How to balance work-life during COVID-19

If you’re anything like me, finding a work-life balance during COVID-19 has been a whole new beast. You work from home, finish up your day, then you go…. well probably not too far.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have been working from home for over two years now. However, the current COVID-19 restrictions have put a whole new meaning to that.  

Here are four ways I try to keep the balance:

Have a routine – Every morning I wake up at the same time, feed and let my dogs out, and start the workday. Also, make time for lunch, or in my case gym time (this might be a workout at home) to help clear the mind mid-day. This might seem like a simple thing, but when you’re working from home, it’s important to be able to stick to a routine.

Take breaks – In a regular 9-5 there are breaks that are, in most cases, mandatory. These should not go away just because your office location has changed. It’s important to take a little time during the workday to stand up, move around, and maybe take a 10-minute walk. I’ve found that this helps me to refocus and re-energize to get me through the day.

Set a stop time – Actually end your workday. If you’re newer to working from home (like many are right now) this might seem crazy, but yes, it’s important. I try to set a time of 5pm to turn off my work and step away. Does this always happen? Of course not, but having a set time helps me separate work from the rest of life.

Do something to tell your body that work is over – So, this is where I have had to alter my routine since the beginning of the pandemic, that I didn’t find necessary before. These days you can’t easily run to the store for fun or go out for happy hour with some friends. For me, I always try to take my dogs on a longer walk after I’ve finished my workday, and then I read on the balcony. Since COVID-19 I’ve realized there is apparently a limit to how much binge-watching you can do… and I think I’ve hit it. With that, I’ve been trying to add in little things that change up my day and enjoy some things that I normally “wouldn’t have time for”.

This is how I’ve been able to keep a “normal” balance between work and my outside life during COVID that has helped me stay on task. I’d love for you to share your experiences and suggestions. You can reach me at jack.miller@vernoncompany.com.

Virtual job search. Step one: Wear pants

How to successfully navigate a virtual job search. Step one: Wear pants.

With hiring freezes, furloughs, stay-at-home orders and more than 26 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits over the last five weeks, the coronavirus pandemic may not be the best time to find a new job.

But career experts say you can get hired now, and despite enhanced unemployment benefits, those who have been laid off might not want to spend their time watching Netflix until the stay-at-home order is lifted.

There may be opportunities for remote work in distant markets that wouldn’t have been possible before COVID-19. So update your resume, arrange your home office for a good video interview and, experts advise, don’t forget to wear pants.

Lean on Supplier Partners

In an industry that relies on someone else doing the selling of products, promotional products industry suppliers are a wealth of knowledge and expertise. If you haven’t been leaning on your supplier’s bank of ideas for your customers, you are missing out. Suppliers have the products, but without the buyers, the products mean nothing.

Here is why they are invested in you:

  1. Good suppliers think through all of the uses of their products for end-users and industries before they bring them to market.
  2. Suppliers have little influence over the sales process through distributors but the more they can affect change, the better they can control their sales cycle.
  3. This is one small way the supplier can influence the selling process when it is seemingly out of their hands.

“As a business philosophy, we are invested in the long-term success of the distributors we serve, rather than just valuing the transaction. As a result, one of the areas we can add tremendous value is by providing sales resources and ideas. Promotional products aren’t anything special just on their own. What makes them magical is when they are used in a way to effectively drive a call to action, invoke emotions, or shape attitudes. To accomplish this at the highest level, it requires experience, expertise, and creativity. The most successful suppliers and distributors going forward are those who embrace this. By working together, there is the potential to provide end-users with returns and outcomes that surpass any other advertising medium available,” explained Nate Robson of industry supplier, Raining Rose.

Why suppliers are better at bringing ideas to the table:

  1. As distributors, we have thousands of products we represent. With so many products to choose from, how could you possibly be the expert for all of them?
  2. Suppliers know why each product was introduced and what market it is targeted for. They know how it’s unique features can solve your customer’s business problems.
  3. Suppliers help a diverse group of distributors all day with those specific products and know how they are working best for individualized markets. Why reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to?

Here is a simple way you can get started:

Be proactive. Take the industry you sell to the most and schedule an appointment with yourself for 15 minutes each week. In those 15 minutes, make a folder with that market, compose a personal email asking a supplier to help you generate ideas for this specific market or industry. Send the email to your favorite suppliers until your time is up. That’s it for now unless you can find more time. As you get responses, throw the ideas in the folder you created. Next week, you will go to the folder and find your favorite ideas, start sending them to clients and potential clients with a nice personal email.

Sometimes, nothing will happen. Sometimes, you may prompt an order or another opportunity with that client. You never know, but really, you are only out 15 minutes which you might have easily wasted away… binging potato chips or browsing through your favorite shopping site? From the supplier side, they know the value of bringing you ideas with their products, if they do a good job of telling the story, you will get an order and that means…they will get the order. Win. Win.

