Feelings: Can We Have Them in The Workplace?

Originally Published on Forbes

There seems to be a well-perpetuated myth that when you enter the office, you should leave your feelings at the door. Work is not a place where you can have emotions. Instead, it is a place where you are expected to be productive and efficient. Being emotional is seemingly contrary to those end goals.

To me, a work environment should not be a hindrance to mental health. Instead, I view it as an important place to have conversations around emotional well-being. After all, most of us spend the majority of our time working. And according to the CDC, poor mental health and stress can negatively impact:

• Job performance and productivity

• Engagement with work

• Communication with co-workers

• Physical capability and daily functioning

As the founder of a company, I can say that intense emotions are what set me down the path of opening my own studio. So, limiting the ability of my team to have their feelings seems a bit counterintuitive and doesn’t allow for a very fundamental part of the business to shine through.

When emotions, such as passion and even frustration, are wrapped up in the work, the end result is stellar because time, care and attention are paid to either solving problems or embracing and elevating ideas.

Being a founder is a deeply personal experience. We are complex and emotional beings, and that is why we cannot divorce our feelings from the place where we spend most of our waking hours.

So, how do we — as employers and employees — deal with feelings that could arise in a productive and nurturing way?

1. Communicate feelings, and encourage feedback

As an employee, if you are having an issue at work, or in your personal life, don’t hide it, push it down or tell yourself you are wrong. Talk about it with your supervisor. Odds are, the company will create space for you to have your needs met, whether it is in the long term or the short term.

As a business leader, encourage people to give you feedback. This makes people feel that you are open to communication and are there to support them. When an employee has an evaluation, ask them if they have any feedback for you. Approach them with humility and as an equal member of the team.

Let them know that they don’t have to tell you immediately or at all. Give them time and space to think about it, and let them know it is safe to tell you what they feel – there will be no repercussions, only solutions to perceived issues.

2. Pay attention to employee happiness

Your well-being matters to your employer. Remember, you are important! Business leaders want to make sure they are facilitating a positive workplace environment for retention, recruitment and top-notch quality of work. Happy people do their best work.

As a business leader, pay close attention to the work your employees are doing. If their attention to detail is slipping, if it’s taking them longer to execute tasks that once took less time, or if they are less talkative than usual, check in with them, and ask them what is going on in a nonjudgmental, compassionate way. Let them know that the entire team is there for them if they need to talk, and encourage them to share with others so they can get support from their peers as well as their superiors.

3. Create/hold space for others

As an employer, and even a teammate, if someone comes in to work one day with a personal issue, give them space to cry, take a walk or cool off, as well as the opportunity to talk about it. They may need to go home and take the day off.

Personal issues can be very distracting and difficult to work through. If people are encouraged to take space, whether that includes you witnessing their pain or not, they can do the emotional work they need and come back to the office feeling like they are in a positive and caring environment.

In an article published by the Chopra Center, Vedic educator Adam Brady outlines how to hold and create space for others in order to be present and protective of their needs. Creating and holding this space for others is done in a multitude of ways, including:

• Creating a sense of safety.

• Suspending your own self-importance/ego.

• Giving people your full attention when they share with you.

• Being accepting of what people have to say and making them feel that they are allowed to express themselves.

• Being nonjudgmental and only offering advice if you have truly been in their position.

• Witnessing and observing – sometimes just the act of being present for someone is enough to make a huge impact.

I find that when I express my own feelings to my team, whether that feeling is sadness, frustration, excitement to be in the office or gratitude for all of their hard work, it makes them feel more open as well.

Let’s create a movement to destigmatize having emotions in the workplace. If we don’t make room for our feelings, our work will ultimately suffer along with us.

Why It’s Time For Women In Creative Industries To Move The Needle

Originally Published on Forbes

I was recently initiated into an invitation-only club for founders of agencies that offer services to startups. The idea is to have one founder from each category (branding, marketing, SEO, etc.) meet monthly and share ideas, insights and general knowledge that would help us all grow together.

Excited, I walked into the building for the first meeting. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but when I walked into the room, I realized I was the only woman there. Although unsurprised, I made note of it and ended up being the most vocal person in the room. I shared my insights and relevant experiences, but I found myself constantly apologizing for being so outspoken. I left the meeting feeling good about the connections I had made, but I had never felt more like a female founder in my life.

