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The Business Analyst Skillset in the New World

The Business Analyst Skillset in the New World


The Business Analyst (BA)is a key role bridging the domains of business and technical world. In midst of Outsourcing/Offshoring, this pivotal role is still preferred to reside onsite. Having been in the staffing industry for over 20 years, I am often asked this question –  what skills should I acquire and develop to be a successful Business Analyst?  Let me try to answer this from the recruiting perspective:


Traditional BA skills

Traditional BA skills are very much in play – communication skills being the most important trait. One needs to be a great communicator. As Andrea Morra, Director, Prudential Retirement, who heads a team who performs business analysis puts it, “Someone who can see the big picture, and then is able to break it down into the smaller components.  Someone who can inspire people around them by painting the big picture in a relatable way”.


As for technical skills-Data Modeling skills and SQL are a MUST have.  A rudimentary understanding of programming helps to grasp the fundamentals.  Being able to draw up Use Cases and Wire-frames are the standard skills you must have. But as the Business Analyst role is evolving and they are playing a major role in a company’s transformation, we have seen the following hottest skills for Business Analysts.



As more and more organizations are going towards Agile methodology, time for Business Analyst to adapt to the change and imbibe the spirit of the agile methodology. They need to understand their strengths and play accordingly.  For example, if they are playing the role of a Project Manager BA, they need to learn “ manage” or a BA on a core development team has to be technically savvy to act as a bridge between business and developers.


Data related technologies

Every company on this planet is talking about data and how they seek meaningful information out of it. If you like data and can play the role in data representation, you may see some good job opportunities. But you still need to learn tools such as Microstrategy, Tableau etc. and be more technical savvy from the data perspective (Sourcing, Cleansing etc.)


Cloud Computing

With the deployment of cloud computing, organizations are undergoing a lot of changes which include business process re-engineering and dependence on Cloud provider. Here the Business Analyst needs to make use of their soft skills and interact with vendors from time to time. Negotiation skills, vendor management, Business Process reengineering skills are a must for these kinds of scenarios.


Besides these skills, one of the most important skills is “continuous improvement and innovative skills”, as Andrea Morra puts it.  “Business Analysts must build creativity and have problem-solving skills”.  These are just a few examples of skills needed for Business Analyst jobs.


Best Practices for Applicant and Interview Follow-Up

Today most job candidates know that a “thank you” note after an interview is virtually an expectation. But should that note be hard copy, electronic or both? Who should it be sent to? What should it say? What other steps should candidates take—and are there things they should not do?

Here’s what HR pros, recruiters and hiring managers have to say.

“Thank You” Follow Up: A Must Do

A follow-up thank-you is a must-do say the experts, but opinions on whether it should be electronic, hard copy or both vary. Surprisingly, a very small percentage of applicants use them! Robert Half research on the topic of thank-you notes, for example, indicates that while 80 percent of HR managers take thank-you notes into account when deciding who to hire, they report receiving such notes from applicants only about 24 percent of the time, says Bianca De Rose, senior public relations specialist.

Michael Steinitz, executive director of Accountemps, recommends sending a note within 24 hours of the meeting. “The safest bet is to use email since it’s quick, unobtrusive and accepted by most managers,” he says. “Consider the company culture before deciding to follow up through another medium such as mail, phone, social media or text.”

Importantly, he adds, be cautious about coming across as desperate. “One or two emails is acceptable, but you don’t want the hiring manager to associate your persistence with peskiness. Be patient during the process.”

It’s also important, say recruiters, to add a little something personal and specific to the job and your interview. “Thank you notes should always reference something pertinent to the conversation like ‘I really enjoyed learning more about the role, and I’m particularly encouraged by Company X’s strategic direction in the areas XYZ as we discussed,” says Mary Pharris, director of business development and partnerships with Fairygodboss, a career community for women to share their workplace experiences. This shows, she says that “you were paying attention and are enthusiastic about the company and role.”

A Follow-Up Template

Matthew Kerr, a career adviser and hiring manager at ResumeGenius, offers a “tried and true formula” for writing an impactful thank you note in about four paragraphs:

Paragraph 1:

  • Introduction, context, and purpose: State that is was a pleasure to meet the interviewer, when you met them, and thank them for taking the time to interview you and considering you for the position.
  • Personal connection: Mention something that impressed you about the company.

Paragraph 2:

  • Expand on something said during the interview: Give more details about a specific skill or example you mentioned and how you can use it to benefit the company.