“I like to use the phrase ‘one-stop-shop’ when it comes to acting as a liaison for project requests.  I personally enjoy working on projects from the ground up by suggesting products that fit provided guidelines and then seeing the project all the way through. That includes the initial product recommendations, creating and providing mockups, providing price quotes, processing the order, and providing tracking once completed. This is especially helpful for distributors who are unfamiliar with our products; seeing a website with loads of products may be overwhelming to start but we are able to easily eliminate products that are not a good fit for a given project. Additionally, since Origaudio is now part of Hub Promotional Group (HPG), we are able to combine our product offerings with other companies within our group. For example, a client needs a speaker and a water bottle: Origaudio may be a good fit for the speaker but we only carry one water bottle; we can loop in our sister company. It’s best to provide the water bottle and have everything fulfilled at one facility on the back end to take the burden off of the distributor,” shared Bryan Woods with Origaudio.

What are you waiting for? You can see suppliers are anxious to help you and do what they do best! Let these partnerships take you to the next level.

Yes, There Is Video Chat Etiquette. Here Are 10 Rules.

Office? What’s an office? Nowadays we work on our home sofas. We check in with the office — or with the co-workers who would inhabit such an office, if it existed — from remote locations. And sure, email’s great, but sometimes you just need to speak face to face, and that’s why we have video calls.

Whether you use Skype or Google Hangout or some other program, there are some general guidelines you ought to follow. The word “etiquette” may summon images of tea sets and green lampshades and haughty Victorians with their curling mustaches — but you wouldn’t show up to a live business meeting without giving some thought to how you appear and behave, so don’t do that for an online one, either. Here are ten key rules of etiquette for doing business over video in our often-remote, always-connected age.

1. Test your technology.
Open your app ahead of time to check for any software updates, and try a test call or two to make sure everything’s kosher with both your camera and your microphone. Nothing looks more amateur than running late while your 2009 MacBook reboots with a new Skype update, or logging in to a video conference and yelling “Can you hear me now?” like the 2011 Verizon spokesman we all inevitably think of.

2. Look nice.
Yes, you do need to look … nice. That doesn’t necessarily mean a suit, but it absolutely means no bathrobe. Most people look worse in low-res video than in real life, so this might be a good time to find a clean shirt and maybe comb your hair. “Whatever fashion choice you’re making, keep it neat, keep it clean, take some pride in your appearance,” says Daniel Senning, an etiquette consultant at the Emily Post Institute. “That is part of your reputation, that’s part of how you present professionally.”

A tip: Small, fussy patterns and extreme colors (red, white, black) fare poorly on camera. Pastels, on the other hand, do well. So in video, as in life, be like Don Johnson.

3. Make your background look nice. A bare hotel room wall will do fine if that’s what you’ve got, and a crowded bookshelf with a few personal tchotchkes may help others get to know you. But before you join the call, look behind you. Please keep pin-up girls, 1990s magic eye posters, and ransom notes written in blood out of the picture. A key thing to think about is lighting: People would prefer not to speak to a cave-dwelling troll, but if overhead light is too bright, you’ll look like a zombie. Ideally, you want even, plentiful light coming from the side, not blasting into the camera. You may need to draw the window shades (or open them) to get it.

4. Don’t go straight to video.
Are you a bad movie? Most likely not. So don’t go straight to video — reach out to the person you want to video chat with beforehand in a less intrusive medium like text or telephone, to make sure they’re available. Only once you have their permission should you initiate a video call. And if they decline, do not under any circumstances keep bugging them.

5. If their camera is on, yours should be, too.
This is a judgment call, but generally, if you’re on a video call with several colleagues, and their cameras are all on, it looks bad for you to leave yours off. Any choice you make about the camera reflects on your professional image, Senning says. If he’s on a video call with someone who’s “working from home” that day, and they don’t turn their camera on, “I say to myself, ‘They probably didn’t even get dressed this morning.’” The slackers.

6. Look ‘em in the lens.
A secret to video calls is that looking into the camera is the equivalent of looking others in the eye — that’s how you appear attentive on the other end. For that reason, Senning advises positioning your camera close to where you’d naturally be looking on your screen. You don’t have to be looking into it at all times, but if you’re presenting in the meeting, it’s good to give that li’l lens some love.

7. Do not submit to distractions.
On an audio-only conference call, it can be okay to stand up, move around the room, fidget, even play with your phone — because no one will know. On a video call, everyone will notice the second you become distracted. On camera, you need to adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward sending email, texting, eating (duh!), and doing anything else that might betray your wandering mind. Typing on your laptop while using it for the video call is a particular sin, since the microphone is likely right next to the keyboard, which means you’re pounding that Facebook status straight into everyone else’s ears.

