Collaborating in a Dispersed Workforce

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Working remotely for the Lazo Group from Rome, Italy and how we remain connected

Hi everyone! It’s Abbie Stark, Web Content Producer at The Lazo Group, sharing all about how I work remotely for the agency from Rome, Italy. As mentioned in our last blog post, we’ve all had to adapt to this “new normal” and learn to implement remote work into our daily lives. Being based in Italy, I experienced the quarantine while living in a foreign country and working for a U.S.-based company. 

One of the perks of working for a flexible agency, like The Lazo Group, is the ability to have our team dispersed all over the world, from various American cities to Rome and London. On a team level, we have many systems and tools in place to help us work more efficiently. In addition, I have my own methods of staying productive and connected with the larger team, honed from years of working with distributed teams.

How We Stay Connected as a Team Across Different Locations and Time Zones

Communication and Project Management

We collaborate with teammates and clients in locations all over the world on a wide range of subjects and projects. One aspect that is common across the board is that clear communication is key. We connect primarily via Slack, allowing us to instantly send messages and set our own “online and available” work hours. To remain as efficient as possible, we limit our team Zoom standup meetings to once a day for 30 minutes, giving everyone a chance to check in and review business items on a macro level.

Process Implementation 

For the last several months, we have been working on scaling our processes. Fortunately, there are a number of specialized software tools and apps to help keep our team and work on track. Our project management software, Monday, is our base of operations and where we manage workflow, client deliverables, and deadlines. We use Evernote to organize and share content externally with clients, making extensive use of metadata tagging. And Dropbox keeps shared client files and final work product securely archived for long term backup access. For time tracking, we rely on Harvest. All of these SaaS tools enable us to seamlessly deliver around the world throughout the day. 

Team-Building Activities

I believe that our bimonthly virtual team-building activities via Zoom have made the biggest impact on our team chemistry and overall success. As a group, we brainstorm informational sessions that provide us with the opportunity to learn a new skill or about a new topic from an expert. In the past, we’ve had Menstrual Cycle Alignment Expert and Life Coach, Vianney Leigh, speak on cycle syncing. We also scheduled what’s sure to be an eye-opening session with Cherise Belnavis about Black Allyship in August 2020. 

For more hands-on activities, each team member takes a turn to teach us one of their unique skills. In June, we hosted a Paint Night, which was a huge hit, despite my lack of artistic skills. In July, I led an Italian Cuisine gnocchi-making class where I showed off my fresh pasta-making skills from the comfort of my Roman kitchen. 

It’s invigorating to get to know our team members on a personal level while also learning something new, fun, and non work-related. Most of our team members have never met one another in person! 

While it has taken some time to work out the kinks in our processes and online tools while simultaneously growing and expanding our team, I’ve seen firsthand the difference it makes to have a company running smoothly with these systems in place. Not only are clients happier with the quality of work we deliver, but as a team member, it also feels much more rewarding to work for a company that prioritizes your mental and physical health above all else. 

Maintaining a Productive and Healthy Work-Life Balance from my home office in Rome

Speaking more personally, I’ve had to discover new, innovative ways to stay motivated while working for home for months on end. As someone who loves working on multiple projects at one time—from maintaining a travel blog about my life in Rome, to Italy travel consultations, and of course, creating marketing content for The Lazo Group.

Here are some strategies I use to maximize my working hours, while leaving me with extra time to travel and explore the amazing country I live in: 

Time tracking: Being prone to procrastination, time-tracking has been an incredibly eye-opening experience for me. I use tools like Toggl and Harvest to keep a running timer of the projects I’m working on and pausing when I’m not actively working. This allows me to evaluate how I have spent my time each day, and to consciously decide where I want to invest my time and energy going forward. 

Time blocking: Time blocking is a strategy that many implement in a variety of different ways. For example, some use a strict approach of allocating 10-minute blocks for specific tasks, others use time-blocking more loosely. While I’ve tried using a Google calendar to schedule every minute of my time in the past, a less intense approach seems to work best for me. I prefer to devote days of the week to certain activities, blocking out larger chunks of time to work on specific deliverables. 

For example, Mondays are always a bit slow for me, so I like to focus on administrative and less mentally-demanding tasks like scheduling social media. On the other hand, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are focused days, where I have a bit more energy and creative inspiration, meaning that writing posts and captions come more easily and naturally. Thursdays and Fridays are catch-up days where meetings, photo editing, and all of the other random tasks on my list get done. 

