  This is the job that I am most organized in and that takes me less time to complete than any other virtual position.

In short, production management is fun and can be made easy.   Now that companies are taking note of virtual production, I realize that I am where I need and should be.

Here are some pointers if you are a production manager or a company owner thinking of managing production remotely.

 

How to maintain productivity

 

  1. Monitor – Remote monitoring through various software and tools to help with unit production operations. 

My tip for monitoring is to stay on top of all new orders.  Process new orders immediately.  Issues can creep up on you in various stages of the production process, and you want to tackle them head-on.  Do not let orders accumulate until there’s too much to do.  This is where mistakes creep in.  As all my processes and tools are loaded onto the cloud, my client can monitor the progress of every order in real-time.

 

  1. Collaborate – Standardize Operating l Procedures. 

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) can eliminate human error as everyone in the business is on the same page.  SOP’s should consistently change to make the production process and human interaction more relevant and up to date.

See what works for your remote position and work SOP’s into your everyday operations.  Create a Standard Digital SOP and record standard procedures rapidly, and is available for all personnel to view and understand.  Examples of remote SOP’s are:

  • Readiness checklists
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Activity tracking and reporting (Bitrix24 is a great tool to use for this)
  • Communication process and hierarchy (Bitrix24 is a great tool to use for this)

 

  1. Enable – This is probably one of the most important tools in virtual production.  

Enable the rest of the production staff to understand working remotely.  Train them on the various platforms and tools available to connect with the virtual world.  Use platforms that are convenient, accessible, and easy to understand.  The following tools are easy to understand and can make communication easy and effective:

  • Slack (business communication platform)
  • Trello (web-based Kanban-style list-making application)
  • Dropbox (web-based file hosting service)
  • Google Calendar (time-management and scheduling calendar service)
  • LastPass (password Management Program)
  • Zoom (conference calling for the whole team)

How to ensure that production keeps going while you are not there physically

 

  1. Communicate

Communication is probably the most important of my tips.   Learn to be a good communicator in any position within a business.  Nothing can dampen the employee spirit like no communication, or the lack of the correct communication.

Earlier on, during my desk job, this was probably one of the reasons I got so frustrated.  When I needed to get approval for certain production tasks or money to pay for certain dry goods, top management either did not respond to my calls and emails, or they left some of the queries until it was too late to produce a product at the right time, at the right price.  Everyone knew management lacked discipline and communication skills, but it still irked me so much that I could not do that job anymore.  With a remote position, communication is even more important.  Make it clear to your client from the beginning of production that you expect certain responses to make sure that the product gets produced and issues are straightened out in real-time.

 

  1. Customize your processes so that it is easy to hand over

Let’s be honest, anything can happen, and you will most definitely miss a few days of work at some point.   You might even be lucky enough to go on vacation.

As a remote production manager, it will always be expected that you are available or easily accessible if new orders come in or issues occur.  But you just want to take a break for a while?  Well, make sure your processes are up to date and easy to understand for someone you will hand the production over to.

It is always a good idea to have a handover document in case the stand-in needs to go back and research or need to understand something.  Make sure your handover document has all the relevant and up to date contact details of suppliers, buyers etc. on, also explain the production process in clear steps to follow.

 

Ensure past mistakes will not be made again

 

  1. Document

Remember to document mistakes/issues. For example, a client gained some weight and one suit was too tight around his belly.  Because we make use of standard operating measurement forms, his new measurement was never updated.  Luckily, he was fine with waiting for a new jacket, but it did cost us a couple of 100 dollars to fix the problem.  Try to implement an Issue Tracking template early in the production process and share with your client regularly.  Topics like issue type, issue status, action required and date created can be used to track your issues.  There are even Issue Tracking templates for IT and Ops out there which accuracy with real-time plans.  These increase collaboration with teams.  They also improve efficiency with resources centralized in one location. Quickly resolve reported issues, gain visibility into issue patterns, and maintain auditable records without additional work.

 

  1. Use an instant messenger such as WhatsApp

I find that the simplest way to track past issues is through messages on WhatsApp.   Remember to use hashtags in front of your issue this makes tracking easier.

 

Production is important

It should be managed in a way that makes your customer a market leader.  Use the tools, software, people, support out there to make production easy, effective, accurate and relevant.  Remember, good communication is key if you want Remote Production Management to work.

Most virtual assistants out there are familiar with the tools which make remote working possible.  One characteristic of a virtual assistant is that they are very accessible, easy to train and open to new ideas.  If you, as a company owner, use a platform that is new to the virtual production manager, give them a few days to get comfortable with it – it will not take long.

