Virtual Presentations, Meetings Require New Approaches for Success

While working remotely has become the new norm for many employers and employees, it's important to keep a strong communication base, especially with team meetings and presentations. Read this blog post from SHRM on various strategies to succeed in leading online meetings.


As more people work from home, many are being asked to take on tasks and use technologies with which they have only a passing familiarity, such as leading team meetings and presenting online rather than in person.

SHRM Online spoke with experts about the different strategies required to succeed in those scenarios, as well as how to use the features embedded in videoconferencing and Web conferencing platforms.

Presenting Online

Giving presentations online rather than in person requires thinking about how to design PowerPoint slides, keep remote audiences engaged when they're facing more distractions and troubleshoot technology snafus that arise in these situations.

Pick up the pace. Attention spans dwindle during virtual presentations. "That doesn't mean you need to cut the amount of your presentation content, but rather that you spread it over more slides so there is more frequent on-screen change for audiences," said Roger Courville, a Portland, Ore.-based speaker and trainer who teaches people how to communicate online and is the author of The Virtual Presenter's Handbook (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2009).

Be proactive in guiding audience attention. Presenters should assume that some people are multitasking during an online presentation, Courville said. "You have to ask what the audience is taking away if at times they only glance at what you're presenting," he said. "One thing you can do is make sure the titles on your slides are more descriptive and capture the main point of the slide."

Virtual presenters also should use their voices to guide viewer attention, said Andrew Dlugan, a communications and presentation skills trainer in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Don't rely only on slide pointers or annotation tools provided on Web conferencing platforms.

"What happens if some people aren't looking at their screens for a while?" he said. "A presenter might say something like 'What do you see below the picture of the woman on this slide?' or 'Look at the data on the right-hand portion of your slide.' "

Courville said presenters should monitor audience attention levels by checking whether people are actively participating on chat features or submitting questions during a moderated Q&A. Some Web conferencing platforms also have a feature called an attention indicator that detects the active application on audience members' screens. If a conference participant has switched to checking e-mail, for example, that tool would register the change. Courville said that while the tool shouldn't be used punitively, it can help presenters get a read on when attendees may be drifting away so they can switch tactics, such as by introducing an audience poll or a short Q&A.

Unnecessary flair can cause technical problems. The use of animation and complex transitions on slides might work well in person, but they can cause problems online, said Bethany Auck, founder and creative director of SlideRabbit, a presentation design and production company in Denver.

Web conferencing platforms handle slide upload and display differently, and experts say it's best to go simple when designing slides, keep file sizes low, and avoid the use of animations or complicated transition techniques between slides.

Consider slide contrast issues and viewer screen size. Assume that many will be viewing your online presentation from smaller laptop screens or even on mobile devices, said Ken Molay, president of Webinar Success, a Web conferencing training and consulting company in Cary, N.C. "Design your slides as if you're creating them for viewers in the back of a large auditorium," Molay said. "Use larger fonts and plenty of white space, and don't put things near the edges of your slides."

Keep in mind that you won't be able to see how your slides display on your audience's screens, and your viewers' computer settings for contrast, brightness and color may vary widely. "Remember that light colors can easily wash out online. Stick with high-contrast color designs, and avoid using subtle tone variations that can be difficult for virtual audiences to see," Molay said.

Leading Small-Group Virtual Meetings

Many of us have been conditioned to hold hourlong meetings, but experts say that standard should be reconsidered with today's new reality.

"One of the most powerful tools built into videoconferencing solutions is the instant meeting," Courville said. "You can easily set up virtual meetings and collaboration sessions in short blocks of time as needed. There are product development teams I know who hold 15-minute videoconferences every morning. The medium can be used as flexibly as a phone call."

Leaders, mute yourself when others are speaking. "Many of us use words like 'OK' or 'uh-huh' as confirmation that we're listening when others are speaking," Molay said. "But in an online meeting, especially if you're the leader or a person of higher authority, others often hear that and they stop talking, wondering if you wanted to interrupt to say something or even that they might have said something wrong. If you stay completely silent, it lets people complete their thoughts."

Not all technology platforms are created alike. If you haven't yet purchased a videoconferencing or Web conferencing platform (most major providers are offering discounts or free trial versions of products during the coronavirus outbreak), Molay said it's important to understand the differences between systems.

For example, the videoconferencing platform Zoom is among those that Molay said have a useful "push to talk" feature that is handy for small-group virtual meetings.

"Everyone enters the meeting in a default mute mode, but when they hold down the space bar, it opens up their microphone," he said. "It only stays open while it's pressed and people are speaking, like the old walkie-talkie."

Molay said the feature is good for group discussions in which everyone wants a chance to participate but a leader doesn't want all microphones open at once, since they're likely to pick up background noise when participants work from home.

You also may want to compare audience polling tools in different systems, Molay said. "Some only allow for a few response choices, while others offer more," he said. Many users will also likely want a polling feature that allows participants to select the best answer rather than all that apply, he said.

