4 Tips to Surviving Remote Work

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STREETCAR8 was founded deliberately as a remote company in 2017 by two owners.  But at any given time in the last decade, one or both of us have worked to serve clients at a distance.  We love it!  We intentionally set out to build our company in this way because we appreciate the flexibility, convenience and reach that it affords us.

All of that said, the last few weeks have tested the arrangement.  When we started the business, there was a very nice mix of remote work, in-person meetings and social gatherings with friends/family.  Now with many socialization restrictions in place, work happens online, networking events happen online and we also play online often utilizing video conferencing technology.  It can be exhausting!

But what exactly is the problem?  Why are video conferences so hard on us?  This BBC article offers a clue.  Experts say that we rely on nonverbal cues during face-to-face conversations.  Since they are harder to identify during video conferences, we are forced to focus on words and that can be tiring.

Here are a few tips to help you thrive while working remotely:

Pick up the phone

All meetings do not have to be video meetings.  Many are using video conferencing tools like Zoom for the first time these days.  And while being able to connect at-a-distance is wonderful especially when in-person interactions are limited, it’s easy to go overboard.  As mentioned, being engaged in a meeting and having the video on can be draining.  But group meetings can often happen without videos.  And for one-on-one conversations that don’t require screen-sharing, picking up the phone often works just as well.

Kick and stretch

Hunter-gatherers were nomadic people.  They knew how to get their steps in!  But very few of us survive by hunting, fishing and foraging these days.  Physical activity has declined and working from home, particularly at a desk job, could have a detrimental effect.  To keep activity on the forefront while at home, take breaks during the day to stretch, walk or lift weights.  Chair stretches can take place before, after or even during meetings depending on the event (camera off!).  There are many habit tracking apps on the market that help individuals make and monitor habits.

Close the office door

Setting boundaries for yourself and others is important while working at home.  Having a separate space, if possible, helps with focus by signaling that the area is meant for work.  If the workspace has a door, that’s even better.  For some of us, work can go on and on.  This is especially true if you’re a small business owner who wears many different hats.  Having a physical door to close at the end of the day is a good way to transition out of work and into your personal life.

Bring back the walking meeting

Take a break from work and get yourself away from the computer by doing a magazine crossword puzzle or reading a physical book.  While these activities still tax the eyes, if kept varied, they can help increase your mood.  Other activities that remove us from technology and shake up daily routines include drawing, playing a musical instrument, cooking/baking, doing a puzzle, hiking/biking and playing board games, just to name a few.

We’ve heard it before…set boundaries, take breaks and exercise.  Although it makes sense, making healthy habits a priority is difficult.  Incorporating just a few of these tips into your remote workday can make a difference by keeping you productive and energetic!

Attracting Workers to Nonprofit Organizations

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NPOs are on the rise. In 2018, the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS) reported that “The nonprofit sector contributed an estimated $985.4 billion to the US economy in 2015, composing 5.4 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.”

Nonprofit Organizations (NPO) are unique in that they have similar challenges as for-profit businesses, but frequently operate with limited funds. Employees wear many hats in nonprofits and often work for less pay. How can NPOs make their work environments desirable to potential volunteers and employees?

Wharton marketing professor, Deborah Small, conducted a study that showed that “…if organizations want to raise money for a charitable cause, it is far better to appeal to the heart than to the head.” Being able to appeal to the hearts of all types of individuals is important when developing long-term relationships that help your NPO thrive.

According to a McKinsey study, it’s critical to attract and keep high-quality individuals because top talent is exponentially more productive, and in a tight job market, high performers are hard to find.  In addition, turnover is expensive!  Telling a compelling story, organizing communications and putting training programs in place is a step in the right direction when it comes to staff retention.

Using Social Media

“A good story is relatable to people of all ages and cultures. A great story can inspire, attract great attention, or respond to something meaningful in the lives of people around the world,” according to Queens University of Charlotte.  NPOs have found that utilizing social media is not only cost-effective, but it’s also an easy way to reach millions. Organizations – for-profit, not-for-profit, big and small – have seen the advantages of using social media for broad communication.  But to reap those benefits, and in order to stand out in a crowd, telling a captivating story is a must.

