Why OOO aren’t just for when you’re “out of the office”

Why OOO aren’t just for when you’re “out of the office”

How many emails do you get a day? 10, 20, 50, more?

I wear many hats: journalist and editor; communications consultant; trainer; holiday home owner; creative writing retreat host; barn renovator. I’m in touch with many people and I have a lot of people wanting to get hold of me.

It would be easy to find myself in a state of overwhelm, drowning in emails, too many of which are from people demanding my time, energy and money. Instead I decided to reframe my relationship with my inbox.

I view every email contact I receive as an occasion to help people better understand me and my businesses. And just as importantly, as an opportunity to manage expectations. I control my inbox instead of it controlling me.

Let’s take this latter point first.

Most people use their OOO to let others know that they are indeed out-of-the-office and as such there will be a delay to their reply.

However, even when you are in the office, unless you are a slave to your inbox and have it open all the time – in which case I would seriously question your levels of concentration and productivity – you are not going to respond immediately.

Despite this though, many people expect an almost instantaneous reply. They have little regard for your actual priorities and think it should be all about “me, me, me”. (The person who sent me the press release at 10am and then sent a chasey email two hours later. Yes you. I’m talking to you here).

By setting an OOO each morning and providing details of the likely response time they’ll receive, it helps set expectations. It also indicates that if they’ve got something that is actually urgent to ask of me, they should find another way to get in touch. And always, if clients call or WhatsApp me, I’ll respond asap.

So that’s a helpful use of the automatic reply beyond your usual holiday scenario.

“This week I’m in the Dordogne hosting a relaxing retreat for busy women”
Much more fun though is using my OOO to let people know what exciting projects I’m working on. I’m very fortunate that I get to work with some brilliant minds on activities that really do change the world. My work is also varied, challenging, fun. Why wouldn’t I want to tell people all about this?

I like to set colourful and creative OOO’s that help spread good cheer, share key messages and strengthen understanding of the depth and breadth of what I am capable of.

Some of my recent favourites have included:

Thanks for your message. Today I’m working with the awesome Prisoners of Conscience, which supports people who have been persecuted for standing up for human rights. They rightly have my full attention and so I won’t pick up your message until tomorrow. I really appreciate your patience, thank you. And if you fancy learning more about the important role that Prisoners of Conscience plays, check them out here.

And…

Today I’m writing radio scripts, coaching clients to enhance their writing skills and working on the marketing for my creative writing retreat. I’m also finalising the details for the Lucidity Network’s business book club. If you’re not already a member of the Lucidity Network, you need to ask yourself one question – why not? Hope to see you there soon! (And I’ll get back to your email asap, thank you!)

And…

This afternoon I am helping a client taste test and photograph a collection of Italian meals. It’s a hard life, sometimes. I’ll get back to you tomorrow. With thanks for your patience, Becky 

Now, the astute marketeers among you will be wondering whether this is a GDPR-friendly approach or not. I’m happy to confirm that having checked with clever people who know about this kind of stuff that it is.

They told me that if there is no “sales pitch” included in the copy then it’s absolutely fine. And even then, it’s still ok as the OOO is in response to an email that I’ve been sent. A “conversation” is taking place. This is not me contacting someone out of the blue. The only risk would be if I sent a very salesy OOO to someone who had contacted me to say they wanted to opt out of email communication.

The responses I have received to my OOO’s have always been super positive. People often contact me to say how much they enjoy reading them, how inspiring they are and how they’re going to start doing the same. They’ve also been shared across social media multiple times and Richard Sved even wrote a blog about it! (Thanks Richard!)

In Richard’s blog he comments on how my OOO is “lovely, surprising and delightful” to receive, which leaves him with lots of positive messages about how I feel about my work. Which is precisely the intention. I want people to feel as excited about it as I am! So, I’m going to end this blog by paraphrasing Richard’s excellent blog title and ask you: When was the last time your OOO made someone go “ooo-h”?

Let’s start an OOO revolution. Let’s use it to engage the world in what we do, to share messages of positivity and success, or to simply bring a smile to someone’s face.

Will you join us? Let us know in the comments – and show us some examples of your shiny and sparkly OOO messages.

