Graduation Ceremony for Singapore Elite Navy Dive Unit

TENSION hangs over a four-storey block in Sembawang Camp in the wee hours of a Monday morning, as 74 trainees of the 40th Combat Diver Course toss fitfully in their cabin beds.

At precisely 2.30am, Second Warrant Officer (2WO) S. Rajendren strikes a handheld grenade simulator known as a thunderflash and waves it into a shallow drain.

The blinding explosion galvanises other trainers, already in position. They pound on the wooden bunk doors, screaming unabatedly while tossing unguarded rucksacks and loose footwear down the corridors, sending befuddled trainees scrambling after them.

Drugged with sleep and sagging under the weight of their olive-green packs, the young men crawl down the stairs on all fours, spilling onto the concrete parade square like a colony of evicted egg-carrying ants, to a drenching welcome with fire hoses.

On cue, several trip flares burst into life, illuminating the chaos in a bright orange glow, casting grotesque caricatures of the disoriented men onto the walls of the building – a shadow play gone awry.

From a corner, a machine gun punctuates the cacophony with a shattering staccato that reverberates in the cool night air.

Standing on a platform above the maelstrom of swirling smoke and glistening rain in his dark blue instructor’s T-shirt and camouflage slacks, 2WO Rajendren is the man in charge of this mayhem.

Feared and respected in equal measure by the trainees, the training officer’s drills are their first taste of the long night ahead. “On your belly, on your feet, on your backs! Push-ups, crunches, jumping jacks in position, ready!”

The bewildered trainees are out of sync, unable to keep up with the impossibly quick commands belted through the megaphone slung from his shoulder.

Hawk-eyed instructors prowl the ranks, blasting banshee-like whistles and stabbing torch beams into the sodden jumble of limbs.Twenty minutes into the commotion, every trainee is soaked and utterly miserable. Although every one of them knows this moment must arrive, nothing can prepare them for the actual bedlam of “Breakout” – the opening act of the combat divers’ Team Building Week.

Held during the seventh week of the course, this naval diver’s rite of passage is better known as Hell Week. Five months earlier, 450 young men began this journey when they received posting orders to the Naval Underwater Medical Centre for a vocational assessment.

A battery of tests would ensure that only the finest physical specimens were selected.Within pristine confines, orderlies measured each man’s body fat and lung capacity, probed the integrity of his ear drums, wired him to an electrocardiograph to monitor his heartbeat, and then packed him into a pressure chamber sealed with double hatches to see if he could bear a simulated dive to a depth of 10m.

Still intact, each candidate then had to change into physical training attire to attempt his best scores in the standing broad jump and chin-up stations, strip to his trunks for a 25m swim, then present himself for a face-to-face interview with a senior instructor, usually a warrant officer with years of diving experience.

Here, any fears of the deep a candidate might have were put to rest, while his character and motivation were probed with questions such as: “Are you afraid of water?”, “What school co-curricular activities did you take part in?” and “Do you want to be a naval diver?”

The final stop of the day was a psychological assessment. The multiple-choice test involved a multitude of questions to determine if he would be able to cope with the stresses divers experience frequently on the job.

Those who cleared the selection moved on to nine weeks of Basic Military Training (BMT) modified to include pool training and an introduction to maritime culture with terms such as “port” and “starboard” replacing “left” and “right”.

Now, the numbers were whittled down again, as those who failed the water confidence and physical fitness standards were posted to other units.

Of the 450 initially called up, less than a quarter entered the five-month Combat Diver Course to learn military scuba diving and push their bodies to unprecedented levels of physical endurance.

Private Nigel Tan, a member of the Ngee Ann Polytechnic Scuba Diving Club before national service, felt both privileged and nervous when he received his posting letter.

“As a leisure diver, I followed a divemaster around and looked at fish,” says the 21-year-old electronic and computer engineering graduate. “Here, we have to carry heavy equipment, deal with low visibility and still complete a mission in a given timeframe.”

At the start of BMT, he could manage just two chin-ups; at the end, he was doing more than 20. “My body has toned up a lot,” he says.

With twin scuba tanks tipping the scales at 38kg and a rubber boat weighing twice as much, divers have plenty of heavy lifting to do. Weapons and special gear for each mission add to the load each man must carry.

To keep themselves in top shape, divers run, swim and work out up to three times a day and, unlike most other soldiers, are allowed to wear their physical training attire at all hours.

“It is the nature of the job,” explains 2WO Rajendren.

“A simple thing such as swimming underwater against a current takes a lot of strength; lifting objects and diving with equipment needs plenty of fitness. You need to be strong on land in order to be strong in water.”

Alongside the commandos, divers are among the fittest men in the armed forces, with nearly every one of them having earned a gold award in the SAF Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT).

The IPPT holds commandos and divers to a higher standard than other soldiers, requiring full marks (5/5) in every station and a 2.4km run in less than 9min 15sec for a serviceman under the age of 25 to attain a gold award.

Other servicemen need just 4/5 points for each station and a run time of under 9min 45sec.

The result of so much exercise is that trainees end up supremely fit by the end of the Combat Diver Course, boasting perfect pectorals and a clearly defined six pack.

“The PT sessions were my favourite part of the course,” says Private Guo Jingyang, 21, who managed a count of 37 chin-ups at his best. “The instructors didn’t just conduct the PT, they did it together with us, even if they were 20 or 30 years older than us.”

All the physical training leads up to Hell Week. But unlike PT, where the focus is on building bodies, this week aims to train the mind by putting the trainees through extreme stress in order to identify the final list of combat divers.

“Team Building Week was definitely one of the toughest weeks I’ve been through,” says Pte Guo, who emerged top graduate of the course. “The pain was almost unbearable at times.”

Of those who started out in the 40th Combat Divers Course, only 74 are left at the start of Hell Week – the rest have dropped out along the way.

