How to Take a Virtual Retreat

How to Take a Virtual Retreat

In a world of connectivity, devices, rolling news and constant updates the stream of information can sometimes overwhelm. Taking a virtual retreat, a break from technology, is essential for us to focus without interruption during the work day, and an extended break away from work is essential for us to recharge. However, with the fear of what we may miss sometimes holding us back–new clients, and great new contract, or important information–this is where a Virtual Assistant come to the rescue.

By working with a Virtual Assistant, and forming a trusting and strong working relationship, you can build a partnership that allows for essential time away from technology and enjoying cocktails in the tropics! Find out more on how to take a virtual retreat. 

 

The Importance Of A Virtual Retreat

A US study from 2016 suggests the average Smartphone user touches their phone 2,617 per day. That equates to 109 times per hour or, accounting for an average of eight hours sleep per day, 164 times per hour. That seems to transcend the need for communication and information access and enter the realm of obsession.

But there is hope… According to market research firm GfK, Canadians are among the world’s most empowered consumers when it comes to putting down our devices and just saying “no!”.

 

Four Reasons Why A Digital Detox Or Virtual Retreat Is A Great Idea

The following reasons for a virtual retreat were researched from a number of articles. The two main inspirations are this one from Becoming Minimalist and this in Silicon Republic. Each one lists more research papers and links, and ideas for a full 30-day digital detox if you feel like really switching off from the grid!

 

Reduce Stress & Improve Your Mental Health

The fear of missing out (Fomo) is, according to research, a modern psychological phenomenon that can be linked to the rise in social media channels and connectivity. While we agree this has amplified the issue, those of us old enough to remember a time before social media and hand-held devices will remember fearing missing out if, for example, all your friends were playing together while you had to remain at home to spend time with your family–what a drag!

It is well documented that putting aside Smartphones and resisting the urge to check Facebook, which leaves some people with feelings of jealousy, would help reduce stress levels, notions of jealousy and inadequacy and, therefore, promote better mental health.

 

Improve Physical Health

Text Neck, a condition resulting from spending too much time looking down at screens, is definitely a modern phenomenon. But anything you can do to get out and about and away from devices, especially if it’s physical exercise, will leave you feeling better physically and, most likely, mentally.

 

Boost Productivity & Creativity

As has been noted in the introduction, we are so distracted by our phones during our working day (I’ve used mine during the writing of this to check on sports scores! *reaches for phone, Google’s definition of irony*) that switching it off, muting it, and going back to it at two or three defined points in a day can refocus our attention and make us more productive and creative as a result.

Reduce Dependence On Technology

Do you remember when you could recall phone numbers from memory? This may not be the best example as our phones have rendered this mainly obsolete, thereby freeing up capacity to remember other information.

However, research states people refer to Smartphones and search engines to find recipes, answer to questions and directions, for example. An overt dependence on anything, technology or otherwise, is not a positive.

 

Hiring a Virtual Assistant To Aid a Virtual Retreat

There is seemingly an inherent irony in this sub-heading which could be interpreted as “stop your addiction and let us be addicted for you!”.

But this is not the point. By stepping away from technology, apps and devices which bare an unnecessary time-drain as a business owner you will become more successful. Your job is to focus on what is important, our job is to run and manage the technology to free up your time.

We at Roche Online Business Services employ this tactic ourselves. You may have noticed if you email us during the working day you receive an automated response to say that your email has been received and we shall reply within 24-48 hours. This is intentional as it allows us to focus on the tasks at hand, prioritize our time, and deal with inquiries and clients in a triaged manner.

This is proof-positive we practice what we preach, so let us help you help yourself. If you want to hire an Online Business Manager, Project Manager or Virtual Assistant–so that you can take a Virtual Retreat without worrying about your business suffering–contact us to book you free 30-minute consultation.

The Challenges of Managing a Virtual Team

The Challenges of Managing a Virtual Team

Technology and the proliferation of communication tools have shrunk the world and made possible global virtual teams. This has brought many benefits but there are also many challenges to managing a virtual team.

Four Major Challenges of Managing A Virtual Team

In this post we will highlight four common issues often raised by people when discussing the challenges of managing a virtual team. Without doubt effective communication is paramount.

