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Heather Wood

What’s Killing Your Office Productivity?

By Employment Resources

The genius that happens every day in the offices of the world requires a certain amount of focus. Unfortunately, most offices are awash with both physical and mental distractions that pull our attention away from the task at hand. To help you identify common pitfalls, we’ve zeroed in on the top five productivity killers in the modern age. Better still, we gathered expert advice on ways to block out the noise and get to work.

Social media

Rieva Lesonsky, CEO of GrowBiz Media & com, admits her primary distraction is self-inflicted. “Social media can take me off task, especially Twitter. (I’m addicted.)”

It happens to the best of us. You’re at a lull in your work, and you get that nagging sensation that something amazing might be happening on Facebook. Why not take a quick peek, just to make sure the world’s not passing you by? These brief breaks may seem harmless enough, but making compulsive social media checks during the day can add up to hours a week of lost time.

Instead of checking Facebook or Twitter throughout the day, try scheduling your social media time after lunch and limit it to 15 minutes. Having a special time slot for checking out the latest hijinks of Grumpy Cat will leave the rest of your day free for more productive endeavors. And if you really can’t help trying to scratch that itch, consider blocking your most visited social websites with your browser’s security settings.

A crazy commute

If you live or work in a large city, the morning commute can be an exercise in extreme frustration. What should be a 15-minute drive can turn into an hour or more of unproductive stress during rush hour.

Fortunately, thanks to cloud computing, working remotely is easier than ever. With web-based software and collaboration tools, office workers can get everything done even when they’re miles away from home base. More and more, corporate leaders are warming up to the idea of telecommuting as remote employees report higher productivity and morale. Even if you can’t work remotely all the time, you may be able to slightly shift your work schedule so you’re not traveling at rush hour, or just handle the first hour of your workday from home before you hop in the car.

Loud-mouthed colleagues

Who can’t relate to this scenario: you’re just settling in for some hard-core focus time to bang out a monthly report when the guy in the next cubicle starts in on a high-volume recap of last night’s episode of Game of Thrones—and you haven’t seen it yet (spoiler alert!). Working in an office can be great for collaboration and easy communication, but not so great when you’re doing focused solo work. Diplomatic requests for quiet might buy you a few minutes of peace, but let’s be realistic: some people do not possess an inside voice. Treat yourself to a pair of noise-canceling headphones and crank your favorite background tunes or soothing sounds from a white-noise website like Noisli.

The unfocused workday

You may have a truckload of work, but without a clear plan of attack, you may leave the office that night wondering what you got done and why you spent time on the wrong tasks. Ramon Ray of Smart Hustle Magazine zeroes in on the root of the problem. “Lack of clear understanding and planning. When I’m clear and highly organized, things flow!”

Jeff Marcoux, CMO lead for Worldwide Enterprise Marketing at Microsoft, agrees. “Randomization is the killer of productivity.” To get his house in order, he spends the first 10 minutes of his day making an explicit to-do list, following guidelines set out in this Harvard Business Review article. If you have trouble organizing your tasks, check out a mobile productivity tool like ToDoist or LeanKit.

Email

It’s impossible to avoid in the modern workplace, but email is as much a hindrance as it is a help. Andy Karuza, owner of BrandBuddee, notes, “being ‘too connected’ can be a major productivity killer. This is because task switching wastes lots of time from having to reset your train of thought and pick up where you left off on the previous task.”

Answer emails and social media messages together at the top of the hour. Knock them all out at once and then wrap yourself up again in that Excel spreadsheet you were working on.

Your email inbox forces you to switch focus from your task at hand, wasting precious minutes of your targeted energy. Karuza suggests taking a structured approach. “Answer emails and social media messages together at the top of the hour. Knock them all out at once and then wrap yourself up again in that Excel spreadsheet you were working on.”

You may also be doing work that is better done by a machine. Try to automate some basic email tasks to help you prioritize your inbox so those sprints of replying to email are as efficient as possible.

Whether you’re working from home or at the office, there’s always something there to distract you. Identifying your own biggest distractions is the first step to eliminating them.

