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6 Things That Will Improve Your Home Office

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Working from home can be challenging. You don’t have the same equipment or support as someone who’s sitting in a corporate office. So, how can you make sure that you’re as prepared and productive as them? Here are six things that you need to do: 

1. Make an Emergency Fund

One of the biggest obstacles of working from home is that if something goes wrong, it’s on you to fix it. You don’t have an IT department to come up to your office to help you when your computer is on the fritz or when your phone breaks. You have to handle tech issues on your own, and you might have to cover the costs too. 

So, you should prepare for this. Set aside some savings every month and pile them into an emergency fund. This could help you cover any unexpected tech breakdowns and problems that will stop you from working. 

What if there’s not enough in your emergency fund? If you don’t have a substantial emergency fund, you could always apply for a flex loan to make up for your lack of savings. Click here to see what is an online flex loan and what qualifications you need to apply. This could help you manage an emergency expense quickly.

Make sure to tell your employer whenever you have to handle an emergency expense for your home office. They might help you cover the costs. Just have a copy of the receipt on hand. 

2. Boost Your Internet

You need your internet to be in top shape when you’re working from home. You don’t want to have sluggish service when you have to race through a project to meet a tight deadline. You don’t want your connection to drop in the middle of your conference calls. 

If you’ve noticed that your internet is too slow, you can do a few things before buying upgrades. Reset your modem. Move your router to a better space. Having it out of the open (instead of in a closet or cabinet) and close to your office could help with your connection. 

If these things don’t work, it’s either time to upgrade your plan or replace your devices. These will give you a much stronger connection — and give you an easier time at work. 

3. Organize Your Cables

Look under your home office desk right now. There’s a big knot of cables there. It’s embarrassing to have all of that mess sitting in your professional workspace, and it’s not very efficient either. It’s going to be a real pain trying to untangle your laptop charger from the knot when you need to move your work to another location. How can you fix this frustrating problem?

You have a few very easy options. You can use twist ties — yes, the ties that keep the plastic bags over loaves of bread firmly closed — to collect and organize your cables. Zip ties and Velcro wraps can also give great results at a very small price point.  

Now your office will feel less cluttered and chaotic.

4. Get an Ergonomic Chair

You can’t have any old chair in your office. You should have a high-quality ergonomic chair. It’s an essential feature for any professional workplace.  

Why is that? A regular chair can’t give you the support that you need to last through an entire workday. If you use a regular dining room chair or stool, you’re going to notice lots of aches and pains after spending hours at your desk. Eventually, you could get some chronic problems with your posture. That’s not good. 

Get yourself a proper chair. It’s the right decision for your health. 

Once you have the chair, you should look up how to make an ergonomic office setup with the rest of your equipment. Everything from your chair height to your keyboard position is important for maintaining good posture and taking care of your body. 

5. Protect Your Eyes

You’re staring at screens all day long. You wake up and look at your smartphone to turn off your morning alarm and check your messages. You then log onto your computer for work. And if you don’t stay late and work overtime, you sit on the couch and relax in front of the television before crawling into bed and restarting the cycle. 

Is this bad? While staring at screens won’t cause irreversible damage to your eyes, it will cause irritation. You can get eye strain from focusing on a bright screen for too long. You might find yourself getting headaches, blurry vision or dry, itchy eyes. This can be solved by taking the following steps:

  • Take frequent breaks where you look away from the screen for at least 10 seconds
  • Sit an arm’s length away from your computer monitor
  • Lower the brightness on the screen
  • Adjust the size of fonts, documents and folders so that you don’t squint
  • Take eye drops if you’re experiencing chronic dryness or itchiness

Another problem is that the blue light emitted from screens can disrupt your sleep patterns. Blue light stimulates your brain, blocks the production of melatonin and tricks you into feeling awake. While this comes in handy in the middle of the workday, it’s not good when it’s done. You might find that you’re having trouble getting to sleep, especially when you work later hours. You’re wide awake when you hit the pillow. 

If you’re having trouble sleeping after a long day, consider making some adjustments. Adjust the color temperature of your screens so that they emit less blue light. Some smartphones will have a setting that says “night mode” that accomplishes the same thing. Try to give yourself at least 2 hours away from a screen before you go to bed. This means you should try not to burn the midnight oil for work if you can help it.  

6. Decorate with Plants

Finally, the last thing that you need to improve your home office is a potted plant — or even better, a few potted plants. Why is that? Research shows that indoor plants can boost your productivity and decrease your stress levels. It’s the perfect solution when your workdays have either felt like unbearable slogs or stressful sprints. 