Question management tools—a helpful feature for more-structured and moderated Web conferences—also can vary by platform. These tools give session leaders a way to prioritize audience questions.

"If you have 100 people in a Web conference, you'll want a way to mark that certain questions might be a high priority to address on air versus a lower priority that you can follow up on later," Molay said. "Some platforms are better than others in how they allow you to reorder and organize questions."

He added that other key system features to evaluate are the number of participants allowed on video calls, ability to automatically record Web conferences for later viewing, and tools that allow you to easily edit recordings or create transcripts of online meetings.

Watch how you position yourself on webcam. Don't position yourself in front of bright windows, which will place you in shadows. Raise your laptop so the camera is at eye level or higher.

"Laptop webcams are sitting lower and often shoot straight up into your nostrils," Molay said. "That's not the best look for most people."

Troubleshooting Technical Problems

People will inevitably experience problems with video, audio transmission or other functions in virtual settings. "The first thing to do is isolate whether it's just that person having the issue or  everyone," Courville said. "In most cases it's just one person, but you usually don't want to stop the whole meeting or presentation just because one person is having a problem."

Molay said leaders can afford to spend only a limited amount of time trying to fix an individual's issues. "It's easy to focus on squeaky wheels in online settings, but you don't want to slow down 30 people to satisfy one person."

Meeting leaders also can mute and unmute participants on most platforms if people are having technical issues and bothering others, Courville said.

Auck, SlideRabbit's founder, said one tactic she uses when leading virtual presentations or workshops is to keep a second computer in view and log in as an attendee. "It won't account for all of the variables of people logging in remotely, but you'll have a tighter view of any lag in how your slides are advancing for viewers," she said.

Mike Fasciani, senior research director at research and advisory firm Gartner, said employees who reside in bandwidth-challenged areas can take steps such as turning off video and joining meetings using dial-in audio options while still seeing the content that's being shared through a browser.

Remote workers also can use their 4G-enabled smartphones rather than laptops or desktops in virtual meetings, he said. "Many video-meeting and workstream collaboration applications were built with a mobile-first design intent and so work as well as, if not better than, the desktop and Web client access," he said.

SOURCE: Zielinski, D. (30 March 2020) "Virtual Presentations, Meetings Require New Approaches for Success" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/technology/pages/virtual-presentations-meetings-require-new-approaches.aspx


Soft skills training is a priority, but lack of time and resources stands in the way

While soft skills training may be the number one priority for most HR professionals, allocating time and resources is one of the biggest challenges standing in the way. Read this blog post to learn more.


Dive Brief:

  • Soft skills training is the No. 1 priority for more than a quarter of HR and L&D professionals in a Talespin study released in March. Nearly half of the 70 respondents ranked it among their top three priorities.
  • But lack of time and resources stand in the way of soft skills training, reported nearly 70% of the respondents. Other challenges included difficulty measuring ROI and insufficient or ineffective training tools. Developing tech may make up for this, however. More than half of respondents said they are "actively implementing" e-learning tools, which allow employers "to offer personalized feedback and a safe learning environment."
  • Leadership is the most highly sought soft skill; nearly two-thirds of respondents said it was "a key point of focus in 2019."

Dive Insight:

Soft skills have been in high demand for quite some time. LinkedIn declared soft skills the top training priority of 2018, and many reports since have heralded the demand for and importance of soft skills throughout job levels, job functions and industries.

The infiltration of AI-based technology at work has partly created the demand for soft skills, changing the way most work is performed, an MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab report concluded in October. In doing so, tasks that require soft skills — the tasks that cannot be automated —​ are increasing in value. And as those tasks gain importance, so do the skills workers use to complete them, the report said.

Perhaps ironically, the same tech that created the need for soft skills is establishing itself as the medium for soft skills training. In fact, Talespin launched a "virtual human technology" tool last year aimed at helping workers learn soft skills such as communication, empathy and leadership in "a safe, repeatable learning environment." Tyson Foods used virtual reality (VR) tools to conduct safety and hazard awareness training. And Walmart has used VR to train associates to cope with crowds ahead of Black Friday.

SOURCE: Clarey, K. (24 March 2020) "Soft skills training is a priority, but lack of time and resources stands in the way" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.hrdive.com/news/soft-skills-training-is-a-priority-but-lack-of-time-and-resources-stands-i/574779/


Trump Signs Coronavirus Relief Bill with Paid-Leave Mandate

As the COVID-19 pandemic cases increase, employees are stuck choosing between staying home to avoid spreading the illness and working for a paycheck to pay their household bills. Due to the effect that the spread of coronavirus has created, the U.S. Senate has approved the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Continue reading this blog post from SHRM to learn more.