The next day, the organizer of the event called me, lamenting that I was the only woman there, and said that he just didn’t know any other female founders. I realized that I didn’t either. According to Fast Company and reported by AdAge, nearly 50% of women dream of opening their own businesses, but only 12% think it’s a realistic goal. An even smaller margin of those women end up starting their own companies.

Since then, I have made a concerted effort to connect with more female founders, but it highlighted an issue in my professional sphere. Why are there so few women in prominent roles within the creative, marketing and advertising industry when women make up to 85% of all purchasing decisions? In 2016, women reportedly made up only 11% of creative directors worldwide.

Women in many cultures, such as Hinduism, for example, are representative of a creative force. Think of Shakti, the great divine mother and the personification of creative power. Think of the way our bodies can create life. Well, that creative power, in some cases, is what constricts us. Many young women, 60% of those polled, believe that creative jobs require long hours and late nights, which translates into a non-conducive environment to start a family — not to mention that there is a gender pay gap that puts women at an even bigger disadvantage when trying to create work-life balance.

An arguably bigger hurdle is that 88% of young women say they lack female role models in the industry. Well, that should come as no surprise when you consider that only 0.1% of ad agencies are founded by women, and only 2% of venture capital investment goes to female founders; this is a shockingly low number.

These women are there for you to find. It’s a matter of extending what you are looking for, and you end up finding it everywhere. One perfect example is LinkedIn. Introducing yourself to female founders on social media platforms, if you connect with their work, is an easy way to extend your professional circle and can have a number of fabulous benefits. Share experiences, learn from one another and recommend one another to clients — show them that female leaders can be a wonderful resource for them as well.

Hiring women is not only a benefit to the woman herself, but to the team overall. Startups with at least one female founder perform better than those with an all-male team. Women hire more diversely — they hire other women, people of different ethnicities, people with different personalities, etc. That’s what makes a rich work environment where your employees benefit, and the work itself is created using a more diverse lens, ultimately becoming more relatable (and more effective) to a broader range of consumers.

We live in a richly diverse culture where those with different backgrounds are rising to the top. This fledgling global movement of women staking their claim must be nurtured. Let’s help each other get there.

Using Social Media For Recruitment And Retention

Originally Published on Forbes

As a small team, any employee’s resignation can feel like a huge blow. Each person’s work and presence is crucial to the overall culture and functioning of the company. A small-business owner’s goal is to make sure that whatever internal turmoil occurs, the product and clients remain unaffected. Slipping into panic mode can be extremely easy, as time is of the essence when finding a stellar replacement.

Once you begin thinking straight again, the strategy sets in:

• Post job descriptions on the regular channels: Monster.com, Indeed.com, etc.

• Reach out to schools and use their alumni networks to find interested parties. If you can afford to hire someone part-time at first, reach out to the current student body.

• Use your personal network to find someone a trusted party can vouch for.

In recent experience, these channels, alarmingly, did not bear fruit. So, we created a group of highly stylized “flyers” on Instagram with three lines of text, including the fact that we are hiring, what position we were hiring for and where. My inbox was immediately flooded with applications.

I felt like I had tapped into the most effective channel out there for finding the right candidates. I found that many job seekers are looking to social media for employment opportunity leads. So, what are the true benefits of recruiting via social media?

• Social media is a high speed, low priced (in many cases, free) outlet. You can reach this new workforce in a place they already spend most of their time.

• The people you are attracting have access to your body of work. Already following and appreciating it in their spare time, they tend to be excited by the prospect of joining your team. This existing interconnectedness helps you find people that would be a good fit for the company.

• Unlike the regular job boards, social media allows you to easily do background checks on your potential hires. You can gain more insight into their lives, personalities and their aesthetic — an organic and true resume. Not only can you begin to understand their personality, but you can also see how they interact socially through commentary and the types of accounts they follow. While it’s easy to spot red flags, it’s equally as important to look for what they are passionate about by exploring their feeds.

• Current employees play a role as well. They can add credibility to your company and reinforce its culture. Most importantly, they can act as inside resources for others helping attract and retain employees. For example, our current employees use social media to share the work they have created for our clients. Whether it’s a copywriter sharing a blog post to her personal Facebook feed or a designer posting an animated GIF on his personal Instagram, their sharing helps our brand but, more importantly, showcases a corporate culture that values their work and believes in giving credit where credit is due. It also opens the door for prospective employees to comment or send direct messages to current employees about their experience.

A new hire (who we found via Instagram) recently told me that schools are even focusing on social media as a place to connect with potential employers. Professional development classes taught in universities for juniors and seniors help students design their web portfolios/presence on different social media channels, combing through them in preparation for employers to review them.

