Category: work-life balance
Shamir Duverseau

Smart Panda Labs Recognized Nationally as One of the Best Workplaces for Commuters in 2020

Orlando, FL – February 13, 2020Smart Panda Labs, a digital consultancy that leverages data and creative intelligence to drive customer lifetime value, today announced its been named one of the 2020 Best Workplaces for Commuters for offering employees exceptional commuter benefits.

Smart Panda Labs is among a select group of workplaces in the United States that have achieved the Best Workplaces for Commuters National Standard of Excellence by providing an array of commuter benefits, resulting in at least 14 percent of their employee base not driving alone to work within a 12-month period. With a workforce that’s 100% virtual, Smart Panda Labs offers employees several telecommuting benefits options, including:

  • Computers and peripherals
  • Monthly budgets to support team members as needed
  • Innovative technologies that advance collaboration such as on-demand conference calls, video conferencing, screen sharing and virtual whiteboarding

“Smart Panda Labs is one of the top employers in the nation offering high level commuter benefits to their employees,” said Julie Bond, Program Manager, Best Workplaces for Commuters. “Smart Panda Labs made the list because they put people first and support employees with technologies and resources that enable telework and compressed work weeks. Smart Panda Labs gives its employees the support they need to excel in a virtual workplace business model.”

“We take immense pride in receiving our 2020 Best Workplaces for Commuters national designation,” said Shamir Duverseau, co-founder and managing director of Smart Panda Labs. “Our support of remote and virtual workers reflects our commitment to our people and has helped us recruit top talent, experience lower turnover, and foster a highly collaborative environment. Financially, we have reduced overhead costs and reduced payroll tax contributions. I have found that the Best Workplaces for Commuters program is good for our company and good for our people.”

The Best Workplaces for Commuters program offers designated organizations access to a range of support services to assess and promote non-driving commuting of employees, including organizational assessment and implementation tool-kits, web-based tools and webinars, staff training, and information exchange.

“The companies on this list understand the importance and impact commuter benefits have on their employees and the value they bring to the environment,” said Bond. “Excellent commuter benefit programs reward these companies not just with a national designation, but buoys workplace productivity, customer loyalty and brand recognition in an increasingly competitive marketplace.”

About Smart Panda Labs 

Smart Panda Labs is a digital consulting firm that drives customer lifetime value by optimizing every digital experience along the customer journey in a variety of considered purchase industries such as higher ed, travel and hospitality, healthcare, real estate, retail, and technology. MWBE-owned and founded in 2010 by digital strategy experts from Fortune 1000 companies, Smart Panda Labs is focused on the strength of data-driven and creative intelligence to increase their clients’ new customer acquisition and improve customer retention.  Visit Smart Panda Labs. Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter 

About Best Workplaces for Commuters (http://www.bestworkplaces.org/ 

Best Workplaces for Commuters is the national authority on recognizing and assisting workplaces that provide exceptional commuter benefits to employees. More than a recognition program, the Best Workplaces for Commuters program provides support needed to create and sustain an employer-provided commuter benefit program, including online assessment tools, advisory services, case studies, tool-kits, web-based tools, webinars and training. Best Workplaces for Commuters represents over 350 workplaces with Best Workplaces for Commuters designation representing over 2,000,000 employees. The Best Workplaces for Commuters program is managed by the Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR)  at the University of South Florida with support from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). 

About Center for Urban Transportation Research (https://www.cutr.usf.edu/) 

The Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR) at the University of South Florida, established in 1988, is an internationally recognized resource for policymakers, transportation professionals and the public. CUTR provides high quality, objective expertise in the form of insightful research, in-depth policy analysis, comprehensive training and education and effective technical assistance that translates directly into benefits for CUTR’s project sponsors.  CUTR’s faculty of 49 full-time researchers and 75 students, combines academic knowledge and extensive “real world” experience in developing innovative, implementable solutions for all modes of transportation.  The multidisciplinary research faculty includes experts in economics, planning, engineering, public policy and geography.  CUTR logs nearly $20 million per year in expenditures through contracts and grants to support its research, education, training and technical assistance missions. In 2019, CUTR was competitively selected by the U.S. Department of Transportation as the university to oversee the National Institute of Congestion Reduction. 