Three eight-hour shifts of instructors are needed to run the show, dishing out an intense and relentless slew of exercises called “evolutions”, each calibrated to take trainees to the brink of exhaustion.

Wet and Sandy; Cold Treatment; Around the World – the men know them all by name, but each evolution varies in the way it is conducted to keep them on their toes.

The most dreaded involves a black rubber dinghy called the Inflatable Boat – Small. Weighing 76kg when empty, the boats are made heavier when instructors throw in a large tyre or a few sandbags for good measure.

Overhead boat push-ups and boat tosses – where a crew of eight men throw the boat into the air and catch it on the way down – are feats that test the coordination of even the best teams.

To hoist one of these boats overhead takes careful choreography – a slip could result in the boat crashing to the ground, and punishment for the crew.

One spectacle that heralds every meal time is the Chow Run.

This is when the Hell Week cohort can be heard thundering around the parade square holding their boats overhead, earning their right to eat by running and belting out military songs for an average distance of 2km.

“Being under that boat is really painful,” recalls Private Marcus Nathan, 24, a former firefighter who was drawn to the challenge of becoming a regular combat diver during a navy exhibition.

“Your hands get tired, your shoulders become weak, your neck starts to hurt, and your legs are burning – but you have to keep going.”

Only when the instructors are satisfied with the run are the trainees lined up and hosed down for the sake of hygiene, then given 30 minutes to devour a plate of rice heaped with chicken, fish and vegetables, accompanied by a bowl of steaming soup and fruit.

Snacks, such as cake, doughnuts and chocolate bars, are added to the menu to give divers a total of 4,000 calories a day – 11/2 times the dietary allowance of ordinary SAF rations, but trainees are subjected to such intense physical activity during Team Building Week that most still lose weight at the end of the five days.

Through it all, they will sleep a total of just four hours.

“At first, I was too fired up to think about sleep,” recounts MID Guo. “But by the fourth day, we started to fall asleep when walking, when paddling the boat, even in the pool.”

This severe test of sleep deprivation prepares the men for real-world missions when divers may have to operate continuously for several days, says 2WO Rajendren. With their bedraggled green fatigues now brown with mud and dirt, the trainees stand at attention with their wooden boat paddles as the commander of the Naval Diving Unit, Colonel Tan Hong Teck, fixes them with a steely eye, his US Navy Seal badge sitting proudly above his right chest pocket.

“40th batch!” the beefy officer roars.

“Yes, sir!” the men thunder, their voices echoing around the parade square where fellow divers from all over the camp are lining the corridors of surrounding blocks to witness the sight.

“Are you tired?” he asks, knowing the answer to his own question.

“No, sir!” they thunder.

“Then go and get Wet and Sandy!” he bellows.

As one, the men sprint for the sea, plunge into the water, emerge and thrash about on the beach, knowing this might be the last time they have to endure this evolution.

Within minutes, they are once again lined up in front of their commander, dripping wet and encrusted in sand.

“40th batch!” he booms, raising a closed fist to quiet the desperately eager trainees. “I declare Hell Week secure.”

Pandemonium erupts as trip flares and machine guns go off, marking the end of the gruelling ritual. The parade-perfect contingent is now a throbbing mess of men – cheering, crying and hugging each other in their steaming, stinking, salt-marinated uniforms.

A line gradually forms as the smoke clears; senior commanders and instructors move down to shake each trainee’s hand in turn.

Heading back to the barracks, the trainees are applauded by passers-by. Even those driving by stop and roll down their windows to congratulate the new “HellWeekers”.

Despite having cleared the toughest week of the course, some will still fall out for medical reasons or for failing to meet the increasingly high physical fitness standards.

For Private Gabriel Ong, 22, learning that he did not pass the course was devastating.He was just one minute over the 27 minutes cut-off for the 6km run – one of five “vetoes” a trainee must pass in order to become a diver.

“When I was told that I could not continue the course while we were rehearsing for graduation, my heart sank,” he recounts. “Everything that I had trained for was shattered in that instant.”

There was no doubt that Pte Ong was fit – he attained a gold award for the IPPT – but that was not good enough. “I really wanted to be a diver,” he says wistfully. “It is different from the usual army life; it is fun, and it has prestige.”

For the remaining trainees, several more weeks of instruction in advanced diving techniques will follow Hell Week before the end of the Combat Diver Course, when mothers, fathers and girlfriends will pin the silver professional diver badge with a dark blue felt backing on the 69 men who made it.

But graduation is just the beginning of a frogman’s entry into the underwater elite.

Some full-time national servicemen who clear the course will join the navy’s Clearance Diving Group, where they will keep the waters around naval bases free from mines and other obstacles, perform maintenance work on ships such as the cleaning of propellers, and dispose of live munitions, usually war relics, found on the seabed.

Others will join the Underwater Demolitions Group, whose divers scout potential beach landing sites and remove underwater obstacles so friendly troops can go ashore.

A select few will be sent to Officer Cadet School and graduate nine months later as second lieutenants, ready to lead dive teams.

“In the Combat Diver Course, the biggest challenge for trainees is fulfilling all the vetoes in water competency,” says 2WO Rajendren, who has trained numerous divers in his 20-year career. “My greatest satisfaction is building up someone from nothing to becoming a fish in the water.”

https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/singapores-naval-divers-special-through-hell-and-back-to-become-navys-masters-of-the-deep

Adapting customer experience in the time of coronavirus

Business group portrait taken from above.

n a short period of time, COVID-19 has overwhelmed lives and livelihoods around the globe. For vulnerable individuals and the customer teams that serve them, it has also forced a rethinking of what customer care means. Suddenly, examinations of customer journeys and satisfaction metrics to inform what customers want have given way to an acute urgency to address what they need.

