AI & its role in narrowing opportunity gaps in a post-COVID-19 world

Together, we are all navigating an uncertain path toward economic recovery as governments around the world order lockdowns, re-openings, and sadly, rollbacks of re-openings. When the lockdown began in March here in Washington State, I was already contributing to a story on an AI skilling solution in my work with the business incubation team within the broader Microsoft AI Marketing team. The pandemic has accelerated the need for tech innovation, including AI solutions, to help reimagine the future of work and re-train and upskill workers for a post-COVID-19 world. I set out to learn and share how thought leaders are looking at these challenges.

The pandemic has heightened the urgency to reduce the global skills gap

The focus on AI as a powerful tool to address skills gaps predates the pandemic—in 2019 Bernard Marr, an author and AI tech influencer, wrote in Forbes, “from how we are recruited and on-boarded to how we go about on-the-job training, personal development, and eventually passing on our skills and experience to those who follow in our footsteps, AI technology will play an increasingly prominent role.”

Then—in just the first three months of the pandemic—US unemployment claims outpaced those filed during two years of the Great Recession, according to the Pew Research Center. The crisis has disproportionately affected women, Black men, Hispanics, immigrant workers, and those with lower levels of education. The report also found that those with college degrees were six times more likely to have the option to telecommute than workers without a high school diploma.

In other words, the pandemic widened existing opportunity gaps.

Microsoft President Brad Smith addressed these growing gaps in a June announcement of a global Microsoft worker skilling initiative that will include an AI-powered job interview preparation feature.

“The pandemic has shined a harsh light on what was already a widening skills gap around the world—a gap that will need to be closed with even greater urgency to accelerate economic recovery,” Smith wrote.

The first of the Microsoft partnerships, with the City of Atlanta, was also announced in July.

"Through Accelerate: Atlanta, Microsoft, and its partners will help close the digital divide and ensure there is a place for everyone in our shared future," said Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. "The road to economic recovery must begin with pathways to opportunity that are inclusionary and accessible to all."

That same month, a consortium of tech companies led by Infosys announced an AI-based talent-matching platform “to meet the reskilling and employment needs raised by the COVID-19 crisis.”

To help local governments address gaps in opportunities, Smith also pledged that Microsoft would make data and analytics available to governments seeking to assess economic needs specific to their regions, as in the Atlanta partnership.

Tech—and governments—must put humans at the center of their solutions

A May 2020 Deloitte Insights piece on the future of work observed: “COVID-19 showed people that while technology can augment and supplement work, it does not replace what is needed from humans. The health crisis gave people a greater appreciation for the fact that humans and technology are more powerful together than either can be on their own. Consider how telemedicine, manufacturing, education, and even grocery delivery drew on the power of integrated human-machine teams during the crisis.”

Examples include an IBM Watson-powered chatbot that helps public health workers reduce call wait-times, and robot assistants that help health care providers to safely care for the sickest COVID patients, while reducing the need for scarce personal protective equipment.

And yet, fears that the robots are coming to take our jobs are increasingly real.

As Erika Hayasaki details in the MIT Technology Review, employers now “have a clear incentive to replace more workers permanently” due to safety and liability concerns surfaced by the pandemic.

In the absence of job protection or reskilling, says Hayasaki, many essential roles in health care and other fields risk elimination. And while some workers will be able to retrain as “robot wranglers” who can do things that robots can’t, says Hayasaki, there will be fewer of those jobs.

Ai-Jen Poo, the co-founder and executive director of the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance, struck a hopeful note for lower-wage workers in a recent interview: “Think of how much has changed in the last five months, and how much we have survived, thanks to our essential workers. Let’s make sure that five years from now, their jobs, health, and wellbeing are as secure as they kept us.”

Many thought leaders agree that the government will need to play a leading role.

“The government is the only actor that really has the capacity to act on the scale that’s needed,” David Autor, Ford Professor of Economics at MIT, has said. “Let’s create a Marshall Plan for the US: Rebuild American infrastructure, invest in schools, and remake ourselves.”

Tech leaders are also stressing the need for regulation

The need for new legislation and regulation in AI tech is a hot-button issue. However, there is growing consensus among some leading tech companies that there need to be agreed-upon standards, and that companies should not be left to evaluate and self-regulate their own compliance.