Paragraph 3:

  • When sending an email, add value with a link: You can link to something specific on your target company’s website that impressed you or that was mentioned in the interview. You can also link to things related to your past work.

Paragraph 4:

  • Gently remind the interviewer when they said they’d respond: Don’t set a deadline, but say you’re looking forward to hearing back from them by the previously agreed upon time.
  • Reiterate your gratitude and interest: Thank the interviewer again and mention your strong belief that you would be a great fit for the company.

Going Above and Beyond

Debra Boggs, MSM, is cofounder of D&S Professional Coaching emphasizes the importance of sending individual follow up to everyone you interacted with during the interview process. “This includes any administrative staff that arranged your meeting or travel,” she adds. “Administrative staff often have influence and should not be neglected.”

If sending hard copy follow-up notes, she also recommends preparing in advance, particularly if traveling. “Make sure to pack envelopes, notecards and stamps and pre-address them before your interview. Then you can simply fill them out and drop them in the mail locally before departing.”

Laura Poisson is president of ClearRock, a career transition, outplacement, leadership development and executive coaching firm. “Many job-seekers follow up too little, some persist too much—and far too few people persevere just right,” says Poisson. “Those who follow up in the right ways are exhibiting leadership and decision-making qualities.”

Poisson offers a variation on the follow-up letter or email: pick up the phone! “The telephone is a greatly under-utilized form of communication in our world of texts and emails,” she says. But, she adds: “Plan ahead on not connecting with your interviewer, and leaving a voicemail message when you call. Have a short message composed in advance.”

Finally, just as every good salesperson knows, don’t be shy about asking for the job. Clearly convey your interest in the position and enthusiasm about the potential to work for this company.

Outsmarting Electronic Application Systems

While applicant tracking systems (ATS) provide great value for HR professionals and hiring managers, particularly when faced with a large number of applicants for a wide range of positions, there is one big potential downfall—for both organizations and the individuals hoping to work for them. Because the systems are based on algorithms, rather than personal review, there’s no opportunity for “benefit of the doubt” when screening applications. They either fit the algorithm, or they don’t.

For applicants, understanding how these systems work and what it means in terms of submitting their information can mean the difference between ending up in a cyber-trash bin and landing an interview.

One very important step that applications should take is ensuring that they use the language the employer is using in their job posting. This language gives hints and clues into the type of words and phrases that the ATS is likely to be screening for. For instance, if a posting for an IT Project Manager says: “Strong knowledge of Agile (Scrum/Kanban) events such as walkthrough, demos, and retrospectives,” use that exact same language in your application. Repeating back to the company the language that they’re using (assuming that you hold these desired qualifications) will boost the odds that your resume will make it through.

Jessica Hernandez is president and CEO of Great Resumes Fast, an executive resume writing service, and previously an HR manager. “I work with clients every day helping them outsmart ATS,” she says. Hernandez offers several tips to help boost the odds of a resume making its way through the system:

  • Avoid putting content in the header or footer of your resume. Some versions of ATS can’t scan content that appears here, says Hernandez. In addition, she says: “Avoid putting your name or contact information in the header to prevent ATS from dismissing your resume.”
  • Be careful about including “post-nominal titles,” Hernandez advises—e.g. Ph.D., RN, CFP. Systems may read these abbreviations as part of the candidate’s name which can cause issues. Instead, she suggests, including these qualifications in the career summary and education sections.
  • Use standard headers like “Professional Experience” and “Education,” and “label your certifications so they’ll scan into the correct section too.”
  • Live links may also cause problems, says Hernandez. “While you always want to include contact information including your name, address, email address, phone number, and LinkedIn URL, you can cause problems by making your email address or LinkedIn link live. Some older ATS software will read a live link as a virus – and not every employer has the newest versions of ATS with all the most technologically up-to-date features.”

But, says Jeff Magnuson, an independent marketing and brand consultant, “I don’t believe anyone knows how to outsmart the electronic application systems.” His advice: don’t apply online! “If candidates want to get noticed, they need to take the innovative approach of mailing—not emailing—their resume, with a specific cover letter, to the hiring manager and not to HR.” Getting a job, he says, requires standing out from the masses, just as when marketing a product or service. “If a job seeker really wants a position, he or she needs to do what other people are not doing. Simply applying online with everyone else just diminishes a candidate’s likelihood of being spotted.”

LinkedIn is the go-to source for finding information on who the hiring manager for a particular position is, he says. From there, “a company’s mailing address is a keystroke away on Google.”