Particularly in times of crisis, a customer’s interaction with a company can trigger an immediate and lingering effect on his or her sense of trust and loyalty. As millions are furloughed and retreat into isolation, a primary barometer of their customer experience will be how the businesses they frequent and depend upon deliver experiences and service that meets their new needs with empathy, care and concern. Now is also the time for customer experience (CX) leaders to position themselves at the forefront of the longer-term shifts in consumer behavior that result from this crisis. Keeping a real-time pulse on changing customer preferences and rapidly innovating to redesign journeys that matter to a very different context will be key.

Hand in hand with this perspective, four CX practices can frame short-term responses, build resilience, and prepare customer-forward companies for success in the days after coronavirus. They are: focusing on care and connection; meeting customers where they are today; reimagining CX for a post-COVID-19 world; and building capabilities for a fast-changing environment (Exhibit 1).

1. Focus on fundamentals: Care and connection

Now more than ever, people need extra information, guidance, and support to navigate a novel set of challenges, from keeping their families safe to helping their kids learn when schools are shut down. They want a resource they can trust, that can make them feel safe when everything seems uncertain, and that offers support when so much seems to be overwhelming. A baseline starting point: staying true to company values and purpose. Our research shows that 64 percent of customers choose to buy from socially responsible brands, a figure that has grown significantly in the past two years.1 The way organizations step up to play this role for their customers, their employees, and the broader community is likely to leave lasting memories in customers’ minds.

Care for your customers

The first step in caring is to reach out—not in marketing or overt attempts to gain a competitive edge, but to offer genuine support. Many organizations have already stepped up to care for their customers. For instance, Ford’s “Built to Lend a Hand” campaign outlines initiatives including payment relief and credit support. Budweiser redeployed $5 million usually spent on sports and entertainment marketing to the American Red Cross. When tens of thousands of college students needed to vacate their dormitories unexpectedly, a storage rental company offered 30 days of free self-storage. A credit-card company quickly recognized the pandemic’s financial burden and waived one month of interest on credit cards. Government officials have encouraged others to do the same. These experiences are critical for customers in the short term, and the impact will build positive relationships that are bound to last long after the crisis has ended.

Care for employees

In times of crisis, caring for customers starts with thinking first about employees. As any flight attendant would advise during the preflight safety briefing, it’s important to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. Our research shows that 60 percent of Americans are very or extremely concerned about their safety and the safety of their families, while 43 percent are very or extremely concerned about their job or income—and not being able to make ends meet.2

Some companies have led with employees in mind during an unsettling period of uncertainty. In a video prepared for employees, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson transparently shared statistics on the company’s performance and outlook, announced pay cuts for himself and his executive team, and focused on a sense of hope in the future. Many companies have pledged to continue paying hourly workers at their regular rate, even if they need to remain at home due to illness, while others are still paying hourly workers despite store closures. For those still on the job, employers can provide new tools, training and support to enable employees to deliver superior customer experience in a new environment.

Care for the community

Today’s industry leaders have demonstrated that genuine care should extend beyond the immediate customer base. Italian companies have donated hundreds of millions of dollars to local hospitals and the Civil Protection Agency to combat the virus spread. Many are stepping up to the plate to manufacture important supplies. Luxury-goods companies have refitted cosmetics and perfume production to help produce hand sanitizer. Remote conferencing services companies, who are benefiting from the shift to virtual meetings, have provided free videoconferencing for K–12 schools.

2. Meet your customers where they are today

Customers’ normal patterns of life have come to a halt. Simple activities like a trip to the grocery store or dining out with friends are now difficult, risky, or even prohibited. Overnight, demand patterns have shifted. Overall online penetration in China increased by 15–20 percent.3 In Italy, e-commerce sales for consumer products rose by 81 percent in a single week, creating significant supply-chain bottlenecks.4 Customers need digital, at-home, and low-touch options. Digital-led experiences will continue to grow in popularity once the coronavirus is quelled, and companies that act quickly and innovate in their delivery model to help consumers navigate the pandemic safely and effectively will establish a strong advantage.

Accelerate digital options

Digital delivery has become a necessity for most customers who are confined at home. Adoption has grown strongly, even among the most “digitally resistant” customers. For some companies, the rapid development of digital functionalities is key to ensuring continuity of services. China-based Ping An Bank rolled out new “Do It At Home” functionality and received more than eight million page views and nearly 12 million transactions within half a month. Players in service industries have also accelerated digital value-added services like advice and education. Over 44,000 viewers tuned in to Bank of China’s first three online shows, where leading investment managers shared market insights, discussed the impact of the virus, and gave advice.

Other companies are making select digital services free to help existing customers and broaden their reach to new audiences. Fitness companies are deploying this strategy through extended free trials for their online and app-based classes, where app downloads and new sign ups have grown between 80 percent and more than 250 percent in recent months. It’s likely that many customers who have converted to digital services will stick to them after the immediate health crisis is over: Companies who make this shift to digital and deliver superior experiences have an opportunity to increase adoption and maintain these customer relationships after the crisis.

The way organizations deal with their customers, their employees, and the broader community in a crisis is likely to leave lasting memories in customers’ minds.

Bring your business to customers’ homes

Similarly, home delivery has gone from a convenience to a necessity: during this crisis, Italy has seen online grocery home-delivery users double between February and March.5 In China, Meituan, China’s premier food delivery service, reported quadrupled delivery orders in early 2020. Quick-service restaurants and aggregator apps are offering free delivery to capture share in this demand shift. Some fresh meal delivery start-ups have experienced a month-on-month demand boost of 25 percent and are experimenting with bulk versions of their offering. In the United States, home delivery options have expanded beyond food, as pharmacies offer extended free trials on their prescription delivery service, and car dealerships offer to pick up and drop off vehicles for repair and maintenance.

Make physical operations touch-free.