Organizational Communication

Another way to increase impact is to have an organized approach towards communication.  Communication can be formal or informal, and happens at all levels of a work environment.  It also sounds like something an organization with limited resources and overworked employees can overlook. The truth is that communication is vital, and having a solid communication strategy is one of the most beneficial things an NPO can do to ensure a long future. Consistent, relevant messaging can help with the organization’s public image, as well as consumer satisfaction and employee morale.  The strategy should tie back to the company’s goals and include specific metrics that can be tracked to gauge performance (successes and failures). 

Training

It’s important for NPOs to create an organized way of communicating particularly in the early stages of development. Misguided employees/volunteers cannot accomplish the amount of work needed to build a successful organization. One way an NPO can help itself is by investing time in developing volunteer and employee training programs.  Assessing needs and creating useful/relevant training is imperative as it increases engagement, improves retention and helps people get better at their jobs.

NPOs are built with “good” in mind. Today, people recognize the power of NPOs more than ever before. Unique stories paired with excellent communication strategies and training programs attract others.  People are willing to give time and energy towards organizations with strong missions and messages they can believe in.

 

What Can Video Add to Your E-Learning?

buttons-36036_640Video is everywhere. If all we look at are YouTube statistics, they report over 1 billion people use YouTube, or a third of all internet users. As of May 2019, 500 hours of video was being uploaded to their platform every minute. Yes, every minute.

What does that mean for e-learning?  When so many people are accustomed to tapping into video to learn how to use a new device or fix a dripping faucet, they are going to look for video for other learning tasks as well. And they’ll expect to find it whenever and wherever they choose to access it.

Steve Penfold, writing for eLearning Industry, lists three ways video achieves results in training:

Video delivers small bites of information to make assimilation easy. Most learners, like the rest of us, watch the kinds of short videos that are often posted to social media like Instagram. “Since learners are already accustomed to watching short videos for entertainment, watching short videos to learn for work is an easy option,” points out Taryn Oesch, editor at Training Industry. “Online videos are also a great way to introduce new topics and model skills or behaviors.” She and others dub these short burst of training microlearning.

Video tells good stories, which is how humans learn best. Because video engages more senses than the written word, it is a great way to tell a memorable story. We witness the power of story to engage our learning brain every time we watch a TED talk. TED speakers are prepped to share stories as part of their presentations, and you’ll notice they usually open with one and then circle back to it at the end if not before. In your e-learning course, a short animation might tell a story. So could an interactive “Choose Your Own Adventure” type of video or the inclusion of a clip with a voiceover.

Video improves holistic training to include behavior, culture, and emotion. Communication experts teach that just 11 percent of communication happens through the actual words. The rest is nonverbal. Facial expression, posture, setting, and tone and timbre of voice, to name a few, carry the rest, and they require video and audio delivery. In fact, says Christopher Pappas, also with eLearning Industry, incorporating different types of audio with the video heightens the emotional connection experienced by users even more than video alone.

In addition to these three benefits, video makes sense when we think like educators, because providing diverse modalities increases the potential for comprehension and retention for individuals with a range of learning differences.

“Thanks to technology, video is scalable and accessible,” says Oesch. “Providing video content on an LMS or internal website makes it easy to share, and that content is increasingly accessible on mobile devices as well.” It does need to be well done, however, as part of your overall training strategy rather than an afterthought. You don’t want sloppy, boring, or disconnected video to distract from the important information or skill you want users to absorb.

As you think about what to include in your e-learning courses, we can help you consider where video might make sense. Feel free to call us at 303-219-7227.

 

Deepfakes: How to Protect Your E-Learning

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Can you trust videos you see online? Now that digital technology has made it possible to doctor video in incredibly realistic ways, it’s a question that corporate trainers are challenged to answer in order to guard the integrity of their courses.

People routinely look for information online. Learners find the internet a source of quick and convenient training. It often is, but our discernment sophistication must increase to meet the challenge posed by intentional misinformation. In short, we must be smarter than the hackers.

Deepfakes, as digitally falsified videos are called, are provoking fear across the internet because of how they undermine our trust in the truth of what we are receiving. Hackers can do this dirty work using both artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). With this new technology, a video or audio recording of someone saying something they didn’t actually say can easily be developed.