It is possible to stand out from the masses and make it through what can sometimes be cumbersome ATS processes. As with many things, these days, the right combination of digital and traditional approaches can do the trick.




Making the Most of MOOCs for Employee Development

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) first began gaining traction in 2011, with high profile educators like MIT and Harvard, as well as new entrants like Coursera and edX, entering the marketplace. These online courses, some available at no charge, could represent opportunities for employee development, but there are pros and cons, as well as best practices for their use.

Pros of Using MOOCs

The most obvious pro of incorporating MOOCs into your training and development activities is cost—most are free. And, because these open courses are offered by some of the best schools, and professors, in the country free doesn’t equal poor quality.

Another benefit is flexibility. Employees signing up for these programs generally have the ability to choose when they engage, at times most convenient and productive for them. The courses are also easily acceptable—and engaging. Many now incorporate video and some incorporate interaction to help boost engagement and positively impact learning.

Cons of Using MOOCs

There are also some downfalls associated with using MOOCs. Chief among them is the flip side of the benefit of flexibility—because the training sessions are “virtual” and generally accessible based on the schedule of the student the “no show” or noncomplete rates of these programs are high. EdSurge reports that a study by HarvardX and MITx indicated that only 5.5 percent of those who enroll in their open online courses go on to receive a certificate.

Another potential downfall is the alignment of this content with organizational needs, mission, vison, values, processes and policies. Companies don’t want employees to engage in training that undermines or contradicts their own practices, creating confusing and cognitive dissonance for students and potential headaches for management and HR staff.

Finally, the sheer volume of courses available from a growing number of providers can make the selection process feel overwhelming.

Best Practices for Incorporating MOOCs into Your Training and Development Efforts

Despite the potential downfalls of using MOOCs, the pros certainly provide a compelling reason to consider this form of training. Here are some best practices that can help minimize the cons, while maximizing positive outcomes.

  • Don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. MOOCs are not appropriate for all types of training and may also fail to meet the learning needs and preferences of all employees.
  • Make it real by ensuring that both employees and managers understand how the MOOC can meet job- or company-specific objectives. Participation should not be “nice to do,” but “need to do” in order to achieve specific outcomes.
  • Engage employees in identifying appropriate sessions to meet their needs, in alignment with their jobs and the organization’s goals. MOOCs should be selected to align with employee development needs that support the overall organization’s strategic initiatives. Employees, along with their managers and HR staff, as appropriate, should work together to identify potential options.
  • Review/evaluate the offerings before pulling the switch. To ensure that course content is supportive of company policies, processes and preferences, review the course material ahead of time. This doesn’t have to be an insurmountable task. It’s likely that there are certain types of training topics that may apply to multiple employees. Vetting potential programs in advance can result in a go-to list of programs for employees to choose from.
  • Hold employees accountable. Once a MOOC has been selected, hold employees accountable to completing the course. This can be done by tying participation into the performance appraisal process.
  • Remain engaged with the employee while they’re enrolled in the program. Check in to see how it’s going, what the employee is learning and how these new insights can be applied on the job.
  • After the course is complete ask the employee to provide an overview of what they learned, how it can be applied and their evaluation of the course for use by others.
  • Recognize that MOOCs should be just one of the tools in your training and development toolkit. There will still be a place for traditional, instructor-led training, as well as participation in traditional college and technical courses and offerings.

The efficiency and cost-effectiveness of MOOCs make them a potential go-to option for organizations needing to ensure that employees remain up-to-date on key issues, trends and topics that impact their ability to do their jobs most effectively. Recognizing the pros and cons, and following best practice guidelines, can help to ensure that employees—and the organization—get the most out of MOOCs.

Best Practices in Reducing Time to Hire

As the economic downturn of 2008 becomes a distant memory, a growing number of employers are finding that the tide is turning when it comes to competing for talent. It wasn’t that long ago when employers became relatively complacent from a hiring standpoint—it was an employer’s market. But all of that is changing as baby boomers are finally beginning to leave the workplace and as organizations find themselves becoming more dependent on technologically competent staff members.

With a shrinking supply of workers available to meet the growing number of job openings, employees are now in the driver’s seat, often finding themselves in the enviable position of needing to choose between two or more offers.

What does that mean for employers? It means that the company, recruiter, hiring manager or HR professional able to “make the first move” in terms of extending an offer is likely to land the top candidates.