Category: work-life balance
Alex Corzo

40 Hours

On September 1 the Bahamas was hit by Hurricane Dorian and it lasted about two days.  What I didn’t know until I read an article from The Washington Post was that Dorian remained there for 40 hours.

In our busy lives, 40 hours doesn’t seem that long.  But, for those hunkered in their homes, climbing on their roofs, or engaged in a desperate attempt to save and preserve their families, friends, and neighbors, it was likely the longest 40 hours of their lives.

I got to thinking a lot about the people of the Bahamas and those 40 hours.  During our next leadership team meeting, I shared these thoughts, and the team listened.  We made a unanimous commitment to find a way to make those same 40 hours bring some relief. First, we calculated how much revenue we generated in those 40 hours.  Then, we decided to donate it all.

We chose to donate to World Central Kitchen.  Chef Jose Andres and his team are feeding people at this very moment.  And that includes families and their children.

Children are a big deal to us. The overwhelming majority of our team are working parents, and taking care of our families is a big driving force behind why we do what we do.  Therefore, we wanted to make sure whatever we did had a direct impact on the children and their families whose lives were forever changed by those 40 hours.

It is our hope that other business leaders will follow this example in their own way.  While we are dedicating 100% of our 40-hour revenue to support families devastated by Dorian, you may choose a different percentage or some other metric (e.g., profit instead of revenue).

Whomever you choose or whatever you choose to do, find a way to make those 40 hours meaningful. #Dorian40HourPledge

Visit World Central Kitchen to see how you can help.

Category: work-life balance
Shamir Duverseau

Data, Diversity, and Design

In his best-selling 2005 book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell’s discusses how humans think without thinking. Choices that seem to be made in an instant—in the blink of an eye—actually aren’t as simple as they seem. 

How does this process impact the digital experience? Does diversity in design make a difference? What key role does design play in this process? And if so, how do we measure this and tie it to meeting and exceeding business goals? 

These were some of the questions we tackled earlier this month at the dmi: Diversity in Design conference in Washington D.C. Smart Panda Labs Co-Founder Cheryl Myers and I led a session on how design—in particular, design representative of diversity—can and should be informed by data gleaned from digital experimentation.

Rapid cognition and thin-slicing

We began our session with an anecdote Gladwell presents in his introductory chapter of Blink. In 1983, an art dealer named Gianfranco Becchina approached the J. Paul Getty Museum in California claiming to have a marble statue known as a “kouros,” dating from the sixth century B.C. Becchina’s asking price for the statue was $10 million. The Getty took the kouros on loan and began a thorough investigation to authenticate it. From scientific evidence of its age to the bevy of documentation of the statue’s recent history and provenance, there was ample proof of the statue’s authenticity. The Getty concluded its investigation and agreed to buy the statue.

The kouros went up on display, receiving glowing reviews. However, the statue did not look right to a few people – namely an Italian art historian Federico Zeri (who served on the Getty’s board of trustees), Evelyn Harrison (a foremost expert on Greek sculpture), and Thomas Hoving (the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York). They were each taken to the see the sculpture, and in what seemed like an instant, they all came to the conclusion that there was something off about the sculpture. All concluded that it was a fake.

The Getty launched a further investigation and found inconsistencies in the documents that supposedly proved the kouros’ provenance. It discovered that the statue actually most resembled a forged kouros that came from a workshop in Rome in the early 1980s. It turned out that dolomite could be aged in a matter of a few months using potato mold. The sculpture was indeed a fake.

“When [the art historians] looked at the kouros and felt an ‘intuitive repulsion,’ they were absolutely right,” writes Gladwell. “In the first two seconds of looking—in a single glance—they were able to understand more about the essence of the statue than the team at the Getty was able to understand after fourteen months.”

At the heart of Blink is the concept of rapid cognition, or “thin-slicing,” the process by which people make quick assessments using a limited amount of evidence. For better or worse, a staggering number of our decisions result from thin-slicing and instinctive hunches about how to act. While the conscious mind is good at studying a wide range of evidence and drawing conclusions from it, our “adaptive unconscious” is adept at assessing a very small amount of evidence about the external world—a “thin slice”—and then forming an instinctive response.

Gladwell is clear in the fact that rapid cognition is often imperfect and sometimes dangerous. After all, this how many prejudicial decisions are made. However, he argues that rapid cognition plays a valuable role in human behavior—a role that’s too-often ignored.