The U.S. Senate approved the Families First Coronavirus Response Act in a 90-8 vote on March 18, and President Donald Trump signed it into law a few hours later. The bill will provide free screening, paid leave and enhanced unemployment insurance benefits for people affected by COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill late on March 13. After several days of negotiation, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced that negotiators had reached a deal with the White House to pass the bill. "We cannot slow the coronavirus outbreak when workers are stuck with the terrible choice between staying home to avoid spreading illness and the paycheck their family can't afford to lose," Pelosi said.

Republican senators were concerned that the bill might hurt small businesses, and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said lawmakers are working on another bill that would include relief for small businesses. McConnell said he would not adjourn the Senate until the third COVID-19 economic stimulus package is passed, CNN reported.

Trump declared a national emergency March 13, which frees up billions of dollars to fund public health and removes restrictions on hospitals to treat more patients. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) will provide:

  • Free coronavirus testing.
  • Paid emergency leave.
  • Enhanced unemployment insurance.
  • Additional funding for nutritional programs.
  • Protections for health care workers and employees responsible for cleaning at-risk places.
  • Additional federal funds for Medicaid.

We've rounded up articles and resources from SHRM Online and other trusted media outlets on the news.

Paid Family Leave

As originally drafted, H.R. 6201 would have temporarily provided workers with two-thirds of their wages for up to 12 weeks of qualifying family and medical leave for a broad range of COVID-19-related reasons. The revised version of the bill will only provide such leave when employees can't work because their minor child's school or child care service is closed due to a public health emergency. Workers who have been on the payroll for at least 30 calendar days will be eligible for paid family leave benefits, which will be capped at $200 a day (or $10,000 total) and expire at the end of the year.

(Littler)

Paid Sick Leave

Under the bill, many employers will have to provide 80 hours of paid-sick-leave benefits for several reasons, including if the employee has been ordered by the government to quarantine or isolate or has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine because of COVID-19. Employees could also use paid sick leave when they have symptoms of COVID-19 and are seeking a medical diagnosis, if they are caring for someone who is in quarantine or isolation, or their child's school or child care service is closed because of the public health emergency. Paid-sick-leave benefits will be immediately available when the law takes effect and capped at $511 a day for a worker's own care and $200 a day when the employee is caring for someone else. This benefit will also expire at the end of 2020.

(CNN)

Large and Small Business Exceptions

Private businesses with at least 500 employees are not covered by the bill. "I don't support U.S. taxpayer money subsidizing corporations to provide benefits to workers that they should already be providing," Pelosi said on Twitter. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also said that "big companies can afford these things."

Covered employers that are required to offer emergency FMLA or paid sick leave will be eligible for refundable tax credits. Employers with fewer than 50 workers can apply for an exemption from providing paid family and medical leave and paid sick leave if it "would jeopardize the viability of the business." Gig-workers and other self-employed workers will be eligible for a tax credit to cover the benefits.

(The Washington Post)

Lawmakers Previously Approved $8.3 Billion Emergency Bill

Another emergency spending package to fight coronavirus rapidly worked its way through Congress, and President Donald Trump signed it into law March 6. The measure will provide funds to develop a vaccine, provide protective and laboratory equipment to workers who need it, and aid locations hit with the virus.

(SHRM Online)

Coronavirus Prompts Employers to Review Sick Leave Policies

Do employees have the right to take time off if they are concerned about contracting coronavirus? Can employers send sick workers home? Should employees be paid for missed work time? HR and other business leaders are likely considering these questions and more as COVID-19 makes its way through the United States. "We believe employers would be wise to review their paid-time-off practices immediately," said Francis Alvarez, an attorney with Jackson Lewis in White Plains, N.Y. "Employers are likely to face unique circumstances that were not anticipated when they prepared their attendance and leave policies."

(SHRM Online) 

Visit SHRM's resource page on coronavirus and COVID-19.

SOURCE: Nagele-Piazza, L. (18 March 2020) "Trump Signs Coronavirus Relief Bill with Paid-Leave Mandate" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/Pages/Senate-to-Vote-Soon-on-Coronavirus-Paid-Leave-Mandate.aspx


Early-Career Employees Face the Pandemic

Although working remotely can sound enticing, it can also create an over-abundance of stress for those who are not prepared. Many employees have had to deal with events that affect the workplace, but many of the younger generation employees have not had to deal with a situation like what the coronavirus has brought into businesses across the nation. Read this blog post to learn more about helping employees face the coronavirus pandemic.


Last week, before we understood the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, I spoke with several Millennials. During our discussions, we very quickly transitioned from plans for classes and graduation to what-if questions about the coronavirus pandemic.

More than the questions, though, the body language of the Millennials struck me. It screamed, "Help me get through this—all of it!"

Most of the conversations ended with "I feel so much better now that I talked to you."

Truthfully, I didn't say a lot because I didn't know many of the answers. However, I offered a listening ear, and it made the young adults feel heard and enabled them to share their thoughts, fears and concerns.

I realized at this moment that the power of listening is real, especially during times of uncertainty and crisis. Upon reflection, I wondered what made the Millennials feel safe enough to be vulnerable in front of me, and I realized they saw me as a trusted source.

