How to keep your remote teams productive

What if the secret to productivity lies in creativity?

I’m not talking about getting your developers to take a sketch break. I’m talking about process.

Creativity can seem woo-woo and fancy-free. Corporate life, structured and responsible. 

That’s a common misconception. 

The best creatives in the world combine talent with grit. This isn’t speculation – it’s science. 

This isn’t where I tell you that injecting creativity into the workday will make grit suddenly sexy and therefore up your productivity. Artists can make grit seem sexy from afar. A lot of the time though, it’s just as drudgy as hard work is for you or me. They just make focus cool. 

Masterpieces aren’t made from fun, they’re driven into being through hard work and the ability to produce or use original and unusual ideas.’  

Apple didn’t disrupt and transform the market through rote use of old ideas; they were innovative. Neither did Netflix, or Amazon. By default, creative thinking was employed to create something of greater value.

But how does this link back to the headline you clicked on? 

On a smaller scale, this is the hope we have for our employees. Do we really want them just to complete deliverables in a repetitive, stodgy way? No. In an ideal world, they’ll contribute towards driving excellence and health of the business. That’s where creativity comes in. 

So how can we best ensure this kind of productivity from our remote workers?

The knee-jerk reaction to remote work is that a loss of control equals a loss of quality control. That’s absolutely not the case. The control has always been in the hands of your employee — you were just able to supervise it in live-time before. 

What is in your control, is facilitating the conditions in which work is completed. That’s management style, project management software and expectations around communication and deliverables. 

I won’t go into why remote work has spiked – do you really need me or anyone else to repeat that? No. 

But let’s touch briefly on why it’s stuck:

  • The pandemic is still going. That’s an obvious one. 
  • It cuts costs for businesses who can forgo office rental and operation to work fully remotely. According to GWA’s Telework Savings Calculator, “a single company can annually save $11,000 per remote worker who telecommutes 50% of the time.”
  • Employees are saving money on transport costs, meals and attire. 30% of remote workers are saving as much as $5,240 per year. Why would they want to start spending that again?
  • Workers believe they’re more productive. 77% say they feel that way
  • Employers believe them. 94% of them say that productivity levels since shifting to remote work have stayed the same or been increased

So if the above is true, this article is a moot point. 

Yeah, but you’re still reading. So I’ll keep going.

Where creativity comes in. 

According to Leh Woon Mok, “creative cognition [could originate] from an optimal balance between spontaneous and controlled processes.”

We do our best, most innovative work, in a state that is structured but free. Employees back this up – flexibility of schedule is the most gratifying aspect of remote work, according to 53% of them

So here’s the first takeaway – flexibility and autonomy. 

Trusting your employees to exercise dominion over their… dominion. Giving them the freedom to set their hours (within reason) and make choices for themselves will actually breed goodwill. 

No one likes being micromanaged. Do you? Probably like most people, you feel emboldened when you’re given the tools needed to thrive, and then trusted to do so. 

Next, let’s look at clear milestones and communication.

I can only think of cheesy, woo woo metaphors as to why structure is so integral to productivity. 

You can’t hold water without a vessel.

You can only dance on solid ground. 

Sorry about that, but you get the point. Dynamic endeavors require a solid foundation.

In knowing their limits and direction, they’ll have room to move, explore and excel.  

You need to be clear with your employees in order for them to understand their focus and direction. Most importantly, you need to lead by example. Let them know what your expectations are around deliverables and touch-ins. If these change, communicate and acknowledge pivots and what the knock-on effects for their work are.  

Centralize your comms as much as possible. Using platforms like Slack and Jira can make things a lot smoother for your team. Most people who try to work with OneDrive quickly build up stores of potent resentment. 

If you abide by your own expectations, they’ll respect you. They’ll be far more motivated to do well, and expect themselves to. 

Another interesting insight from Bernard A. Nijstad, suggests that creativity is stimulated by ‘flexible switching between categories, approaches and sets… and in-depth exploration of just a few categories.’ Combined with hard work, of course. 