If part of the customer journey must exist in a physical channel, consider converting to contactless operations. The United States has seen a 20 percent increase in preference for contactless operations, with numerous industries adapting to this change. Meituan, which started as a food- and product-delivery service but evolved into a digital ecosystem player, was the first Chinese company to introduce contactless delivery in Wuhan.6 The service quickly became popular among all audiences, enabling Meituan to reach beyond its core millennial customer base—more than two thirds of new users are in their 40s and 50s. In the United States, Walgreens has rolled out a drive-through shopping experience. Customers order from a menu of available items such as household goods, medical supplies, and groceries. Store associates assemble and check out the order—all from the convenience of the drive-through window. Grocery chains have kept their physical stores open to shoppers but are adding touchless measures, including new installations of plexiglass “sneeze guards” at every cash register to protect customers and employees.

3. Reimagine customer experience for a post-COVID-19 world

The COVID-19 crisis will end at some point. We expect changes in consumer preferences and business models to outlast the immediate crisis. This has begun to play out in China, where there has been a 55 percent increase in consumers intending to permanently shift to online grocery shopping, and an increase of three to six percentage points in overall e-commerce penetration in the aftermath of COVID-19.7 Some consumers will be trying digital and remote experiences for the first time. In China, the share of consumers over the age of 45 using e-commerce increased by 27 percent from January to February 2020, according to Chinese market-research firm QuestMobile. Once they are acclimated to new digital or remote models, we expect some consumers to switch permanently or increase their usage, accelerating behavior shifts that were already underway before the crisis.

Further, once the public-health crisis has subsided, economic impacts will persist. Leading companies will deliver on the customer experiences that are emerging as most important in the “next normal,” while finding ways to save and self-fund.

Find savings without sacrificing experience

In a downturn, cutting costs is inevitable. But that does not have to come at the expense of a good customer experience, which can create substantial value (Exhibit 2). Often, the best ways to improve experience and efficiency at the same time are to increase digital self-service and to make smarter operational trade-offs, grounded in what matters most to customers. In industries like banking, digital servicing and sales are less expensive than branch- and phone-based approaches. The problem for many banks is that too few customers reach that point because they find digital channels unfamiliar and intimidating. Migrating customers to digital channels is often a successful way to boost savings and satisfaction. Teams can adopt this customer-centric mindset in any cost-cutting exercise, including migrating customers to self-serve channels, radically simplifying a product portfolio, or optimizing service-level agreements.

Reimagine your brick-and-mortar strategy

So far, 60 US retailers—representing $370 billion in annual sales and over 50,000 physical retail locations—have closed temporarily.8 The market capitalization of physical retail space has fallen by more than 35 percent.9 When stores reopen, the world of brick and mortar may be fundamentally different. More and more customers will have grown comfortable with digital, remote, and low-touch options, even in rural and older populations.

We expect to see the shuttering of underperforming stores. Retailers and consumer goods companies should plan now to capture this lost volume. Use mobile, online and geospatial data to optimize networks and omnichannel sales. Examine dynamics across digital channels, owned outlet stores, and wholesale partners. Companies should also re-examine the role that physical locations will play. Omnichannel fulfillment options such as buy online, pickup in store will increase. Some locations may be converted to “dark stores” for fulfillment only.

Finally, some existing stores may shift toward experience hubs that offer services and encourage purchase across all channels. Consider Nike’s store in New York’s SoHo neighborhood. There customers, assisted by a personal coach, can try on shoes in various simulated sporting environments—including a basketball half-court, soccer trial field, and outdoor track—to determine their preferred product. As the forced isolation of coronavirus fades from view, this type of outlet may be a template that additional retailers will adopt.

4. Build capabilities for a fast-changing environment

Maintaining a strong customer experience in crisis requires rapid research to understand changing dynamics and new pain points as well as agile innovation to address them. Customer leaders who master that approach will create value for consumers in high-priority areas and in an environment of increased competition.Would you like to learn more about our Marketing & Sales Practice?

Keep a real-time pulse on changing customer preferences

Traditional customer insights techniques, such as surveys, often have an 18- to 24-day lag between launch and results readout. At a time when conditions can change from hour to hour, that can be far too long to deliver useful perspective. Companies should look to quick and novel ways to keep a pulse on consumer sentiment. In Italy alone, Facebook has seen a 40 to 50 percent increase in usage since the crisis began. A surge in online usage now underway offers opportunity to tap into insights from social media to rapidly understand consumer sentiment and develop new ideas. One Chinese rental-car company established a team focused on monitoring social media to identify real-time trends. In Shenzhen, where employees were asked to avoid using public transit, it rolled out a “rent five days, get one free” offer that allowed people to expense a weekday carpool for work and keep the car on Saturdays to run personal errands safely.

Listen to employees

Frontline employees are a company’s eyes and ears on the ground. Solicit and collect employee feedback: it will prove useful in gauging how customers are feeling and how daily interactions are changing. Sadly, this source of insights often goes largely overlooked—while 78 percent of frontline employees report that their leaders have made customer experience a top priority, nearly 60 percent say they believe that their ideas for improving that experience often go unheard.10 Tools and technology now exist to rapidly collect and aggregate real-time ideas and feedback from frontline employees. Investing in these can make a critical difference in the rapidly changing current environment.

Adopt agile innovation

The sooner that companies can fulfill new consumer needs during this time, the better off both will be. This often means accelerating time to market for new customer experiences, rapidly prototyping and iterating, and releasing innovations in their “minimum viable” state, rather than waiting to perfect them. Building agility across functions to handle changing customer circumstances is necessary and will have long-lasting benefits. Typically, test-and-scale labs allow companies to build new experiences with 50 percent reduction in speed to market. In addition to agile approaches, companies should rapidly examine their innovation pipeline to set priorities for new customer experiences that line up with remote, digital, or home delivery trends; these will likely continue to accelerate and differentiate CX providers in the post-COVID-19 world.