As protesters gathered around the world to support Black Lives Matter, top tech companies including IBM, Microsoft, and Amazon announced plans to permanently discontinue or suspend sales of facial recognition technology to police departments. Smith said Microsoft’s suspension of sales would continue in the US until “until we have a national law in place, grounded in human rights, that will govern this technology.” In a letter to members of Congress, IBM opposed use of any technology that violates basic human rights and freedoms.

To some degree, this thinking extends to their customers. According to a March 2020 O’Reilly enterprise AI adoption survey, 40% of companies in the evaluation phase ranked fairness, bias, and ethics as the second-highest risk factor. For businesses with more mature AI implementations, the same risk ranked third, with 48% reporting that they already check for fairness and bias during model building and deployment.

Facebook announced plans to set up its own “internal teams” to examine racial bias in its Facebook and Instagram algorithms. As many journalists—including Kara Swisher, in her New York Times columns and Pivot podcast—have documented, the company has served as a model for why regulation is needed.

In January, IBM had already announced IBM Policy Lab, which advocates for “precision regulation” of AI “based on accountability, transparency, fairness, and security,” along with the appointment of AI ethics officials to act as watchdogs.

Academia is providing thought leadership—and data

Academic researchers, including Joy Buolamwini, Timnit Gebru, and Inioluway Deborah (Deb) Raji, are receiving attention for their groundbreaking work to push tech companies to reduce racial and gender bias in AI. In their study, the AI tech of leading companies failed to accurately classify iconic Black women such as Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, and Serena Williams.

“As more people question how seemingly neutral technology has gone astray," Buolamwini said, “it’s becoming clear just how important it is to have broader representation in the design, development, deployment, and governance of AI.”

AI has the power to narrow—or exacerbate—the skills and opportunity gap. Narrowing the gap requires responsible and effective use of AI … and our collective attention. I encourage you to do your part.

Take whatever action you can to help narrow opportunity gaps, such as the network gap. Join the conversations around closing the skills gap and creating more equity in AI innovation. Follow and engage with thought leaders in the space, including those mentioned in this post.

Cynthia Stamstad
Twitter | LinkedIn

[Virtual] remote work real-talk

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all been struggling at some level to adjust to this new normal. For those of us fortunate enough to be able to work from home, it’s not just adjusting to working fully remotely—it’s also dealing with headline fatigue and the stress of looming economic uncertainty, trying to homeschool and/or keep your children alive and fed while also working, coping with a friend or loved one who’s sick, supporting someone who’s unemployed or at risk of losing their job, or feeling isolated and alone. It’s A LOT.

We wanted to hear from our community on how they’re staying connected … while staying apart.

Lisa Hufford, our CEO and founder, [virtually] sat down with a handful of our experts—a group with 60+ combined years of remote work experience (!!!)—to talk about remote work in this current environment, from leading remote teams and creating an at-home work environment to communicating with empathy. Here’s the full conversation.

Huge thanks to everyone who joined us and to our amazing presenters: Mary Cronkhite-Johns, Maura Donaghey, Hai Duong, and Monica McNeal.

The chat window was lively during the virtual conversation! Here are a few of my favorite comments and suggestions:

“Home schooling is not working!” Same, Daniel H., SAME.

“We've been doing virtual coffee chats on Wednesday morning and including families in the chats. And a women's virtual lunch on Mondays.” Love these ideas, Linda B.! We may need to replicate at Simplicity HQ!

“Is it ok to wear yoga pants EVERY DAY?!” Another hard same. Carrie M., you are all of us.

From Sydney T.: “A few fun digital games you can play with friends are Fibbage, Drawful, or Lie Swatter. Check out Jackbox games.”

And from Farida S.: “I started a notebook to take 5 minutes a day to write down my challenges and during the night I spend 15 minutes to think about those and see how I can work on those for the next day :)” Yes, Farida! We just instituted a daily morning Gratitude & Goals video meeting. It’s been wonderful to start the day with a grid of smiling faces and an outpouring of gratitude.

“I use TimeTrade to help with ensuring that I have a buffer between conversations by setting up ‘rules’ for when I forget to do it for myself on Outlook.” Hot tip, Erica L. I will definitely be giving this a whirl.

And lastly, a few remote work resources:

Stay connected while staying apart: Our team shares their tips for working remotely—ranging from tech hacks to self-care reminders.

5 tips for staying productive (and sane!) while adjusting to remote work: To everyone who's adapting to working from home for the first time, this one's for you.

5 tips for successfully managing remote employees: Remote work is still just work. If these sound like just being a good manager—they are! However, these best practices are even more important when dealing with remote workers.