I find this flexible time-management strategy is a productive approach to getting work done, while also considering my personal needs and unique energy levels. It also lets me change something up if I need to pivot to address something hot or shift to a new tactic.

Journaling: The number one thing that keeps me on track while working remotely is my Bullet Journal. Having one small notebook where I keep everything about my life is very handy for me. I use it to jot down appointments, track my habits, write daily gratitude logs, and keep up with the never-ending to-do list that I can migrate over from one day to the next. If one system isn’t working for me, I can change it the next week without buying another planner. I can also keep notes or brainstorm without needing multiple notebooks. 

So that’s everything! Productivity and self-improvement are areas that I and The Lazo Group team are interested and vested in, and our strategies are always evolving and improving. For me, having the freedom to live and travel where I want is 100% worth the challenges that come with remote working, and I love being a part of a company that allows me to design my life the way I want. 


7 Realistic Tips for Working From Home

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If we were asked in January to describe what life would look like today, we could never have predicted this… The COVID-19 outbreak has forced all of us to face daily life differently. From where we (don’t) go, to who we (don’t) spend in-person time with, to new daily essential items (masks and hand sanitizer), to how we work, shop, and learn, life generally looks and feels completely different than at the beginning of 2020. 

Many of us in the United States have been in quarantine for more than 100 days at the time of this posting. Daily routines, priorities, and responsibilities look quite different now. In the process of defining “the new normal”, we are facing tough challenges, such as:

  • Working in the same room as a partner
  • Juggling childcare with few or no summer activities 
  • Uncertainty about what school will look like in the Fall
  • Maintaining a household from quarantine without many of the usual resources and conveniences available

The Lazo Group has been a fully distributed team since our inception. So, we consider ourselves experts at working remotely. We have end-to-end virtual workflows and established home offices. However, like our clients and partners, our team has been challenged with adapting to the new routines and challenges, while remaining healthy and productive. 

Here are some of TLG’s top tips to survive quarantine and master the necessary intricate balancing act:

1. Establish a New Routine

Long-established routines have fallen by the wayside. With most families based at home, normal wake times, sports schedules, and set working hours are all out the window. We know that this can lead to chaos, such as confusion about which parent is “on duty,” how much screen time should be allowed, and even if it is safe to walk the dog. And those living alone report facing long stretches of isolation, an apathy about getting dressed or shopping for groceries, and even a sense of “climbing the walls”.

Whatever your home-based situation, work on setting some beginning and end-of-day rituals, such as mediation or exercise. For families, try setting aside a time each day to do an activity together, such as having a “device-free” dinner, taking an evening walk, or even having a backyard campfire. 

Individuals should consider Zoom catch-ups or “Facetime” with family and friends, participating in a live online program, or connecting to social media and gaming communities in an interactive way.

2. Learn to Integrate

Rather than trying to find a balance, which can be overwhelming and frustrating in the quarantine environment, focus on integrating to the best of your ability. With no separation between home, work, family, colleagues, parenting, and friends, switching between roles constantly is exhausting.

Finding uninterrupted time to work is an extreme challenge for parents with children at home all day. This is a scenario prime for distraction and falling into habits like multitasking and responding to email 24/7. With your office right in the midst of your home life, it can be difficult to step away and really disconnect. In fact, many people are discovering that they work more. 

Try to establish set times to focus on work, even if it means working an abbreviated day so that you can attend to family responsibilities. Take time to plan and prioritize, and strive to minimize time spent in meetings. Make an effort to monotask, meaning to really focus on only one task for a set period of time. 

It can also help alleviate stress to loosen the reins a bit on your professional demeanor. In many cases, it is unrealistic to have access to a dedicated professional space in your home. If your kids, pets, or spouses walk through the room or behind you while you’re on a call, then just take a breath, refocus, and continue on with the business conversation. 

Make an effort to clearly communicate with colleagues and set clear agreements around expectations and deliverables. This can extend to when and how you will share information online, what hours you will be responding to email, and times you are available for meetings.

3. Maintain Motivation and Mindfulness

With fears about the pandemic, related restrictions, and the political climate, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Add to it a major disruption in every aspect of day-to-day life, and it can be very difficult to find motivation and focus. This is especially true with kids at home over summer break, in many cases with little opportunity for structured or independent activities during the day.