This manipulation can happen in several ways. The easiest way is by doing a “face swap” with two individuals. Another way is to compile past videos of an individual, using ML to study them, and then create a video or audio recording of that individual speaking entirely new sentences. Deepfakes are most convincing when an abundance of footage is available for ML to study and accurately learn every facial movement.

With the appearance of deepfakes, every video online should be viewed with a critical eye. This is easier said than done, because when you see a clip of someone effortlessly speaking to a camera, without cuts or edits, it’s hard for our brain to question whether it’s a fake.

Many businesses are on high alert for deepfakes that could threaten their company by harming stock prices, reputation, credibility, etc. The danger to political and national security is obvious. Our focus today is on the importance of insuring accurate, authentic sources in e-learning courses. Currently, there aren’t many options when it comes to deepfake detection. Software that has been developed comes with a steep price tag and requires continual updating as the deepfake technology becomes smarter.

The best prevention for businesses providing online learning content for their employees is to rely on a reputable provider. Working with a custom e-learning company like STREETCAR8 is an advantage. We partner with our clients to create internal training. By interviewing subject matter experts during a discovery period, building/organizing information and porting the resulting courses to a secure learning environment, we ensure original and engaging content.

In short, having your own library of educational content gives employees a secure place to go for reliable information. It’s trusted and ensures that your employees are getting the right information they need to perform.

What courses do you need to create to reach your staff development objectives? Does your plan include the security of your content? It’s essential that you work with an experienced partner to ensure the integrity of your e-learning courses and your corporate reputation. Let us know what you need – contact us today.

The 7 Best Time-Saving Apps for Remote Workers

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Working remotely can boost your productivity, as long as you navigate the many distractions. Chores, errands, and entertainment can be harder to ignore in your remote office. It’s easy to think, “This won’t take very long.” But the minutes add up, and it takes time to ramp up/down from tasks.

Thankfully, as distractions increase so do the number of creative ways to block them. Below are phone or computer applications that will keep you focused on work and support your journey to remote work success.

LastPass – Stop wasting time and energy attempting to guess a forgotten password. With this app, it’s easy to log into your favorite websites. LastPass is a secure password manager and generator. It stores encrypted user-created passwords or strong system generated ones. Its autofill feature will save you from typing passwords and you can access the tool from all devices.

Harvest or Toggl – These two apps are grouped because they’re used for the same purpose: to track time and money. They top the list for freelancers because they’re timesavers when it comes to time tracking and invoicing. What’s best: both offer basic free plans.

Trello – Being miles away from your team doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker. This visual online tool helps with work tracking and collaboration. Trello is structured so that it’s easy to make lists and track progress. Remote teams are able to organize work on visual boards, assign people, make checklists, add comments, and much more. Tasks are dragged from one stage to another to track progress and completion.

RescueTime – You spent the entire day on the computer. Was it all centered around work? RescueTime runs in the background on your computer to help you discover how you spend your time. It tracks your activity not only on web browsers, but on any apps used. If you really want to spend time wisely, find out what your biggest distractions are!

Wunderlist – This is the easiest digital to-do list you’ll come across. Effortlessly add tasks to Wunderlist as soon as it comes to mind with little interruption to work. You have the ability to set a due date or simply have a running list that you check periodically. This app is an easy way to plan, organize, and share your life.

Workflow – The ultimate multitasker! Workflow allows you to access multiple apps in one spot. You can answer emails, check the weather, reply to comments and write an article from a central page. This visually appealing app aims to take away all website hopping distractions.

Focus@Will – This app curates music based on human neuroscience to help you concentrate. You could just as easily have your own music playing while you work, but Focus@Will uses science to design a playlist that will keep you on track and help you retain information.

As you develop your remote-work routine, you’ll discover many helpful habits and tools. The items above are just the basics to help you organize/record information, identify time-wasting behaviors, and collaborate effectively.

 

You, Your Employees, and Microlearning

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Living in this fast-paced world challenges companies to continuously search for innovative ways of running their business. There are a number of different e-learning solutions to help meet those challenges. Microlearning is one such option. If you want to get employees trained on a specific skill, Microlearning is a popular method that employers are turning to. So, what makes Microlearning so desirable?