Becky Slack

 

Becky Slack is the managing director of the PR and comms agency, Slack Communications, and the co-host of L’atelier des écrivains – The Writers’ Workshop, France, a four-day creative writing retreat in southwest France and a member of the Lucidity Network.

The pitfalls of flexible working and how to avoid them

The pitfalls of flexible working

The world is changing too fast to think you’ll be working in the same role for long and the notion of a career for life is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. One estimate suggests that 65% of children starting primary school today will end up working in jobs that currently don’t even exist. In addition to the changes affecting permanent employment, freelancing is on the increase as people opt for a more flexible working lifestyle and swap the morning commute for a desk at home or a local coffee shop.

On a day to day basis, those working in conventional 9 to 5 jobs are also experiencing a shift in working style as flexible working, part-time hours, working from home and hot-desking (hot-desking policies often driven by cutting overheads as flexible working and an increasing part-time workforce means less desk space is needed) are becoming increasingly common.

We no longer need to meet people face-to-face in real life to get work done. Technology is a massive enabler to remote working for full-time employees and freelancers, for example, there’s plenty of free video conferencing options to choose from as well as sites like Fiver springing up where freelancers can get paid their expertise from anywhere and to anywhere in the world.

There’s a ton of benefits of working at any time from anywhere to freelancers, business owners and employers, but like any new system or way of working there are realities that get overlooked. For example;

It can be lonely working from home. I know this from personal experience.  When I first went from working in an office to working at home it hit me. I really missed my colleagues. I missed being able to bounce ideas and sense check things with them. If you work from home you must be able to deal with being on your own for long periods of time and if you are an employer you have a duty of care to staff to make sure they can manage the isolation of working from home.

Stress levels are rising as flexible working means we don’t switch off from work. We constantly check our phones, answer our emails and update our social media. This constant ‘being on’ is not good for our physical or mental health.

Hot-desking increases germs and illness in the office. According to the reputable publication, The Sun Your desk could be harbouring 400 times more germs than a toilet seat”. Sensationalist perhaps, but the incidence of germs spread around the office is greater when you are hot-desking and using different computers than when you keep your germs to themselves at your own desk.  

Your employees might object. I’m an advocate of hot-desking to create the water-cooler moments that spark innovation and creativity. However, water cooler moments rely on people speaking to each other. When people resent being told to hot-desk they often withdraw and don’t interact with their new colleagues around them. If a hot-desking policy isn’t implemented with an understanding of the current culture and care isn’t taken to involve employees from the start of the process, you can end up with a culture clash that causes so much disruption and upset it can do more harm than good.

There are solutions

If you work from home schedule your day carefully to ensure you do have conversations with other people, build a support network so you do have people to bounce ideas with, for example, join a mastermind group or get a mentor.

Put systems in place to not check your phone at all hours of the day and night and turn off notifications outside of working hours.

If you work in an organisation get some cleaning cloths (or ask your employer to provide them) for the keyboard and desk to stop the spread of germs.

If you are implementing a hot-desking or working from home policy carefully consult with employees and consider the culture shift required to make it work before piling in.

This changing face of work is one of the reasons that I’ve up the Lucidity Network  – whether you work for yourself or in an organisation it’s a ready-made professional support network that combines a mix of face-to-face meet-ups, online toolkits and connections to an energizing community that accelerates your progress so that you get the results you want.

Sign up to the waiting list to be the first to know when the Network is open for new members. In the meantime you can join the Lucidity Community free Facebook group  for clearer thinking and better results.  

Do you know what people say about you when you’re not in the room?

the topic of personal brand.

We started from the premise that whether you want to develop your career in an organisation or build your own business (or make any kind of change happen) that a key skill is influencing the behaviors and decision-making of other people.

How people perceive you and what people think of you is all about your personal brand.

A personal brand isn’t about being something you’re not but more about being your best and authentic you. It’s about being deliberate in aligning how others perceive you and building your reputation with who you really are.

Everyone has a personal brand. Jeff Bezos famously described personal brand as ‘what people say about you when you’re not in the room’.

Where do I start with my personal brand?

To find out your personal brand, start with giving some thought to how you want to be perceived. What words do you want people to associate with you? How do you want to be described? Write it down. Then ask your friends who know you professionally for 5 words they’d use to describe you in a work context. Put the results into a word cloud. A word cloud is an excellent visual way of seeing how you currently show up. Is what other people say about you congruent with how you want to be perceived? If not, you have some work to do on your personal brand.