Unfortunately, time-to-hire is a metric that has been steadily growing. According to a Glassdoor study of “hiring delays,” hiring decisions can take as long as 53.8 days (in the government sector) and 32.6 days in the aerospace and defense sector. The specific jobs with the longest lag times between interview and offer are professor (60.3 days), business systems analyst (44.8 days) and research scientist (44.6 days). At the low end of the spectrum are jobs for retail representatives, delivery drivers (both at 8.5 days) and waiter (8.0 days).

It is both ironic, and unfortunate, that the jobs requiring the highest level of talent, and representing the greatest competition, take the longest in terms of time-to-hire. The ability to reduce time-to-hire can help.

According to Glassdoor research, “company-specific factors explain about 14.7 percent of variation in hiring delays around the world, about twice as much as job-specific factors, or factors like industry, location and company size. That means that you have the power to turn these numbers around and to boost the odds that you’ll get to top candidates, first, with an offer they won’t refuse.

A blog post by senior contributing writer John Rossheim offers some practical tips to help drive those numbers down:

  • Get consensus on the job profile. When those involved in the hiring decision don’t agree on the type of candidate they’re looking for, delays are inevitable. Don’t assume this agreement. Identify, up front, the knowledge, skills and abilities that will define top candidates and make sure those are communicated thoroughly to your staffing partner.
  • If you are not working with a staffing agency, get input from managers to help source candidates. A dialogue between managers and HR can help to identify some potential sources of candidates. HR staff members are likely not as familiar with niche sources of candidates as hiring managers are. That dialogue can help to identify specific channels that can yield good results.
  • Screen applications in bulk. “Make resume screening an intensive, short-duration effort and you may be able to reduce your time-to-hire by weeks,” writes Rossheim.
  • Streamline high-volume phone interviews. Tina Hamilton, president of HireVision Group, suggested to Rossheim that phone interviews can be streamlined by asking the important questions first. The interview can then be concluded when it becomes apparent the candidate will not be a good fit.
  • Get managers comfortable with interviewing. Managers are a critical part of the hiring process, but need to be trained to fulfill their roles effectively. Help ensure that they will handle their decision-making process efficiently by providing them with the tools and training they may need.
  • Consolidate individual interviews. Some companies have found that bringing in a group of candidates all at one time can provide a good sense of how these potential employees interact with others in a stressful setting, and can help to shorten the process.
  • Consolidate first-round interviews. Schedule individual interviews, once you’ve narrowed the field, but group them within a day or two of each other to avoid stretching out the process.
  • Have candidates show their skills. Certain positions lend themselves to asking the candidate to demonstrate their proficiency. Send out these assignments in advance and ask candidates to submit prior to their interview.
  • Wrap up recruitment promptly. When all candidates have been interviewed, wrap it up! Make a decision that ties back to your job profile as quickly as possible.

There’s one caveat here, though. While it is certainly importance to work at reducing time-to-hire to up the odds that you’ll get an offer to a desirable candidate first, you don’t simply want to “settle” for a warm body. “Don’t hire in haste,” cautions Rossheim. It’s good advice.

According to, the number people working at home has risen by 115 percent since 2005; that’s almost 10 times faster than growth in other sectors. And, this number doesn’t take into account those who are self-employed.

It’s not unusual for IT pros to work remotely, or virtually. When they do, and especially for those who may be introverts, it can be tough to stay in touch. But that’s exactly what you need to do.

That trite saying “out of sight, out of mind” is trite for a reason—because it’s true! In the traditional workplace, “watercooler conversations” are a common means of staying connected. Employees pass each other in the hallways, run into each other in the lunchroom, say “hi” and “bye” in the parking lot and interact in a variety of ways, formal and casual, throughout the day.

Remote workers don’t have these same opportunities for interaction. And, while there’s some benefit to this—more productivity, for instance—there are also drawbacks. Forming and nurturing connections with coworkers, managers, senior leaders and others can have a wide range of benefits.

So, how can you keep communication channels open when working remotely?

Be Mindful

Recognize the fact that communication between yourself and others is important and that it is likely to be more challenging when working remotely than when in the workplace. Considering that communication can be very challenging within the workplace, should alert you to the potential for issues to emerge when working remotely.

If you tend to be an introvert, being mindful of the importance of interaction is particularly important. While you may draw your energy and inspiration from being alone, you must make an effort to connect with others to be successful in your remote role.

Become Adept with Multiple Tools

There are a variety of tools that can make it easy to connect with colleagues whether they’re in the work environment, or also working remotely. If you’re working for a single organization, make sure to become adept using whatever tools they have in place to communicate with remote staff. Or, if they don’t have any tools in place, or the tools are clunky, make some recommendations about other options.