You have to first know what Microlearning is. Microlearning is much more than condensed training. It’s a self-guided learning experience that delivers only the necessary content the learner needs to fully understand the objective and be able to accurately apply it. Some people compare it to a Ted Talk: a short presentation that gives you quick and specific information. Microlearning should always leave you with the ability to immediately apply your newly-acquired knowledge.

Any learning form can be used for Microlearning; video, slide presentation, gamification, and so on. The duration of the experience will not be consistent from objective to objective. Some experts suggest that it should not exceed five minutes. Ultimately, the goal is for the learner to receive all the pertinent information, therefore there is not a strict time limit to a Microlearning experience.

Before you decide on an e-learning solution, look at how Microlearning benefits you and your employees. Let’s begin with you!  Here are a couple ways Microlearning will benefit you:

  • Easy production. Creating a Microlearning course, whether it’s you or an outside party, will always utilize less time and money. The purpose is to break down information into its simplest form. Because you are concentrating on only the most critical information, production is quicker and resources are minimal. Keep in mind that quality is important and should never be sacrificed.
  • Flexibility. As mentioned briefly, there are no strict rules when it comes to Microlearning. You can customize a learning experience that works best for your company. For example, if you have young employees, they may prefer fast, eccentric videos. Others may enjoy electronic workbook activities. The freedom to create customized experiences will make it more likely that your employees will complete training and seek more of it!

Now, how do your employees benefit?

  • Quicker learning and application to work. Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force. They are eager to learn, but that requires time.  Microlearning offers people the opportunity to continuously learn on the job. It gives employees the chance to gain a skill during their lunch break and instantly apply it after lunch.
  • Self-guided and personalized. Everyone runs at a different speed, our priorities are never the same, and no one starts with the same base knowledge. Having the ability to start and stop learning at your own pace takes the pressure off of learning. If learning is convenient and relaxing, employees are more likely to continue with similar experiences.

STREETCAR8 and other L&D companies have seen the benefits of Microlearning. The saying “less is more” is a perfect way to sum up Microlearning. Educating employees doesn’t need to be a complex and lengthy process. Microlearning is the ideal way to continually grow your team’s skills in a stress-free way.

 

Instructional Design and E-Learning: Customized Training That Works

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What do you want to teach? How will you teach it?

Knowing the answers to both these questions is critical if you want to achieve your organization’s training and development objectives. Otherwise, instructional materials miss their intended mark and learners fail to engage with the opportunity.

A range of techniques are available to deliver Instruction. Some are more appropriate for specific topics or demographics than others. E-learning is now preferred by many learners as well as trainers; other methods include lecture, team exercises, training manuals, and collaborating with mentors and experts.

If you have something to teach, partnering with an instructional design specialist is a wise strategic move to help turn your content into e-learning that works.

Instructional designers are like architects. We start with a solid foundation, build a structure that will meet the needs of humans, and make it attractive for those who interact with it.

  • Lay a solid foundation — The process usually starts with some type of assessment of what the learning needs are. Who is the audience? What do they already know? What is the skill or knowledge gap that needs to be filled? Also, what outcomes are intended by the organization – the business, the school, the government agency?
  • Build it to work for humans – Effective online training as well as other types of instruction must be designed with an understanding of human neurobiology. For instance, there is a difference between how humans perceive hard copies and how they perceive content on screens. We are easily distracted, so placing too much content on a slide is counterproductive. Depending on how it is used, multimedia can either help or hinder e-learning. Additionally, the instructional designer needs to understand how users with learning differences will experience online courses and adapt the design to facilitate their success.
  • Make it attractive – This is not a fluff add-on; design affects the success of training. No one is drawn to enter an ugly building. In the same way, a poorly designed online course will repel rather than attract users. They might start it, but they will struggle to maintain a positive mindset about the experience. And trying to figure out a clunky interface will sap energy that otherwise would go toward taking in and processing the training. Some especially effective online training even has incorporated gaming features to increase engagement of the learners.

What makes a good instructional designer? Skills that lead to success for an e-learning provider include analytic and research skills, communication skill, creativity, and continuous self-directed learning.

Because the rapid pace of technological change impacts online training, individuals in the field who keep their skills up to date are in high demand and have exciting career possibilities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a growth rate of eleven percent in the training and development industry between now and 2026, which is higher than average for all professionals.