The TLG team recommends focusing on what is in your span of control. Set up each day for success. Take the time every morning to get into the right frame of mind, prepare for and plan for the day ahead, and set a clear vision of what winning the day looks like—and it doesn’t have to be perfect! Then, try to stick to your plan as much as possible. If it doesn’t go according to plan, let it go, bounce back, and try again tomorrow.

In addition, allow yourself time to transition from one task or role to another. This can mean taking a shower and putting on “work clothes” before you get down to business, or simply taking a few minutes to meditate before starting your day. These small pauses allow your limbic system to calmly shift gears and reduce anxiety.

4. Practice the Volume Exercise

With compressed time and additional responsibilities, it can feel like a million things are coming at you at once. Without any routines to rely on and frequent changes to municipal guidelines, even figuring out how to pick up a routine prescription or make a simple retail return can present a variety of considerations. The same is true at work when everyone is suddenly remote. Everything from how to get office supplies and network access to where and how to collaborate can create the need for new ideas and plans. This is a recipe for decision fatigue and burnout. 

To combat this, it is important to be proactive and take the time to ask yourself, “how can I have enough capacity and keep everything moving forward?” Answer the important questions and make important decisions early in the day, and recognize when it’s time for a break.

Also, give yourself time to consider the options to make sound decisions—even if it means slowing down output temporarily. It is usually easier to make a good choice upfront than to clean up a bad one down the road.

Finally, be realistic with your expectations for yourself, your family, and your work team. This is a time of great stress, uncertainty, and change. Prioritize flexibility over a rigid structure, and extend some grace that we are all human. Consider goals in terms of the “minimum viable product”.

5. Minimize and Manage Distractions

Try to designate an area of your home for work and up a separate area for children to do schoolwork or other activities. Your workspace shouldn’t be in the living room or in front of the TV. Try to minimize other people in the room, and clearly communicate with household members when you are going into “work mode”. It can be helpful to let others know that you are working, but you will be available to make a meal, help with school work, or do a chore after you have your work time.

You may want to try to use the “time blocking” method. You can do this by scheduling specific times on your calendar for periods of work, family life, or rest. It may also help to time-shift work hours to earlier or later in the day when there is less going on around you. It may take a few tries to find a successful approach. Keep experimenting and adapting as needed.

6. Decompress Each Day

In this ‘new normal’, days seem to run together, which can feel like there is even more on your plate with virtually no downtime. With this reality, it’s even more important to take time to decompress each day. This could mean going for a walk or exercising, enjoying a glass of wine, or curling up with a good book. 

Here are some of the activities our team members do on a regular basis to decompress:

  • Read
  • Journal
  • Exercise
  • Meditate
  • Blogging
  • Needlepoint
  • Get outside for a walk, run, or hike
  • Recite and reflect on daily affirmations

Whatever “decompressing” looks like for you, make time for yourself each day. 

7. Prioritize Sleep

There is so much upheaval and change right now that it’s enough to keep us up at night—literally. Many people struggle with getting quality sleep time, which has a direct, negative impact on our motivation, productivity, energy levels, and cognitive processes. 

At TLG, our work greatly depends on productivity, creativity, and strategic thinking, all of which require a high level of brainpower. Therefore, we stress the importance of sleep to our team. As Ariana Huffington says, “Sometimes we need to sleep in to lean in!”

Whether you need a set bedtime, to sleep in on the weekends, or to take a nap – make sure that you are allowing yourself the time to sleep and practicing good ‘sleep hygiene.’

How Our Team Has Adapted to Quarantine

Although our team worked remotely prior to the pandemic, our lives look completely different. Quarantine has impacted our team in different ways— both positively and negatively.

Our concerns for the future of our country and the world are certainly magnified, but it has also reinforced the good decisions we have made in life, such as business decisions, the people we choose to work with, the personal relationships that we choose, and how our lives are set up. Yet this pause has also allowed us time to reconnect with our partners or reimagine how we structure our lives. This truly is an opportunity to re-evaluate and reset. 

Working as a cohesive unit is a must for TLG, as we are shaping strategy and creativity on aggressive timelines for our clients. To underpin our connection with one another, we invest in the following:

  • Regular team meetings and “check ins”
  • Monthly team building events
  • Participation in a virtual wellness program
  • Collaborate via messaging and SaaS platforms

How has COVID-19 impacted you, your work, and your family? What system(s) did you adopt to help? We look forward to your experiences and solutions in the comments section below.