Finally, customer leaders shouldn’t take their eyes off of “failure modes” that can hurt if overlooked. When it comes to demonstrating care toward employees, make sure to double down on supporting employees—customers will notice and appreciate this as well. Don’t assume that customers will automatically migrate to existing digital and remote platforms. Rather, actively raise awareness and the internal capabilities needed to support adoption of these experiences. As for securing useful feedback, if the volume of customer insights and feedback from sources like social media and employees has not increased severalfold in an intense crisis environment, take it as a sign that you are missing critical insight needed to adapt experience.


Customer experience has taken on a new definition and dimension in the overwhelming challenge of COVID-19. Customer leaders who care and innovate during this crisis and anticipate how customers will change their habits will build stronger relationships that will endure well beyond the crisis’s passing.

Rachel Diebner is a consultant in McKinsey’s Dallas office, where Kelly Ungerman is a senior partner; Elizabeth Silliman is an associate partner in the Boston office; and Maxence Vancauwenberghe is a partner in the New York office.

The authors wish to thank Rebecca Messina, Robert Schiff, and Will Enger for their contributions to this article.

5 reasons why you’re probably procrastinating more right now

Many of us had high hopes at the beginning of quarantine. We’d read more books, tackle long-overdue home improvement projects, and make use of our now-free commuting time to get ahead at work.

But it hasn’t necessarily worked out that way. “People are realizing no, this isn’t the abundance of time and space we originally believed,” says Sarah Greenberg, a licensed psychotherapist and leadership coach. “Most of us are holding more than we’ve ever had before.”

Even small tasks, which seemed easily completed before, are feeling harder and harder to check off. Suddenly, minor, clerical tasks can feel like climbing a mountain, which, Greenberg explains, is related to a lack of “intrinsic motivation around them.”

So what hope is there for fighting procrastination as social distancing drags on? It comes down to figuring out why we procrastinate and how this common behavior fits into the current crisis environment.

1. ADDITIONAL STRESS

Unsurprisingly, many of us are experiencing a high degree of stress right now, whether due to anxiety about the state of the world, social isolation, unemployment, additional caregiving responsibilities, and/or dealing with illness and loss.

These stressors can weigh on our minds and affect how well we balance each of these competitors to our attention. Preoccupation with what to expect next can also make you feel unsettled and distracted. “Stressors are heightened during the pandemic,” says Kaite Yang, an assistant professor of psychology at Stockton University. “[One] reason is uncertainty over employment and resulting financial hardship.”

For those fortunate enough to remain on the job or resume their once-furloughed positions, anxiety can still seep in and make productivity challenging. Oftentimes, this feeling of anxiety is a result of overestimating how many tasks we have the bandwidth to complete.

For a lot of people, anxiety feeds perfectionism. So, when it’s time to finally face a compounding pile of responsibilities, we avoid the slightest chance of messing up and delivering anything short of our best. “Procrastination can be a way to make that more concise choice, like, ‘No, I just really don’t have the energy for that right now,’” says Greenberg.

Finally, we’re dealing with many new distractions.”One reason we are procrastinating more is the number and variety of distractions in a home work environment—like homecare, childcare, other adults at home, [or using] improvised work spaces,” says Yang.

2. ABSENCE OF BUFFER BEHAVIORS

At the top of the workweek, many remote workers rouse themselves from a relatively banal weekend, make breakfast, and sit down at their kitchen table or home office to start work. All things considered, their commute to work is drastically cut down.

But while that may save time and hassle, a traditional commute can help with productivity, as it allows you to mentally prepare for work at the beginning of the day and then disengage from work in the evening.

Without these buffer periods, Greenberg explains, workers may struggle to find motivation and achieve work-life balance. “It’s easy to see how something as simple as a commute and location change could make a difference. In the office, we have all these things that set us up to do things properly, even if we don’t feel like it. When we’re away from the office and isolated, it can become a lot harder to ‘rev that engine.’”

In a virtual work setting, these signals, which represent bounds around a workday, are missing, and may promote sliding into procrastination or, on the other end, overworking and burning out. “The things we get in the workplace—some around habits and some around the environment—they counteract procrastination,” says Greenberg. “For the workday now, it’s really hard to have these on and off ramps.”

3. SHIFTING PRIORITIES

This abrupt shift to remote work did not occur in a vacuum. Amid the pandemic and national reckoning around race and police brutality, many people are reconsidering what they care about.

Anxiety is on the rise, making the demands of work feel secondary to the issues weighing on people’s minds. Workers may face decreased motivation when they consider what issues they want to prioritize now, especially in the absence of a clear path forward. “It’s difficult, come Monday morning, to have these tasks that don’t feel necessarily tied to the deeper purposes [and] themes in your life,” says Greenberg.

4. FEWER SOCIAL INTERACTIONS

If you’re no longer going into an office, you may be experiencing diminished social connection. Yang points out that social relationships, especially at work, can be motivating. People run ideas by each other, or get inspired to tackle a new project. “Receiving feedback on your work—whether from colleagues or the work task itself—contributes to satisfaction and motivation,” she says. “We know that workplace social relationships impact feelings of belonging, identification, and satisfaction at work.”

Virtual interactions may feel stilted and less emotionally responsive than in-person interactions once were, leading people to look elsewhere in their lives to find value.

5. BURNOUT

According to the American Psychology Association’s magazine, Monitor on Psychology, burnout consists of a combination of feelings, including exhaustion, cynicism, and detachment.  Workers “switch to doing the bare minimum instead of doing their very best.”

Moreover, employees who feel burnt out are more likely to switch employers and more often to take sick days. “Burnout impacts both our energy—making it hard to do much of anything—and our self-regulation. Procrastination can be a sign or outcome of burnout,” says Greenberg. This means, when we’re heading into a burnout zone, our reaction may be to avoid assignments we know are important.