 

Communication, Communication, Communication

In the aftermath of losing the brilliant Stephen Hawking, this quote of his is both relevant to the topic and worth remembering:

“For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”

Some of the benefits of being in the same office include the ability to speak to your team without necessarily having to leave your chair, or having the ability to go out for lunch or after-work drinks to help with the bonding process and camaraderie. To help counter this it is essential to have regular meetings with your team over Skype, or similar technology, either individually or, better yet, all together if logistically possible. Meeting and speaking with your fellow team members, albeit virtually, is a great way to bond, allay concerns, share knowledge and train staff.

 

Access To Expertise

Though a virtual team can theoretically supply you with the best the world has to offer, it can still be difficult to find specific skills or people with the requisite experience to carry out the tasks. Moreover, having the expertise you need, when you need them can be incredibly useful.

While having those expertise on hand in your office is great, having them in the same country or timezone can be just as handy, but what if those expertise are 10 hours behind? They may be asleep, just putting the kids to bed or out for dinner – in other words, not available when you need them. This isn’t anyone’s fault, it’s just a fact of managing a remote team. Finding workable solutions that allow people time to have a life (what a luxury!) are essential in overcoming the challenges of managing a virtual team.

Using apps like Slack can help by creating a virtual meeting room of sorts. Communication tools like this are a much better format than email threads where it is far easier to lose track of a conversation or forget to ‘reply all’ for example.

 

Lack Of Training & Support

Delivering training to a disparate team clearly has its challenges. The only viable option is to deliver it online, and even doing this live and, therefore, collaboratively can be challenging depending on the timezones in which your team members are located. Training and ensuring your team has the skills it needs to carry out tasks to the best of its abilities is essential to producing top-quality work for your clients or your business.

Support is often an extension of training, as largely more support is required when people need help completing a task. The best ways to work around these issues revolve around communication and creating regular meeting times. Regular communication ensures work timelines are on track, skill shortages can be addressed and training administered.

There are a number of ways you can work around these challenges of managing a virtual team.These including using apps like GoToMeeting that are great for training webinars. This allows users to log in at specified times, or afterwards to watch a replay. Skype and Google Hangouts are two tools you could use for regular online chats, as has been mentioned, to keep in touch and have face-to-face communication individually or as a team. Without wishing to over egg the pudding, regular communication in critical.

 

Lack Of Trust & Transparency

Is work actually being done? Is research being carried out effectively? How will I know if writing is just being copy-pasted or not? And so it goes… These are some of the many recurring questions that people ask when faced with trust and transparency when it comes to the challenges of managing a virtual team.

It can be quite easy, for example, for people to check off work and tasks as completed if it doesn’t need to tracked or signed off upon until it’s submitted. Then, in stereotypical undergraduate mode, it can all be reeled off, last minute, resulting in errors, poor research and sub-standard work.

Staying on top of ongoing work, in a manner that’s not intrusive or inherently misstrusting of remote employees, eases concerns around trust and transparency and is ultimately good practice. When managed effectively this promotes a strong bilateral relationship.

Though difficult, and never 100% effective, the hiring process should be viewed as an early step in this process, as should a good company culture: freedom to work as you need, good remuneration, and regular and positive feedback are some examples. In short, the better people are treated the better they will treat you and therefore perform in their work.  

 

Communicate Effectively – The Key To Managing A Virtual Team

Effective communication is the key to success when it comes to the challenges of managing a virtual team. Pretty much every other issue, including the three highlighted above, are consequences of poor communication. Nail your communication, and you’ll limit the issues.

Being able to draw upon a global talent pool located in different timezones can bring the best the world has to offer on a 24-hour work schedule. But managing a virtual team, who may speak many different languages, have different skill sets, gaps in knowledge, and training needs can bring with it communication barriers.

Understanding and embracing the diverse nature of a remote team in order to communicate effectively is paramount in dealing with the many challenges of managing a virtual team.

Free consultation: Want to find out more about how an Online Business Manager can help your business? Click below and contact us to schedule your free 30-minute consultation. 

The Pros & Cons of The Pomodoro Technique

The Pros & Cons of The Pomodoro Technique

Developed in the late 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, the Pomodoro Technique is a time-management tool which uses the classic kitchen tomato timer to break tasks down into bite-size chunks. Traditionally these periods last for 25 minutes and are followed by a brief break of three to five minutes.