The biggest takeaways:

  • Be clear about expectations
  • Be consistent in your own behavior with regard to expectations
  • Highlight two or three tasks or focuses for your employee at a time – variety is key but more than this can diminish productivity

Then there are methods of motivation

Think of the following from a personal perspective. 

A preventative mindset motivates through focusing on responsibility. What you need or must get done. Consequences could be losing reward, losing generally, or failing to measure up. 

A promotion mindset motivates through highlighting a goal. What you want to do. This is usually growth, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, discovery or a level of achievement.

As one aptly named Harvard Business Review article put it, Do You Play to Win – or to Not Lose?

No gold star for figuring out which of these inhibits creativity, and which promotes it. 

Take a small amount of time periodically (suggest: once a month) to check in with your employees. Just ten minutes to understand where their head is at, what their experience of the company really is, and what their values are, is huge. This means human, not corporate connection. 

Firstly, it makes them feel appreciated. Secondly, how on earth are you going to incentivize your workers if you don’t know what they’re into? What do they want to achieve? 

It’s becoming increasingly less common that employees nowadays want to stay that way; a 40-hour workweek worker. They strive for more, whether it’s in their personal lives, power over their use of time, financial compensation or stimulation. They’re not content just being the middleman. If you wouldn’t be happy in their shoes, how could you expect them to be? We’re all human, after all. And many humans have televisions, and social media, and Tony Robbins YouTube videos. 

If you understand what they’re striving for and can help them achieve that, it’s going to have a huge impact on their loyalty and output. 

For those who are financially motivated, set clear milestones for them to work towards. If someone’s looking to advance or start a side passion project, endorse it. If you can find a way to link it to your company, even better. 

Is autonomy or vacation time most important for your worker? Give them ample flexibility and endorse their self-care. Those who want growth or greater credentials – provide those opportunities. 

If you can’t provide them value, it’s unlikely that long-term, they’ll be able to do the same for you. Work to know what your employees value. Then work with employees you can provide value to. 

Actions speak louder than words, but words still speak. Make sure you appreciate the efforts of your employees. 

That’s it! Good luck. 