Procrastination crops up when humans resist confronting what they perceive are bad endings. It becomes a strategy for humans to emotionally cope with a perceived threat.

Fortunately, if you’re a manager, you can help your employees fight burn out. First, connect with them by proactively checking in. Adam Goodman, director of Northwestern University’s Center for Leadership, says burnout can be remedied through a healthy discussion about life and work. In order to prevent burnout, it comes down to showing compassion and interest in your employees, no matter how small: “An easy starting place is having informal quick ‘connects’ on a weekly basis. They’re as simple as a quick hallway conversation, email, IM, or phone call.”

Diana Shy – https://www.fastcompany.com/90527143/5-reasons-why-youre-probably-procrastinating-more-right-now

Fires Continue on USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6)

USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) is a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship, and the third ship of the United States Navy to bear the name.[2] She was named in honor of John Paul Jones‘ famous frigate, which he had named in French “Good Man Richard”, in honor of Benjamin Franklin, the U.S. Ambassador to France at the time; “Richard” is derived from Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac.

The primary mission of Bonhomme Richard is to embark, deploy and land elements of a Marine landing force in amphibious assault operations by helicopter, landing craft and amphibious vehicle, and if needed, to act as a light aircraft carrier.

Bonhomme Richard is the flagship for Expeditionary Strike Group Three.[3] On 12 July 2020, a fire started in a lower deck while the ship was undergoing maintenance at Naval Base San Diego. Despite intensive efforts to extinguish the fire, the ship was still ablaze on 14 July 2020, with injuries to dozens of sailors and civilians being reported.

Miss Your Office? Some Companies Are Building Virtual Replicas

https://www.wsj.com/articles/miss-your-office-some-companies-are-building-virtual-replicas-11590573600

Stay-home orders and the shuttering of workplaces have given corporate employees some respite from getting dragged into time-wasting water-cooler conversations.


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But some companies and their employees don’t want to leave everything about the office behind, it turns out, and are replicating their offices in “SimCity”-like simulations online.

File-transfer service WeTransfer BV opened its virtual space on May 1, almost seven weeks after closing its physical offices in New York, Los Angeles and Amsterdam as part of the global effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Graphics reminiscent of early “Tomb Raider” videogames depict a version of the company’s Dutch headquarters, adapted to include pool tables, techno music and in-jokes such as a “memorial” library named for the very- much-alive chief creative officer. Staff roam around in the form of avatars such as robots and panda bears.

Gordon Willoughby, the chief executive of WeTransfer, said the platform helps provide the social experience of office life in the way that Zoom calls and Slack have replaced business meetings and desk-side chats. That is particularly valuable for recent hires, he said.

“Those of us who have been working at WeTransfer for a while are able to live off the social capital we built up from all those serendipitous meetings and chats before,” Mr. Willoughby said. “For new people, that’s much harder. The 3-D office is a really good way of maintaining that unplanned connectivity.”

WeTransfer employees tend to use the virtual world for daily stand-up meetings and happy hours; business planning is kept to tools such as Google Hangouts. Julia Shapiro, senior director of marketing in the company’s Los Angeles office, said the simulated office offers a welcome change of scenery from her kitchen table, where she has been working during the lockdown.

“It adds a little excitement to what would just be eight hours of video calls in a day,” she said.

Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc., Coinbase Inc. and Shopify Inc. recently said many of their employees will work remotely in the future, even after the pandemic recedes. But some employers worry about losing positive elements of a shared workplace, such as the serendipity of in-person interactions.

A crop of technology companies stand ready to help.

Sine Wave Entertainment Ltd. last month introduced Breakroom, a virtual-world product for remote workforces. It can accommodate all-hands meetings, secure one-on-ones and document sharing. Clients of the product include Virgin Group Ltd. and Torque Esports Corp.

Many customers initially assume they will recreate their offices, then realize they can make tweaks that would be impossible in the real world, said Sine Wave CEO Rohan Freeman.

“We spend our lives wishing we were working in open, sunny campuses with butterflies outside,” Mr. Freeman said. “Here you can realize that dream.”

Although clients can use Breakroom to create their office utopia, the platform also enables real-world elements such additional privileges for senior staff. In Sine Wave’s own virtual world, senior members can lock the boardroom, which is located on top of a hill overlooking the rest of the office.

Some virtual office spaces predate the pandemic.

Italian energy company Enel SpA has been working with Spatial Systems Inc. over the past year to assemble workers as avatars in a meeting room combining augmented reality and virtual reality.

Marina Lombardi, head of new technologies and innovation-network technology and innovation at Enel, said the service has proven to be particularly valuable during emergencies, “when the need for colleagues to be connected in the fastest and most effective way becomes vital.”

“The tool is going to be even more important in the situation of prolonged remote work generated by the Covid-19 pandemic,” Ms. Lombardi said.

Unlike real estate, there is no standard formula to calculate the price of a virtual office. Enel wouldn’t divulge how much it spends on Spatial. Breakroom costs $500 a month for up to 50 employees. WeTransfer hired agencies Achtung mcgarrybowen and Isobar to create a proprietary virtual office and doesn’t have to pay a monthly license to use the space.

Educators are exploring the concept as well.

The School of Communication Arts in London is on its second simulation since it closed its physical doors on March 16. Marc Lewis, the college’s dean, has committed to spending £10,000 on testing virtual office products to host lectures and keep connected to students.

Students now use a platform called Walkabout to traverse their own digital offices—a perk they don’t receive in the real world—as well as hangouts such as a bar and a smoking area. Avatars don’t drink or smoke there, but the décor is designed to encourage more casual, spontaneous conversation. The hangout areas also act as de facto meeting spaces if other rooms are occupied.

