Your Guide to Working From Home: Part Two

It’s just another day at the office – but you’re sitting in your pajamas at home. The motivation has all but left your aching back as you sit at the kitchen table with a fortress of pillows and your aging work laptop. Thousands of Americans are sitting right there with you, struggling to stay focused and bringing in the money for the family during this odd period of COVID-19 quarantine. As we discussed in the previous segment, it’s incredibly important to maintain good ergonomics, allow yourself some grace, check on your mental health regularly, and get outside a few times per day. 

There’s more to working from home than meets the eye, as we’re sure you’ve noticed. Here are some more tips and tricks to help you be the best at-home worker you can possibly be!

Phone Calls? No Problem

If you work in an industry that requires chatting with clients, you know how important it is that there be little background noise or distraction. This might be a cinch if you live alone or with other older individuals, but it’s nearly impossible if you have a family with young children or dogs that like to bark at every wild thing that zooms by. 

First and foremost, warn your clients in advance and ask what they’d like you to do if your environment suddenly becomes loud. Honestly, most customers understand the difficulties we’re all facing right now and will, more than likely, be fine with the background noise. However, allowing them the opportunity to address this themselves will help build rapport and boost their confidence in you.

Another trick you can employ in your house is a lighting system. For less than $50, you can purchase an LED lamp with different colors that can be controlled with an app on your phone. This light can be placed in a central part of the house to warn others when you need as much quiet as possible. This won’t work in every situation; toddlers really don’t seem to care if daddy is on the phone when they are impatient about snack time! Again, a little grace from clients will go a long way.

Set Reminders

One of the simplest things you can do for yourself during your workday is to set little reminders: bathroom breaks, refilling your water and coffee, grab a snack, pet the dog, hug the kids, pop outside for a breather, stretch… etc. It’s all too easy to get lost behind the screen (whether you’re working or watching cute cat videos, no judgment here) and to emerge from your daze stiff and hungry. Distractions are inevitable, so don’t beat yourself up over them, just move on and take a sip of water.

Socialize

If you feel like you’re going a little stir crazy from a lack of human interaction, reach out to your colleagues and see if you can join a group conference chat to work together on a project or ticket. Make sure to attend meetings that you’re invited to and participate in them. It might be easier to sit back and listen, but contributing will help you feel like you’re still part of the team even though you aren’t all sitting together. Furthermore, dress up for meetings and video calls – it will help boost your confidence and show that you are invested in your job.

Begin and End with Routine

This is so important in maintaining that workday-weekend separation; follow your same morning routine and modify it where necessary to accommodate the lack of driving or coffee-shop pit stops. Use an alarm, make coffee, eat breakfast where you normally do, shower, dress up (maybe not all the way, but don’t stay in your pajamas), and listen to music before you log in to your work computer. Try to maintain the “normal” that you had before quarantine as much as possible; more importantly, keep each weekday the same if you can.

At the end of the day, follow the same procedure. If you had a drive on the way home, make sure to step outside, even if it’s just to check the mail and take the dogs out for a walk! Listen to music for a few minutes before you leave the office to wind down, just like you would listen to the radio on your way home. Call a family member for a chat if you use your driving time to catch up. Get creative and make sure you follow the same routine each weekday.

Hopefully, you can start to see a light within these strange times as you optimize your work environment. Remember to keep your mental health at the center of your focus; if you aren’t feeling your best, you can’t give your job 100% either. Your mental health also has an effect on the family members you live with. Allow yourself some room to learn and grow throughout this transition, and you’ll be owning remote work like a boss!

Your Guide to Working From Home: Part One

If you’re one of the lucky Americans who are able to work remotely from home right now during this time of volatile employment, first and foremost, take a moment for a deep breath and a pat on the back; send your boss a thank-you email or note, if that’s your cup of tea. All of this aside, working from home isn’t as easy and care-free as you might have once thought – you might be in the process of realizing that right now. 

It’s tough to stay focused and productive when you are surrounded by distractions: the pint of ice cream, your photogenic dog, the toddler throwing a tantrum in the room across the house. So, how does one actually stay productive in an environment that’s not 100% akin to a workplace environment? We have some tips and tricks to help keep both you and your family sane.