Given this information and cultural change, it seems that the usual channels for finding employees are not as effective as they once were. We are shifting now toward social media as a platform not only for social interaction, creative expression and a photographic anthology, but also as a space for the job hunt.

Protecting Yourself And Your Business After Dealing With Sexual Harassment

Originally Published on Forbes

As an entrepreneur who recently dealt with sexual harassment from a client, I came to realize that threats against my person are inherent threats against my business, too. In recent months, especially in the wake of the #MeToo movement, we have all learned that people don’t “look like” predators. Predatory behavior is non-discriminatory, crossing gender, age, racial, ethnic, religious and socioeconomic bounds.

As cliché as it may sound, my story started innocently enough but quickly progressed. After signing a lucrative contract with a new client, my business partner immediately picked up on his advances after one of our meetings early on. I had been convinced to sit down with him for a “business meeting,” which quickly turned into a hostile interrogation where he focused on my personal life and questioned how serious my current relationship is, rather than the work-related items he said he was coming to my office to discuss. I spent at least 20 minutes of the discussion trying to tiptoe around his feelings, acting as if I was oblivious to his advances. I wanted to remain professional and kind.

I felt trapped, and I was physically alone in the meeting, so I ended up cutting it short. I made up an excuse, apologized and left.

I’ve always considered myself a strong, independent woman, but this situation gave me pause. Was all of this just in my head? Was I making a big deal out of nothing? Or was I being harassed? Having studied Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies in my undergraduate career, the thoughts that flooded my mind were ones I assumed I would never have — thoughts like: Is it my fault? Did I do something to encourage this? Was it something I wore? Am I making this up? Once I took a step back, I understood the answers were clear: no.

We immediately terminated the contract with said client. We ended up losing thousands of dollars in potential revenue, but no amount of money is worth the possible physical harm and anxiety that he caused me to feel.

Instead of just pushing everything down and forgetting about it (which was what I really wanted to do), I came up with a plan of action that would work for myself and for my business.

Feel your feelings. I checked in. How was I doing emotionally? I wanted to confide in people, so I did. I wanted to be alone, so I was. When I was done, I picked myself up, put my red lipstick and chainmail necklace on, and marched out of my house like a warrior.

Take safety precautions. It was imperative to take precautionary measures not only for myself but also for my employees. As an employer, I have a responsibility to create a safe space for the people who dedicate their time and attention to growing my company. Making sure this person could not enter my place of work and inflict any emotional or bodily harm was a priority, so I gave his information and photograph to building security.

Gather evidence. I created a summary of what happened, saved phone messages, emails and made sure there was an accurate timeline of what occurred.

Lawyer up. I spoke with an employment lawyer about how to protect myself but also our company, due to the early termination of the project. Trying to navigate all possible outcomes while thinking ahead was imperative. What if one of our employees was in a meeting with a client who harassed her/him? How would we protect her/him and would we be liable as a company? We came up with strategies and shared the protocols with our team members to ensure they would know what to do in such an event.

If it feels right, report it. Once a complaint is made to the police and the offender violates that complaint (and if the offender has a prior), the offender can be arrested immediately.

A friend of mine working in the adult leadership and learning program asked me, “After all this, what is the outcome you would like to have?”

Well, I’d like to share my story and let people know that in situations like these it is easy and OK to feel uncomfortable, vulnerable and alone. It can be difficult in such emotional situations to identify the clear steps that need to be taken in order to protect yourself as a professional. But it’s necessary and doable to bounce back and enact proactive steps to combat such occurrences, with the right support systems and legal practices in place. While you can’t control how others act, you can control how you react.

I hope my experience illustrates why personal safety should always be paramount to profit.

How Video Calling Enables International Entrepreneurship

Growing up, visiting my friends and family in Israel came with an overwhelming electricity of seeing each other for the first time in a long time. We would kiss and hug one another, then hold each other at arm’s length, reacquaint ourselves with each other’s faces, discovering new freckles and wrinkles, filling in the blanks of our memories of one another — finally!

Today, speaking face-to-face with friends, family, clients and colleagues only requires a screen. Sitting at mission control (my desk) with my elevated laptop, my second screen and at least one additional computer at each desk, the first thing I do is open Skype. I hear that familiar tone and seconds later, I see my business partner’s face. Frenzied by half a day gone by, she fills me in on everything that happened in our Tel Aviv office while I’ve been asleep.