We have to remember that although we're focused on delivering results, working remotely, managing our family responsibilities and practicing social distancing, as more-experienced workers, we've been doing this (i.e., dealing with uncertainty) a lot longer than early-career employees.

A lot of us have lived and, more importantly, worked during difficult, uncertain times, such as the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, an economic recession, corporate layoffs, and the list goes on.

Each time we faced uncertainty, our tolerance for ambiguity improved, and we were reminded that we can get through this, albeit sometimes with scars.

The coronavirus outbreak may be the most significant uncertainty early-career employees have yet faced at work.

As a result, it is essential that organizations, and especially managers of early-career employees, do the following:

  1. Give employees a chance to vent. Listen more than you talk.
  2. Encourage them to ask questions.
  3. But when you don't know the answer to a question, admit that you don't know.
  4. Share concrete yet simple suggestions to encourage employees (e.g., practice self-care, turn off the news occasionally, go outside for fresh air).
  5. Ask for their input if you feel like that's the natural course of the conversation, but remember that sometimes, asking for ideas creates stress.
  6. Set clear expectations about work deadlines. If you can reduce uncertainty at work, it will help employees navigate other responsibilities.
  7. Communicate the amount of time you expect them to be online, and let them know when it's OK to get offline.
  8. Create fun, daily challenges (e.g., ask your team to share pictures from their favorite vacation spots).
  9. Continue meeting with employees one-on-one virtually, if possible. While it's helpful to have team meetings to ensure that projects and tasks are moving forward, during times of uncertainty, spending time with each of your employees is crucial.
  10. Encourage your employees to follow a routine.

Lastly, although it may sound cliché, remind employees that we will get through this—and remind them more than once.

SOURCE: Sutton, K. (23 March 2020) "Early-Career Employees Face the Pandemic" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/employee-relations/Pages/Early-Career-Employees-Face-the-Pandemic.aspx


4 Sick-Leave Practices to Avoid During the Coronavirus Pandemic

While the spread of the coronavirus continuously increases, employees are urged to stay at home if they feel any symptoms that could be related to the virus. As employers begin to risk lost productivity due to sick leave, they may be tempted to adopt inflexible standards. Continue reading this blog post from SHRM to learn more.


Government officials are urging sick workers to stay home and employers to have flexible leave policies during the coronavirus pandemic. Don't let business pressures and reliance on past practices lead you to make bad decisions about attendance and leave policies during the public health emergency. Here are four mistakes employment law attorneys said businesses should avoid.

1. Being Inflexible

Many employers are understandably worried about the business impact of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. They might be tempted to adopt inflexible sick time or general attendance policies to keep people coming to the workplace in an effort to maximize productivity, said Marissa Mastroianni, an attorney with Cole Schotz in Hackensack, N.J. "But it's a mistake to adopt an inflexible policy that would pressure a sick worker to come to the office," she noted.

Under Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules, employers have a duty to protect employees against known hazards in the workplace. "If one does not already exist, develop an infectious disease preparedness and response plan that can help guide protective actions against COVID-19," OSHA said in its Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19.

The guidance noted that workers might be absent because they are sick or caring for sick family members, need to care for children whose schools or day care centers are closed, have at-risk people at home, or are afraid to come to work because they think they'll be exposed to the virus.

"Don't make employees feel pressured to come in when they shouldn't," Mastroianni said. If employees feel sick or think they have been exposed, they should be told to stay home. "We don't want to wait until someone is actually diagnosed."

Under OSHA rules, employees who reasonably believe they are in imminent danger can't be fired for refusing to come to the worksite. But what if an employee just doesn't feel comfortable reporting to work?

"Be more flexible with existing policies," said Susan Kline, an attorney with Faegre Drinker in Indianapolis. Employers should also consider providing additional sick time for instances of actual illness. If someone can't work from home, decide if offering paid time off is possible.

Some employees may take advantage of a flexible leave policy, Mastroianni said, but the employer's potential for liability is significant if employees are required to report to the workplace when they should stay home.

The analysis could be very fact-specific, and employers may want to contact a lawyer before denying time off.

"For a lot of companies, it's a challenge," Kline said, "because they want to be supportive but also don't know how big this is going to get."

2. Applying Policies Inconsistently

"Employers may choose to relax certain procedures set forth in sick-leave policies under extenuating circumstances, such as the current outbreak," said Jason Habinsky, an attorney with Haynes and Boone in New York City. "However, it is critical that employers apply any such modifications uniformly in order to avoid any claims of discrimination or unfair treatment."

For example, if an employer chooses to excuse absences for or to advance paid time off or vacation time to employees as a result of a COVID-19-related illness, the employer must be certain to do the same for all employees who are absent under similar circumstances.

"This requires employers to ensure that all decision-makers are aware of any temporary or permanent modifications to sick-leave policies to maintain consistency," Habinsky said.