Block Out Time for Distractions

That’s right – allow time to pet the dog, visit your toddler, and eat that ice cream after your lunch break. If you are smart and limit your time spent on these relaxing activities, you won’t feel deprived and unable to focus during the day. Allow working from home to come with perks; if you don’t, you’ll struggle to stay focused and feel locked in your office space. If you were at the office, you would be taking bathroom breaks, stretch breaks, and trips to see co-workers. Use your time wisely, but don’t feel like you need to be chained to your computer!

Get Outside

This easily becomes the most difficult thing to do during quarantine, especially for those who are working remotely. Experiencing the great outdoors can have significant mood-boosting effects, so don’t forget to peek your head out into the sunshine at least twice per day; this is what you would have done going to and from work each day anyway! Take your fifteen-minute breaks outside with a cup of fresh coffee, or eat lunch outside with your family. Choose to view these in-between moments like coming up for air – you’re at home, so make good use of the time you have!

Ergonomics

If there’s one thing that will make or break your time spent working from home, it’s an efficient workspace. While most of us don’t have the extra cash to spend on a work set-up right now, it’s still extremely important that your desk doesn’t cause you discomfort or pain. Remember to take frequent stretch breaks so that your muscles don’t tense up, sit up straight, and keep your keyboard and mouse at elbow level. If your feet are not gently resting on the floor, find a way to elevate your chair or feet so that there isn’t any extra strain on your back. 

Working with a laptop? Consider investing in a mouse and keyboard that can be repositioned to allow your screen to be at eye level. Contact your HR department to see what they can do to help you work from home more comfortably – most companies are aware of the increased strain on ergonomics during this awkward time.

Above all, remember to keep an eye on your mental health during this time. Many people are struggling to adjust to the major changes that COVID-19 has forced upon them; set up a telehealth appointment with your physician if you think you might be having more difficulty than usual while working from home. Give yourself some space to try things out; be prepared to take a few days to get into a rhythm. This is all new to you, your co-workers, and even your superiors!

Office Hygiene: Protect Yourself, Protect Others

It’s cold and flu season, as we’re all aware; with the novel virus running around, it’s more important than ever to stay vigilant about hygiene at the office. While you and your co-workers might be young, fit, and healthy, you don’t know what kind of situation their friends and family might be in this year. Immunosuppressed individuals and the elderly generally have a harder time fighting off pneumonia-like symptoms, so it’s very important that these people stay healthy. You can do your part to protect them by not spreading germs.

Wash Your Hands

We know you’ve heard this a million and one times, but it’s a dead horse that must be beaten. Since the common cold, flu, and other viruses are spread through droplets and surface contact, anything picked up on the hands can be spread to twice as many surfaces within minutes. Whether you’re in the restroom, breakroom, or simply at your desk, take every opportunity to wash your hands with soap and hot water to stop or slow the spread of surface germs.

Cover Your Mouth

Even if you don’t feel sick, you should still cover your coughs and sneezes. Aside from being standard etiquette, this is an immensely effective way to prevent the spread of germs you don’t even know you have. Since viral illnesses can be active and spreadable before the onset of symptoms, it’s best to exercise 100% caution at all times.

Stay Home

If ever there was a time to play the “sick card,” it’s now. As mentioned, it’s not just your health at stake if you enter your office feeling ill. With the common cold, most people recover fine, but some workers might have a lower tolerance for illness than others. Generally, employers are understanding about illness and wish to prevent the intentional spreading of viruses through the office. The issue, really, is when employees misuse the company’s sick policy. 

Cold and flu season is upon us, and being amplified by nature’s latest novel virus. During times of sickness, it’s easy to get anxious and concerned; take matters into your own hands – literally. Keep your body clean, your insides nourished with healthy, vitamin-rich food, and avoid heavily populated areas. Be smart, don’t misuse company leniency, stay safe, and keep others safe in the process.

Easter At The Office: Spread the Spring-Time Fever

Easter is a time to celebrate the return of life to the Earth, and many of us celebrate for religious reasons; regardless, Easter weekend is a fun time to enjoy candy and cute bunnies, right? There are few places that fun holidays shouldn’t find their way into, and the office is no exception! What are you doing at your office building to get excited for Spring and Easter Sunday?