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Strong Sports Software

What do developers and athletes have in common? In pop culture, we’re the guys sitting in the corner with a grey hoodie stretched over hunched shoulders, typing away. The athletes, on the other hand, are busy doing ‘cool-down’ lunges.  We deal in code. They deal in biceps. They get fresh air. We look like vampires. So what is it that we share?  Strong Sports Software. Did you know that last year, 42% of US consumers used an app to track their health and fitness? Whether or not our developers are part of that percentage number… we’re sitting up. Making notes. Coding. Watching the IT Crowd. Whatever. Actually, the genius of what we do (not just us) is in its versatility. What underwrites software is the same code, appropriated to meet specific goals. In the case of sports software, athletic goals.  The moral of the story? Don’t judge us by our reps. Judge us on our rep.  Big Data + Fitness Trackers Why are the best athletes in the world alive today? Perhaps I should clarify the question– why are we continuing to break records? An obvious answer is that it’s just human evolution. As we pushed ourselves and worked towards greater ambition, so too, did our bodies adapt to scale these new heights. Some of the leaps and bounds are due to human advances. For instance, before Title IX was passed in 1972, 1 in 27 girls played sports. That number is now a healthier 2 in 5. Widespread visibility of the Olympic Games, for instance, has a questionable impact, but one thing for sure is the effect of visible role models. The more you can see people you can relate to reaching athletic achievement, the more you can envision what is possible for yourself.  Actually the brunt of record-breaking is a lot less grandiose. Believe it or not, it’s technological insights that have led to the greatest strides. David Epstein’s Ted Talk has one of the best known examples. Usain Bolt’s incredible record in the 100m sprint at the 2012 Olympic Games was 9.77 seconds. In 1936, the gold medal winner Jesse Owens completed it in 10.2 seconds, which would have placed him last in Bolt’s race. At face value, this seems like an incremental, but vast, difference in leading athleticism. When you take the tech into account, however, it’s not so big at all. Bolt was running on ‘engineered carpet’, with starting blocks; Owens on cinders, with small holes for starting points. Were Owens to have been on the same surface as Bolt, it’s estimated that he would have come within one stride of victory, rather than last.  It’s a common misconception that we’ve naturally evolved into the best athletes in history. Sophisticated insights on environmental factors, body type, training regimes, dieting, clothing, footwear and so much more have honed and refined the art of the athlete.  Software that enables these complex insights include the growing sector of the Internet of Things. These are physical objects embedded with software that can gather, share, use and analyze data. Domestically, think Alexa or Google Nest, your smart thermostat or fridge. In sports, this usually comes in the form of tracking devices. Watches, tags or sensors built into the gameplay track and analyze performance stats. We’re talking amassing information on heart rate, speed, acceleration and deceleration, among other insights. The aggregated stats are called big data. Interpreted by software with a swiftness and accuracy which escapes humans, it provides an unflattering, objective overview of the status quo. This allows players to see how competitive they are when stacked against other athletes, and where they’re falling short. It also shows them what output works best for their bodies and their trade.  Pivots can be made in training routines or on-field performance in response to learnings. For instance, if over a period of four weeks, a footballer realizes that training at a greater level than usual negatively impacts their game, they’ll know to review that approach. Leaning down, beefing up, or examining the impact of diet on performance is also a useful way of refining approach.  A good software company is able to build and program the language for high functioning IoT to influence and impact performance. They can also ideate new and disruptive technologies to keep athletes competitive.  Predictive Analytics This software uses AI-technology to make informed predictions on future events such as demand and performance. Without bias, at speed and with accuracy, it tells you what will most likely arise, based on historical data. This is useful not only for athletes, but from a business perspective, too. An ever-evolving difficulty is retaining the interest of spectators at home, and at-event. While you’re focussing on customer experience, predictive analytics can take care of your inventory levels. Analyzing buying trends from spectators means that if your patrons tend to buy Pepsi, you can order more of that and less of what they don’t consume.  IoT can also provide insight on conditions in which injuries tend to occur, which can inform pivots. More sophisticated tech can automate video analysis from playback to annotate gameplay and identify areas of vulnerability.  VR + AR Experiences Further to the above, as customer expectations rise with innovation, the booming alternate reality industry does, too. Engagement levels and market value are skyrocketing. From a spectator perspective, imagine being able to immerse yourself in the world of your team, or watch the Olympics right next to the track? This is already being done, and will build towards being an option for at-home audiences to have a 360° experience for an alternative, virtual ticket. For athletes, it’s being put to good use for training throughout recovery from injury or for specialized training practice, without the risk. While this sort of tech can seem expensive or for elite users, that’s not the case at all. There are lots of providers who can host experiences, or you can work with a software company to develop a story and experience, and they can

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Online vs. In-store Business Growth

