Out of Office - Remote Working

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In the mid-1990s I managed a remote working project for the large magazine publishing company I was working for. The main office housed hundreds of people who turned up every day to sit at a PC and mainly write articles. The project involved making sure the technology would allow people to log in to systems remotely and trialing it with a number of people in the office. If successful it would free up valuable office space, ease the log jams at the lifts each morning and evening (the building had 30 floors) and facilitate flexible working. We found that the technology worked really well, the tricky bit was persuading managers to allow their team to work from home. They just didn’t think people would do the work if they weren’t sitting near them in the office, when in fact the results would speak for themselves. The forward-thinking progressive managers who trusted their teams found they were much more productive on the days they worked from home, as there was no commute and no interruptions.

Fast forward to 2019 and virtual working is now the norm in many businesses. These clearly see the benefits of having staff working remotely.

Here at blueumbrella we never forget how fortunate we are to have the skills and technology which enables us to work remotely and integrate seamlessly into our client's business.

Working remotely could be in our home office, in a client’s office or even the local coffee shop. It could also be somewhere more unusual. I recently asked the team for the most unusual places they have worked and the answers varied from sending invoices and hosting a conference call on top of a mountain in Yosemite and arranging meetings on the beach in the Maldives to planning an event in a tent. In the last few days, I even spoke to one of the team who was working at an open-air pool – perfect in a heatwave. At all times the client (or their clients) were completely unaware of our location.

There are some things that people struggle with if they aren’t working in the office with the rest of the team. A way of easing that feeling of isolation is having a ‘virtual coffee machine’ where people can chat, ask advice, share information or let off steam. We have a WhatsApp group that everyone belongs to that makes us feel like we are part of a team. Having video calls rather than just phone calls can also help remote workers to feel more involved e.g. Zoom or Google Hangouts.

Working remotely also calls for discipline. Setting a schedule for your day/week can help (factoring in breaks as it can be easy to just sit and work all day). If you are working on something that requires complete concentration then mark yourself ‘unavailable’.

But most of all enjoy the freedom that virtual working brings.

Keep Calm and Carry On

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I’ve been hearing a lot recently about resilience in the workplace and how important it is for our personal wellbeing. I thought I would do some research on the subject, as in our line of work it is increasingly essential that we remain resilient.

What is resilience?

To me, it is the ability to 'bounce back' when things don’t go as planned or when faced with pressure.

Resilient people don’t dwell on failures or setbacks, they acknowledge the situation, learn from it and move forward.

That is often easier said than done, particularly when you work remotely, or on your own with no one to help put things into perspective. It can be tempting to curl up into a ball and say “I can’t do this anymore!” and just give up.

Apparently, Thomas Edison made thousands of prototypes of the light bulb before he got it right. He said, “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. 

What can we do to become more resilient?

Maintaining perspective is very important. If we make a mistake we can think it’s the end of the world and beat ourselves up, imagining all kinds of terrible outcomes. We all make mistakes, it’s how you react in the situation that’s the key to resilience. In my experience, as long as you do everything you can to remedy the situation, you know you have done your best and move on. Quite often whatever it is will be completely forgotten in a week’s time. Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo.

Learning from mistakes is also a good thing, it means sometimes we will do things differently and find a better way in the future, turning the experience into a positive. I try to use every mistake as a real learning opportunity.

Looking after ourselves, making sure we have enough sleep, exercise and eat a healthy diet all contribute to a positive attitude and give us the confidence to bounce back.   

Try to build a team of people around you that you can bounce things off of or ask for support. It’s always helpful to talk about things that we are dwelling on, someone looking in from the outside can help us put things into perspective.

What is the alternative?

Do we give up on achieving our goals or following our dreams at the slightest setback?

No! Resilient people are not afraid to take risks or follow their dreams. They have a goal in mind and no amount of setbacks will stop them from achieving that goal.

I guess 10,000 setbacks would grind most of us down, but thank goodness not everyone, or we would be sitting in the dark! If we all took setbacks for what they are - a setback not a permanent state - we can learn to bounce back.

Simplicity is the art of sophistication*

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Whether Leonardo da Vinci actually said it or not I like the sentiment.

Life today is moving at such a fast pace with so many choices for people living in affluent countries, giving us a freedom of choice never experienced before.

Great, we may think, but as Barry Schwartz in the TED Talk below points out, this can often lead to dissatisfaction or even paralysis when faced with too many options (175 salad dressings on the supermarket shelf).

Recently though we have seen a backlash, with de-cluttering (our houses, our lives and our minds) becoming fashionable and Lagom, the Swedish art of balanced living; Not too Little, Not too Much, Just enough, being something to aspire to.