If you work with a variety of clients, you likely enjoy both the benefits and potential frustration of needing to learn and use a variety of tools. That variety can actually be a good thing, though, because it can help you identify those tools that work best for you—and that might work better for your clients than what they’re currently using.

This Groove blog post lists a number of tools (including Groove, of course).

Schedule Times to Connect

Don’t leave communication to chance. One of the best ways to ensure that you’re staying connected is to schedule regular times to connect with key members of the work team. That may be a quick morning check-in, or a weekly session to discuss progress and upcoming deliverables. You may need to schedule different types of interactions with different people, or teams. Getting these regularly scheduled events on your calendar will ensure that you’re staying in touch.

Don’t Overlook Personal Connections

When working remotely, it’s easy for any communications you have to be all about business. But working effectively with others means also connecting on a personal level. Take the time to do that by:

  • Not diving right into business when starting a call
  • Using video-enabled tools like Skype to get more personal – putting a face (and voice) with a name is important
  • Ask to be looped in on company communications—news- or e-letters, company-wide announcements, etc., so you can stay on top of what’s going on
  • Acknowledge special days or occasions of those you interact with—birthdays, promotions, etc.; it only takes a moment to send a quick email or, better yet, pick up the phone and connect personally, but your efforts will mean a lot
  • Speaking of the phone…don’t over-rely on tools like e-mail, group chat or other electronic means of communication; a phone call can deliver a much more personal touch

Making an effort to connect personally, as well as professionally, will help to ensure that you’re “in mind” for your coworkers and other members of the organization.

Stay Engaged

This is all about caring. You really need to care about the people you work for and the company you work for and make a personal effort to stay engaged—to not blow off meetings or calls, to make an effort to learn about the people you work with, to check in from time to time—even when formal meetings aren’t scheduled. It requires effort, but that effort will pay off.

Aim for Face Time if Possible

Finally, if possible, find times when you can connect with members of your team face to face. If you’re located in the same city, obviously, you can do this more regularly than if you’re located across the country—or in another country.

Despite the ability of technology to allow us to work with anyone, from anywhere, there are times when making contact face-to-face really makes a difference.

Warning Signs That a Job May Not Be Right for You

Over the years Amazon has taken some heat for its “terrible” culture stemming back to 2015 and a blistering piece in The New York Times. But whether the culture is terrible, or not, is really a matter of perception and personal opinion. The determination of whether a corporate culture is effective, or not (and effective is really a better descriptor than “good”) has to do with whether the company achieves its goals.

It’s not really about good, or bad—it’s about fit. And that’s one of the first considerations that a prospective employee should bring to mind when considering whether a job may be right for them.

People who are competitive, hard-driving and thrive on pressure, tough deadlines and direct feedback will likely thrive in Amazon’s culture. People who prefer a more laid-back, collegial atmosphere probably won’t.

One person’s great job can be another’s worst nightmare. It may have nothing at all to do with the company, or the position, but a lot to do with you—your preferences, values and work habits. What warning signs should you be alert to when considering a job offer?

Personal Values

Much of what determines whether or not a job will be a good fit are your own personal values, beliefs and expectations. A good starting point when seeking a job, or thinking about changing jobs, is to think about your own personal mission statement.

Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People popularized the concept in his book. Personal mission statements, just like organizational mission statements, serve as a foundation against which to measure, compare or consider various decisions. Your person mission statement, then, can be a guidepost to help you determine jobs that may, or may not be a good fit. A company with values that don’t align with your values is not likely to be a good fit.

Little Signs

During the job application, interview and screening process you are likely to encounter a number of signs—subtle, and not so subtle—that can give you some clues about what working at the company might be like:

  • Are employees friendly? Do they greet each other—and you—when they encounter you, or do they turn away?
  • Do employees seem happy? Do you see employees chatting with each other in the hallways? Are they smiling? Or are they sitting at their desks, behind doors, looking frustrated or frazzled?
  • What is the environment like? Is it clean, modern, open and light—or cluttered, even dirty; cramped and dark? Are desks, furnishings and equipment in good condition suggesting that the company is willing to invest in its employees—or old, dilapidated and worn out, suggesting an environment that might be extremely budget conscious?
  • Has the job been open for a long time, or is it a job that seems to be posted frequently?
  • Why did the former person in the job leave? If it was for an internal promotion, great! If you ask the question and the interviewing team seems uncomfortable, perhaps not so good.

