Ep. 179: Sammy Courtright - Tech & Work-Life Balance during the Great Resignation

Remote work is the new normal for many companies and it involves way more than just Zoom calls. Join Mitch for a conversation with Sammy Courtright, co-founder of Ten Spot, an innovative community engagement platform focused on improving the happiness, productivity, wellness, and communication of employees no matter where they are based. You’ll gain valuable insight on the future of work and how companies are creating innovative digital experiences and services that strengthen corporate culture and improve talent retention.
Contact Sammy: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sammycourtright/

Full Episode Transcript:
Neha: (00:05)
 Welcome back for episode 179 of our podcast series. This is your host Neha Lagoo Ratnakar, and you're once again listening to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. Today, you're going to hear from Sammy Courtwright, the co-founder of Ten Spot. Ten Spot is a workforce engagement platform helping companies enhance their work from home capabilities. Sammy joins us to talk about how technology has impacted today's work environment, what it means for our work life balance and what the future of the workforce looks like based on current trends. Keep listening as we head over to the conversation now. 
 
 Mitch: (00:56)
 So right before we started recording here, we were talking a little bit about how things have changed over the last couple years, and to kick off our conversation. I'd like to first ask how has technology impacted work being done at work? 
 
 Sammy: (01:10)
 Yeah, Mitch, I mean, what a change we were faced two years ago, right? Where suddenly we were thrown into remote or distributed work and technology, thank goodness was able to make that transition moderately seamless. Right? Of course there was always that idea of having to figure out which technology we're going to use. Does it work? Does everyone know how to use it? Is it effective? Now we have to buy more licenses, but it's definitely made this working from home or hybrid work significantly more streamlined collaborative, but it's also made it really constant, right? I feel like you're always on, which is a good thing and a bad thing for some people. I think at the beginning of the pandemic, when things were a little bit slower Netflix and all of those other subscription services, weren't pumping out the content as quickly. You might just check another email. 
 
 Sammy: (02:03)
 You might respond or start working on a project. And while that was great, I think now we've realized that we went too far, perhaps in one direction of always being on. And I think now people are being a little bit more clear or understanding of creating better boundaries with technology. So when am I on, how do I set myself up for success? Am I balancing that a little bit more? So technology definitely impacted the work that we're able to do from anywhere, not necessarily from your home. But it comes with some pros and cons. 
 
 Mitch: (02:38)
 Absolutely. And I think anybody listening can relate. So, you know, you mentioned balance here and I want to get into that work life balance because it is so easy to work remotely and through the different tablets and laptops and phones and everything, that's at our fingertips. So what are some of the things that people can do to really just shut off both, you know, work and technology so that we can really, you know, make strides towards this work life balance? 
 
 Sammy: (03:06)
 Sure. So I have found that I'm paying far more attention to my screen time. At least Apple has this function. I'm uncertain about other models, where it tells you how much time you're spending on your screen. Similarly, apps like Google have taken a further kind of dive into the calendar settings and has allowed you to take a look at your calendar and understand when there is focus time when there is shutoff time, when there is even on my phone, I've set up sleep time where it knows that I'm gonna be winding down to go to sleep at a certain hour. So it starts going into, to kind of shut off mode. I don't really access social media at that time, or it lets me know that, Hey, you're in sleep mode. You might not wanna be checking, you know, Instagram right before you go to bed. 
 
 Sammy: (03:49)
 It makes you a lot more aware. I don't think that I even really had that visibility or was aware of how much time I was spending either on my computer tablet or phone, but now that Apple, at least, and many other applications are really starting to focus on how much time you are spending using technology. I think it's helped me create a better boundary of switching off or not always being on. I really think awareness is kind of the key to this. So for people that are asking that like Hey I'm uncertain, you know, what to do to get started. I always recommend take a look at your calendar, take a look at your habits and your day, and just start jotting down things that you're doing. How much time are you spending on that specific project? How much time are you spending in front of the computer? 
 
 Sammy: (04:33)
 Are you getting up to get that glass of water or do you wait until, you know, that specific task is done before you reward yourself with getting up and, you know, getting that glass of water, those things make a really big difference. And they even say those 10 to 15 seconds, 30 seconds breaks that you can take to, you know, get up and go refresh your water or whatever it might be. Grab a cup of coffee, really recharges your brain and allows you to be more creative. So I think for those that are looking, you know, to maybe just get started and want to shut off or create more boundaries, start documenting what you're doing and how you're using technology and start creating a little bit more limits. What do you wanna do with that time instead? Is it, you wanna read a book? You wanna meditate more, you wanna go for a walk, you want to spend more time with your kids. You wanna play with your dog. I think for those moments, and you can even put them into your calendar, block out those moments have been really effective and helps people at least shut off, from both work and technology to kind of maintain that healthier work life balance. 
 