3. Ignoring Leave Laws

All sick-leave policies must comply with applicable state and local paid-sick-leave laws, and these laws may require employers to provide leave for COVID-19-related absences. Although employers may be required to provide leave, they should note that many laws allow employees to decide when to use it.

Employers must also avoid forcing a sick employee to perform services while out on leave, Habinsky noted, as this may constitute interference or retaliation under certain leave laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). In fact, employers must avoid taking any actions against employees that could be construed as retaliation in violation of the FMLA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and applicable state and local paid-sick-leave laws.

"This could include any form of discipline in response to an employee's use of sick time or request to use sick-leave time," Habinsky said. "Likewise, to the extent employees are performing services while working remotely from home, they must be paid for time worked in accordance with applicable federal and state wage laws consistent with their classification as exempt or nonexempt."

Laura Pasqualone, an attorney with Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie in Phoenix, noted that many paid-sick-leave laws prohibit employers from requiring a doctor's note unless the absence is for at least three days. But requiring a medical certification at all could further burden emergency rooms and urgent care facilities and could expose employees to more germs, she said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has urged employers not to require employees to provide a doctor's note to verify their COVID-19-related illness or to return to work.

4. Failing to Actively Encourage Sick Workers to Stay Home

According to the CDC, employers should actively encourage sick employees to stay home by:

  • Telling employees to stay home if they have symptoms of acute respiratory illness, a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher, or signs of a fever. Employees should be fever-free for 24 hours without the use of medication before returning to work.
  • Urging employees to notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick for any reason.
  • Ensuring that the company's sick-leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of the policies.
  • Making sure contractors and staffing agencies inform their employees about the importance of staying home when ill and urging business partners not to reprimand workers who need to take sick leave.
  • Not requiring employees with acute respiratory illness to provide a doctor's note to verify their illness or to return to work, since health care providers may be overwhelmed with requests.
  • Maintaining flexible policies that allow employees to stay home to care for a sick relative.

"Employers should be aware that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other sick family members than is usual," the CDC said.

[Visit SHRM's resource page on coronavirus and COVID-19.]

SOURCE: Nagele-Piazza, L. (18 March 2020) "4 Sick-Leave Practices to Avoid During the Coronavirus Pandemic" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/Pages/4-Sick-Leave-Practices-to-Avoid-During-the-Coronavirus-Pandemic.aspx


How HR leaders can make remote work pain free

As employees begin to transfer from office desks to kitchen tables, their bodies will begin to experience pain that may be foreign. Due to several state governments creating laws about closing down businesses and emphasizing social distancing, working from the comfort of the home may become the new everyday norm. Read this blog post to learn helpful tips on how to stay healthy during this period.


In response to the COVID-19 crisis, workers around the world are leaving their office chairs and desks for couches and kitchen tables. As HR professionals work to keep employees healthy and productive while they're at home, back and neck pain from these ad-hoc arrangements will quickly become another challenge to tackle.

Back pain is extremely common — 80% of us will experience it in our lifetimes. Even under normal circumstances, research has found that back pain in the workplace can make it more difficult to focus and make decisions. And stress and anxiety can make the experience of pain even worse.

“Problems come up when you’re sitting in one position for too long slouched down, or with your back rounded forward,” says Jim White, exercise specialist at Fern Health, a company that provides digital musculoskeletal pain programs to employers. “This can overstretch the ligaments in your spine and put strain on your spinal discs, which protect your vertebrae from rubbing together.”

HR managers can help support employees working remotely by recommending how any workspace can be made safe and comfortable. White suggests the below tips, whether employees are working from their own home office or are making calls from the couch.

Check your posture. Posture alignment makes a big difference, White says. A daily posture checklist should include:

  • Align elbows and wrists. When sitting and typing, elbows should be at ninety degrees and aligned with the wrists. Shoulders should be relaxed and level.
  • Straighten up. There should be a straight line from the top of your head to your back. Don’t let the pelvis rotate forward – this creates a curve in your lower back that contributes to pain.
  • Check your chair. If you’re sitting in a chair that isn’t designed for an eight-hour workday, try placing a rolled-up towel behind your lower back. Living room couch your best option? Arrange pillows so your lower back is supported, and try not to sink in and slouch if your couch is particularly soft.
  • Keep the top of your computer screen at eye level. Positioning your computer too high or too low can contribute to neck and shoulder pain. If you’re sitting on the couch, put a pillow on your lap to raise the screen and protect your legs from your device’s heat.

Get a change of scenery (without leaving the house). Create your own “standing desk” by sending a few morning emails from the kitchen counter or a high dresser. And throughout the day, listen to your body. If your lower back feels stiff when you stand up, or if your feet or legs “fall asleep” while you’re sitting, these are signs that you’ve been in the same position for too long.

Continue to exercise. Without commuting or having access to the gym, it can be difficult to keep activity levels up – but it’s critical. Exercise increases blood flow to the muscles and is one of the best ways to combat pain, says White. Aerobic exercise can also help tackle anxiety, which makes pain worse.