Don’t leave your personal brand at the door

I’ve written before about how people often leave their personalities at the door when they arrive at work because they are trying to fit in. If, in your work environment, you can’t be you, if you have to pretend to be someone else, you need to think carefully if you are in the right job for you, because therein lies the source of huge unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

The average person spends 80,000 hours of their life at work. You probably will spend longer. That’s far too long to be unhappy. Satisfaction at work comes from the people you work with and the organisational culture. That’s why it’s important to work in an environment that fits with your values and where you can be yourself.

Antoinette had some solid advice so you don’t end up in a culture clash. She suggests when you are contemplating moving jobs to find and talk to people in the organisation for an informal chat about what it’s like. These people will give you insights on the culture that you wont get from a job application or the recruitment page of their corporate website.

What if you’re an introvert and don’t feel comfortable ‘promoting yourself’

Introversion and extroversion are about where you get your energy from – yourself or other people. Building your personal brand doesn’t have to be shouting how great you are or showing off. We don’t recommend that! You have to build your brand in a way that adds value to your audience and feels ok for you.

Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, build relationships strategically. Whether you are building a reputation internally or externally, think about who needs to know you and focus on building your reputation with them. Think about who you need in your ‘personal boardroom’. Focus on those people. Check out the book ‘Who is in your personal boardroom?’ for more detail on how to do this.

You also have a choice of whether it’s important to develop your reputation outside your immediate circle or not. For example, you can build your personal brand to a wider audience through public speaking, posting comments online, blogging or deliberate publicity. The benefits must outweigh the discomfort. When I first became a freelancer I decided that I needed to build my brand so people would know how I could help them. The pain of public speaking, blogging and creating publicity was worth the reward of a successful freelance career. It was really painful at first. I blogged for months before I actually shared a blog with anyone!

How you show up on social media is about being thoughtful as to how you want to come across, who your audience is and what you want them to think. How personal do you want to be? How much do your audience what you to share? A good litmus test is to think ‘What if that was written on the front page of the paper?’ or ‘What would my parents say?’ or ‘What would my children say?’

If you’d be unhappy for the press, your parents or your children to see the post – then don’t post it. Simple.

Antoinette’s advice is to consider if building your brand outside of your immediate circle is important that you do it in a comfortable way and break down the task into the smallest steps. For example, when posting on LinkedIn, rather than share your views on the Brexit shambles, you might choose to thank others for the work they’ve done with you this year. That way you’ve posted something, nothing is controversial and you’ve made other people feel good – and if one of the traits of your brand is ‘being thoughtful’ then you reinforce that too.

We like to be liked and our personal brand won’t suit everyone. And that’s ok. What’s important is that you are perceived in the way you want to be by the people that matter and that you are your real and best you.

If you’d like some help with building your personal brand, you might benefit from joining the Lucidity Network. It’s a pick and mix of online and offline learning and connection to a dynamic network of people that can help you. We’re open to new members a few times a year. Join the Lucidity Community Facebook group to get in the Lucidity groove for clearer thinking and better results and be the first to hear when the Lucidity Network is open for members.

Running a home business on a hectic schedule

Running a home business

A guest blog from Eva Benoit.

There are a lot of reasons you may not be able to run your home business on a regular 9-to-5 schedule. Perhaps you are in school and you have a great idea that you can only capitalize on once you graduate. Or, maybe you’re nursing an infant at home and your schedule is their out-of-whack sleep schedule.

Whatever your reason to work outside the normal full-time parameters, it’s not impossible to do so. You can make your not 9-5  home-based business work with these helpful tips.

Your own space

The one thing every person trying to run a home business needs is a designated workspace where they can get what needs to be done without distractions. You may not have a whole room available for an office, but at the very least you need a corner or a desk where you can file necessary papers, set up your computer, and have a home base for whatever it is you need to run your business. Optimizing said workspace for productivity ensures you make the most of what limited hours you can work in your bonkers schedule.

Lighting is important; as light synchronizes your circadian rhythm. You can use artificial light to help your body switch into productivity mode even if you’re working the night shift. If you really have a hard time staying awake and motivated, consider light therapy.  It can be helpful in the winter when symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can rear their ugly heads.