The same rules apply in business. Over the years I’ve realised that I need to make things simple so that clients know how easy it is to work with us, whether it’s the signing up or on boarding processes, or the straightforward costings, it’s important that everyone understands what we provide and how it works.

Some other good tips I have come across:

  • Cut out unnecessary processes

  • Streamline and maintain existing processes

  • Reduce over lapping roles which waste time, energy and money

  • Make it simple for your customers

  • Your message/ product/service needs to be easily understood

So I’m going to continue to try and de-clutter my house, my life, my mind and keep my business simple.

What Oprah knows for sure is chasing the life you want by accumulating more stuff is a dead end street, ‘I want to be lean and clean for the future and dust off my wings, doing so will make it easier to fly’.

Photo by Paul Earle on Unsplash

Listomania

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I know I’m not alone in having a list for everything:

  • A To Do list

  • A shopping list

  • A bucket list

  • A goal list

  • A ‘what to take on holiday’ list

  • A wish list

There are definitely more...

The reason I have so many is probably to do with the fact that I like to have a sense of order and to be in control (as much as anyone can be!). It also helps me to get stuff out of my head and articulated in front of me, there is real power to this. This process really helps with developing my blueumbrella strategy and my own personal adaptability. To me, it doesn't really matter where I make my list, notebook, tablet or whiteboard, and there is great satisfaction in ticking something off of those lists – Done!

However, I can also see this from the other point of view. Lists can make some feel stressed or overwhelmed. 
 
As a business owner there are an endless number of things that you need to do just to keep standing still, let alone grow your business and it’s hard to remember everything that you need to do sometimes without writing them down. According to some research, you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down.
 
Just lately though I am beginning to wonder what it would be like to live ‘list free’ would I get things done?  Would I be more spontaneous? Would chaos ensue? Would I do amazing things that aren’t even on my list? Would I forget to do things? Would I become more creative?
 
Should I write ‘stop writing lists’ on my To Do list?
 
Who knows?  I’m not sure I’m brave enough at the moment to tear up those lists yet, but maybe one day
 
Do you manage to get through life without lists? 

Are you being served?

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Warm wishes for 2019 from all here at blueumbrella HQ!

I always enjoy the festive break as it gives me thinking time before the start of a new year.  This Christmas I was thinking a lot about customer service and how one bad experience can put you off using a company you’ve used for years.

I recently had two very different customer service experiences and it made me very aware about how your feelings towards a company can change, and the value of great customer service.

I ordered 2 pieces of furniture from a well-known and reputable high street retailer. After I placed my order, I was told one item would be delivered within 7 days and the other would be delayed for 3 weeks. I asked, politely and reasonably I thought, if they could deliver both items together in 3 weeks’ time. Their customer service department told me this was impossible. When I asked why this was, I was given a convoluted explanation about ‘complex supply chain issues.’  No offer of an apology, or any sense they would try and accommodate my request. I continued my battle with them, both online and on the phone, all to no avail. The end result was me receiving 3 pieces of furniture over the course of 3 weeks! And to top off my experience, I was unable to cancel the third delivery, as it was ‘on the system’ and was told I had to reject the delivery on the day! Needless to say, I won’t be ordering any large items from this retailer again.

Around the same time, we had tickets for the theatre. One of our party became ill the day before and I thought I would call the box office to see if they could do anything for us.  My expectations were low as the ticket was marked non-refundable and non-returnable. My call was answered almost immediately by an extremely sympathetic staff member in the box office. To my surprise, and delight, they offered to change the date of our tickets. My experience here was so different and left me with a good feeling about the theatre, I will definitely go again.

I was wondering why I had these two very different experiences of customer service and wondered if it could be to do with the anonymity of purchasing online rather than in store and buying items against buying an experience.

I firmly believe good customer service costs less than bad customer service. We also know people are more likely to report a bad experience than a good one. In today’s competitive world, reputation and authenticity are keys to success.

No matter what industry, business or even country you are in, everyone is facing complex and challenging times. For us here at blueumbrella, this makes customer service even more important. We are very lucky to work with fantastic clients and customers, but I like to think we go ‘above and beyond’ in every interaction we have. It’s part of our DNA.

It would be good to hear your customer service stories – good and bad.

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Where the focus goes, the energy flows

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It’s the time of year when work can sometimes feel like a struggle, and it can be a real challenge to stay motivated and focused. There are soooooo many reasons to feel distracted, your holiday, your children being on holiday, colleagues and customers responding slower, the hot (!) weather, the list could go on…

I see it as a time when many people become reactive and not proactive. But when you just react, you often don’t make the best choices. Reacting, is to me, the opposite of control, it lets other people and the environment determine your actions.