Try simple stretches throughout the day. One perk from working from home is that employees most likely have more privacy and can take a quick break for a big stretch or even a few yoga poses. Try two or three of your favorite stretches from below and try to stretch every hour or so, White recommends. Just note that they may not be safe or tolerable for everyone.

  • Pec stretch: Stand in a doorway and place your forearms on each side of the doorframe. Push your chest forward slightly so you feel a stretch in your chest and between your shoulder blades. Hold for as long as is comfortable, up to 10 seconds. Repeat as tolerated, up to three times.
  • Child’s pose stretch: Start on a mat or towel on the floor on all fours. With your big toes touching, spread your knees apart and sit back onto your feet as best you can. Hinge at the waist and extend your arms in front of you or next to you. If you can, touch your forehead to the floor. Hold for up to 15 seconds.
  • Chair rotation: Sit sideways in a chair. Keeping your legs still, rotate your torso to the right and reach for the back of your chair with your hands. Hold your upper body there and hold for up to 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side, up to three times.

A comfortable workspace is critical to a productive day, especially in places that aren’t designed for the nine-to-five. During this chaotic time, HR leaders can provide guidance on creating a space that supports back and neck health, and helps employees avoid the added stress and distraction of being in pain.

SOURCE: Ryerson, N. (23 March 2020) "How HR leaders can make remote work pain free" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/how-hr-leaders-can-make-remote-work-pain-free


Employers Grapple with Teleworking Decisions, Fairness

With businesses closing daily due to the implications that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought upon them, many employers are still questioning whether their employees have the resources to successfully work remotely. Read this blog post from SHRM to learn more.


It seems that every hour, another company announces that its employees will work from home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus—although working remotely is not an option for everyone.

For example, roughly two-thirds of the 700 employees at the Community Healthcare Network need to be onsite to provide patient care. But what about the administrative staff who may be able to work from home? Should they be given the opportunity?

Kenneth Meyer, the chief human resources officer at the New York City-based network of 12 clinics, has been grappling with the question. "Will they have the resources they need to perform their jobs?" he wondered. He's not sure that the employees have the computers and Internet connections they'll need. "We're a nonprofit. We don't have computers and scanners just lying around," he added.

And there's another element to consider: Is it fair to let some employees work from home while others labor in an environment where they are more at risk of contracting the coronavirus? "Staff morale definitely enters that equation. It isn't the governing the factor, though," Meyer explained.

Deciding whether to let employees work from home amid the pandemic isn't easy for many firms. Health care providers and manufacturers require most people to be onsite to keep operations running. Yet even for companies where it is technically possible for employees to work remotely, there are other considerations that must be addressed. While such companies are often OK with some people working from home, they lack the systems and protocols to keep the business running smoothly when there is no one at the main office.

Last week, there was significant disagreement among senior executives at software maker Betterworks about whether to close the company's offices temporarily, according to Diane Strohfus, Betterworks' chief human resources officer. Some favored shuttering the offices, while others argued it wasn't necessary because the coronavirus situation was overblown.

"Opinions were all over the map, but we decided to err on the side of safety and caution," Strohfus said. The company decided to make the work-from-home policy mandatory so that people who really wanted to stay home didn't feel pressured to go to the office by those who chose to work there. She added that many of the employees at the Redwood City, Calif.-based company have infants and school-age children, so allowing people to work from home made sense when school and day care closings are happening all over the country.

"I told managers to expect more distractions," Strohfus said.

Strohfus added that even though it's technically easy for the company's employees to work from home, for a firm accustomed to personal interactions, there were still adjustments to be made. To improve communication, channels were added to Slack, a messaging platform used by Betterworks employees, and managers are organizing video meetings to keep employees connected.

"We encourage [videoconferencing]. People can feel your personality when they see your face," Strohfus explained.

Companies don't have to let people work from home, said Tracy M. Billows, a partner in the Chicago office of law firm Seyfarth Shaw who specializes in labor issues. However, she added that if someone is pregnant or has a disability or medical condition that affects his or her immune system, companies must make some accommodations.

Billows said companies need to follow existing laws and coronavirus-specific directions from institutions like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when creating work-from-home policies amid the pandemic. Beyond that, companies need to account for their individual circumstances. Has an employee been infected? Is the company located in a virus hot spot where schools are closed? Does the work need to be done onsite? Companies must balance the safety and security of their workers with what the business needs to continue to operate, she explained.

"There are no one-size-fits-all answers," Billows said.

As the virus spread, Elyse Dickerson thought about how to treat the 10 hourly employees who work in her health care company's manufacturing facility and do not have sick leave. Last week, she told them she would pay them for two weeks if they were feeling ill or needed to care for a family member.