What plants should you get for your desk? Here are some popular options:

  • Snake Plant
  • English Ivy
  • Aloe
  • Bamboo
  • Jade Plant
  • Peace Lily

With these six things, you can thrive in your home office. You’ll never want to go back to a regular cubicle again.

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Growing a Business

When Shifting Strategy, Don’t Lose Sight of Your Long-Term Vision

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When introducing new strategies in response to the ever-shifting business landscape, executives must take care to align them with the larger picture of where their organization is heading — the company’s “vision.” That’s because when vision and strategy are at odds, employees, shareholders, and customers may lose confidence. To achieve this alignment, executives need to evaluate whether proposed short-term strategic shifts are consistent with the longer-term vision and resist the pressure to those strategies that run counter to it.

Given the time and effort it takes to develop and execute new strategies, it’s best not to introduce them too often. But there are instances when short-term strategic shifts are unavoidable — especially in today’s ever-changing business context. Take, for example, the need to respond to calls for social change or demands from investors to turn around poor financial results.

When responding to these kinds of pressures, executives must take care to align the strategic shifts they introduce with the larger picture of where their organization is heading and what it aspires to accomplish in the future — the company’s “vision.” After all, strategy — overarching decisions about priorities and resource allocations — should be all about translating that vision into action. When vision and strategy are at odds, employees, shareholders, and customers may lose confidence that management has a coherent and consistent plan for moving the company forward.

To achieve this alignment, executives need to evaluate whether proposed short-term strategic shifts are consistent with the longer-term vision and resist the pressure to those strategies that run counter to it. This process itself can help leaders assess whether their vision is sufficiently clear and compelling or may need to be sharpened or revised.

Let’s look at how this plays out in different contexts in practice.

Responding to Social Change

Connecting short-term strategic responses to a long-term vision is particularly important when companies are responding to social movements. These can put pressure on companies to act quickly and publicly. But when company leaders implement strategies that aren’t tied to a larger vision, those strategies can wither on the vine.

For example, in the summer of 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, many firms raced to come up with strategies to convince their people and their customers that they stood firm against systemic racism. But the results of their efforts have been decidedly mixed. While some have pointed to the inefficacy of widely implemented anti-racism training as the culprit, I believe that these strategies fell short of their companies’ rhetoric because they were not supported by a larger vision of how the companies themselves needed to change.

Take a counterexample: For some companies that already had a robust vision for building inclusion and diversity, the new strategies were supported by a pre-existing framework, and have proved more successful. At Johnson & Johnson, for example, by the summer of 2020, the pharmaceutical firm already had a detailed vision — “to maximize the global power of diversity and inclusion, to drive superior business results and sustainable competitive advantage” — and was actively engaged in initiatives that would move the company in this direction. So in November of 2020, when J&J responded to the increasing awareness of social injustice by pledging $100 million to address racism and health inequities, the strategy — which included support for mobile health clinics in communities of color, and a 50% increase in hiring people of color into leadership positions in J&J — was clearly part of an ongoing commitment, and not a one-time, knee-jerk response to social pressure. This consistency is perhaps one reason that employees from often-marginalized categories feel highly positive about the company’s culture and work environment, putting it in the top 10% of companies with over 10,000 employees on Comparably, a workplace rating site.

Leaders whose companies feel compelled to take immediate strides in response to social action should consider whether they have this kind of longer-term vision in place as well. If not, they should develop that vision in parallel with their more immediate strategies. PepsiCo’s response in the summer of 2020 was future- and big-picture focused in this way. The company vowed to add 100 associates of color to its executive ranks within five years and has already achieved at least a quarter of that goal. The company also said that it would double its spending with Black-owned suppliers in five years and has made tangible progress in that direction.

Responding to Business Pressure

Aligning short-term strategies with a longer-term vision also is critical in responding to financial pressures, as executives often feel like they have no choice about pursuing change when the numbers demand it.

A case in point is GE which, starting in 2005, had a compelling, long-term vision for reducing environmental impact at a global scale called “ecoimagination.” This vision drove GE towards investments in wind and water and initiatives to lower carbon emissions technologies for jet engines and other products. The vision was generally well received. But the pressure to maintain and grow revenues led GE to a strategy of selling the water business in 2017 and doubling down on acquisitions in the non-renewable energy sector (see, for example the $9.5 billion 2015 purchase of Alstom’s power business, including the manufacture of coal-fueled turbines, and the 2016 merger with Baker Hughes, which provides services and equipment for oil drilling). These deals gave lie to GE’s green image and mired the company with an unmanageable debt load — problems that could possibly have been avoided by staying true to ecoimagination.