OLDER AMERICANS: BE AWARE OF SCHEMES AND FRAUD AIMED AT SENIORS

By Personal Protection

No one likes to believe that, in our society, there are predators who take advantage of individuals who are the least able to defend themselves. However, the sad truth is that across America every year, millions of seniors are hoodwinked by fraud, scams, and swindlers. These common scams can happen in the home or at the mall. They can be carried out in person, by mail, on the phone, or over the Internet.

In reviewing telemarketing fraud, the United States Congress has stated that telemarketing schemes have become a $40 billion per year “industry.” There are approximately 140,000 active telemarketing firms in the U.S., and Congress estimates that up to 10% of these might be fraudulent. Many of these fraudulent telemarketers prey on older Americans. The American Prosecutors Research Institute indicates that senior citizens are more susceptible to telephone fraud than others because they possess more than half of all the financial assets in this country and their assets can be converted easily into large sums of cash. Secondly, older people are more likely to be at home to receive telemarketing calls. And finally, many older Americans are too polite to hang up. Amazingly, some senior citizens are subject to fraud because they are just too nice.

But there are steps you can take to protect yourself at home, on the phone, and online. On the Internet, beware of any “free” service or product. Don’t give out personal information unless you absolutely know who the provider is. Just because your friend knows them is not good enough. Furthermore, don’t use your credit card to make purchases on the Internet. No site, not even a bank site is 100% safe.

In your home, you control access and never, ever, let anyone inside whom you don’t know. If you make the decision to purchase something from a door-to-door salesperson, which is not recommended, pay by post-dated check or ask to pay upon delivery of your item. Never pay cash. And don’t use your credit card or give your credit card number. Even better, ask the salesperson to come back tomorrow after you’ve had a chance to think about it, and then investigate to confirm they are legitimate.

On the phone, get an answering machine or caller ID to screen your calls, and only pick up the receiver if it is someone you know and trust. If a salesperson gets through, don’t accept anything they claim is free; such as sweepstakes prizes, cruises, or high-yield investment returns. If it sounds too good to be true, most likely it is too good to be true. Never give your credit card, phone card, Social Security, or bank account number to anyone over the phone. In fact, it is illegal for telemarketers to ask for these numbers to verify a gift or prize.

If you feel suspicious of any person or company, trust your instincts and hang up, close the door, or turn off your computer. Call the police or the Better Business Bureau and report the questionable activity. Or contact the National Consumers League Fraud Information Center at www.fraud.org. With vigilance and good common sense, you can help yourself as well as other potential victims avoid this insidious crime.

Be safe. Be careful, and don’t become another victim.

BUYING COMMERCIAL AUTO INSURANCE

By Business Protection Bulletin

Every business needs to insure the vehicles it uses. Because such coverage is usually more expensive than Personal Auto insurance, it makes sense to purchase a Commercial Auto policy that provides the best long-term value for your premium dollar. To make sure that you’re getting the right policy at the right price follow these guidelines:

  1. Determine which vehicles you need to insure. In addition to coverage on any vehicle your firm owns, leases, or rents, be sure to cover any personal vehicles that employees will be using on company business.
  2. Select the right type of policy. Although Personal Auto insurance will cover a vehicle used for business purpose as long as the title is in your name, if the company owns the vehicle you’ll need Commercial Auto coverage (which is more expensive).
  3. Choose the coverages you need. These should include Liability, Comprehensive, Collision, Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist and (in some states) Personal Injury Protection, which pays medical expenses for the insured driver, regardless of fault.
  4. Comparison shop. Because every Auto insurance company has its own way to calculate premiums, your cost, the amount that you will need to pay can vary widely from one carrier to another. As independent insurance agents, we’ll be happy to offer our professional advice on selecting the coverage and price that’s best suited to your needs.

Just give us a call.

WHY D&O COVERAGE IS VITAL FOR SMALL AND MEDIUM FIRMS

By Business Protection Bulletin

Directors & Officers Liability coverage is important for all medium and small firms. This form of coverage protects personal assets of directors and officers during a lawsuit stemming from mismanagement. When they’re charged with mismanaging the company, directors and officers who don’t have this type of insurance face the risk of significant losses. Directors and officers liability affords them the protection they need, and money for their legal expenses is also provided. If the company they work for must be brought into the lawsuit, this coverage may also be extended to include the company itself. There are many other beneficial provisions these policies offer.