Take advantage of the time you have to personally interact with a company—not only the hiring team, but others you encounter while you’re on site. Those interactions can tell you a lot, if you’re attuned to the signs.

The Critical Questions

There will come a point in most interviews when you’re asked whether you have any questions for the interviewer(s); you should. This is your opportunity to delve into some of the issues that will help you determine whether, or not, the company will be a good fit. For instance:

  • If you’re applying for a managerial position and want to get a sense of the level of authority you may have, you might ask about your level of sign-off for expenses, and the approval process. A response of: “Managers can approve up to $50, anything over that amount needs to go to their director and the CFO for approval” sends a clear signal that this may be a very tight ship.
  • If corporate social responsibility is important to you, you might ask about the causes that the company supports and opportunities that employees have to get involved, or about whether the company allows time off for volunteerism.

The point is that you will have an opportunity during the recruitment process to ask the critical questions that can help you determine whether this job is right for you.

Does the Company Have a Bad Reputation?

Just as prospective employers should check into the backgrounds of their applicants, prospective employees should check into the reputation of the companies they’re considering working for. That’s relatively easy to do these days with sites like Glassdoor providing transparent insights into what it’s like to work for a wide range of companies—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Companies take these reviews seriously; you should too.

In addition to Glassdoor, LinkedIn can be a good source of information and insights into company culture and climate. Are you connected to anyone who works, or has worked, for the company you’re considering? A simple search on LinkedIn for the company name will quickly tell you. If not directly connected, you can always find mutual connections to help make an introduction.

Check out the company’s social media sites—including any sites that may belong to company leaders or employees. You can glean some key information about the style and tone of the organization by reviewing how the company, and its staff members, respond to online comments—and the nature of those comments.

Finally, heed the subtle warning signs that may be keeping you up at night. Don’t accept a job that just doesn’t seem to be a fit. It probably isn’t.

The Impact of Office Layout on Productivity and Engagement

Noise, distractions, lack of personal space and potential impacts on productivity are just a few of the unintended impacts that office layout choices may raise. While open office environments have been popular, a recent Gallup report suggests that most employees prefer to have a place to call their own.

What office space decisions may serve to hinder—or, potentially, help—your company?

The Prevalence of the Open Concept

The open office concept took root in Germany back in the 1950s and was brought to the U.S. more recently. According to the International Facility Management Association, about 70 percent of U.S. organizations now incorporate some type of open office layout, Gallup says. Gallup research, though, indicates that 57 percent of employees surveyed work in a “similar location as their coworkers.” Unfortunately, that layout may not be leading to the positive impacts these organizations are hoping for.

Yes, open concepts can be conducive to conversation and collaboration—but they can also be conducive to disruption and distraction. Having some flexibility to choose the conditions where they work is important to employees according to Gallup:

  • 42 percent would change jobs to have more privacy when they need it
  • 41 percent would change jobs for a personal workspace
  • 38 percent would change jobs for their own office
  • 33 percent would change jobs for a door they could shut

How can you meet your employees’ needs for both privacy and flexibility?

Helping Employees Find Privacy and Flexibility

Maura Thomas is the founder of and the author of Personal Productivity Secrets (Wiley, 2012) and Work Without Walls (Burget Ave Press, 2017). Thomas says that maintaining employee productivity starts with design considerations.

“Certain floor plan components will help you maximize productivity in the office,” she says. “Knowledge work requires quiet thinking space for flow. However, if you have the space, you can build in opportunities for collaboration with some open work space.” In addition, she says, “coffee house” settings can offer an opportunity for employees to do low-focus work in the presence of others. “Game areas also do well as collaborative spaces, because physical activity fosters creativity. You can make collaboration and teamwork a prominent feature of your office space.”

Still, while opportunity for interaction and collaboration is important, “employees still need quiet, undistracted environments that support the flow, creativity, and brainpower that is required for the work you hired your knowledge workers to do,” says Thomas. She recommends that employers consider making the following types of small changes that can positively impact employee performance, productivity and job satisfaction:

  • Offer private storage space for employees’ personal articles and supplies
  • Provide flexibility in office decor, including personal décor like family photographs or “knickknacks”
  • Consider the impact (positive and negative) of “noise,” which might include music or other background sounds
  • Provide flexibility—desks on wheels, for example.

Giving employees some control over the environment they work in, says Thomas, “leads to happiness—and happiness leads to productivity.