Get more on world of work, fulfillment, & personal brand

Our founder and CEO, Lisa Hufford, shares in Forbes what skills are in demand, how to build confidence and credibility, and thinking outside the traditional employment model.

5 tips for staying productive (and sane!) while adjusting to remote work

This post was originally published by Lisa Hufford on LinkedIn.

A few months ago, I shared five tips for successfully managing remote employees. I also shared some stats on the rise of remote work:

It’s grown 91% in the last 10 years, and 159% over the last 12 years. 73% of all teams will have remote workers by 2028.

Today, remote work has become an overnight reality for businesses and teams of all sizes as we navigate this global pandemic. Many who have been weighing remote work programs are suddenly rolling them out by necessity, essentially building the plane while in-flight.

Managers, it’s worth revisiting my tips for the shift to managing your teams while working remotely. And for those who are adapting to working from home for the first time—managers and individual contributors alike—this post is for you.

Here are five tips for maintaining your productivity (and sanity!) while working remotely.

And above all else, please remember this: Remote work is still just work. It’s about business goals and people. And it’s grounded in setting clear expectations and using technology to facilitate collaboration, communication, and connection.

1. Get focused on your goals. What do you need to accomplish today? This week? Who do you need to engage with? Block your calendar to carve out uninterrupted time to focus. And then unleash yourself! I love this advice from Seth Godin:

“When you work from home, you can sit back and wait for assignments and hope you won’t get picked … Or can you decide to change your posture. With all the time you save by not going to meetings and not commuting, you can run with the opportunity. Turn the freedom into responsibility instead of fearing or hoping for authority.”

2. Create your to-do list for the day. Working remotely requires more self-discipline, and I’ve found that a prioritized to-do list helps me stay on track of deadlines and deliverables.

Our marketing team lead, Stephanie Chacharon, jots down all of her open tasks before shutting down her computer at the end of a work-from-home day. In the morning, she is able to approach her list with a fresh focus and prioritize her day’s action plan.

3. Focus on what you can control. Be aware of how regularly checking the news and social media may be contributing to your inability to focus. Recognize that there are things within our control—from the work we do to what we choose to read, say, or share. Be intentional.

4. Keep your meetings, and use video! As humans, we crave connection! And remote work doesn’t have to be isolating: Use technology, including your webcam, to create regular touchpoints for human connection. Turning on your camera for video calls and meetings is a great way to replicate in-person interactions and ensure that everyone is still engaged.

My team uses Microsoft Teams and Zoom, and we encourage everyone to turn on their cameras to facilitate connection and participation.

And it doesn’t have to be all business, either. Since we’ve all started working remotely due to the COVID-19 conditions, I’ve scheduled a 30-minute weekly virtual touchpoint for us to share inspiration and support, built on a weekly theme. (Stay tuned, team!) This week we’ve having a virtual sound bowl gathering (thanks for organizing, Carrie Morris!) where each of our teammates are bringing suggestions for how we can stay connected, integrated, and productive while distributed.

5. Practice regular self-care. It’s easy to get lost in your work and move far less than you would in a typical office environment. Remember to stand up at least once an hour, get some fresh air, stay hydrated, stretch, and take care of yourself. Mollie West Duffy, co-author of No Hard Feelings, uses the Time Out app to remind her to take periodic breaks. I like taking my dog, Winston, out for short walks around the block to recharge and reset.

Be kind to yourself and your team. Reach out if you’re feeling isolated, and take advantage of technology to stay connected and collaborate effectively. We’re all in this together.

Check out our remote work real-talk

Want more support? Check out our on-demand remote work webinar with our founder and CEO, Lisa Hufford, and remote work experts Monica McNeil, Mary Cronkhite-Johns, Maura Donaghey, and Hai Duong, for a real talk on how to thrive in the new world of work.

Prepare for WA's paid family-leave benefits

Download our Leave of Absence Coverage Playbook

As of January 1, Washington state employees can apply for 12+ weeks of paid family and medical leave benefits.

Thanks to this new benefit, more people will be taking leave than ever before. As a manager, you want to support those taking leave—without overburdening yourself or your team.

Get ahead of it: Put a plan in place now, so you can support those taking a leave of absence and those covering during their leave.

Download the Leave of Absence Coverage Playbook.

Get inspired: Client success story

Repeat after us: I don’t have to go it alone!