We’ll close this post with the same questions that opened it: What do you want to teach? How will you teach it? If you are not an instructional designer, STREETCAR8 can help you analyze the best way to deliver your content and create e-learning that will accomplish your objectives for your staff or students. Contact us today to tell us about your training needs.

Agile Mindedness in Business

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If you’ve been around software development or project management circles in the past few decades, you’ve likely been exposed to agile concepts.  To make a long story very short, traditionally, teams developed software by using linear processes that involved a lot of upfront planning and left testing to the end.  As time progressed and the business landscape changed, problems associated with this waterfall-style method grew, and people started experimenting with incremental/iterative approaches.  In 2001, these lightweight methods got a name when a group of experts gathered and referred to them as “agile methodologies”.  They created the Agile Manifesto as a way to guide the development of software.

But what does any of this have to do with business?  Fast forward to the present…while agile methods came from software development, they didn’t stay there.  Agile concepts have been popular for a while and they are being applied broadly in fields outside of technology to help increase innovation and productivity.

So, what is an agile mindset and what does an agile-minded organization look like?  We connect with many individuals who have tech backgrounds, but now spend their time as professionals in other fields, entrepreneurs or business owners.  What does agility mean to them?  Via informal conversations, we’ve found that some have practiced agility in one way or another before it was termed “agile”. Also, many believe that being agile helps them in their day-to-day (even in personal endeavors as a way to organize and prioritize activities).

Here are three ways to apply an agile mindset to business:

  • Focus on customers – Customers must be heard and satisfied. In agile software development, this is done by iterating…providing valuable software often and continuously refining. Agile efforts are iterative and incremental. In the non-tech world, a way to keep customers at the forefront is to break down work and implement frequent feedback loops. If you can keep your customer engaged by providing regular deliverables and ample opportunities for input, then you’re on the right path.
  • Empower teams – Expecting communication, collaboration and ownership is critical. Agile teams don’t wait for managers to assign tasks.  In tech environments, agile teams are keenly aware of the backlog of work and they address top-priority tasks first.  They commit to finishing tasks (not just starting them), and they shoot for the highest of quality even if it slows down the process.  In non-tech environments, implementing daily standups is a useful way to encourage discussion and accountability (also called “huddles” in some environments).  These short consistent gatherings are not problem-solving or status meetings.  The goal is communication and commitment.  Team members talk about what they’ve completed since the last meeting, what they plan to work on and obstacles.  Creating visual task boards in co-located work areas also promotes transparency and shows work progress.
  • Welcome change – Having an agile mindset requires an openness to learning and adaptation. Agile technical teams do not simply tolerate change, they welcome it even if it comes late in the game.  Welcoming change is a key agile principle…groups must accept input, reflect and adjust. As an e-learning company, learning fast is imperative.  We make sure clients react to real courses on a regular basis.  Working courses are presented and tweaked continuously to avoid surprises at launch.

We’ve experienced many technological advances through the years.  Markets change quickly and business priorities shift.  Modern developments have caused individuals to change the way they live and work, and traditional frameworks often are not flexible enough to support the changes.  While agile methodologies were born in tech, an agile mindset helps non-tech businesses tackle work in respectful/collaborative ways, and with a focus on customers and improvement.

The Sea of Government RFPs

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As a remote e-learning company, we serve broadly and are always looking for opportunities.  Last Fall, we registered to do business with the U.S. government.  In our October newsletter, we noted that the government buys many different types of products and services.  They aim to spend 23% of prime contract dollars on small businesses, and they’ve met that federal contracting goal five years in a row.