She shares her screen, showing me design progress for internal QA. I give her notes and she fixes each item on her screen. I say, “move that a little to the left.”

She clicks the mouse a few times and replies, “There? Is that good?”

It’s an impossible conversation to have without screen-sharing. Next, she grabs our lead designer to weigh in, our developer to tell us if the design is feasible within the parameters we are working — and boom. It’s as if I’ve been transported to Tel Aviv.

Video chats are not just for the team to communicate from across the Atlantic. Many of our clients, even if they are located in the same city as the designer on the project, prefer to video chat. Sitting in the comfort of their own offices, the clients see our designers screens and can weigh in on their projects in real time — speeding up the revision process exponentially and creating an atmosphere of true collaboration between designer and client.

The phone has become obsolete. Without fail, each client phone call ends with, “You know what? This is too hard to explain over the phone. Let’s move to a video chat so I can share my screen.”

Words cannot express an aesthetic nearly as well as images can. Even looking at the same thing on different mediums isn’t as efficient as the alternative at our fingertips: the shared screen.

However, sharing your screen with a client can lead to some embarrassing moments if done without some prep work. Remember, inviting someone into your computer is just like inviting someone into your home. Tidying up is important! So consider the following steps:

  1. Clean the dirty dishes: Close down any apps that are not crucial for that conversation. For example, you don’t want to get a text from a friend with NSFW content that pops up as you are talking about market and competitor research.
  2. Wipe down your surfaces: Make sure that if you are going to show someone your web browser, you have your Fresh Direct, Facebook and even work related (but not conversation related) tabs closed.
  3. Prepare snacks for your friends: Make sure that the content that is necessary for the conversation is open and ready for viewing.
  4. Know how to operate your television: if you have to make tweaks on the fly, make sure you are confident and comfortable utilizing the programs at your disposal. If you fumble, it could lead the client to lose confidence in your technical abilities.

The gift of the video call allows us to show each other everything from our hand-drawn doodles to digital designs. Sometimes seeing a colleague’s unkempt desktop can communicate a lot about them. We see each other’s organizational habits, facial expressions and hear each other’s feedback. We even have our fair share of inter-office shenanigans, creating a real sense of community, teamwork and dare I say, friendship.

 

Fostering this sort of interconnected environment requires a full integration between the body and the computer. Utilizing inter-office communication applications like Slack is crucial. We create multiple channels; one for each project, one for each office, one for both offices and one for shenanigans alone. This signals to our team that we are here to have fun but also work hard and work smart.

There are endless programs we use each day to create deliverables for our clients, from Sketch to Illustrator to AfterEffects. I never dreamt that Skype would play such an integral role in the creative process. Without it, we wouldn’t have two offices on opposite sides of the world.

Going Into Business With Your Best Friend: A Good Idea or Potential Problem?

Originally Published on Alley Watch:

My best friend and I would lock ourselves in my tiny, yellow room in Brooklyn, sitting on my bed with a hundred pieces of paper around us, quietly and carefully plotting how we would launch our business. This was an exercise we had done several times during the course of our 15-year friendship, but this time it was serious. My sister from another mister and I were planning something life-changing together. I had always wanted to start my own company, and — as she well knew — I always wanted to be doing it with her. The dangers of embarking on this adventure together were more than just the business’s failure. It was the failure of our friendship that worried us more than anything. Would our friendship stand up against the pressures of being in business together? Could we go into business together and remain best friends?

The answer, as we now know, is yes. However, we were bombarded with messages from outsiders saying not to go into business with friends and family. Things can get messy and can make the relationships you have so carefully and lovingly cultivated with your people implode irreparably. We did it anyway.

Walking through the long hallways of our accountant’s office felt like walking down the aisle. We were making it official — binding ourselves together for good times and bad and promised to work our hardest for our own sakes but, more importantly, to make each other proud.

So why do so many friendships/business ventures fail with all their good intentions, excitement and dedication to one another? There are two factors you need to avoid:

  1. When we go into business ventures with family or friends, we omit steps because we love and trust one another. However, this is where things begin to fall apart — when there is a lack of set expectations and understanding of what each party is getting themselves into. Formalities — like contracts — are there for a reason. They serve to make everything clear, to put it all out on the table. And when there is clarity, understanding and set expectations, all is well on both sides.
  2. Poor Communication. When we go into business with family or friends, things can become very emotional. You will inevitably need to give one another feedback, and sometimes it is hard to separate the emotions from the facts. Carefully crafting your messages to one another in a way which lands most effectively with your partner is important. And always remember it’s for the good of the whole and not a criticism on your performance. Further, don’t be afraid to talk your feelings out. Communicate with one another when there is something that is bothering you, and don’t let it fester.