1. Good Old Egg Hunt

Surprise the office with a giant bag of stuffed eggs this year; you can buy empty eggs and fill them yourself with wrapped or individual candies. Get creative and place raffle tickets in some if you’d like to give away a big candy bar or gift basket! Arrive at your office early one morning, or stay late the night before so that you can hide eggs; make sure to hide them in great spots – you aren’t all still kids, after all!

2. Oh, Where… Oh, Where

For this fun game, pick up several cheap stuffed bunnies, or other Easter characters, and hide them in precarious places around the office. Make at least two of them extremely difficult to spot! Ask everyone to keep an eye out for the naughty bunnies, and have them send a list to you at the end of the day describing where each of them is. Offer up a prize for everyone that finds all of the dastardly bunnies!

3. Decorate!

Honestly, it won’t feel like a special day or week unless you toss up some decorations, everyone knows that! Pick up some cheap paper lantern-type eggs, glass clings, and maybe some pastel-colored tuille. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to bring some festivity to the office; keep it simple, and don’t overdo it!

4. Pot/Snackluck

The holidays are about getting together and sharing with friends and family, after all; why not extend that to your co-workers and employees? Let the office family in on the food fun, too, by setting up a potluck that everyone can share. Send out an email in advance so that everyone can plan, prepare, and coordinate dishes!

5. Gift Baskets

Themed baskets filled with joy and love; what’s better to put together and give on Easter than a gift basket? Treat these like a Secret Santa event by asking everyone to sign up in advance. Have everyone pick a name, set a dollar limit, and decide on a day to exchange baskets! Ask everyone to decorate their basket with fun Easter colors and stickers, just to make it a little bit more fun.

What other fantastic things have you and your office set up for Easter? Take some time this year to step-up your holiday game!

Spring Break “Staycation”: 10 Ideas to Keep the Littles Busy

Whether you’re looking to stay in small circles or hunkered down at home while the virus passes, one thing is for certain: it’s easy to go stir-crazy with children in the house for a week or more at a time. Typically, it’s fun to plan trips and vacations during spring break, but 2020 doesn’t seem to be shaping up as the perfect year for that – if you catch our drift! Check out these six ideas to help keep the kids busy – and safe – this spring break.

1. Tournaments

If you have older children, this can be a blast! Spend some time one day during the week to learn how to play their favorite video games, or pull all of the board games out of the cupboard. See who can win the most games in 2-3 hours, offering the winner some kind of prize. Make sure all of the rules are outlined ahead of time; consider altering the rules a bit to make the games more fun or silly!

2. Not-So Out and About

Does your family like to hike? Do you know about a secret swimming spot that no one else does? This is the time to visit the old gems from your childhood – share them with the kids and make a special day of it; you could plan a picnic at the top of a small mountain peak or along the beach. Just because it’s best to avoid contact with sick people, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to get out and enjoy nature – don’t go stir-crazy!

3. Backyard Bash

Rummage through your basement and attic for odd objects that can serve as obstacle course objects. Paper plates on the ground could work well for hopping, a long plank across the grass is perfect for side-stepping. Old tennis balls and 5-gallon buckets can be used for short-distance hoops. Use your imagination, but try to keep it safe! Time the whole family and see who can set the fastest record!

4. Homemade Game

Now’s the time to get crazy! Ask the kids for ideas, but make sure you have supplies on hand for the basics; this activity is best planned in advance so that you can order your cardstock, poster boards, die, and other game pieces a few days before. The sky is the limit for this fun-filled day of excitement!

5. Movie Marathon

We know parents usually try to limit TV and general screen time per day, but let’s all be honest with each other for a second: that’s going to be pretty impossible this year during Spring Break. Try your best to keep the kids off the screens if you want, but keep in mind that they might be an absolute lifesaver during the lie-in. If your kids have a favorite movie series that they haven’t watched in a while, rent or buy it to watch this week as a special treat! Oh, and don’t forget the popcorn, that should still be in stock online!

6. Craftsy Camp Day

See if your friends or family members will let you borrow some camping gear during the week. Kids love campouts, even if they’re right outside the house! Have a campfire, make hot dogs (if you could find them at the store), s’mores, and tell stories!