In contrast, Merck CEO Ken Frazier kept his company’s actions focused squarely on the company’s ultimate vision despite immense pressure in the early 2010s from shareholders to cut back on research and development as a strategy for increasing profitability and share price. Frazier pushed back on that strategic shift and even budgeted more for R&D because he saw it as key to the company’s long-term vision to “use the power of leading-edge science to save and improve lives around the world.” Despite taking short-term heat for his decision, Frazier kept the company focused on the vision — a strategy that led to the development and approval of a blockbuster immuno-oncology drug, a robust research pipeline, and, by the time Frazier retired in 2021, a stock price that had more than doubled.

Use Change to Accelerate Your Vision

No matter where the pressure to change your strategy comes from, think not only about whether you can align the changes with long-term vision, but also how you can do it in a way that accelerates your company’s pursuit of that vision.

For example, a large technology firm that had a long-term goal of attracting more women to its high-tech jobs used the abrupt move to remote and hybrid work as a way of proactively speeding up its gender diversity vision. From previous studies and observations, executives at the company had realized that women, who still bore the brunt of childcare, often had a hard time breaking into the company’s onsite tech teams where men stayed late or went out together after work; and that many women valued flexible work hours more than camaraderie. Driven by these insights, they intentionally leveraged the lessons from the remote and hybrid work arrangements necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic to make the co-located office teams less essential; and they are now empowering managers to continue creating flexible work arrangements both for new and current employees. Although it’s too soon to know for sure, early indications across the industry are that this is making it easier to recruit and retain women.

Check Your Vision

Aligning your strategy with your long-term vision of course presupposes that you have one. But that’s something you should test — especially when you are faced with the pressure to change your strategy.

A quick way to do this is to first ask yourself how, in the next 3–5 years, your company (or department of unit) will set itself apart from the competition, attract great talent, and be financially or operationally sustainable. See if you can put this down on paper in no more than a few sentences. Then ask three of your direct reports and a few other stakeholders (like a board member, a key customer, or a partner) to answer the same question.

If you can’t articulate the vision easily, or you don’t get a reasonably consistent response from others, then either you don’t have a clear and exciting vision, or it hasn’t been well communicated or understood.

If indeed your vision doesn’t pass this test, then take some time (even if it’s just a few days) and try to clarify the longer-term vision. There are various ways to do this that I have written about previously in the HBR Leader’s Handbook; if you’re not the CEO, then you can still go through a similar process just for your area. In either case, putting your long-term vision front and center is a critical first step for incorporating short-term strategic shifts into your plans.

Without a vision to guide you, responsive strategic shifts will get you somewhere, but not necessarily where you want to go.

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Is Your Hiring Process Costing You Talent?

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As the Great Resignation persists, job seekers are looking for better wages, better benefits, and better remote work options. They’re also losing patience with cumbersome hiring processes. To make sure your hiring process is a positive experience for candidates, the author suggests asking yourself these four questions: 1) Is your time-to-decision fast enough? 2) Do you share information on company culture? 3) How is your correspondence? and 4) Are you providing value up front?

More than 20 million Americans quit their jobs in the latter half of 2021, leaving many companies struggling to find talent to refill their ranks. With 11.3 million job openings, which is about 5 million more than unemployed workers as of March 2022, job seekers certainly have the upper hand — and they’re demanding more from future employers.

Job seekers aren’t only looking for higher pay and better workplace benefits. They’ve also lost patience with ever-cumbersome hiring processes. They know that they are in demand, and they want to see that employers recognize their value.

Create a hiring process that is a positive experience for candidates to foster a good relationship from the start. By asking yourself the following four questions, you can make sure your hiring experience isn’t causing you to lose future talent.

1. Is your time-to-decision fast enough?

Finding out whether someone is a good fit for your company might take a little time, but you could lose candidates to companies with faster hiring times if you drag your feet too long. The average time-to-hire includes multiple interviews and lasts around 43 days. However, 62% of working professionals say they lose interest two weeks after an initial interview if they haven’t heard back.

To help prevent this, look for ways to speed up the hiring process and eliminate wasted time. For example, if you require candidates to complete assessments, try integrating them with your company’s application tracking system. Administer assessments aligned to the capabilities required for success in the target job when candidates submit applications instead of having a recruiter send them days after.