Other ways to optimize a home workspace:

  • Add some life to the area! Houseplants and fish tanks can help people think in a more creative manner. They may also improve performance, ease anxiety and aid in your ability to focus on your work.
  • Use color psychology to curate a workspace that motivates in the specific way you need.  For instance, those who find themselves needing a pick-me-up when it’s time to work can benefit from energizing shades of orange and red in their office. Those who thrive in a practical and ordered environment can work with neutral tones that emit cleanliness, stability, and practicality.
  • KISS- Keep it simple, stupid! Having too much clutter in your workspace is a huge bane to productivity. Embrace minimalism and learn to stay organized from the get-go so you don’t have to waste time on major clean-out and reorganization projects.

Save money wherever you can

Funds mean flexibility. Cut costs wherever you can and pocket those savings into an emergency fund, making sure you have something to fall back on if you have to take a hiatus or you fall behind because of your crazy schedule. Instead of embracing a “spend money to make money mentality,” use these helpful tips to pinch pennies:

  • When outfitting your office, buy furniture used. Look for deals through newspaper ads, bankruptcy sales, Craigslist and surplus offices at nearby schools.
  • Connect with other home-based business owners to pool your purchasing power. You can save major moolah when you buy in bulk. However, when it’s just you on the team, you don’t really need 100 boxes of printer paper for the month. When you split the costs and products between multiple business owners, it makes more sense while saving your pennies.
  • Work with local suppliers. Not only will you save on shipping if you pick things up yourself, but you establish real relationships with people that can make a difference in your professional success. Their connections and word-of-mouth endorsements are worth more than anything some marketing agency can do.

No more excuses! You can start the business of your dreams despite your crazy schedule. Establishing a designated space for work helps shift your mindset to work mode. You can increase productivity even in your wonky hours with lighting, color, houseplants and minimalist decor. When you save money at every corner, you can turn those savings into a safety net for your business. Buy used, pool your purchasing power and shop local to save big all the while making valuable connections.

Eva Benoit specializes in helping professionals with stress and anxiety, but welcomes working with people from all walks of life, visit her site.

If you’re thinking about setting up from home you might also benefit from the Lucidity Network – a pick and mix of online and offline practical tools and advice as well as access to a dynamic network of expertise. We have designed the Lucidity Network to help you take the lead in getting the results that you want. We’re open for new members a few times a year. Sign up to the waiting list to be the first to know when the Network is open for new members. In the meantime you can join the Lucidity Community free Facebook group  for clearer thinking and better results.  

Consistent persistence and travelling solo

I frequently travel on my own for work. I enjoy it, but there are moments when at the end of a long day I just don’t want the effort of humouring waiting staff who don’t know how to behave around a woman travelling on their own. In my experience we’re either ignored, are over attended to or are treated to wry amusement mixed with pity.

I’ve had some amazing solo trips including, diving in the Red Sea, driving across Australian deserts and exploring floating markets in Vietnam, but I do make different decisions when I’m travelling on my own because I’m always thinking about my own safety.

There is a lot of joy in solo travel but sometimes when you feel unsafe and opt for room service over exploring the local eateries it can feel like a missed opportunity.

That’s why I particularly enjoyed speaking to Carolyn Pearson recently, a kindred spirit, solo world traveller and founder of Maiden Voyage, a business that supports lone women travellers.

Maiden Voyage provides a global network for women travellers, travel safety tips and advice and accommodation recommendations for hotels that have been vetted to be safe for women travelling on their own by Maiden Voyage inspectors.

Carolyn told me about the beginnings of her idea for Maiden Voyage back in 2008 when she was working in LA and decided to have a mini break and stay a few extra days. Downtown LA was deserted at the weekend, which was fine during the day, but at night it felt different. For example, taking a taxi back from nearby beaches in the dark was riddled with uncertainties. Things you wouldn’t worry about if you were with other people or in a familiar place, like, “is it safe on my own?’ and ‘do I just hail a cab or should I order one?’ Being confined to a hotel in the evening because she felt unsafe on her own felt like she as missing out on the whole point of staying a few extra days – to explore and have fun. It made Carolyn wonder how many other women had been in the same situation.