During the day leading up to your campout, make a bunch of homemade crafts that the kids can play with: modeling dough, paint by numbers, mad libs, whittle sticks into wands and have the kids color them. Rummage through your paper products and craft items and come up with something new! The great thing about kids is that you can get them excited about almost anything if you hype it up enough.

Stay safe this Spring Break, but don’t sacrifice the fun! Luckily there are lots of exciting things at home if we take some time to look around. Don’t forget that there’s some safe space around your home, too! Take a walk in the woods to get some fresh air – it’ll help everyone’s mood.

5 Dynamite Gift Baskets for Coworkers

There’s nothing more thoughtful and sweet than receiving a homemade gift basket from someone. The personal touches are proof that you were the center of attention for a moment or two, and this can go a long way to boost your mood at work! If you’re looking for ideas on how to make your next round of gift baskets special, take a peek at these nifty – but easy – ideas.

Thanks Crate Basket

You know your employees are awesome, so prove it by showing them a little love! Our monthly subscription packages make sure you never miss an opportunity to make your employees feel special on their birthday and company anniversaries.

Homemade Soap

It’s far easier to make your own soap than you realize! Craft stores generally sell melt-able (also called “melt and pour”) soap base that you can add your own fragrances and lotion to. Buy fun molds, or go simple with a rectangle! Simply peruse your craft or superstore for essential oils to add to the soaps (but don’t use cinnamon oil, please). Do some research on fragrance combinations, but the tried-and-true fragrance will always be lavender! 

Homemade Lotion

Another handmade gift your coworkers will love, lotion is an amazing product we should all be using – especially during the dry winter months! There’s something soothing about knowing the ingredients that went into your skincare products, so make sure to keep it simple and make custom tags for your friends in the office. There are many different oils and butters you can use in your recipe, so take some time to try some out at home!

Homemade Muffins

Baked goods always seem to bring a smile to people’s faces. Excitement always fills the office when a coworker brings in a sheet of cake or homemade cookies! Likewise, your coworkers will be thrilled to receive something baked with love in an adorable gift basket. Fan favorites are blueberry, pumpkin, and chocolate chip; feel free to experiment! Zucchini muffins during the summer can be a great way to banish your garden surplus!

Crafty Diffuser

What is it about pleasant scents that we all love so much? With all the rage that diffusers and essential oils have been receiving lately, it only makes sense for you to get your coworkers in on the bandwagon. Even better, it only takes a few minutes to put together an easy, DIY oil diffuser! Pick up some wide glassware with a narrow opening and some diffusing reeds. Pack your gift basket with a few oils you think your coworker will like, and you’re ready to gift! 

No-Bake Cookies

It doesn’t get much easier than no-bake goods; they don’t take much time and they will stay fresh for quite a while. Be careful when selecting a recipe if your coworker has food allergies! No-bake cookies often use peanut butter as a binding agent, although you could substitute it for something else. Get creative and decorate your cookies if you’d like – if you aren’t that type of “cook”, decorate your gift basket! The possibilities are endless, so have fun!

At the end of the day, it’s the thought that your coworker will really appreciate. Have fun creating your gift baskets as it’ll show how much you care; mix and match the ideas above to create a truly amazing basket of joy, or select one item to spend extra time on. It’s up to you; don’t worry about getting it wrong! 

Spring Break Fun – At The Office: It’s Not Just for School Anymore

It’s guaranteed that we all remember the allure of Spring Break every year; did your family plan a vacation or a weekend getaway? Perhaps your week was filled with outdoor activities or camping! Regardless, Spring Break was the perfect time to relax and unwind – a time to reset and recover before diving into the next months of school before Summer. Now that we’re all older, we don’t necessarily get that same breather; why can’t we enjoy a little “r & r” at work for the week?

1. Jeans All Week

Whether your office is business casual or simply casual attire, odds are most people at least wear khakis. Let everyone take a breather by encouraging employees to wear the clothing they would be most comfortable in to run errands or drive in. Most people will opt for jeans or nice leggings if allowed, so suggest whatever you feel comfortable with for your business.

Hawaiian Shirt Madness!

To kick up the Spring vibes a notch or two, ask everyone to wear a tropical-themed shirt! You could even hold a contest for the most colorful outfit each day of the week. It’s your office, you decide how crazy to be!