Designing with diversity in mind

As part of a firm specializing in optimizing digital experiences, my colleagues and I must be keenly aware of the rapid cognition and thin slicing that happens as a very natural part of digital engagement. Just as the art and antiquities experts brought their own expertise and personal experiences to bear in their snap judgment of the kouros, consumers are similarly informed by their own knowledge and experience when they interact with a brand’s website, for example. Everything about us, including our ethnicity, gender, geography, and age affect our world view. In our digital exchanges, we must be aware that the impressions made on users may not be the effect intended.

So how does this understanding of human cognition square with our roles as designers and digital strategists? And what do brands and businesses need to bear in mind? Just as our workforces need to be diverse and inclusive in order to better reflect the perspectives of our audiences and consumers, so should our digital experiences reflect the realities of those for whom we are designing.

During our session at the dmi conference, we shared a series of stock photos and website landing pages and asked our audience to share their impressions. The exercise helped to embellish upon our previous discussion on thin-slicing, and it also demonstrated the fact that diversity is relative.

What is diverse to someone from a rural and perhaps less racial diverse area of the country or the world is markedly different from someone from an urban center teeming with diversity. How do you balance such relativity with a desire to make design as personal as possible?

In pursuit of digital experiences that resonate, be data driven

What we see matters. But the question is, how much? Instead of making assumptions about your users, think of yourself as a student of the digital experiences you provide.

Experimentation, testing, and choosing a “learn-it-all” mindset over a “know-it-all” one (see Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s best-selling book, Mindset) is winning at some of the largest and most successful companies.

Take Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who recently said about the mindset he is implementing at Microsoft: “Some people can call it rapid experimentation, but more importantly, we call it ‘hypothesis testing.’ Instead of saying ‘I have an idea,’ what if you said ‘I have a new hypothesis, let’s go test it, see if it’s valid, ask how quickly can we validate it.’ And if it’s not valid, move on to the next one.”

Or Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who says, “Our success is a function of how many experiments we do per year, per month, per week, per day.”

Or Mark Zuckerberg, who said of Facebook, “One of the things I’m most proud of, and I think the key to our success, is this testing framework we’ve built.”

If you want to understand to what degree diversity plays a role in the products or services you’re offering, test it, and let the data reveal the answer. For example, change the images on your site to demonstrate differing kinds of diversity, such as gender, ethnicity, age, ability, and intersectionality—overlapping aspects of social categorizations—as much as possible. You may also want to highlight ADA compliance, as another example. Facebook data may be helpful to you in terms of understanding some of the interests and perspectives of your target audiences, and you can consider including some of that content on your site. Throughout this process, we recommend keeping your key performance indicators (KPIs) top of mind and maintaining authenticity—your goal here is to surface diversity without being disingenuous.

Now it’s time to put your efforts to the test. Here are the five steps we suggest in the experimentation process:

  1. Define your audiences
  2. Consider what diversity is for each audience
  3. Test—A/B testing, focus groups, and usability labs are all examples of types of test
  4. Read reactions, not explanations (think “adaptive unconscious” vs. conscious)

On this latter step, the point I am trying to make is that a user’s initial reaction, in the form of a rating, for example, is more useful data respective to a digital experience than a conscious explanation; that instant reaction more closely mirrors how decisions are made in such a context. In Blink, Gladwell shares examples of how this works in other contexts as well.

The impact of the changes you are testing can be measured in many ways, such as overall satisfaction (feedback, surveys, net promoter scores), site engagement, social media engagement, and conversion rates. Analyze the data to see if changes you’re making to your digital experience are moving the needle and helping you meet your KPIs.

Then, use your findings to evangelize the value of diversity throughout your organization.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Rapid cognition plays a valuable role in human behavior and has a lot to do with how consumers experience digital. “Thin slicing” happens as a very natural part of digital engagement.
  • Everything about us, including our ethnicity, gender, geography, and age affect our world view. In our digital exchanges, we must be aware that the impressions made on users may not be the effect intended.
  • If you want to understand to what degree diversity plays a role in the products or services you’re offering, test it, and let the data reveal the answer.
  • The impact of the changes you are testing can be measured in many ways, such as overall satisfaction (feedback, surveys, net promoter scores), site engagement, social media engagement, and conversion rates. Analyze the data to see if changes you’re making to your digital experience are moving the needle and helping you meet your KPIs.
  • Just as our workforces need to be diverse and inclusive in order to better reflect the perspectives of our audiences and consumers, so should our digital experiences reflect the realities of those for whom we are designing.
  • Use your findings to evangelize the value of diversity throughout your organization.
Category: work-life balance
Cheryl Myers

10 Tips for Working from Home—A Mother’s Perspective

My day starts at 4:45 am, when I get up and go to the gym. Shortly after my workout, the waterfall of demands begins. From making breakfast for the kids to reading through my emails, by 8:30 am I’ve been up for almost four hours and am practically thinking about lunch.