2. Do you share information on company culture?

The decision to work with a candidate is a two-way street; informing candidates about the company and the role is just as important as learning about their skills. Communicate to job seekers your company’s commitment to not only filling openings, but also to aligning people with jobs where they will thrive.

To help job seekers decide if your company is a good fit, ensure that each step of the hiring process reflects the culture. For example, use situational judgment tests to ask candidates to reflect on situations they might face on the job and indicate what they would do in response.

Another idea is to use behavioral role-plays, which enable candidates to demonstrate key job skills. A role-play for a customer service role, for example, might involve having the candidate engage in a simulated conversation with a dissatisfied customer.

You can also use a virtual assessment center — a three- to four-hour session that includes exercises in addressing business challenges and strategic decision making — to paint a realistic picture of the job. All these methodologies serve the dual purpose of assessing candidates’ capabilities to perform the job and teaching them about how life in the role and organization might look and feel. Although this is a beneficial method, it does bring up concerns about how much time you’re asking candidates to invest in your hiring process. Consider using these methods only for final candidates to help you make your hiring decision — after you and the candidate have invested the time to know both parties are interested in an employment relationship.

3. How is your correspondence?

Providing genuine feedback is a relatively easy way for employers to bring unique value to candidates in the interview process, and it will likely become a hiring norm in the near future. According to a survey conducted by the Talent Board, candidates who receive timely feedback are 52% more likely to engage with an employer again.

Conversely, unsuccessful candidates who never receive feedback are more than twice as likely to have an unpleasant image of the company. If employers can demonstrate investment in candidates’ success, it will go a long way toward building a future relationship.

For instance, you can provide neutral feedback to candidates that highlights their tendencies and capabilities and give helpful suggestions without mentioning scores or alignment with the target role. You can avoid legal challenges (e.g., “You told me I was a great fit for the role, but you didn’t hire me”) and provide positive and constructive feedback.

4. Are you providing value up front?

Many people no longer want a job simply to pay their bills. Instead, they want to work at a company that will help them learn and grow, personally or professionally. LinkedIn’s 2022 Workplace Learning Report found that companies that excel at internal mobility are able to keep employees around for an average of 5.4 years, which is nearly twice as long as companies that don’t. Given that ongoing growth is essential to candidates, make sure they know you will invest in their development up front.

One way you can signal this to candidates is to give them a chance to learn some new, relevant skills. For example, a hiring process designed to select sales representatives might include an opportunity for sales-interested candidates to access learning assets that teach about cold-calling techniques, how to best reach the C-suite, or strategies for overcoming call reluctance. The key here is giving candidates something for their time other than the possibility of a job offer. Give them value they can take wherever they go.

As the Great Resignation persists, job seekers are the ones in control. To fill openings, it’s critically important that companies make good impressions — and that starts with carefully mapped-out interview processes. Consider each question above to add more value to every candidate conversation.

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Managing people

How U.S. Employers Can Support Women’s Health

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As physicians, it is all too obvious to us that women’s health in the United States is in a state of crisis. Compared to other high-income countries, women of reproductive age in the United States have the highest rates of pregnancy-related death, preventable death, chronic health conditions, and mental health care needs. They are more likely to die during childbirth than their mothers, and the Supreme Court’s anticipated reversal of Roe v Wade will likely further increase pregnancy-related deaths.

Even more staggering are the inequities: Black women are three times more likely to die during pregnancy, regardless of education or income. The costs of health care are also burdensome, with women delaying care due to cost and suffering financial hardship due to medical bills, even if they have private health insurance.

These poor outcomes negatively affect society and the workplace. When faced with the challenges of navigating work and family without adequate support to do so, many women simply opt to leave the workforce. This attrition results in decreased diversity, lost talent, and less productivity. The Covid-19 pandemic only exacerbated these trends. Between 2020 and 2022, 1.1 million women left the workforce, accounting for 63% of jobs lost during the pandemic. While many are gradually rejoining the labor force, many — especially mothers — are choosing not to return.

Employers can take action today to combat these challenges. Investment in women’s health results in a healthier population overall. Companies that offer comprehensive support for women’s health have higher productivity, better retention of female employees, and most importantly, they help improve health outcomes for women.

Women’s Health Is a National Priority

At a national level, recognition of these poor outcomes in the United States has led to new efforts to improve them. In December 2021, the White House made a call to action to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity. This effort included a $3 billion investment in maternal health, encouraged states to increase Medicaid postpartum coverage from 60 days to 12 months, and established a “Birthing Friendly” designation for hospitals that take steps to improve maternity care. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently funds perinatal quality collaboratives that convene a variety of stakeholders to improve the safety and patient-centeredness of maternity care. The National Institutes of Health — whose 27 individual institutes strikingly does not include one dedicated to women’s health — recently announced new funding for research into improved maternal health diagnostics.