But this not being the 1980s you may not have a tomato-shaped timer knocking around in your kitchen. It may now reside in the Thrift Store with your synth-pop vinyls, but fear not, as this being the 21st century there is indeed an app for that.

Check out Tomato Timer or this blog which highlights the 12 best tomato timer apps. It seems that there may be more apps than variety of tomato.

You can read more in the following link about how to implement the Pomodoro Technique, and find out if it is for you. This post will focus on its pros and cons.

The Pros Of The Pomodoro Technique

Improved Focus On Tasks

By accepting you have 25 minutes (or whatever amount of time you choose) to focus on getting as much done as possible, it becomes easier to mute your phone, close email and instant messaging clients and focus solely on one task for the allotted time. When your timer goes off, you know you can check messages, grab a drink or snack, or get a quick breath of fresh air.

It’s often reported this is a great way of tackling the bigger, perhaps more boring, tasks you need to get off your plate, as chipping away at these in more manageable chunks makes it seem a less onerous task. Once you’ve completed one pomodoro, you can check it off on a tally sheet. This, as luck would have it, is a perfect segue to…

Recording how you spend your time 

…Yes, pro number 2. The benefit of recording your time cannot be understated. It gives an indication of how long similar tasks will take, how long you have actually worked that day, and if you are self-employed, for how much time you should be billing your clients.

There’s also a great psychological benefit to checking off work; it’s a process known, wonderfully, as chunking.

Regular breaks

We mention in a previous post on Roche Online Business Services (in a post titled 5 Ways To Improve Productivity) that taking regular breaks is great for helping us learn and focus. This article in Psychology Today further reinforces that by highlighting the many benefits of regular breaks. These include that regular breaks can help reduce decision fatigue and improve creativity and productivity. Ultimately these are two sides of the same coin (in many ways it’s a five-sided coin!) but the psychology is solid: stepping away from work, a conundrum, or a screen (or all three at once!) can have a lot of benefits to your workrate.

All of us will be familiar with this problem. How often, when trying to recall a fact that is on the tip of your tongue, does the answer come to you once you’ve stopped searching for it? Once you refocus, start chatting away about something else, then all of a sudden the fact you were racking your brain for not long ago suddenly reappears. This interesting article reports this phenomena happens more often to bilingual people.

The Cons Of The Pomodoro Technique

It Can Impede Your Creativity

Creative thought is not necessarily an easy process to fit into a strict time-management schedule, which means pursuing the Pomodoro Technique may not work. Though it is a romantic myth creativity just pings like a lightbulb moment, it should still be pursued with discipline, like any form of writing or work.

However, expecting to be able to work through a creative project or issue in the same way as going though your email inbox is a misnomer. It could take numerous pomodoros (25-minute time frames), and hundreds of napkins of ideas and notes to get you to the point of needing to write with disciplined focus. So by restricting yourself to time intervals where nothing but a few ideas have been generated could have an adverse psychological effect, making you feel nothing has been achieved, thereby forcing you further from your goal, perceived or otherwise.

The Pomodoro Technique Is Too Inflexible

Anyone who has a role with a diverse workload prone to numerous interruptions from staff, clients and phone calls will understand exactly what we mean. Ultimately, it may just be impossible for you to start a timer and shut off the outside world. If so, it’s hard to imagine the Pomodoro Technique working for you.

The Pomodoro Technique Has Too Many Short Breaks

As has been mentioned earlier, there are many benefits to regular breaks. And while you can interpret the Pomodoro Technique however it works best for you (longer pomodores than 25 minutes, fewer breaks etc), there is no doubt that for some people too many breaks can interrupt flow, focus and a train of thought. It may be that even deciding not to take the break won’t be enough — if the timer blaring its alarm is enough to break your train of thought then the damage is already done!

The Pomodoro Technique In Conclusion

Ultimately there is no right or wrong way to manage your time. As with all things it is about what works best for for. By shining a light in the Pomodoro Technique we hope to have introduced you to a process you may find useful, either in its traditional method or by employing longer pomodores, fewer breaks or longer breaks when they come along.

But if this post has whetted your appetite to learn more about time management techniques then great, as the purpose of this, and indeed any post, is to make people think.

Thanks for reading.

If you find a particular task hard to focus on, it could be that you don’t enjoy that task. Consider hiring a virtual assistant or skilled contractor. By contracting out the work, you’ll save time and stress and be free to focus on the tasks that you love doing!