Nearly eight years ago I decided to leave traditional corporate life behind and cofound a digital marketing agency. A virtual firm, we rely on a team of people who work remotely, the majority of whom happen to be moms. I made this shift, in part, because I wanted greater work-life balance and to be more available for my family.

But is this balance what I got?

As others who have made similar shifts from “corporate office to couch” will attest, the answer is complicated. There are both pros and cons of working from home and being in charge of my own schedule. While I’m able to attend my kids’ school events, take care of them when they’re sick, and run errands during the day, on most days I feel pulled in a thousand directions. While job flexibility is often held up as the great salvation of the hard-charging professional who also wants more time with his or her children, it doesn’t necessarily lighten the full load of work and family responsibilities. From client meetings and project deadlines to Sisyphean laundry piles and the sink full of dishes I didn’t get to last night, my daily calendar is fuller than it ever was working from an office.

And then there are the things I miss. Like hallway conversations, lunch with colleagues, and that invaluable decompression time during the commute home. Of course, now I save money on lunch and gas, I don’t have to wear a suit every day, and my commute is as easy as moving from one room to the next.

As I started to think about blogging on this topic, and especially with Women’s Equality Day in sight (it’s today, btw!), I asked my work from home colleagues to weigh in. I was curious to know if their experiences had been the same does having job flexibility only encourage them to do more of everything? Do they find themselves responding to emails late at night (… while their spouses are watching Netflix)? Are they caught in an endless loop of multi-tasking? Or is working from home giving them balance they have always wanted?

Lisa M. said she had been commuting 64 miles each way and spending too much time away from her son before she started working with our team. “Often times I was out the door before he woke up and getting home after he had gone to bed. I missed all of his major milestones and really wanted to spend more time at home with him before he started school, which was quickly approaching.”

Charlene admitted that she loves the “no drama, no politics, no distractions atmosphere” that she has at home. “I feel I am a lot more productive when I’m in my own element.”

Meanwhile, Lisa E. among others shared that they sometimes missing “the in-person social interactions that you get in an office environment.”

And the need to set boundaries for oneself came up more than once. “If you want to create a work-life balance,” says Brenda, “you need to set up barriers so that you can stop and take time for yourself and your family. Working for a company that is supportive of that truly helps!”

Lauren admitted that she is just as busy as when she worked in an office, but “my family calendar has changed … and our lives feel less rushed and less pressured than before.”

Without a doubt, it takes strength and determination to work from home. And, sometimes, I get tired of talking to my plants. But at the end of the day, I do think that I’ve been able to create a balance in my life, one that has helped me contribute in a more valuable way to my company and be more available to my family at the same time.

Ten tips for the home-office advantage

If you’re a parent who is considering working from home, my Smart Panda colleagues and I have assembled our top ten tips for living the dream. Some of these tips have been honed by experience, others are new to us, too. We continue to explore the best ways to strike a perfect balance, and we invite you to join us in this quest!