The private sector has not kept pace with these advances. Women account for more than half of the national workforce, and most obtain health insurance through their employer. These plans, however, often impose serious financial barriers for essential health care services.

While the Affordable Care Act requires private plans to cover many preventive services, such as prenatal visits and mammograms, other essential services are not covered, such as genetic screening and prescription medications during pregnancy, hospitalization for childbirth, and diagnostic testing after an abnormal mammogram or pap smear. This is in stark contrast to Medicaid plans, where the amount that patients have to spend out of pocket for these services is exceedingly low. Unfortunately, these gaps in coverage are often most detrimental to employees living on lower incomes and those in marginalized racial-ethnic groups.

Employers are powerfully positioned to advance women’s health in the United States. There are several ways in which they can support women and in doing so, ultimately create a healthier society.

1. Provide better health insurance.

Currently, even among women with private health insurance, 98% of new moms in the United States are left with thousands of dollars of out-of-pocket costs after childbirth as the result of “low cost,” high-deductible insurance plans. In fact, more than half of women with private insurance change their plan around the time of childbirth to seek savings. When employers try to maximize the aggregate value of insurance plans, critical gaps still exist at the individual level.

Therefore, it is essential for employers to seek comprehensive insurance plans that include coverage for pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum care without high deductibles, co-pays, or out-of-pocket costs. These plans should also cover crucial mental health services, including treatment for substance-use disorders, and evidence-based management of chronic conditions across women’s lifespans. Women must have a seat at any table where insurance plan benefit design tradeoffs are being decided.

Since health care payers are sensitive to market pressures, demands by purchasers for high-quality women’s health insurance coverage will drive market change within the health care delivery system. This should not be seen as a short-term expense, but rather, as a long-term investment.

Employers’ comprehensive insurance plans should include access to safe abortion, which unequivocally saves lives, helps people achieve their life goals, and is an essential part of comprehensive health care. However, if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v Wade, as a leaked draft opinion suggests it may do, abortion will become illegal in at least 13 states with trigger laws, and other states are also likely to restrict abortion access.

Multiple companies have therefore pledged to reimburse travel and lodging expenses for employees seeking abortion services, since many may soon have to travel out of state. Should access to safe abortion become restricted, such corporate provisions, alongside insurance coverage for abortion care itself, will become increasingly important to foster access to the full scope of health care and avoid deleterious effects on employee retention and recruitment. Employers unable to cover costs of travel or treatment can protect safe abortion access by providing paid medical leave as some have done.

2. Provide paid parental leave.

The United States is the only high-income country without national paid parental leave. Lack of paid leave means that pregnant and postpartum people take less time off work, which is associated with increased birth complications and worse maternal and infant health.

Paid leave doesn’t just benefit maternal and infant health; it benefits everyone. A recent study compared companies in states that have enacted paid parental leave with those that haven’t. It found that in the states with paid leave, performance rose by 1%, productivity rose by 5%, and employee turnover decreased. What’s more, longer paid parental leave keeps more women in the workforce. Companies that have begun to invest in paid parental leave are already reaping rewards.

3. Redesign the workplace to support women.

Women face many barriers and stigmas around basic health and wellness in the workplace. A 2020 survey study found that only 10% of new mothers had designated breaks to support breastfeeding, and only 17% had support from supervisors or coworkers. Support for preventative health appointments, childcare, and mental health is often lacking as well.

With input from women employees, employers need to design a workplace that supports positive health behaviors and recognizes that women often shoulder an unequal burden of caregiving at home. Many have begun to reimagine the workplace as one that includes on-site subsidized childcare, spaces for pumping breaks and breastfeeding, and flexible work-hour arrangements to accommodate appointments and caregiving responsibilities.

Resources and guides are available to make these changes. By intentionally integrating support into the workplace itself, companies are more likely to retain talent and improve the employees’ health, wellness, engagement, and productivity.

In a social and political environment that sees growing threats to women’s health and autonomy, the steps outlined above represent ways for corporate leaders to make women’s health a priority. The moral case is obvious, but the business case is just as strong. By investing in comprehensive support for women’s health, companies can improve productivity, realize their employees’ full potential, and reverse the troubling health outcome trends that continue to unfold in the United States.

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