8. Control your environment
In a perfect world, you’d take video calls in a quiet room with a door that locks. But unless you live in a very different place than what we know, you’ll need to optimize the environment you got. The worst environment for video calls is a crowded coffee shop, with slow wi-fi, lots of background noise, and frazzled, overcaffeinated techies scampering in the background. Hey, did we just describe your open-plan office? Pro video callers often make a sign to either hang on the door or hold up to others that says, “I’m on a video call because I rule at business, leave me alone.” Or something. And if your naked four-year-old does wander into the frame with a paintball gun, be cool while dealing with it: Anything you do with co-workers watching will influence your professional reputation, Senning says.

9. Know what’s supposed to happen.
A video call can do almost everything an IRL meeting can do, but maintaining order with a large group of people is much harder through a screen than in person. For that reason, Senning suggests that any video call with more than three or four people should have a clear structure: a designated host, an agenda, time set aside for questions and comments, and maybe even a hand-raising policy. It’s better to go back to third grade than to be constantly and accidentally interrupting one another.

10. Don’t forget that the mic and the camera are on, especially when it’s over.
Nothing is more embarrassing than thinking you’ve ended a video call, blurting out, “Well, we’ll never work with those bozos,” and then realizing the microphone is still on. Or throwing shade at a co-worker via video and then learning that they’re listening on the other side. These are easy things to do on video calls, where audio often runs through a separate channel (like the phone), you may not be able to see everyone on the other end, and the contents of your screen may be shared. So please, to save everyone a lethal amount of shame, warn others about live mics and cameras, tell people on the other side of calls who else is present, and use discretion about what’s on your screen. Real talk should commence only after you’ve triple-checked that everything is disconnected.

Don’t be afraid of Social Media

As someone who has grown up with social media for a good part of his life, ranging all the way from the Myspace days to where we are now with LinkedIn, Snapchat, Instagram, etc., a question that has always been on my mind is; “How do I leverage this new age communication to benefit my business goals of boosting new and existing sales?”

I’d be lying if I said I knew the exact formula to make you really stand out, but if you’re new to social media, the following 6 recommendations will help to make this space seem a little more manageable.

  1. JUST DO IT. I’ve been guilty of this as much as the next person, spending so much time thinking about “What should I post?” or “Will people even care about this?
  2. ” that I end up not posting anything. That’s why I always say just start with anything. Let people know that you’re out there and that you’re active in social media.
  3. Almost as important as actually creating the post, is posting consistently. I personally use LinkedIn for most of my business-related posts, and I try to add new content at least three times a week. Setting up a consistent schedule will ensure that you are getting your name and brand out there without overwhelming your connections (or yourself) with too much content.
  4. Once you’ve committed to posting frequently with a schedule that is manageable, we’re now back to the question of what to post. When considering different subjects and topics, I believe that your primary objective is to make the content unique. You want to show people your personality while keeping it professional (let people see who you are and why you’re different). This is really your opportunity to shine!
  5. After each post, I use a simple feature available on LinkedIn that allows me to see “Views of your post”.  Knowing know how many people have seen the post itself as well as any likes, shares or comments really gives me an idea of how well the post was received and helps to point me in the direction I need to consider going in future posts.
  6. Finally, always consider your audience. You’re going to want to connect with the right people to get the most benefit out of each post. For starters, connect with the clients that you already have good relationships with to increase their top of mind awareness of you, your products and your services. You should also add prospective clients that you’re trying to win in order to grow your customer base. The goal would be to create interest with prospects with useful content that gets them to think, “Wow, I need to work with this person!” Along with connecting with potential clients, you can also message them directly using LinkedIn’s InMail feature. This is another effective way to reach them, particularly if you’ve been finding it hard to connect using more traditional methods.

As we all know, there are so many ways to reach new and existing clients to boost your business, and using social media is an easy addition to the ones you’re already using. Once you get started, you’ll be surprised how easily you can become a social media-posting whiz.

Reflections

As I reflect on this passing year, I feel great pride knowing we all work in an exciting industry – a field that is ever-changing & dynamic. That pride also transcends the innovation into tradition. In a time where it seems like nearly every business is a ‘start-up,’ it’s incredibly rewarding to work for a century-old family company. And it goes way beyond the name Vernon.

Attending the national sales meeting, co-hosting a holiday luncheon, connecting at an industry show – it always feels like home to me. I have had the pleasure & honor to work with my dad and brothers for many years. Additionally, my email and text messages are filled with notes from people I have known my entire life – these are my extended family members.

Remarkably, most of our newer team members fit right in – sharing everything but the past.   

Both groups make up Vernon’s greatest asset – our team. My father instilled those words in us. We all share in that legacy and we are mindful of the blessings associated with working in the same industry & hometown for all these years.

As the shades are drawn on 2019, let’s all reflect on our incredible team – and on our successes and set-backs – and learn from them. When that ball drops on December 31st – it’s a new slate.

May your personal and professional dreams come true in 2020. Wishing the very warmest regards to my work family for a joyous holiday season and a prosperous new year.  

The Vernon Company is recognized as one of the largest and most successful promotional product firms in North America. Founded in 1902 by F.L. Vernon, we serve more than 40,000 customers from our Newton, Iowa corporate headquarters.

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