The opportunities are there, but so are the many procurement rules.  The government wants to guard against corruption, so it’s good that they have regulations in place.  They advertise in advance, have strict review processes and aim to level the playing field.  However, we’ve attempted to navigate those waters recently, and can say without a doubt that sifting through government Requests for Proposals (RFP) and following procurement protocols can be a challenge.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when responding to government RFPs:

  • They want to hear from you – Under certain circumstances, they are obligated by law to work with small businesses. So, they want individuals to find and respond to their requests.  The people we’ve contacted are excited to hear from us and open to addressing questions as a way to encourage qualified organizations to submit proposals.
  • Responding to RFPs is time consuming – Have a plan of attack and be organized. Aside from having a template on the ready, make sure your content, tools and teams are identified and prepared.  If multiple individuals are working on a request, make sure task assignments are clear.  Proposal management software can help automate tasks, keep content accessible and provide insights.
  • Following rules and being on time is important – Once an RFP’s due date has expired and the solicitation is closed, often the first step in the evaluation process is to account for all proposals and make sure they adhere to certain standards. Submitting proposals on time, in the correct format and with all required documents is imperative.  You will not move along in the process without meeting the minimums.
  • Qualifications and financial fitness matters – Having an eye for details is critical when responding to any RFP. Make sure you understand the specifications and can meet them.  Buyers will want to know that you are able to deliver high-quality work in cost-effective ways, and are also fiscally sound.  Accounts payable can be slow with the government…often 30-60 days out.  They will want to be certain that vendors can cover payroll and other expenses while invoices are being processed and paid.

If you need online training for your government project, we’re happy to partner.  If you are interested in learning more about how to work with federal, state and local government, your local Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs) is a good place to start.  Per the Small Business Administration, PTAC’s charge is to provide in-person counseling and training services for small business owners.

Colorado PTAC was a wonderful resource when we began to inquire about working with the government.  They have multiple locations in Colorado and offer many services.  They helped us register, pointed us to online information and also provided system training free of charge.

Ghosting: Are Your People Disappearing?

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You’ve interviewed many candidates and selected an ideal person for your position.  Knowledgeable, experienced, communicative…everything you need to fill the role.

On Day 1, your perfect employee doesn’t show.  You’ve been ghosted!  In today’s competitive landscape, and with unemployment rates at all-time lows, ghosting has moved from the dating scene to the workplace.  Ghosting can include a candidate not showing up for an interview, an employee skipping a first day of work, or a sudden resignation (effective immediately).

The Problem for Employers

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the unemployment rate hit 4% last month.  Employers must recruit in a competitive job market where many workers stay in their jobs less then 5 years.

To add to the problem, employee turnover is expensive!  The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Foundation noted in their 2008 guide (Retaining Talent: A Guide to Analyzing and Managing Employee Turnover) that TOTAL costs associated with turnovers range from 90% to 200% of annual salary.

Because at-will employment goes both ways there may be little recourse if an employee leaves without notice.  Individuals can be terminated for any reason (or without a reason) as long as it’s non-discriminatory, and employees can resign in the same way which makes it easy to simply go silent.

What can be done?

  • Examine your organization’s culture – A company’s culture is the personality of the organization…a combination of its values, beliefs and practices. Assess if your culture could be getting in the way of hiring and retaining employees. Changing culture isn’t easy, but establishing an understanding of the current state and where you want to go is an important first step in change.
  • Focus on engagement early – Connect with employees before they start. Pre-boarding activities prepare the new hire and keep the momentum going.  Once the employee starts, structured onboarding activities in organizations are often limited.  Lengthening the onboarding period shows that learning and development is important.
  • Invest in employee development – Millennials are the largest generation in the workforce according to a Pew Research report, and millennials rank “professional or career growth and development opportunities” higher than other generations. Finding creative ways to enable learning and growth is critical.
  • Implement stay interviews and regular opportunities to communicate – An exit interview is unlikely to happen if you’re ghosted. And if it does, that’s not the ideal time to identify or solve problems.  Scheduling consistent meetings throughout an employee’s tenure is a good way to gauge feelings and improve communications.  Stay interviews allow employers to build trust and identify issues before they become insurmountable.
  • Be prepared, not surprised – Ghosting may be with us during tight job markets and low unemployment. Re-visit hiring practices to make sure existing policies are not harmful to your organization.  Also, document processes and implement training programs. This helps prepare new hires and also helps companies quickly recover from a candidate’s sudden change of heart.

According to Josh Bersin (Deloitte Review Issue 16), “…an irresistible organization is one that employees would never want to leave. What better way to create such a place than to give people lots of opportunities to grow and advance?”  While employers can’t completely eliminate the ghosting phenomenon, there are things that can be done to improve culture, increase communications and make employees want to stick around.