The public health crisis forced our lives indoors, and our shopping habits online. There are many who would believe that the e-commerce market was unequivocally endorsed by the pandemic. Shouldn’t in-person retail be practically obsolete by now? But despite suffering some casualties, the retail storefront lives on.   Against a century, technological obsolescence is rapid. We can conceptualize these broad swaths of time, reduce and enlarge parameters of time in our minds, but as yet, few live for that long. When scaled to the length of our day-to-day, technological overhaul is frequently gradual. It’s also dictated in part by where you live.  The bubble of a wealthy Western country tends to serve as an incubator. The least developed countries in the world face problems of terrain, censorship, unrest or funding to advance technologically. For instance, in Eastern Africa’s Eritrea, only 0.91% of the population have internet access. So despite the revolutionary nature of the internet, it hasn’t yet infiltrated all human life in the same way.  The organic nature of technological change is in part, what saved storefront retail. Business owners had begun to diversify with an online presence before the pandemic. This helped entrepreneurs and individuals alike. It also had an impact on the trajectory of online and in-store business growth. When we look back at the pandemic, it will be seen as a turning point. But to where? Let’s take a look at how these two settings for commerce have changed in the last year.   Online Commerce The most cataclysmic economic events are often impossible to predict. Keen witnesses could and did foresee the US housing crisis of 2007. Hurricane Katrina, not so much. A global pandemic was the last thing on our minds, until suddenly it was everything. And it would become a defining moment in the economic history of this century. In e-commerce, it had a massive impact, with transactions jumping by 45.6% from Q3 in 2019 to Q3 in 2021.  We all did it. How could we not? Our lives shifted online during the pandemic. From carrots to couches, an online purchase was just the ticket for a time of isolation or mandatory cohabitation. It didn’t just make us feel safe, it actually made us safe.  And now that we know how to reduce risk and manage infection better, now that we have vaccines? Now that infection rates are coming down in most places, except Europe? It’s safe to say we are heading back to stores, with just a slight downtrend in digital penetration. But most impressively, we’re still witnessing growth. In Q3 of 2021, e-commerce went up by 6.8%. And according to Adobe, it’ll hit $1 trillion in sales for the year.  Clearly, it’s not just the pandemic keeping us in this space. We’ve discovered our new favorite form of convenience. And when it comes to customer experience, that’s consumers’ top priority. No questions-asked returns policies and mad-fast delivery are almost a given. The best sales can now be parsed without upping our step count or dodging strange elbows. Reviews from friends and strangers sort the wheat from the chaff. Plus, it’s still a shopping ‘journey’, right? Websites and apps are often immersive. From AR tech letting you try things on through the website before you buy, to AI-driven size predictors, it not only minimizes risk, it’s plain fun. It also can’t be denied that receiving the packages is just like Christmas, even for those who don’t celebrate but have always wanted that same sweet feeling.  But how is brick-and-mortar business taking this spike in online shopping?  In-store Chuck E. Cheese’s parent company saw revenue plummet by 90%. Screaming children weren’t exactly allowed to get together during this time. People weren’t really trying to get anywhere, so Hertz filed for bankruptcy.  According to Forbes, 12,200 US retail businesses closed in 2020. In 2019, it was 9,300. Of course, there’s no taking lightly the livelihoods of any of the businesses forced to close, due to COVID or otherwise. But when you think about the largesse of the pandemic, the surprising thing is that more brick-and-mortar businesses didn’t close down and demonstrated resilience. After being cooped up for over a year, there are some of us antsy to get out and mingle with other shoppers once more. Even the tinny Christmas music of November won’t deter us from merry browsing. We’ve even learned to distinguish smiles from stares, without being able to see each other’s mouths.  Our enthusiasm is fuelling a bounce-back; in Q3 of 2021, offline sales grew 11.5%. “Many analysts expected a good chunk of last year’s growth to stick with many consumers becoming more accustomed to buying digitally”, says Ben Unglesbee from Retail Dive. However, the strong return to in-person sales means that the diversification between the digital and physical is valued by consumers.  Retailers are also looking at ways to enhance the in-person experience with tech. Online orders for pick-up and payment; mobile inventory phones for floor workers; better ERP systems; it all fuels faster, more concise customer experience. Employees benefit from this, too; they don’t have to deal with the consequences of inefficiency that is out of their control. The verdict? Forrester projects that 72% of retail purchases will still take place off-line in 2024.  It’s fairly safe to say that in-store retail is here to stay. Business owners and consumers will continue to invest their time and money in tech that makes their retail journey faster, more convenient and immersive. But the brick-and-mortar isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I, for one, am glad. 