"If they don't get paid, they can't feed their families or pay their rent," said Dickerson, co-founder and chief executive officer of Fort Worth, Texas-based Eosera, a maker of ear care products. She told her other 10 employees that they could work from home but might be called in to help in the manufacturing facility if someone is out sick.

Dickerson doesn't know what the company will do if area schools close, although that won't be a problem for most of her employees. She said employees could bring their children to work if necessary. "I suppose we could put on a movie," she said.

And if an employee contracts the virus, she said the company would have the facility deep-cleaned within 24 hours. She has two months' worth of product in reserve in case there are any production delays.

"We already bleach down the facility every night," she said. "You could eat off the floors."

SOURCE: Agovino, T. (18 March 2020) "Employers Grapple with Teleworking Decisions, Fairness" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/employee-relations/Pages/Employers-Grapple-with-Teleworking-Decisions-Fairness.aspx


Mental Well-Being During a Quarantine

Maintaining Mental Well-Being During a Quarantine

In response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have recommended that individuals who may have been exposed to the disease self-quarantine at home for 14 days. In addition, public health officials are recommending that healthy individuals practice social distancing, staying at home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Following the advice of public health officials can help stop the spread of COVID-19, but if you don’t take proper precautions, your mental well-being could suffer while you’re quarantining.

If you’re self-quarantining or practicing social distancing, keep the following tips in mind to maintain your mental well-being.

Maintain a Routine

One of the best things that you can do to preserve your mental well-being is to stick to a routine. For example, if you’re used to going to the gym before work, try to wake up early and get an at-home workout in before you go to work or start your workday from home. Maintaining as much normalcy as possible with your daily routine can help keep your mood as lifted as possible, and prevent boredom and distress from taking over.

If you have children that will be at home now, it’s also important to create a routine for them. Whether they are practicing virtual learning with their schools or if they will just be home, you should implement a structured schedule for them so they know what your expectations are. Try to limit as much screen time as possible and incorporate learning activities throughout the day.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

This suggestion goes hand-in-hand with sticking to a routine. While you’re at home, it can be easy to go to bed or sleep in later than you typically would. Breaking your normal sleep routine can have negative effects on your overall mental well-being, so you should try to stick to your typical schedule as much as possible.

Spend Time Outside

Unless health officials give you explicit instructions to stay in your home no matter what, try to get outside periodically throughout the day. This could involve going out in your backyard or taking a walk around the block, but shouldn’t include going to a park or other areas where large groups of people may be.

Being outside also helps to promote higher vitamin D levels, a vitamin the body makes when skin is directly exposed to the sun. Many people are deficient in vitamin D, so exercising outside can be a great way to correct that.

Leverage the Power of Technology

When in quarantine or self-isolation, it can be easy to feel lonely. Fortunately, advancements in technology have made it easy to connect with others without having to physically be in contact with them. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends reaching out to loved ones with technology to reduce feelings of loneliness and anxiety, and to supplement your social life while you’re quarantining or social distancing. If you’re feeling down, use video calling technology or social media to get in touch with friends and family.

Don’t Obsess Over the News

It can be easy to become overwhelmed by watching the news and reviewing the updates of the COVID-19 situation. While it’s important to be informed of the situation, you should not obsess over the news. For example, instead of monitoring the news all day from home, consider checking for updates once in the morning and once at night.

Practice Positivity and Gratitude

Taking five minutes a day to write down the things that you are grateful for has been proven to lower stress levels and can help you change your mindset from negative to positive. While you’re quarantining or social distancing, it’s important to build time into your routine to practice positivity or express gratitude to change your mindset on your situation and boost your mood.

Summary

Your mental well-being plays a huge role in your overall health and well-being, and it should be prioritized. These six suggestions may help you maintain your mental well-being during a quarantine, but shouldn’t be considered as medical advice.

If you have concerns about your mental well-being while you’re in quarantine, please contact your mental health professional or use SAMHSA’s National Helpline by calling 800-662-HELP (4357).


What You Need to Know About: The SECURE Act

In December of 2019, President Donald Trump passed the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act or SECURE Act. Some of the Act aims as making it easier for small business owners to create more affordable and easier to administer retirement plans. Key takeaways from the SECURE Act include:

  • Small Business Tax Credits have increased for businesses who start a 401(k) Plan, thus making starting a plan more affordable.
  • New automatic enrollment plan tax credit created.
  • Removes the annual notice requirement for Safe Harbor 401(k) Plans that utilize the nonelective contribution instead of the match.
  • 401(k) Nonelective Safe Harbor Plans can be adopted up until 30 days before plan year end, instead of 90 days prior.
  • Maximum automatic contribution rate is increased to 15% from 10% in Qualified Automatic Contribution Arrangements (QACAs).
  • Pushes the age of 70 ½ to 72 for retirement plan participants needing to take RMDs or ‘required minimum distributions.
  • Part-time employees will be eligible to participate after completing 500 hours of service in each of 3 consecutive 12-month periods, if at least age 21 at the end of that time. These employees do not have to share in company contributions.
  • Pooled Employer Plans (PEPs) will be allowed which could make it easier for small businesses to administer their retirement plan.