Directors and Officers Make Mistakes. Nobody is perfect, so it’s important to be prepared for directors and officers to make mistakes. Although most mistakes that require this coverage are the result of negligence, it’s important to remember that anyone is capable of making such mistakes. Although training directors and officers to make responsible and ethical choices is necessary, don’t pay so much for training that there isn’t enough money for liability coverage. It’s better to create a healthy balance by preparing representatives and obtaining coverage to protect them.

Lawsuits Might Drive an Unprotected Firm into the Ground. Unfortunately, many firms don’t implement a Directors & Officers Liability policy. When a lawsuit is filed, the importance of this vital coverage is learned. If there is proof of the director’s or officer’s negligence, the case will be difficult to win. In a best-case scenario, a good attorney might be able to minimize the amount of damages the company or representative must pay. However, a good attorney is expensive. In addition to this, the damages that must be paid hurt the company’s finances. Some executives or companies are forced into further debt or bankruptcy to compensate for the lawsuit. There are many other smaller expenses that add to the total loss.

The Breadth of Coverage Is Generous. Many companies forgo liability coverage for their directors and officers because they think it’s too expensive. However, it’s actually very affordable, especially when the many provisions are considered. Each insurance company varies slightly in their specific inclusions. For example, companies that provide basic policies might cover only the attorney’s fees for the company, directors, and officers. Some insurance companies that have more extensive coverage might include lodging, travel expenses, and childcare reimbursement for defendants who must travel for court proceedings.

The Likelihood of a Lawsuit Is High. Whether or not a company is in a high-risk business, there is always a high risk for lawsuits against directors and officers. In a study performed in 2010, 25% of small firms said they purchased Directors & Officers Liability insurance. About 12% of the executives interviewed stated that they experienced a lawsuit. The average cost of the litigation process was more than $200,000. However, some executives reported losses as high as $5 million. This example paints a clear picture of how likely it is to experience a lawsuit. It also illustrates how expensive such legal procedures are.

It’s important to compare insurance companies before selecting a policy. As mentioned before, not all companies offer the same coverage. Comparing rates and provisions is the best way to get the most value for every dollar spent. To determine how much coverage is needed, it’s important to assess risks. Most insurance representatives are happy to provide current and useful resources for this matter. They usually ask a series of general questions. Most agents ask several industry-specific questions also. There are some policies that are better than others for specific industries. Another important aspect of searching for Directors & Officers Liability insurance is researching underwriters. The companies who underwrite insurance policies have varying policies. It’s rare to find two underwriting companies with identical rules. By performing some research on each preferred insurance company’s underwriter, it’s easier to determine which policies are the most solid. Be sure the company is rated with an A. Avoid doing business with insurance companies who use underwriters with lower ratings.

Ways To Reward Employees When You’re On A Budget

By Employment Resources

Rewarding your employees for their hard work and dedication to your company is one way to say thank you. Rewards also build morale, strengthen teamwork and improve productivity. Consider several ways your HR team can reward employees without spending a fortune.

Plan an Outing

A fun outing builds teamwork and helps your employees to relax. Try bowling, jumping at a trampoline park or seeing a movie.

See a Local Show

A ticket to a local theater show, sporting event or musical concert is a fun way to show appreciation and support the local economy. Choose a different event each month or quarter to increase employee engagement.

Pay for Gym Memberships

A commitment to health and wellness boost your employees’ mental clarity, energy, focus, and productivity. Select a gym near the office to encourage your employees to work out and exercise before and after work or during breaks.

Cater Lunch

Serve a taco, salad or baked potato bar or other favorite food as you reward employees and give them time to connect over lunch.

Buy Gift Cards

A Visa or other gift card is similar to a cash bonus. You may even get a discount on gift cards when you buy them in bulk.

Create a Company Award

Purchase a trophy or other reward for employees to win. The award for attendance, innovation, performance, or another trait can motivate employees, create friendly competition and boost morale.

Reserve a Priority Parking Spot

Allow the employee of the month to earn the right to park in an exclusive spot close to the office. This convenience rewards outstanding team members and boosts the winner’s confidence and self-worth.

Give Swag

Imprint performance hoodies, laptop skins, pens, and other swag items with your company logo. These items double as a reward and company advertisement.