  1. Create a routine and set a schedule. While having kids seems antithetical to scheduling your time, having structure is a blessing. My recommendation—make a daily routine that includes getting up before your family in order to take time for yourself or get things done. If you’re looking for tools to better understand how you allocate your time, or for setting a schedule for your entire family, check out these 168 Hours spreadsheets by time management expert Laura Vanderkam. (We’ll mention this guru again in this list!)
  2. Dress for success. Maybe it sounds ridiculous but getting dressed as if you were headed to work is good for your routine and helps you set boundaries. Studies have also shown that clothing affects your work. Researchers Joy V. Peluchette and Katherine Karl conducted a study that found participants reported feeling more authoritative, trustworthy, and competent when wearing formal business attire. And a similar study from Northwestern University found that certain clothing can influence the wearer’s psychological processes. Plus, if you’re already dressed for the part, an impromptu video chat from colleagues or clients won’t throw you suddenly off your game.
  3. Stay social. Nope, this doesn’t mean posting on Facebook or Snapchat all day—unless of course, your outfit is so on point, per tip #2, it requires it. Working from home can be isolating, so it’s a good idea to find local groups, co-working spaces, or networking events that help you stay connected to people in your industry or with whom you share interests. I’m practicing what I preach—I recently joined Together Digital and am excited to attend their national conference next month! Need to ask a colleague a question? Instead of firing off an email, pick up the phone.
  4. Subscribe to this podcast. If you enjoy hearing from other moms who are making it work, then you will especially love the “Best of Both Worlds” podcast hosted by Laura Vanderkam, author of I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make The Most of Their Time and a mom of four, and Sarah Hart-Unger, a mom of three, practicing physician, and blogger. While it’s not specific to moms who work from home, there is no shortage of great tips and conversations on work/life balance, career development, parenting, time management, productivity, and making time for fun.
  5. Set aside a designated place for work. If feasible, a designated desk or office-like space in your house goes a long way toward helping you respect your work/life boundaries and reminding your kids and spouse to do the same (shhh, see, mommy is working). One of the moms on our team is a member of a co-working space, so she can keep all the flexibility she wants while also having access to a workspace free from distractions and toddler toys. Worth noting, if you intend to write off home office outlays on your taxes, you must have a designated area that is used on a regular basis and only for work. Snap a pic of the space, too, so you have a record in case the IRS is ever curious.
  6. Set boundaries. Working from home can be a slippery slope—it’s easy to think of yourself as “always at work.” Try to set boundaries for yourself that include a reasonable bedtime. Aim to disengage from your computer at least 30 minutes (ideally a full hour) before you go to sleep, as the “blue screen” effect of digital devices can wreak havoc on your sleep (it messes with the natural melatonin in our bodies). This will also help you clear your mind before nodding off.
  7. Create visibility at your company (a great tip from FlexJobs). If you work remotely but many of your colleagues don’t, it behooves you to show your face (video conference), speak up during phone calls, and be available to your co-workers or boss. You’ll be more likely to get the recognition you deserve for your accomplishments. You’ll also maintain stronger relationships with your virtual colleagues, and you’ll be better positioned to stay in the loop.
  8. Take time off: “Mom life” can be all-consuming, and we quickly forget that we need personal attention, too. Make sure you’re making time for doing the things that are important to you. Pedicure? Happy hour? Reading a book? Do it. Doting on yourself prevents you from burning out or feeling like you’re on the losing end of the balancing act. There is even science to back this up. Neuroscientist, medical doctor, and executive coach Tara Swart says taking a little extra time off from work helps to keep blood flowing to your brain, which in turn helps your stress level and your productivity. (Read more)
  9. Stay out of the kitchen. Ok, we snickered a bit when we wrote this, but only because it’s true. If you think meal planning is only for the office worker, think again. The constant access to food means mindless grazing, the shameful consumption of cheese puffs … and suddenly it’s the “freshman 15” all over again. Just as if you were working from an office, plan to take a designated lunch, set aside some healthy snacks, and otherwise get out of the kitchen.
  10. Remain flexible and embrace change. If you have kids, then you know full well that change is the only constant. It seems like the moment you hit your stride with a new routine, it’s time to shelve it. Maybe your family grew from two kids to three (go Jessica!), your childcare is changing, or your favorite morning rituals have been replaced with a drive to hockey practice. And then there are the myriad upheavals that come with simply being part of the workforce. Perhaps your company is under new leadership, your role is changing, or you’ve just been told that you need to sync your work schedule to another time zone. Know that your routines will need constant tweaking. Working from home can be a blessing or a curse and your approach determines how this experience will play out. Much like a corporate environment (and raising kids), boundaries must be set for you to achieve balance in your home office life. I hope these tips and insights from team Panda’s moms will help you make the adjustment to—and reap the many benefits of—working from home.

Working from home can be a blessing or a curse and your approach determines how this experience will play out. Much like a corporate environment (and raising kids), boundaries must be set for you to achieve balance in your home office life. I hope these tips and insights from team Panda’s moms will help you make the adjustment to—and reap the many benefits of—working from home.