“There is a lot of hype in the government and media about how the SECURE Act will make it cheaper to sponsor a plan. I don’t know if recordkeepers could lower their annual costs any more than they have over the last 8 or 9 years; but it definitely will provide lower start-up costs through the tax credits, and make it easier to administer plans if utilizing a Safe Harbor approach or a PEP,” stated Todd Yawit, Director / Retirement Plans at Saxon Financial Services, Inc.

For most plans and provisions, the SECURE Act became effective on January 1, 2020. However, for Pooled Employer Plans (PEPs), the SECURE Act will go into effect on January 1, 2021. For further information on how the SECURE Act will affect your retirement plans, contact Todd Yawit at (513) 573-0129 or tyawit@gosaxon.com.


Viewpoint: What’s Your Company’s Emergency Remote-Work Plan?

While coronavirus (COVID-19) is disrupting the workplaces of many in various countries, it is imperative that the United States takes as many precautions as possible. Many workplaces have emergency plans into fruition for storms and unforeseen weather, but are there plans in place for a virus that is spreading quickly? Read this blog post to learn more.


This coronavirus (or COVID-19) has taken a more serious turn in the U.S. with warnings that it could very well impact how, when and where we work:

"Disruption to everyday life may be severe," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, cautioned at a news conference. "Schools could be closed, mass public gatherings suspended, and businesses forced to have employees work remotely."

The global spread of the virus may be a moment that reveals whether employers are ready to respond rapidly to unexpected workplace changes. Business travel could decrease or come to a full stop. More employees may need to work outside of local "business hours" and use video conferencing to operate across time zones. And, if it gets bad enough, many could indeed be asked, or request, to work remotely.

Are organizations ready? Chances are probably not. But even for those open to rethinking how the work would get done, are they ready for the inevitable post-crisis question: "Why don't we do this all the time?"

How do you prepare your organization to not only flexibly respond to this potential disruption, but also to use it as an opportunity to reimagine work broadly? Here are five steps to get started:

Acknowledge the possibility that all or part of your workforce may need to work remotely.

Hoping and praying it doesn't happen, or simply ignoring it, is not a strategy. Neither is handing everyone a laptop and saying "Go work someplace else" on the day they expand wide-scale quarantines. Plan as if the only way to remain operational will be for as many employees as possible to work remotely. Gather a cross-functional team together now that includes business-line leaders, IT, HR, communications and facilities to start to plan for different scenarios and optimize execution, should circumstances require a rapid response.

Map out jobs and tasks that could be affected.

Note which roles and duties: 1) Can be done, even partially, without a physical presence in the workplace, 2) Cannot be done, even somewhat, outside of the physical office, and 3) Not sure.

Challenge any potentially inaccurate default assumptions about specific jobs you may have thought couldn't be done remotely. And for those in the "not sure" column, be willing to experiment. For example, for years, I've been told, "Administrative assistants can't work flexibly." And, for years, I've worked with teams of administrative assistants to prove that is not true. Yes, certain tasks they complete require physical presence, but those can be planned for. The majority of their tasks can happen effectively outside of the traditional model of work and benefit the business.

Audit available IT hardware and software, and close any gaps in access and adoption.

Assess the comfort level with specific applications, such as video conferencing and other collaboration/communication platforms. Where you find gaps, provide training and opportunities for practice before people need to use them. Real-time mastery is not optimal and is inefficient. Identify devices owned by the organization that people could use and clarify acceptable "bring your own" phone and laptop options. Determine if there are any data-security issues to consider and how best to address them beforehand.

Set up a communications protocol in advance.

This communications plan needs to outline: how to reach everybody (e.g., all contact information in one place, primary communication channels clarified — email, IM, Slack, etc.); how employees are expected to respond to customers; and how and when teams will coordinate and meet.

Identify ways to measure performance that could inform broader change.

After the flexible response period is over, this data will allow you to reflect on what worked, what didn't and why. The data will also prepare you in advance to answer the inevitable question once the crisis has passed, "Why don't we do this all the time?" Depending upon the outcomes, you may decide to continue certain aspects of the flexible response permanently. For example, perhaps you cut business travel by 25% and substitute video conferencing. You determine afterward that about 80% of those meetings were equally as effective virtually. Therefore, a 20% decrease in business travel will continue, but this time as part of the organization's sustainability strategy to cut carbon emissions.

Global health emergencies, like COVID-19, are scary, disruptive and confusing for everyone. And if you plan and nothing happens? Then, at minimum, you have an organized, flexible work disaster response ready the next time there's a challenge to operational continuity, which chances are, there will be.

SOURCE: Williams Yost, C. (10 March 2020) "Viewpoint: What’s Your Company’s Emergency Remote-Work Plan?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/viewpoint-whats-your-companys-emergency-remote-work-plan.aspx