Type of Work Drives Layout Considerations

The type of work being done in an organization, or department, obviously also impacts layout decisions, as Jan Bednar, CEO at ShipMonk, in Deerfield Beach, Florida, points out. At ShipMonk, for instance, a fulfillment and shipping company, employees need to work together to meet client needs. A former company layout had employees working in an open workspace, with a “deep partition” between them and the senior leadership team. ShipMonk’s new facility was designed in an effort to remove that barrier, while still providing effective work environments to meet both the collaborative needs of the front-line staff and the privacy requirements of the firm’s leadership team.

“Our new facility features an open workspace, and our management team works behind glass doors and windows,” says Bednar. “This fosters collaboration between our front-line employees while figuratively—and literally—removing walls between them and their supervisors.” Better yet, says, Bednar: “We have noticed 50 percent, plus, improvements in efficiencies, contact resolution time and order fulfillment time across the board—these improvements can be directly attributable to our workspace layout.”

Let There Be Light

Don’t overlook the impact that lighting—especially natural lighting—can have on employee mood and satisfaction, says John Crowley, a blogger who focuses on HR and employee productivity issues. He says that a recurring theme in his work has been the importance of designing office space with natural light in mind.

“Creating an office layout that puts employees close to a source of natural light can really boost productivity and make your employees happier,” he says. “Dim, artificial light can cause strained eyes, dizziness and headaches,” he says. He points to an example from the 1980s when a post office in Nevada renovated their entire lighting rig to move away from dim, artificial light and to increase exposure to more natural sources of light.” These effort, says Crowley, resulted in the firm becoming the most productivity mail sorting center in the western states.

Seek Employee Input  

Innovative and best practice examples of workspaces designed to boost satisfaction and productivity abound. But, rather than making assumptions about your own employees’ preferences and needs when it comes to workspace, ask them! Their insights can help you find the right balance between privacy, camaraderie to build the kind of engagement that boosts both productivity and retention.

Older Workers On the Rise: Benefits and Potential Drawbacks

The baby boomer generation has had a significant impact on society—and the workforce. That impact is predicted to continue. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that, while only 11.9 percent of the labor force was 55 years or older in 1990, that percentage will increase to 25.2 percent in 2020. Many Americans are choosing to work longer these days, either based on the need for additional income or the desire to stay involved and active. Seniors in the United States are employed at the highest rates in 55 years according to a Bloomberg article.

An Aging Workforce

With the tsunami of aging baby boomers poised to finally exit the workplace, many companies have found themselves faced with concerns about whether they have the bench strength to fill these soon-to-be-empty positions. Engaging these older employees and keeping them in the workforce is one option to help minimize the impact of this exodus. Engaging with retirees to draw them back for special assignments or limited term engagement is another.

According to research from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 79 percent of workers plan to supplement their retirement incomes by working.  In addition to their contributions as employees, older workers and retirees hold potential to give back to the organizations they’ve served, and future leaders, by serving in coach/mentor roles. Retirees can also serve as brand ambassadors, spreading the good word about the organizations they’ve worked for in the community.

There are obvious benefits for organizations in terms of retaining the institutional knowledge that older workers retain; there are some drawbacks though as well. Here we take a look at both.

Benefits of Retaining Older Workers

As the economy has begun to show signs of improvement, employers are starting to feel the pinch and finding it more challenging to recruit workers—especially for certain positions. The ability to retain older workers is one way to lessen that pinch.

In addition, as we’ve already alluded to, older workers have a significant amount of knowledge and past experience to bring to bear. The loss of that knowledge and experience can be a definite blow both in terms of finding someone to fill the gap and in terms of lost productivity. These experienced workers have also established relationships in- and outside the organization that also have value.

As Nathaniel Reade points out in AARP The Magazine, older workers “score high in leadership, detail-oriented tasks, organization, listening, writing skills and problem solving—even in cutting-edge fields like computer science.”

Because of the knowledge they have accumulated and the experience they have to share, some older workers are being called back to the workplace after retirement for short gigs or to mentor their younger replacements. These types of arrangements can be a win-win for all involved.

There are, though, some potential drawbacks that organizations should be aware of. In fact, Fidelity Investments recently made the news for its offer of a voluntary buyout package to 3000 employees, age 55 or older who had been with the company for at least 10 years. They’re not the only company to do so.

Drawbacks That Older Workers May Present

Why would organizations like Fidelity choose to offer older workers an incentive to leave? The bottom line.