In my experience, feeling distracted and unproductive is something most people struggle with. Whether we like it or not, we pick up on other people’s behaviours and emotions. So, it kind of becomes a vicious circle.

So how do you stay focused? And how do you positively affect your work and business most at this time of year?

  • Think about your ultimate goals – make sure the most important things stays the most important things, take stock before the pace increases again
  • Make a deliberate decision – take a moment to decide not to give in to distractions (this is proven by neuroscience to help stop you from engaging in bad behaviour!)
  • Make a plan for an entire week (and beyond) - research shows you spend your time more wisely when you follow a plan and schedule
  • Do less of the ‘shallow stuff’ – not all work is equal. Use this time to implement new systems and more of the ‘deep stuff’ that will make a tangible difference to you and your business
  • Walk away – take a proper break when you feel your energy fading, or your focus going. Stop looking at your phone, social media or emails and get some fresh air, stretch, talk a walk – whatever works for you

Everyone will have different approaches to combating this mind-set, these are a few that work for us here at blueumbrella. If you have any tips that work for you, we’d love to hear from you

Happy Birthday...to us!

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I can’t believe it’s 17 years ago this month that I started blueumbrella. Where has the time gone?!  Armed with only an address book, fixed landline phone, a Blackberry, dial-up internet and a huge desktop PC I started my virtual assistant business all those years ago!

Back then, iPhones didn’t exist, WiFi wasn’t readily available or reliable, 3G or 4G didn't exist, The Cloud didn’t exist, Twitter and Facebook didn’t exist and LinkedIn had only just started, yet somehow I managed to get started 'virtually'.

At that time, I started to see flexible and agile working becoming more of a reality in the business world. Even though lots of people were talking about it, few were really doing it, especially when it came to PA services. With this in mind, I had a vision of what I wanted my business to be, and how it could work in this changing landscape, so I drew a deep breath, and took the plunge.  

I named my business after the last thing I took out of the bottom drawer of my desk on the day I left my last 9-to-5 job to start an adventure that some people thought reckless.  But I knew it was something I wanted to do and was confident I could make it work. I had years of PA experience, which I knew was the core of my business, and a model I believed in.

There are a number of constants that have, and will never change at blueumbrella. Our philosophy and core beliefs remain the same as when we started out. We are totally committed to providing outstanding service to our clients, building lasting relationships, making a difference, embracing change and being agile.

The difference today is that we are connected all the time and the way we work can be truly virtual, in the sense that we can work from anywhere and nobody knows if we are in our office, in the coffee shop in between meetings or in our villa on a Greek Island (I wish!).

I will continue to take great pleasure in seeing, and helping my clients grow and develop. This is something drives us every single day.

So, a big thank you to all the amazing clients and fabulous VAs that I’ve worked with over the last 17 years, and I look forward to welcoming new clients and VAs over the coming years!


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The future is agile, are you?

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Happy new year to you, we hope you had an enjoyable and restful Christmas period. At blueumbrella we have hit the ground running in 2018, with a host of new and exciting clients we’re working with and have been inundated with enquiries for our services.

Over the last month I took some time to look back to see if there was anything I could learn from what 2017 had delivered. I also wanted to find out if there was anything that could inform my strategy for 2018. What I discovered was only possible to see with this reflection and hindsight. What I found was that throughout the year, two themes were apparent and impacted virtually every aspect of our business.

The first was agility. With less certainty in business than ever before and increasing challenges facing us in all aspects of life, we saw that offering our customers an agile solution to their business demands was a key ingredient to how blueumbrella operate. We understand demands on a business can change rapidly, sometimes you will need extra resources and at other times you need to adjust quickly to a changing landscape.

The second was resilience. As mentioned above, there has never been a more challenging, or exciting, time to run a business. The speed of change at times can be quite bewildering, and sometimes this can feel exhausting. Being resilient to us here at blueumbrella means how you respond to this pressure and constantly changing business demands. We find doing something positive in challenging times brings a sense of control. It’s an active process, not a passive one to build resilience.

So how do you become more agile and resilient? Unfortunately, there is no blueprint for this, but maybe the tips below might help.

  • Treat problems as a learning process
  • Take positive action in difficult moments
  • Delegate what you always multitask
  • Schedule appointments with yourself
  • Look after your wellbeing – both physical and mental

This year I am taking the ‘Walk 1000 Miles’ Challenge. The target seems quite intimidating, but after nearly month of walking I cannot recommend it enough. I feel better, my head feels clearer and I am determined to succeed! It’s a great initiative to get people moving, find out more at www.walk1000miles.co.uk

Give us a call on 020 3021 0503 or email us on info@blueumbrella.co.uk any time to speak to about how we might be able to help your business, campaign or project.