Donate to a Charity

Many of your employees may feel strongly about certain charitable causes. Donate to a charity in honor of your employees, and support your employee’s personal interests.

Promote Professional or Personal Development

A professional or personal development book, workshop or seminar encourages your employees to learn new skills and develop interests. This investment shows that you care about their growth and value them as people.

Rent a Coworking Space

Give your employees the opportunity to get out of the office and into a new, creative environment. This reward may jumpstart creativity and provide a beneficial networking opportunity.

Take Time Off

Employees always appreciate an early start to the weekend or a long lunch break. Plan this reward to ensure all job obligations are covered.

Part of your job as an HR professional is to build morale. Choose from these frugal suggestions as you reward your employees.

Do Your Kids Need a Life Insurance Policy, Too?

By Life and Health, Your Employee Matters

Life insurance makes sense for you because it gives your surviving family members financial peace of mind if you were to die. However, do your kids need life insurance, too? November is National Adoption Month and a good time to consider this insurance option for your children.

Receive Lifetime Coverage

Pay the monthly premiums, and your children gain insurance for life. In many cases, they won’t even need a health exam when they’re older unless they want a death benefit increase.

Enjoy Low Rates

Most life insurance policies use age to determine premiums. You’ll pay less to insure your young children, and permanent policies lock in the premiums for the life of the policy.

Eliminate Health Exams

Most life insurance policies don’t require kids to undergo a complete medical exam. Since kids are usually healthier than adults, they typically won’t be denied coverage. This benefit is especially important if a serious medical condition like diabetes or heart disease runs in your child’s family.

Gain Cash Value

The premiums you pay for permanent life insurance cover the policy and build cash value. That cash could grow at a variable or fixed interest rate. By the time your kids turn 18, they could have a healthy accumulation of cash to pay for college, buy a house or save until they retire.

Cover Final Expenses

Parents don’t expect their children to die young, but accidents happen. Life insurance covers final expenses and protects your family’s finances.

Evaluate Your Budget

Despite the benefits; your budget may not stretch enough to include life insurance for your kids. After you ensure you’re adequately insured, weigh the benefits of life insurance for your children and discuss your needs with your insurance agent. He or she can work with you to find a policy that’s right for you.

Consider Alternative Saving Tools

Roth IRAs and 529 Plans assist parents in saving money for their children’s futures. Investigate these saving options as you choose the best way to provide for your children.

Whether or not you plan to adopt a child during National Adoption Month, November’s a good time to consider life insurance. Your agent can discuss your options with you as you adequately care for your children.

How To Stay Safe When You Use Public Wi-Fi

By Risk Management Bulletin

Public Wi-Fi allows your team to stay connected on the go. You have to be careful, though, because public Wi-Fi is notoriously unsecure. Cybercriminals could also log into the free network you use and access data on your devices, such as your login information or confidential client files. Exercise caution and stay safe in several ways as you use your laptop, tablet or smartphone on public Wi-Fi networks.

Verify the Network Name

Before logging in, research the network. Only log into Wi-Fi that originates from a legitimate source as you avoid a man-in-the-middle attack. For example, cybercriminals may name their network “Free Wi-Fi” or mimic the establishment’s name as a way to attract users. Ask the barista, librarian or other staff member to verify the name of their public Wi-Fi network before you log in.

Turn off File Sharing

Your team relies on file sharing, but this feature is lucrative for cybercriminals, too. That’s why you want to turn off file sharing when you use public Wi-Fi. This step protects your files and data you don’t want criminals to access.

Use a VPN

A virtual private network (VPN) encrypts data as it travels between your device and the server. Research free and paid VPN options, then add one to your devices for protection when you need it on the go.

Check for HTTPS

If you see a lock symbol and HTTPS in front of the website address in the status bar, you’re browsing a secure site. You can also use an HTTPS extension for extra protection.

Enable Two-Factor Authentication

With two-factor authentication, you add an extra layer of protection to your online browsing. Even if cybercriminals gain access to your password, they probably cannot get into your account since they need to enter a unique authentication code also.

Update Software

Browser and software patches can improve security. Make it a habit to install these patches when you’re connected to a trusted network. Never update software when you’re connected to public Wi-Fi.