One of the key drawbacks of older workers is that they cost too much. Having been in the workforce longer, and often receiving pay increases year over year, these older workers are more expensive than new hires might be. Their benefit packages may also be more costly—e.g. more accrued vacation or sick leave, higher costs of insurance coverage, etc.

Still, there are ways to get around some of these expenses. In recent years an increasing number of organizations have shifted to a market-based compensation strategy, rather than paying employees more as they gain increasing years of service. This can help to maintain a level playing field that benefits both employers and employees.

Another potential downfall? In some cases, regardless of their chronological age, employees who have been on the job for a longer period of time may become burned out or disengaged and disenchanted with the work they do. It may be time for them to leave and to insert new energy and enthusiasm into the position.


Each organization will have to weigh the pros and cons based on their own unique situations and workforce makeup. Despite organizations like Fidelity that are finding value in paying older workers to leave, other employers are taking advantage of the skills, knowledge and unique abilities that their older workers—and retirees—can bring to the workplace.





Social media tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and others, can be great tools for employees to use for learning and communication. The same is true of employers. But both sides need to know some important do’s and don’ts for leveraging social media channels effectively.

Rapid Adoption

According to an infoplease timeline, Friendster, the first of the modern day social channels, emerged in 2002; LinkedIn in 2003, Myspace and Facebook in 2004. The adoption and impact of these tools has been rapid—at least outside the workplace. In the workplace, many employers have been more hesitant to open the gates to allow employee access. In much the same way as many took a go-slow approach to employee access to the Internet, the same has applied here.

Today, of course, while a wide range of companies in a number of industries have recognized the Internet as an important workplace resource for many employees, not all have equally embraced the use of social media. In fact, according to a 2013/14 survey by Proskauer, an international law firm, 90 percent of businesses, globally, are now using social media for business purposes. That doesn’t necessarily mean, though, that they’re approving of employee use of these tools in the workplace. Only 43 percent of those responding indicate that they permit employees to access social media sites—a top of 10 percent since the previous survey!

With or without permission, though, employees report that they are using social media tools while at work.

How Employees Use Social Media in the Workplace

There are certainly some legitimate, business use cases that can be made for the use of social media. Chief among them: recruitment, with LinkedIn being a top tool for recruiters, HR professionals and managers to find and connect with potential employees. Social media tools have also become go-to resources for marketing communication professionals to connect with, and engage, external audiences. Research and information sharing are two other common applications from a business standpoint.

Pew Research Center surveyed 2003 American adults about their use of social media in 2014. Not surprisingly, the use of social media was prevalent—even in organizations that prohibited such use. The 77 percent of those responding who indicated that they used social media at work, whether or not their employer had policies regulating its use, indicated that they were most likely to use these channels to:

  • Take a mental break (34%)
  • Connect with friends and family (27%)
  • Make or support professionals connections (24%)
  • Get information that helps solve problems at work (20%)
  • Build or strengthen personal relationships with coworkers (17%)
  • Learn about someone they work with (17%)
  • Ask work-related questions of people outside their organizations (12%)
  • Ask work-related questions of people within their organizations (12%)

Their responses suggest a combination of both work- and non-work-related activities. Considering that many employees now have access to their own personal devices while at work, it has become increasingly challenging for employers to attempt to completely lock down employee engagement in social channels during the workday.

Benefits and Drawbacks

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) points to both benefits and drawbacks for employers allowing social media use in the workplace.

Benefits include:

  • Information discovery and delivery
  • Opportunities for discussion among employees
  • An opportunity for business networking
  • Ability to expand market research and deliver communications to others

Drawbacks noted include:

  • Potential for spam and virus attacks
  • Risk of data or identity theft or other negative impacts on computer security
  • Possibility for negative comments from employees about their companies
  • Risk of legal consequences if employees use these channels inappropriately

And, of course, just as with any other potential workplace distractions—like the Internet, the phone or the watercooler—employers are legitimately concerned about anything that might have a negative impact on productivity.

Do’s and Don’ts for Navigating the Social Terrain

At a minimum, employers should have a policy providing guidance to employees about the use of social media and the impact on the organization. Some key points to include:

  • Social media use, while at work, should be limited to work-related activities
  • Unless specifically authorized, employees should not post on behalf of the organization
  • Employees should not share proprietary company information; trade secrets; financial information which may violate Insider Trading Policies; or protected information about customers, clients or, in the healthcare industry, patients.

SHRM offers a helpful draft social media policy that can serve as a good starting point. Be sure, though, to have any policies you create reviewed by your legal counsel.

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