WeTransfer plans to keep the virtual office once its physical equivalents reopen. Mr. Willoughby wants to see more remote working even after the coronavirus pandemic abates, and said the platform will help in that transition.

“But I’m not sure we’re going to allow people to create their perfect office,” he said. “I don’t want to raise expectations of the physical space too much.”

Write to Katie Deighton at katie.deighton@wsj.com

Whataburger Is Giving Out Free Burgers Through Memorial Day

Memorial Day isn’t going to involve a giant crowd of friends fishing beers out of a sweaty cooler or jostling with parkgoers over who had the public grill first. But you’re making a mistake if you don’t think it can still involve grilling, beer, and burgers. 

Though, if you’re feeling lazy or just want to get your pre-Memorial Day burger fix ASAP, Whataburger is going to get the wheels greased. From May 18-25, you can get a free Whataburger when you purchase one online. You’ll only be able to do it online, though, either through the Whataburger site or the Whataburger app. 

That’s double the Fasties-nominated entrée for the same price as a single burger. Clearly, the southern burger slingers don’t have pressing concerns about the beef shortages that have impacted Wendy’s.

Additionally, if you’re unfamiliar with the chain’s app, you’ll find other freebies there. Its reward program gives you a reward for five Whataburger visits, letting you choose between a Whataburger Jr., a Taquito with Cheese, Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit, and other items. Get your BOGO burgers and you’re one-fifth of the way to another free burger. 

https://www.thrillist.com/news/nation/whataburger-buy-one-get-one-deal-memorial-day

The Social Distancing Consultant Will See You Now

The Cafe Rothe recently reopened after Germany lifted coronavirus lockdown measures.

Sometime last month, architects and interior designers everywhere traded in their old job titles for a shiny new one: Social distancing consultant.

After a binge-read of the CDC’s reopening guidelines, they’ve started shopping out their skills to restaurants, airlines, and malls — businesses that need to reinvent themselves for a 6-feet-apart world.

Pandemic planners are in high demand: Companies only have so much space to play around with.

Without statistical models to guide them, you can imagine restaurant employees crawling across the floor with rulers in hand on their first day back to work.

Your consultant friend can finally explain what they do 

Marker found several firms that have leaned into the rebrand:

  • The design giant Gensler launched a $600+/month service called ReRun, which helps companies sort through the employees that most need to return to work and rejiggers office space to fit them.
  • When WeWork needed to redo its office, it rang Arup, an architecture and engineering firm, to produce a 16-page reopening booklet.
  • The MASS Design Group is deploying its Covid-19 Response Team to help hospitals clean their workspaces. One idea: Kill germs with an army of ultraviolet lights.
  • Even SimpliFlying, a company that once specialized in offering social media strategy to airlines, now gets much of its income from shelling out social distancing tips.

The consultants recommend buying a raft of social distancing tools — like giant stickers that remind people to stay apart, and a whole lot of thermal scanners. Other jobs could soon take off — like in-flight janitors.

But the new consulting frontier is still a mixed bag  

Other players are pivoting in the opposite direction: B2B companies are leapfrogging CEOs and pitching straight to employees who work from home. They’re offering virtual fitness classes, mental health services, and — of course — refillable snack supplies.

If you’re thinking of hiring a consultant, keep in mind: Hardware like buzzing wristbands may be nice, but you can still find low-tech social distancing solutions on the cheap.

To keep its customers apart, a German cafe is handing out hats equipped with foam pool noodles.

May 15th, 2020 The Hustle (thehustle.co)

How Do You Measure Your Efficiency?

Ben Mulholland explains this nicely over at Process Street. Productivity “measures output over time, whereas efficiency measures input versus output. Together they can tell you how quickly something is completed, the resources it takes to get there, and (through analysis) whether the whole thing is worth your investment.”

Or, as Jessica Greene from Zapier, explains, “Productivity measures how much you do or produce within a given timeframe. Efficiency, on the other hand, is about being productive with less effort.”

“So if you answered 50 more customer support tickets this week because you worked through them as fast as possible, you were more productive,” writes Jessica. “But if you answered 50 more tickets because you used a text expansion app to respond to commonly asked questions, you were more productive and more efficient.”

In other words, “to be more productive in a way that won’t burn you out in the long run, you have to figure out how to be more efficient.”

Hopefully, this clears the difference between productivity and efficiency. But, more importantly, I hope that you understand why it’s essential to measure your efficiency. And, here’s how you can do just that.

Performance metrics.

If you have employees, you probably use performance metrics to see how, well, they’re performing. Typically, they fall into one of the following four categories.

Work quality metrics

“Work quality metrics say something about the quality of the employee’s performance,” explains Erik van Vulpen over at HR Analytics. “The best-known metric is a subjective appraisal by the direct manager.”

Examples include:

  • Management by objectives. The management objectives are goals that an employee works towards and receives points if he reaches them.
  • Subjective appraisal by the manager. Usually, a nine-box grid holds the stats for assessing performance and potential done by the manager.
  • Product defects. Product defects are usually involved in an industry that manufactures products. You could determine performance by the number of defects the employee was responsible for.
  • The number of errors. Similar to the above, the “number of errors” can be applied to programming.
  • Net promoter score. “NPS is a number (usually between 1 and 10) which represents the willingness of a client to recommend a company’s service to other potential clients,” explains Erik van Vulpen.
  • 360-degree feedback. 360-feedback is when peers, subordinates, customers, and managers are asked to asses the individual’s performance.
  • 180-degree feedback. 180-degree feedback is a simpler alternative to the above where only direct colleagues and managers are involved.
  • Forced ranking. Forced ranking is when a manager ranks their team from best to worst.

Work quantity metrics

“As quantity is often easier to measure than quality, there are multiple ways to measure this employee performance metric,” notes Erik van Vulpen.