2. Coloring Contest

Print out some adorable spring pictures and purchase some colored pencils for the office to share. Ask everyone to color a picture and submit them for judging; the best-colored picture could win a prize as elaborate or simple as you wish. Keep things fun and exciting – the goal is to help employees relieve stress this week, just like when you were all younger.

3. Cornhole Champions

If we’re all being honest, who doesn’t love a quick game of cornhole? You get to throw things and show off your aiming skills! Set up a cornhole area in your office and encourage people to practice on their off-time. Print out some sheets that outline the championship, and ask people to complete their games throughout the week. Who will be left standing?

4. Murder Mystery

There are pre-made packages you can buy for office teams, but you could always make up a mystery on your own, too! Bring everyone in for a team meeting at the beginning of Spring Break week to brief the teams on the clues. Allow teams to work on the mystery throughout the week, and set up a meeting every day to discuss the mystery. You can continue the murder mystery as long as it takes to solve or provide hints depending on how much time you’d like your employees to spend on this.

5. Volun-team!

For the week of your office Spring Break, set aside some time to do community volunteer work; not only will this help boost your local company image, but it will also help your employees get outside for part of their time at the office this week. Depending on what you choose to do with your team, you could follow up the day’s good deeds with a cookout or other outdoor event.

Get creative and have fun! You might want to ask your employees for ideas as well. Whatever you plan for your employees and team, make sure it includes some time – even if it’s just ten minutes per day – for extra relaxation outside of break time. Your employees will appreciate the breather and effort you put into planning off-time for them!

The Best Team-Building Ideas: Bring Your Employees Together – the Fun Way

It’s far too easy for us to get stuck in the daily grind at work; Monday through Friday, chugging along to get through to the weekend. As we start to fade into this pattern of thinking, it’s easy to forget our unique position as part of a team at work. If the focus is on making it through to the weekend, it’s difficult to maintain a positive, stress-free work environment. This is of the utmost importance since the quality of our work environment directly impacts our productivity. 

So, what can you do, as a business leader, to help bring the awareness back to the team? You can encourage interaction between team members by workspace organization and desk positioning, but the best way to get people to open up and let others in is to host team-building exercises.

Sales Pitch

Divide your team up into groups of two to three members; it’s best to randomly select the group members so that your individual teams aren’t simple office niches. Give each team a standard office tool or object and ask them to come up with a brief sales pitch for it. You can give each team a set amount of time to prepare or ask them to come up with it on the fly, depending on whether you are interested in improvisation or strategic thinking.

During the sales pitch, the other teams will be given an upper limit that they can “invest”. The team that gets the most money in “investments” wins.

Office Trivia

Using notecards, jot down little-known facts about your office or company. Feel free to include small observations about the color or theme of items and rooms; this will test your employees’ memory and observational skills. If you’d like, you can break the office up into teams and ask them to discuss the answers to each question before they pipe up.

Puzzle Party

As if puzzles weren’t fun enough, puzzle party will take teamwork to a whole new level. You will need one puzzle for each team that participates in this exercise; teams should be no larger than 4. From each puzzle, remove 10 pieces and place them into a bowl. Mix up the bowl and return a random ten pieces to each puzzle. 

If you’d like to add some intrigue to the exercise, pick up some chips for bartering, but don’t explain what they are for – simply include them in the puzzle box. Set a time limit and see who finishes their puzzle first!

Once Upon a Timeline

This exercise can help put the lives of others into perspective with the company they work for. Sometimes it’s easy to feel disconnected with your coworkers and employer – especially if you don’t know much about the business you work for.

Start by drawing a long timeline on a whiteboard; label the right side as the present moment, and the left side as the company’s founding date. Add any pertinent business-related information to the timeline and ask employees to share important events from their life and add them to the board. Don’t force coworkers to over-share, but ask them to share at least one important event from their lives.

Tangled

For this ‘game’, you’ll need some balls of yarn; if you visit a craft store for new skeins of yarn, you may need to roll your own balls. Break your team into groups of 6-8 and give each a ball of yarn. Have the team form a circle, and choose one person to be blindfolded. Start the yarn ball with one member of the team and inform them to all roll the ball to someone new, ending with the person who is blindfolded. 