 Mitch: (05:37)
 You know, I use focus time throughout the week, you know, on my calendar and other thing, turning off the phone and sleep mode, all that stuff. The whoop band that I have tells me when to go to bed. So I know all right, it's time to shut everything else down, leave it alone. So there is, there are so many options available to us. Really you just have to seek them out and take advantage of 'em. I think, because it's so helpful, at least in my personal experiences, you know, but that's on the personal side of things. And obviously everybody has gotten relatively accustomed to a different kind of work life balance. And as they adjust to everything you are mentioning, you know, they are seeking new things I think from work, right. And we're seeing a lot happening in the workforce today. So my next question for you is kind of taking it back to business a little bit, if you will. And from the employer's perspective, with the idea of work life balance in mind, how should these employers, how should these businesses really work to keep employees engaged and retain them? You know, like I said, with everything else going on today. 
 
 Sammy: (06:45)
 Yeah. I always think the first step is to acknowledge it. I think employers are now realizing that employees are not just employees anymore, that they're people with lives outside of work. And in reality, I know that this has always been the case, but anyone who has been on a zoom call in the last like 18 months now, we all know a lot more about their dogs, their cats, their kids, their partners, their parents. We know so much more about our colleagues and coworkers lives. I really think this blurred line of work and life encouraged employees to expect their companies to consider and acknowledge their whole selves and all of these roles that we play outside of work, whether that's parenthood or caring for an aging parent or pursuing a passion like playing in a band or taking a yoga teacher training class get an advanced degree, you know, whatever it might be. 
 
 Sammy: (07:43)
 I think that there's a lot more acknowledgement that there is more than just work Sammy showing up every day. I have all of these other roles and responsibilities that I play and employers have to acknowledge that and recognize that to keep employees engaged. I also really think like this idea or approach to like 360 degree wellness, mental, physical, social, flexibility with work hours. I think employers really need to start. And I, and I see a lot of companies moving this direction, but stop offering these blanket benefits or these one size fits all approach. I really think that employees today, no matter what their age is have come to desire, you know, a range of health and wellness benefits that are really robust and could greatly impact their lives. I think companies now are offering more of a marketplace approach or a stipend, so it can be used for whatever you deem to be wellness. And I think that kind of expands the availability of the service, the access to the service, and it's really customized to what the employees need at that time. And I think that's another really great way to keep employees engaged and retained at work. 
 
 Mitch: (09:01)
 You know, it's so true. I was actually just talking to somebody, a friend of mine started a new job and he was telling me about the different incentives that come with the new job and at the company, things like a barber shop in the office and somebody coming in once a week, you know, things that handling a stipend for dry cleaning. So you can, you know, keep up with your work attire when you have to come to the office. I called them practical incentives, right. Things that people do. And I think that's so helpful, but I know you have some more ideas in this space and, and, you know, there are fun classes and things that employers can do to keep their employees engaged, but if perks and remote work and you know, some of these other practical incentives aren't enough, what else can be done? Because I think that's another trend. You know, what else, or, you know, how much more can I get is kind of a theme. So what else can these employers do for their employees? 
 
 Sammy: (09:58)
 Sure. There's a couple of things I wanna hit on. I think training is in, you know, professional development is one of them also building a sense of community in the workplace, especially when employees are working remotely. I really think younger workers specifically, you know, Gen Z are relying on the workplace to provide them with opportunities for socialization. We recently ran a survey and we learned that 62% of gen Z workers are really enthusiastic about the positive impact virtual events have had on their company. So these virtual events could be anything from a company wide trivia night, a scavenger hunt, a team wide scavenger hunt, a cocktail crafting class. These really fun and unique events are opportunities that aren't focused on work, per se. Sure. This isn't like, you know, brainstorming session for the next project that you're working on, but it's opportunity for socialization it's opportunity for building that sense of community. 
 
 Sammy: (11:02)
 That is kind of outside of these perks and benefits that we were discussing previously that is really important to creating a cohesive and synced team. And I really think, you know, because of this work home transition, the number of individuals that have really relied on work, providing them those opportunities has really increased. So I'm gonna put heavy weight on building a sense of community. And then let's kind of touch on training because I mentioned that or professional development, there was this report in 2018 that just like blew my mind. 59% of managers had never had any training on how to manage people. Now this is 2018 when this data came out. Now imagine with the pandemic, you are potentially starting at a new company and you're promoted as a manager. And you're like, oh my gosh, this is so exciting. I'm gonna get a title change and potentially, you know, a salary increase and I'm responsible for people. 
 