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IoT for Pets

Internet of Pets Smart Home Gadgets for Domestic Sidekicks If you’re a pet about town these days, you just might be lucky enough to have an owner that’s into the IoT. The Internet of Things is one of the most exciting technological frontiers right now. Basically, it’s everyday items that connect to the internet, and each other. These gadgets, gizmos and wingdings are built to seamlessly augment human lives. And now the lives of their furry friends. Some of the best cat and dog products are now fully automated.  Whether it’s Christmas or your owner’s going on a week-long vacation, the returns for your puppy dog eyes are about to get juicier.  Bye bye chew toy. Hello IoT.  AUTOMATIC FEEDERS An array of brands on the market now take the fuss out of feeding. Whether you hesitate to take vacation in order to keep pet meal time, or linger at the food bowl to manage portion control, an automated feeder can be a worry and money-solver. The amount of reviews that mention 6am screeching cats now silenced by an automatic serving of kibble speak for themselves. Many models also include a camera, so you can admire your noble animal from afar. We recommend the WOpet Sprite Ⅱ WiFi Smart Feeder, which caters to animals of all sizes, has an HD camera and two-way audio. You can feed your pet automatically or manually from the partner app, which is super easy to use. Another great alternative at a lower price is the Petlibro Automatic Pet Feeder. Perks include a stainless steel, dishwasher-safe bowl, and a recording capability so that your voice calls your pet to eat every time. For reptiles, the market is much smaller, but Verge have created a vet-approved Reptile Automatic Feeder.  SMART TOYS Fully automated toys for the 21st century domestic can be just as fun for you as they are for your pet. Whimsical, durable and distracting, they’ll entertain whether you’re near or far.  Cheerble, an Australian company, arguably has the leading technology in this space. For small and medium dogs, they’ve got the Wickedbone, which was the world’s first smart dog toy. This device has 9 different available motions, rolling, jumping and shuddering around on its own. Designed to grab your pet’s attention, you can control it manually via the app, or put it on an interactive mode for up to 4 hours while you’re away.  If you’re shopping for a feline, their Board Game has everything you need to keep your little mischief maker entertained and clawing approved surfaces. It comes with an interactive board and fully autonomous smart ball. The ball moves on its own to entice your cat to play, and with an obstacle avoidance system, it never gets stuck in the wrong places. With a cosy nook to curl in, it’s a super cool 2-in-1 for activity and rest. For a competitor to Wickedbone, you can check out VARRAM’s Pet Fitness Robot. It works in a similar fashion, except it also dispenses treats to reward your pup for interaction. PetSafe’s Dancing Dot will entice cats fascinated by lasers, and even has an all-day intermittent setting for when you’re not at home! ESP FOR PUPS? Ever wondered what your canine is thinking or feeling? Honored at CES 2021 for innovation, Petpuls collar uses Artificial Intelligence to gather and analyse dog data. After amassing info on your dog’s bark, it compares it against 10,000 examples from 50 breeds of dogs to let you know whether they’re feeling happy, sad, anxious, angry or relaxed. We’re sure to be seeing more artificial animal whisperers hitting the market.  PET CAMERAS Parting is such sweet sorrow. You’re not creepy, you just love your pet as much as they love you! No longer do you have to guess at whether they’re chewing, napping or getting into mischief. Combining a home security camera and pet monitor in one, most market options have other perks to grab your attention. Take market leader Furbo, which gives you 1080p HD day and night, plus lets you toss treats when you’re feeling sentimental. If you’re on a budget, Smart Dome Security Camera X has two-way audio, 360° coverage and an optional emergency response service.  TRACKERS, NOT CRACKERS In 2021, it’s no longer just Find My iPhone, but Find My Cheeky Runaway! For the outdoor animal, curiosity and adventure abound. Gain peace of mind with a tracker that weathers all scenarios and even measures your animal’s health!  Furtrieve fits all animals, has Google street view (I know, right?) and two-way communication. So you can talk to the sucker who thought he could take your cute dog, or just tell your frolicking feline to chill out. Whistle Go Explore is waterproof and monitors your pet’s health and fitness, including sleep and scratch patterns. For a stylish and integrated system with real-time escape alerts, try Fi Smart Collar.  AUTOMATIC BALL LAUNCHERS This one’s for all you dogs out there. If your parents have frozen shoulder or tennis elbow, but still want the chance to wear you out with Fetch, nuzzle them into checking out these automated launchers. Note – it seems the brand owners have yet to prioritize robust balls; many customer reviews recommend Kong for alternatives. Dogs seem to respond quickly to the launchers, learning how to use them and loving them.  iFetch has a rechargeable battery, comes in different sizes for different sized dogs, and launches to adjustable distances. Petsafe was one of the first on the market, and has a sensor to protect from making bruises, not fun. It works indoors and outdoors and has rest intervals so that your dog beefs up the biceps without exhaustion.  The jury’s out on a market leader; indeed, it seems there’s a wide open space for one product with true excellence to emerge. That said, those that love them… really love them.

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