Throughout this journey, we have found that being such good friends has actually helped us in avoiding poor communication with one another. Because we have such a deep understanding of one another’s nuanced personalities, we know how to communicate with one another most effectively.

So what about being hired by, or hiring friends and family? When you begin a business, much of your clientele comes from the people you know personally. This group of clientele, however, should be treated with formality and a special dedication to professionalism. Organization, in this case, is a key factor in making sure things go smoothly and is something your clients will be impressed by.

Before beginning work with friends or family whether it is as partners or clients, signing contracts and scheduling formal meetings are not nuisances — these steps are necessary for cultivating a successful end result — internally and externally — and making sure people refer you forward!

Debunking the Myth That to Be Successful, You Must Be Mean

On a recent Tuesday, I opened my computer to find a message from a friend, Katherine, who I hadn’t spoken to in a while. The message read:

“Hey Emily!! How are you?! It’s been forever! I have a question for you if you feel comfortable sharing, I am looking to start my own design business and I was wondering if you had an opinion on starting out. I’m slowly learning the ropes on how to handle all this, so any advice you have would be so helpful! And let’s set a date to catch up, it’s been too long!”

I jumped at the chance not only to spend time with Katherine but also to speak to her about the joys and stresses of starting a creative business. A few days went by and we met for lunch. We talked about S Corps vs. LLCs, what to look for in a good lawyer and how to begin building a network of clients for future work. Most importantly though, we spoke about Katherine’s motivation to leave her job and start her intrepid journey into the world of entrepreneurship.

She had (what seemed at the time to be) an excellent job working in high-end residential interiors with great budgets, kind clients and a boss who seemed to revel in her own villainous behavior. “I have never been treated with such disrespect.” Katherine said, as she regaled me with tales of her boss constantly insulting, micromanaging and second-guessing everyone with whom she worked. “She told me I would never be successful in business because I’m too nice.”

I looked up from my salad, stunned. “You know that’s not true, right? You don’t have to be mean to be successful.” I could see the relief flood into Katherine’s face.

According to Dori Ben Chanoch, a client of mine and certified behavioral coach and leadership development expert, there are two engines to leadership:

  1. The first is reactive; it is avoidance-based or fear-based.
  2. The second is value-based and purpose-based; passion is what propels you forward.

It seems Katherine’s former boss subscribes to the first tenet of leadership, reacting to every situation with fear-based lapses of ethical conduct. Though she may seem successful, she has low employee retention, de-motivates her employees to do good work, has put-off potential collaborators from engaging with her and just seems unhappy. Is this truly success?

Often times, people conflate being mean with power and being nice with weakness. But you can still be powerful and assertive while being tactful and professional. Further, there are huge benefits to being nice in the workplace. Studies show that being nice has the most positive effect on innovative behaviors. In other words, in order to foster a work environment where people are at their most productive, you must be nurturing.

  1. Grant your employees autonomy and space to try new things. Designers deal with constant critiquing and editing, which can hinder productivity. Giving people space to connect with their creativity in an un-oppressive environment can lead to the most exciting end result.
  2. Be open and inclusive about the decision making processes. This gives everyone involved in a project a broader understanding of what is going on and, therefore, a feeling of ownership over the end result. When someone feels ownership and responsibility for something, they try their hardest at creating a successful product.
  3. Share expert knowledge. Don’t hoard your insights like cans of beans in the zombie apocalypse. Share it. If people understand your thought process, reinforced by experience, they will implement that knowledge in future projects, which can only bolster future successes.
  4. Always learn. According to Bill Nye (the science guy), “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” There is so much to learn from your clients, your peers and your employees. No one is beneath you; if you keep your eyes and ears open, you will always gather know-how and understanding from others that allow you to be better.

There are days where I understand the impulse to “be mean,” to be forceful, to rule with a big stick. Then I think about Virtue Ethics, an idea that “encompasses actions and choices that are flourishing, that represent the best of the human condition and that enhance quality of life.” In an article published in the Journal of Business Ethics, “Virtue Ethics has an amplifying effect that enhances performance as well as a buffering effect that offsets negative consequences, dysfunction, and disappointment.” So there is really no reason to be mean to get your way. In fact, it serves as a disservice to yourself and others.