Forget the Network

After your public Wi-Fi session ends, log off all the websites you were signed into and tell your device to forget the network. This step prevents cybercriminals from connecting to your device automatically the next time you’re in the network area.

Limit your Activity

It’s tempting to think that cybercrime couldn’t happen to you or that you can afford to be careless because you have cybercrime and business liability insurance. However, always use caution. Save sensitive or confidential work for when you’re on a trusted network.

Your company may utilize public Wi-Fi often to stay connected and get work done. Encourage your employees to use caution and follow these steps as they stay safe.

FIVE QUESTIONS TO DETERMINE YOUR BUSINESS INTERRUPTION EXPOSURE

By Business Protection Bulletin

For many organizations, the loss of income coupled with continuing expenses after a fire or other disaster can be even more devastating than the damage itself.

To increase the chances that a loss will not shut operations down permanently, organizations must assess their exposures accurately by asking some questions.

(…continued)

  • What is the most the organization could lose from a shutdown? Commercial Property insurance policies define “loss of income” as the sum of the expected pre-tax profit or loss and necessary continuing expenses. For example, if the expected profit is $300,000 and necessary continuing expenses are $100,000, the potential loss of income is $400,000. To calculate their exposure to business interruption losses, organizations should refer to their balance sheets, profit and loss statements, and cash flow statements. Insurance companies also have worksheets available to assist with the calculation.
  • How much insurance should be carried? Once the organization knows the dollar amount of its exposure, it must decide how much Business Interruption insurance to buy. The key considerations are the length of time the insurance is likely to apply and the coinsurance percentage the organization must meet. Coverage usually begins 72 hours following the damage to the property and ends when business resumes at another location or when the building should be repaired with reasonable speed, whichever occurs first. If the organization decided that the coverage period would be around six months, it could buy an amount of insurance that would satisfy a 50% coinsurance requirement. If the interruption would last longer, higher coinsurance percentage and limits would be necessary.
  • How long will it take business to return to normal? Even after operations resume, it could be some time before revenue returns to normal levels. Customers who had gone elsewhere during the shutdown might be slow to return. The standard insurance policy extends coverage for 30 days after operations resume, but some businesses might need more time than that, especially if their businesses are seasonal. For example, a seaside restaurant in New Jersey that makes most of its profits during the summer will need additional coverage even if it can re-open in November.
  • How much of the normal payroll expense will continue during the shutdown? The organization will need the continuing services of some employees while it attempts to re-open, but other employees might not be necessary. For example, accounting staff will be needed to pay mandatory expenses such as property taxes and collect receivables earned before the shutdown. Employees who stock shelves will not be needed if there are no shelves to stock.
  • Does the business depend on other businesses for revenue? A business can suffer a loss even if its own building is untouched. A loss that shuts down a key customer or supplier or damage to nearby property that causes authorities to close off access to the street can devastate a business’s bottom line (this happened to many businesses affected by 9/11). Special insurance coverage is available to protect against this possibility.

Our professional insurance agents can help you answer these questions and identify insurance companies that can meet coverage needs. With some effort and planning before a loss happens, an organization can emerge from a shut down and return to profitability.

ESSENTIAL RISK MANAGEMENT TIPS FOR SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS

By Business Protection Bulletin

As every business owner knows, risk is an unavoidable part of doing business. However, it is manageable and controllable. Although it is a challenge that requires time and experimentation, finding a perfect balance between profitability and peace of mind is essential. It’s impossible to eliminate risk completely, so it’s important to set realistic goals. Policies that are enacted in an attempt to fully eliminate risk could actually hamper business growth.

The Importance of Risk Management. The common concept of risk management among small business owners involves simply purchasing regular insurance protection. Other aspects of protection often escape consideration. Risk management is much more complex than simply purchasing insurance and implementing rules. These are both necessary parts of every plan. However, there are many other things to consider.