Virtual Assistant Companies like VA Connect have production managers on their books and they probably have almost all of the other super-skilled personnel you are looking for.

And if you are sitting with a product you want to produce, but you do not have office space for a production manager, you know where to look!

Practicing Mindfulness Can Change Your Way of Thinking

Practicing Mindfulness Can Change Your Way of Thinking

What exactly is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is described as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings and thoughts in the here and now. When we become more aware of our own mind, we become more aware of those around us.  When we start to become more present and apply mindfulness to our everyday lives, we can begin to see the benefits.

Awareness

Mindfulness is an extreme sense of awareness. We can observe our thoughts and actions along with the feelings and emotions of others.

Practice

Like a muscle, mindfulness is something that we must practice all the time. Times in which we do not believe that we need to practice are the most important. It is easy to be mindful when the world around us is calm. We must exercise sincerely in these times so that when the world around us becomes chaotic, we can remain in this internal place of stillness.

Be Here Now

The present moment is the only moment that we have. If you are continually dwelling on the past or the future, you cannot pay attention to what is. Being out of the now will affect the quality of your life.

 

Simple ways to bring mindfulness into our daily routines

Eating

It’s said that we eat with our eyes first. When bringing mindful awareness to eating this is undoubtedly true. We see our food before consuming it. Notice the colors on your plate. Become aware of the smell of your food. Feel the temperature of the food as it warms or cools your plate. Take the opportunity to experience tasting your food fully.

Walking

As you walk, notice the sensation of the air on your face and arms. Feel the ground beneath your feet with every step you take. Tune into the sounds around you. Simply become aware of how it feels to place one foot in front of the other.

Breathing

As you breathe in, notice the cooling sensation as the air moves up and into your nostrils. Feel the air fill and expand your lungs. In that split second before you breathe out notice how the breath is held in your body. As you breathe out, recognize the sensations in your body as your ribs contract. Breathing mindfully not only increases awareness but is a tool to reduce anxiety and stress in the present moment. The next time you are stressed out try to take a few mindful breaths to bring tension levels down.

Showering

Every time you take a shower, visualize washing away your stress and anxiety. Concentrate on the feel of the water touching your skin. Envision the power of the water washing away your negative thoughts. Let it all go down the drain, you’ll start feeling lighter and much clearer.

 

Conclusion

The more you practice mindfulness, the more you will understand how your thoughts, feelings or sensations influence each other, as well as your mood and the way in which you respond to the world.

What to Expect When Working with a Virtual Assistant

What to Expect When Working with a Virtual Assistant

What to Expect When Working with a Virtual Assistant

A Virtual Assistant (VA) is a person who works remotely – she can sit in an office down the street or across the world.  Working with a VA is very different from having an employee sitting in your office.  Most Virtual Assistants work for more than one person, splitting their day up between their different clients. Virtual Assistants can assist with anything from general admin, marketing, diary management to virtually anything. The concept of working with a VA is a relatively new idea and so there are things that people are not always aware of.

Communication is key

Communication in this working relationship is key, use emails, WhatsApp, voice notes or weekly meetings.  Be mindful that the Virtual Assistant is not in your office and is unable to come into your office and speak to you face to face, should the need arise.  When giving instructions to your VA, be sure to provide all the resources that might be needed for the task at hand, together with all the relevant timelines and goals that you as an employer will expect.  There should always be an open line of communication.

Work out the process

Working with a Virtual Assistant takes time to perfect.  It is suggestible that especially in the beginning, all the assignments that are given to your Virtual Assistant are reviewed and that constructive feedback is given to the VA.  This process will allow her to grow in her position and for her to ensure that over time she consistently provides what you are looking for.  Never under estimate the power of a few kind words or praise for a job well done.  It will do wonders for her self-esteem and will make your VA strive harder to ensure her work exceeds your expectations.

Stay in touch

It is the client’s responsibility to ensure that your VA knows what is expected of her.  Regular communication to make sure she is coping and on point, will eliminate unwanted surprises.  Having said this, there is no need to micromanage her.  This could lead to serious problems down the line and could very well disrupt the relationship between the client and the Virtual Assistant and blur the boundaries as to what exactly is expected of her.

Remember the human touch

Remember that your Virtual Assistant is a person, who also has feelings and emotions.  Given that that many clients have never had a face to face meeting with their VA, they forget that she too is a person.  When problems arise as they normally do, it is easy get upset and vent their frustrations at their faceless Virtual Assistant.

All in a day’s work

Having a well-balanced working relationship between client and Virtual Assistant is one of the best things a client can do for his business.  By the general day to day tasks been taken over by someone else, the client is left free to focus on growing his business without the everyday mundane tasks to contend with.