Carolyn had the idea of Maiden Voyage as a way for women travellers to connect with fellow business travellers. Coming from a tech background her approach was to test her idea. She made a prototype, developed a website and put it online.

According to Carolyn, Maiden Voyage wasn’t ever meant to be a full-time business. It was a sideline set up to help fellow women travellers. Carolyn just wanted to cover her costs as she juggled a hectic day job.

However, the Maiden Voyage site was live and gaining traction. Then a lady asked for a recommendation for a hotel that would be suitable for single women travellers in Beijing. This led to the idea of vetting hotels and providing references under the Maiden Voyage certified brand ‘Female Friendly Hotels’.

Maiden Voyage was featured on CNN, the New York Times, on the BBC and in the Guardian. It was only then that Carolyn started to consider Maiden Voyage as a business. She quit her day job of Head of e-commerce for easyJet in 2013.

Today the business has developed its business model and is primarily a corporate membership programme and clients include Leeds Beckett University, Richemont, BP as well as a number of Silicon Valley and Hollywood big hitters. They also deliver training for women travellers on how to stay safe and train hospitality and hotel staff on how to help women travellers feel safe and comfortable, for example when eating in a restaurant alone – simple things that unless you’ve been a single woman traveller you wouldn’t think of, like sitting looking out into the restaurant rather than at the wall and to refrain from wry sympathy, over attention or keeping a wide berth. They have recently released their training as an e-learning package to make it more accessible for the larger Corporates.

“I wake up and do my best every day to achieve as much as I can for the company – and that’s the best I can do”

As with anything new, there have been challenges for Maiden Voyage. Carolyn says that initially sales were a challenge “I didn’t want to be a sales person – selling hotel advertising”

The business model has shifted as Maiden Voyage has developed from making money from selling advertising space to a corporate membership model. Carolyn has also discovered that sales for Maiden Voyage are about owning their space in the market and raising their visibility so that people come to them. “Cold calling is demoralising, you need to be able to make deals without picking up the phone. I’ve found that the less we sell the more people buy. You achieve that by building relationships and being passionate about what you do”

Don’t be afraid to ask for help “Finding the right mentor is like dating – it’s about equal roles”

One piece of advice from Carolyn is not to be afraid to ask for help. Get a mentor. She has five or six different mentors, each one has their specialist area, for a tricky sales question she’ll ask the mentor with sales experience, for a motivational shove she’ll ask someone else. Finding the range of skills and experience that you need might not all be in one person.

“Sometimes you can have too many mentors – especially if they don’t all agree you can be debilitated by conflicting advice”

You also have to seek opportunities to meet the mentors you want, for example, one of Carolyn’s mentors is Lara Morgan, an author, motivational speaker and venture capitalist. Lara and Carolyn met when Lara was speaking at an event at Cranfield School of Management. Carolyn was in the audience and asked a question. Lara asked a question back. At the end of the event, Lara took Carolyn aside and offered herself as a mentor.

Carolyn’s two pieces of advice for anyone thinking of getting a mentor are:

  • Don’t make yourself look miniature in comparison to them. Plant an idea in their mind so they want to mentor you.
  • If you are in awe of them it reduces the value to them – they are busy people and have to believe in you and what you do.

Consistence persistence

Carolyn’s advice for anyone trying to innovate is….

  • You never know how close you are to a breakthrough – don’t give up. Her mantra is “consistent persistence”
  • Don’t over think it – the product, service or invention you are working on now, won’t be the final thing.
  • You can spend forever over engineering something that no one wants. Get your minimal viable product (MVP) into the market as quickly as you can and see how your customers respond.
  • You have to be resilient and so ‘apply your own oxygen mask first’. Take regular exercise, get enough sleep and look after yourself. Don’t feel guilty about doing that either.
  • Days off are important. Carolyn says, “I have my best thinking on days off. Once I was watching a deal like a kettle waiting to boil. On my day off with a bit of space, I realised that there could be a better way with a different partner which could have a 20 fold impact to the way I was currently approaching the situation”
  • The key is consistent persistence. Whatever the problem, by persevering you’ll work it out.

If you’d like to learn more insights from other successful innovators check out the new Innovation Leadership Launchpad – a mix of case stories and practical tips to help you innovate. Order your free copy straight into your inbox today.