Tips for Implementing a Realistic Risk Management Plan. It’s best to start with a simple plan that is easy to follow. The prime goals should be mitigation and management of business risks. After trying the plan, analyze it and make any necessary changes or additions. Consider the following steps in order to make a positive change:

1. Identify the Risks. There are some risks that are universal. However, there are also some that are specific only to certain types of businesses. It’s important to conduct a thorough risk analysis to identify them. The best way to accomplish this is to use a standard risk checklist. There is a Small Business Insurance & Risk Management Guide available from the Small Business Administration. This guide is helpful in outlining potential risks. While going through the list, pay close attention. Most business owners are able to think of other potential risks that are unique to their situation during this process. Some of the most important initial risks to consider include:

  • Property losses that occur from loss of use, physical damage or criminal activity.
  • Liability losses that happen to customers and are the fault of the business.
  • Business interruption losses stemming from fires, natural disasters or other unpredictable occurrences.
  • Key person losses or the loss of important employees, which results in a negative impact on the company.
  • Employee injury losses that occur when an employee is injured on the job and must be compensated.

2. Determine How Vulnerable the Company Is to Various Risks. Consider the various risks and how much each one would cost the company. Not all types of companies are as vulnerable as others. Companies with high vulnerability to expensive risks need to make those specific areas a strong priority in their risk management plan. The risks that aren’t worth worrying about should receive a much lower priority. Keep in mind that it’s not feasible to eliminate every possible risk. However, some need much more consideration than others. For example, a paper manufacturing company should consider the risk of employees losing limbs on dangerous presses in the manufacturing line before they become concerned with possible paper cuts to fingers of employees in the inspection department. As an overall rule, the cost of preventing the risk should never exceed the amount the estimated loss that might result from that risk.

3. Create a Contingency Plan. There is more to this aspect than purchasing insurance. Be sure to implement plans that place employee safety higher than efficiency. Install a security system to protect all property from theft and damage. Avoid transactions with unknown customers. Implement plans to train supervisors to minimize loss of key employees.

4. Purchase Adequate Insurance. In addition to purchasing enough insurance, it’s imperative to purchase the right types. Some of the key types of coverage to purchase include:

  • General Liability insurance, which covers the legal liabilities faced from injuries to third parties. Medical expenses, property damage and bodily damage are typically covered.
  • Professional Liability insurance, which covers allegations of malpractice, negligence and other errors in services.
  • Product Liability insurance, which covers the expenses related to injuries or damages resulting from a defective product. This is essential for all companies producing tangible products.
  • Commercial Property insurance, which covers loss and damage costs for business properties. Business interruption is typically covered by this provision.

5. Revise as Necessary. Be sure to review and update risk management plans regularly. Reassess risks and make any necessary changes. It’s important to have regular review meetings with department heads, owners and a risk management consultant. Be sure to inform the insurance company of any changes or new risks.

Business owners who plan to raise capital from investors must be especially vigilant in their risk management planning. Having a good plan and updating it regularly is important for gaining their trust and making them comfortable with the opportunity to invest.

TOUGH DAYS AHEAD FOR MANAGERS WHO DON’T WANT TO BE LEARNERS

By Your Employee Matters

Today’s ‘pandemic’ economy in which we’re trying to get more out of everybody and everything, without having to pay for it, put managers under overwhelming pressure to perform. What can you do about it?

  • Keep growing and pushing yourself to work on your “highest and best use.” Focus on those “A activities” that produce bottom-line results. Next, delegate or outsource the B level activities (administrative functions) to the extent possible. Finally, ditch the C activities, which are simply time-wasters. Be a freak about doing this if you want to survive without burning out.
  • Become a great communicator. Whether you’re passing along the leadership vision, mission, goals, and values of your organization; working on an individual employee’s performance; or trying to learn more about what motivates employees, train yourself in communication. To be great at managing conflict, change, performance, engagement, career paths, strategic planning, and so forth without studying these disciplines, you’ll need more than experience or osmosis. So turn off your TV or computer game, ditch that fantasy league or online gossip, and pick up a book or program that will help you learn in these areas. Of course if you have access to the HR That Works program, the special reports, training modules and webinars would be a good place to start.
  • Learn what employees want from you:
    • -Be clear with them
    • -Don’t play favorites
    • -Do what you say you’re going to do, when you said you’ll do it
    • -Provide feedback on a regular basis
    • -Help define their career path
    • -Keep yourself emotionally balanced

-Remember, a poor relationship with managers is one of the top three reasons for employee turnover. Managers also influence the other two reasons (hiring a misfit, or failing to provide career growth and opportunity).