  • The number of sales. Applicable if this is you or your employee’s responsibility. You may also want to look at the number of (potential) client contacts one has, the number of phone calls one makes — the number of company visits and the number of active leads.
  • The number of units produced. Besides traditional manufacturing, this metric can be used in areas like content creation. For example, you could use the number of keys someone can hit per minute on their keyboard.
  • Handling time, first-call resolution, contact quality, etc. Mainly, each of these metrics is relevant if involved in customer service. But, as you can see, most measurable usages in one area can be figured for application in another area of production.

Work efficiency metrics

Work efficiency is finding the balance between quantity and quality. To achieve the resulting number, “metric considers the resources (e.g., time and money: quantity) needed to produce a specific output (that’s quality).

Organizational performance metrics

Finally, Erik says that “Organizations can also use employee performance metrics to assess their own competitiveness,” such as:

  • Revenue per employee. Calculate the income per FTE (Full-time equivalent).
  • Profit per FTE. Similar to above, but focuses on profit instead.
  • Human Capital ROI. Here you would asses the value of human capital, such as knowledge and personal attributes.
  • Absenteeism Rate. Absenteeism is usually a self-explanatory metric. If you want to dig deeper — I’d suggest finding out the “why’s.” The why may have to do with the work or people at work. Check your environmental factors.
  • Overtime per Employee. “Employees who are willing to put in the extra effort are generally more motivated and produce more (in terms of work quantity),” writes Erik van Vulpen.

Can you use these metrics also to help you identify your efficiency? Sure. But, there are more natural ways to find your metrics.

Achieving goals.

Weren’t goals a part of management by objectives? Yes. But, as Choncé Maddox writes in another Calendar article, “Goals, in general, can be challenging as they often prompt you to change your life in a major or minor way.”

What’s more, it’s not always easy to tell if you’re even close to reaching your goal, let alone achieving them. And, to muddle things up, even more, goals are constantly changing depending on what your priorities are at the moment.

One way to get out of this predicament is to use a strategy like the SMART goal formula.

“SMART goal is an acronym to describe goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound,” explains Choncé. “For example, setting a vague goal such as ‘I want to lose weight this year’ probably won’t give you the best results.”

What if you said that you wanted to “lose 40 pounds in 10 months by getting on a low-carb diet and exercising four days per week?” According to Choncé, “That’s a much better goal that follows the SMART formula. You’re specific by saying how much weight you want to lose, giving yourself a deadline, so you know when to expect results, and specifying how you’ll reach your goal and measure your results over time.”

Work quality.

Yes. Work quality was another performance metric you can use to measure your team’s efficiency. But, I think when it comes to yourself, we can simplify this.

Are you meeting deadlines? Did you also meet the requirements of the task or project?. For example, were you able to crank out an 1200 work article or cover all of the meeting agenda points in the time allotted? If so, then I’d say that you’re pretty darn efficient

Punctuality.

What does this have to do with efficiency? In my opinion, quite a bit. It shows that you’re able to manage your time correctly. For instance, if you’re running late to a meeting, maybe it’s because you underestimated how long the previous task took to complete. Or, perhaps you’re so disorganized that it totally slipped your mind until the last minute.

Behavioral traits.

Efficient people avoid bad habits. I’m talking about failing to plan ahead, not having a routine, multitasking, procrastinating, or being easily distracted. They also try to everything on their own when there should be tasks they’re delegating so that more of their time and energy on what’s important.

Feedback from others.

Now we’re circling back to feedback. And, there’s a good reason for that. We have a tendency to be biassed towards our own self-assessments and performance. You may think that you’re killing at work until someone brings it to your attention that you actually haven’t been delivering your best work as of late.

Hearing feedback from others can also be challenging. But, instead of avoiding peer or management feedback, solicit it from people you trust. Try asking a peer, business partner, or family member.

To become more efficient, expect more of yourself.

Hopefully, you know how to measure your efficiency. But, there’s one last step you should take. Raise your expectations.

Let’s say that met you have a met or requirement, instead of being complacent. Push yourself to go above and beyond. It’s great that you can write a 1200 word article in under three hours. But, can you produce the same number of words in under two? How about upping the word count?

You don’t know what your true limits are — because you can always up-your-count on almost anything. Try it. Pushing your limits, keeps you engaged, and forces you to embrace better habits so that you can become more effective and efficient.

by John Rampton

Airlines are desperate to jettison their excess snacks

Airlines have a simple message for Americans: You don’t have to take our flights, but please, please, at least take our snacks.

Across the US, delivery companies are shuttling surplus airline snacks into people’s homes.

There’s a lot to go around: Delta, for instance, hands out 80m+ of its famed Biscoff cookies every year. With air travel taking a nosedive, it donated 500k pounds of snacks to food banks and frontline workers.

Meanwhile, United is heaping stroopwafels on anyone who will take them. JetBlue partnered with the surplus food company Imperfect Foods to offer assorted cheeses, cherries, and crackers for $2.99 a pack.

The future of the corporate snack game could be nuts

Some of the largest companies in Silicon Valley are luring employees with promises of snacks as far as the eye can see.

One catering company estimated that offices can spend as much as ~$200k on snacks for 100 people. The most popular “guilty” snack, according to ZeroCater: animal crackers.

But with few tech workers going in for work these days, a lot of startups are rethinking their snack offerings altogether.

The tech-snack reformation

Marker noted that a few companies are sending their employees “home office kits” that feature the regular assortment of office munchies.

Others are dialing back on snacks: Googlers were recently hit with the news that they can’t expense food and other perks while in quarantine. Also a no-no: spending unused travel or event budgets on snack boxes or gifts.

If we do see a snack-perk renaissance later in the year, it isn’t going to look as appetizing as before. Instead of tables sprawling with free-flowing bags of popcorn and M&Ms, workers might have to settle for individually wrapped packages of almonds.

Michael Water, The Hustle