 Sammy: (12:01)
 And that's, what an incredible accomplishment. Then you sit back and think, hold on, my whole team is remote. I haven't really managed distributed teams before. How do I connect with them? How do I build that sense of community? How do I make sure that they're getting, you know, feedback on career development and whatever else it might be. And that's a really big issue that managers are facing today, and it's not just managers professional development in general. So I really think that training professional development courses that can be done on individuals own time to really help advance their career might be that extra edge. If those perks and remote work aren't enough to really keep employees engaged at work, 
 
 Mitch: (12:45)
 It is amazing. And there's so much data out there now about who's changing jobs and the responsibilities like you just mentioned, and, you know, everything is exponentially increasing at this point. It's great opportunity. It leaves a lot of gaps as well. And I think you hit it. It's all about training and making sure that everybody on your team is up to speed with the needs and everything's aligned with the organization, you know, but I wanna talk a little bit more about that as people are transitioning from job to job and move up in their careers and such, there is something to be said for continuity. I think so as far as managers and manager training and keeping individuals in place or, or really qualified, what can organizations and, or, you know, managers of managers do to kind of combat this trend and really try to build this team up find this continuity and continue moving forward as a group, you know, as opposed to leaving and hiring new individuals. 
 
 Sammy: (13:44)
 Sure. Yeah. Look, I think there are good managers. There are great managers. And then unfortunately there are managers who make you wanna quit your job. And in the same survey that we ran, we learned that 46% of workers say that they currently have a manager or a team lead that makes them wanna quit their job. So for companies that are already kind of struggling with retention, this isn't fantastic news. And it's interesting to think about because you know, when employees are burned out, they turn to their managers for help. But when managers are burned out, who are they supposed to turn to? I really think training managers on how to be effective remote leaders is really important. And as I mentioned earlier, I think so many people have kind of been promoted throughout the pandemic or have stepped into new roles and responsibilities that they've never had before. 
 
 Sammy: (14:36)
 And they're expected to manage a team remotely. And there just hasn't been training available for that. And it's kind of bonkers. So I think focusing on this management training will really reduce attrition, not only for the individuals being managed by set manager, but also for the managers themselves. There's nothing worse than feeling like you are not set up for success. It's all well and good that you've been moved into this role or that you're managing individuals for the first time. And you think, wow, what a career opportunity. But then you look back and you're like, wait, I haven't been set up for success for this role. I don't actually know how to effectively lead these teams. I don't actually know what's required of me. I know that employees have all these expectations or my team has all of these expectations of me, but how do I execute on that? Who's going to help either mentor me or provide me with the resources so I can actually be successful in this role. So I think manager training will really combat this, these concerns and put managers in a fantastic position to really succeed and nail, you know, their position, whether they be remote hybrid in office, all of the above. 
 
 Mitch: (15:46)
 All right. So I wanna wrap up this conversation, but I do have somewhat of a loaded question for you. I know we were again, before we started recording, we were talking about it's, you know, it's time to be proactive. Let's start looking in the future. Let's not reflect so much on what's been happening in the past. So with that idea in mind, I want to get your thoughts on what the future of our workforce looks like. Because of all these trends, everything we've talked about. So for, but now let's take it into the future. What can we expect? What should people be doing? You know, please share your thoughts on, on what is to come for this workforce. 
 
 Sammy: (16:22)
 Great question. And these are just my thoughts based on trends that I've seen and conversations I've been having. I think we can all safely say that the option to be remote or fully remote will be the norm. I think that this is not going anywhere, but I am really intrigued by the freelance space. And this is either that you are a freelance worker or that you work for a company, but you potentially could work for multiple companies at once. I don't know about you Mitch, but I have several friends that are actually running a couple or three full-time jobs at once. And it's pretty incredible. I know it's already happening now, but I really think that this will become a common practice and a kind of less taboo right now. They're doing it, you know, moonlighting or under the radar. 
 
 Sammy: (17:10)
 But I think in the future, it might just be like, Hey, here's great talent. How could we attach this great talent to multiple projects across different companies and to kind of, you know, use them for a specific amount of time and they, you know, obviously get paid for their work, but then they can also get exposure to different companies, handle different projects or challenges. I think the freelance world will get really interesting very soon. Also I think I mentioned this earlier, but being really customized with the employee experience and that's from like hiring through to retiring. I really think AI is gonna play a major role in how you know, employees are going to shape their careers. I also think, you know, Gen Z, I talked about them earlier. I think they're gonna really have a significant impact on today's workplace. And you know, how we think about technology and company culture and world issues specifically also workplace issues like discrimination and diversity, equity, and inclusion, how companies deal with a lot of these workplace and pressing social and political issues. I also think, you know, we might, we talked about this earlier. Maybe there'll be a toe dipped in the four day work week or something a little bit more flexible. The idea that you get work done when you work best. And you know, companies will kind of begin to ebb and flow with that. 
 
 Speaker 4: (18:34)
 This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard, and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at www.imanet.org.

©Copyright 2022 Institute of Management Accountants. All rights reserved.