2020 Email Marketing Best Practices You Need to Know

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Email marketing is a perennial staple in any B2B marketing plan, and it remains an effective tactic. Most American workers spend an average of five hours per day checking their email, according to Adobe. Businesses and organizations across the globe rely on email to communicate with leads, prospects, and existing clients to provide information, promotions, company updates, as well as other key touchpoints.

Regardless of what some marketing experts might post, email marketing continues to be the most effective one-to-one communication tactic for most businesses—and it’s more important now than ever. In fact, 90 percent of companies use email marketing as part of their marketing mix. Furthermore, 81 percent claim that email marketing is their top channel for customer acquisition. When implemented correctly, email marketing can generate an average ROI of $38 to $42 for every $1 spent.

Although the purpose of email marketing hasn’t changed, the overall landscape of what an effective email looks like has evolved over the years. Let’s review the best practices for email marketing in 2020.

The Top 7 Email Marketing Best Practices 2020

Here are some email marketing best practices for 2020, as well as some tips for implementing them into your current content marketing strategy.

1. Segment Subscriber Lists

Your business might appeal to a specific target demographic or a multitude of personas. Regardless, subscribers, leads, and potential buyers are looking for content and communications that are specific, personalized, and speak to their unique needs. By segmenting your subscriber lists and crafting targeted messages for each segment, you can get up to 100 percent more clicks. 

For example, you can segment your lists according to website clicks and pages visited, form fill-outs or submissions, and link clicks in emails. This will allow you to deliver more relevant content based on your target audience’s demonstrated interests and perceived needs.

2. Test Subject Lines

Subject lines remain a primary key to email success, with roughly half of recipients deciding to open an email based on subject line appeal. Here are some ways to beef up your subject lines:

  • Short email subject lines (between 33 to 43 characters) are easier to read on mobile.
  • Use emojis in subject lines to improve open rates. 
  • Put the subscriber or recipient’s first name in the subject line.

3. Use Pre-Headers

Email preheaders provide the recipient or subscriber with a short summary of the contents of an email. This is also known as “email preview text”, which allows senders and recipients to see how an email appears on both desktop and mobile prior to scheduling delivery. The email preheader can be written using HTML or CSS. Many email marketing software tools allow businesses to write and customize their email preheaders without using code.

By providing email preheader text, recipients can see what an email is about prior to opening it. So, the more informative and enticing the preheader copy, the better it will be for email open rates. 

4. Headers

The email header is a code snippet in an HTML email that always precedes the body copy. It provides the email recipient with information about the sender as well as the email’s route to a recipient’s inbox, email send time and date, and other authentication details. 

The purpose of an email header is to help email service providers identify and prevent spam. Email service providers analyze the details provided in an email header and determine whether or not to send the email. Ensure your email header has the appropriate information to increase deliverability. 

5. Body Copy

In our digitally-driven era, attention spans are significantly shorter than they were a decade ago. Most of us don’t read long emails or large sections of text. To keep readers engaged, the email body copy should be short, sweet, and to the point. Use bullet points, bold text for offers or promotions, and highlight the value prop immediately.

If you want to link to an offer, product, or service, you can A/B test button sizes, copy, and color, or links. You can also A/B test sending emails in plain text instead of HTML to see what works best for your audiences.

6. Don’t Forget the Footer

The footer of your email is located at the very bottom, below your signature. Most email footers contain relevant links and information, such as links to your website, your contact information or business location, social media icons, and email preferences. 

It might seem insignificant, however, the footer of your email is actually very important. It not only provides recipients with the option to link to your website or connect with you on social media, which can boost engagement, but it is also critical for compliance. This brings us to our next point… 

7. Compliance

Over the years, sending emails has become a little more complicated. Collecting names and email addresses and sending communications used to be a simple process, however, the rules have changed. 

After the launch of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), businesses across the globe now must allow subscribers to first opt-in to receive emails and marketing communications. This has added an extra step or two in the marketing process. 

Additionally, businesses must provide the option for users to unsubscribe from future emails and communications. In addition to including social media links, company information, and relevant links, be sure to also include an unsubscribe link to remain compliant. 

Email Marketing Best Practices 2020

Finally, there are a variety of information, use cases, and opinions as to what the best email marketing practices are today. What works and what doesn’t can depend on recipient or subscriber persona, business type, and industry. 

Although email marketing has evolved over the last decade, it is certainly here to stay. By using this simple outline as a framework for your approach to email marketing, you are on your way to higher open rates, higher conversion rates, and growth.

What email practices have worked for you? We’d love to hear about it! Feel free to comment below.