Once the yarn web is formed, it is the remaining team members’ job to help the blindfolded member untangle the web! Clear communication will be required, and team members who can see cannot move.

Try these out on your team and see how it affects performance and openness at work!

Office Snack Ideas: Get Your Break Room Out of the Rut!

The whole office gets excited to raid the snack cupboard every week – it’s universal! During a long day at the office, it’s nice to have something yummy and delicious to look forward to. Whether your office has a catered snack system or you stock it yourself, there are many different options you can consider for your employees.

The Healthy Option

While the majority of your employees won’t come running to the break room for healthy granola or peanuts, these foods will provide an option to those who are trying to keep their snack time light and mindful. Depending on demand, you could stock yogurts, jello cups, or nut and cheese packs in the fridge. Dry snacks like granola bars, granola packets, trail mix, and whole-grain crackers are also good options! Don’t forget to consider drinks, as well – tea bags and zero-calorie drink packets will give your employees some variety.

The “Fun” Snacks

Let’s be honest, people get more excited over the chips than the granola. Decide what kind of balance you’d like to strike in your workplace, and purchase snacks accordingly. Sweet and salty treats are likely to help boost company morale; as long as your employees have options, you will find everyone easy to please.

Big hits in the break room will always be fan favorites: chips, pretzels (chocolate or yogurt covered), candy bars, energy drinks, sodas, pastries, hot drinks like coffee and cocoa, and so on. If you can crave it, it’ll be a hit! Try to balance your snack cupboard with different items each week – this way everyone will feel included.

Take Requests!

There’s no better way to satisfy your employees than by inquiring directly. Place a piece of paper on your cabinet or break room wall for employees to write down requests – you don’t have to buy everything next week, but this can help give you ideas that will make your employees happy.

Consider your company’s policy on health and wellness as you stock up on snacks for the months ahead – if your business doesn’t have a core value involving healthy eating, go nuts! If you’d like to send a cleaner, more well-rounded message, tip the snack scale in favor of healthy options: whole foods and some dairy products. It’s really up to you what you choose to put into your office. At the end of the day, your employees can always bring their own snacks to work!

Team Outings Your Office Will Love

There are many reasons to encourage your employees to interact outside of the office; it helps to build strong team bonds, something that is important for maintaining high levels of productivity during the workday. However, some coworkers might be a little more difficult to get out of their shells! Having some exciting team outings that everyone will enjoy is a great way to get your employees together for a good time.

Team Movie Night

For the next big Avengers’ or Star Wars movie, reserve a couple of rows at the movie theater! This is a great introductory activity to get your employees chit-chatting in line or waiting for the show to start. As people start to warm up to each other some more, you can plan more social outings for the team!

Barbeque Bash

There’s nothing that brings people together like food. Pan a potluck-style cookout if you don’t want to spend too much, or go all out with lobster and steak! Whatever food you bring will be a big hit, just don’t forget to fire up the grill and chill some drinks. Invite employees to the cookout site before the food will be ready; this will encourage people to talk and share with each other. If your team is game, plan some activities like cornhole or volleyball!

Bowling Night

This one is a classic for a reason! Anyone can be good at bowling; honestly, even if they aren’t, it can be fun and get everyone laughing! Pick a bowling alley with plenty of space for your team to plan a tournament, order some pizzas, and get rolling! If your team is feeling up to it, you could even try your hands at candlepin, a more difficult type of bowling.

Team Trivia

Check your area for a bar or venue that hosts a trivia night! This outing will encourage your team to work together towards a common goal. If you cover drinks, your employees will be happy to indulge any crazy idea you might have, even karaoke!

Theme Park Day

If you’re looking for an easy way to get your team out of the office and having a blast, look no further than the nearest theme park! After all, adults are really just big kids with responsibilities; we all like to have a little fun every now and then, too. Amusement parks usually offer group discount rates, so call ahead to see what kind of deals you can snag. Try to plan a rain date if the weather turns sour at the last minute; there’s no fun to be had at a rainy amusement park!

Regardless of what you choose to do with your team, make sure to create excitement and plan the event well in advance. Give your employees plenty of time to get excited about the outing, and decide whether to give plus one invites (or allow them to take the family along!). A team outing will help your employees get to know each other better, all while building strong connections that will help them work together more efficiently.