Don’t overburden yourself or your team. Work with an experienced consultancy, like Simplicity, to leverage a short-term resource to cover the work while your employee is out on leave.

When an employee gives notice that they’re heading out on leave—just reach out. We’ll help you find the right expert for your need so that you don’t just survive, you might just thrive.

Here’s one of our favorite examples of a client who reacted quickly when an employee running a high-profile program went out on unplanned medical leave.

Business need

The Microsoft Elite program relies on thousands of internal early adopters to “use, love, and break” the company’s latest technology to ensure launch-ready products that provide an exceptional customer experience.

With nearly 250 participating programs under its belt ranging from Microsoft Office to Xbox, keeping the program running smoothly requires an incredible amount of organization and planning. So when the program’s lead PM went out on an unplanned emergency leave, someone needed to step in—quickly—to keep the high-profile program running at full speed.

“Simplicity’s ability to quickly fast-track quality coverage when I unavailable during a short-term leave, enabled us to keep the Microsoft Elite program running smoothly throughout my unplanned absence—ensuring Microsoft’s internal early adoption programs could launch and run smoothly. I was grateful for Simplicity Consulting’s high-quality talent and their ability to quickly step-in!”

Taj H., Microsoft Elite Program Manager


It was a perfect storm: In the midst of implementing innovative improvements to the program’s onboarding processes and toolset, the lead PM’s sudden leave coincided with the end of the program and member onboarding PM’s contract. The Elite program's existing pipeline of 20 new programs ready to onboard, 50 live programs, and the not-yet-finalized process and tool improvements were left without an owner.

Two short days after the program lead went out on leave, we fast-tracked a replacement program manager to lead during her absence. Our PM jumped headfirst into the still-developing processes, reporting bugs, communicating status updates to stakeholders and Elite program owners, and managing the end-to-end onboarding experience. She was able to keep program owners and members happy, while working with the Elite engineers to report and make improvements to the developing onboarding experience.

Without that continuity of support and expertise, new Elite programs would not have launched, thousands of Elite participants would have been uninformed about new program availability, and program owners would have missed out on the quality feedback they rely on to get their programs ready for market—negatively impacting the reputation of the Elite program.

As a result, the new program pipeline was successfully managed and launched on-schedule, while maintaining the program’s quality reputation with stakeholders, product managers, and participants.

“I knew of Jeannine—her reputation as a bright, creative, and knowledgeable member of Simplicity was well known across our team. While I was on leave, it was a huge relief to know that Jeannine was involved, figuring out the new tools and workflows, and managing key relationships to ensure Elite continued to run smoothly.” 

Taj H., Microsoft Elite Program Manager

Get prepared

We created a readiness checklist to help you successfully prepare for and cover employee leaves. Our playbook for successfully preparing for Washington State’s paid family and medical leave benefit includes:

Download the Leave of Absence Coverage Playbook.

Get help

We're you go-to partner for leave of absence coverage. We're helped thousands of managers successfully leverage on-demand talent to cover absences and fill vital gaps. Just contact us—we’ll do the rest.

Start the new decade right: Invest in your personal brand

This post was originally published by Lisa Hufford on LinkedIn.

It could be anywhere—at a party, a work event, or a coffee shop. You meet someone, and they introduce themselves with their name and their job title. And unless their title is truly memorable—and let’s be honest, it often isn’t—it quickly fades from memory.

Now what if they introduced themselves differently? What if they fused their what (job title or impact of their work) with their why (their motivation) in a way that gave you insight into their personality and how they view the world and their place in it? That sets them apart. That’s personal brand.

What if they fused their what with their why? … That sets them apart. That’s personal brand.

Origin story

When I first quit my corporate job in 2006 and set out on my own as a consultant, I didn’t give much thought to how I was presenting myself or what I wanted to be known for. I activated my network, found projects that played to my strengths, and started to drum up a consistent pipeline of work.

Soon, just as consistently, I was asked to help others do the thing that I was doing. Over the years, I’ve advised literally thousands of professionals on their careers and helped many of them transition from corporate to consulting. Along the way, I’ve realized that the key to success—especially in consulting and project-based work—is a clear, compelling, and consistent personal brand.

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken. – Oscar Wilde

Personal brand, defined

But first, what makes a successful brand? Great brands stand out intentionally. And in doing so, they’ve become engrained in our social consciousness and are instantly recognizable. Nike, Apple, Nordstrom, Microsoft.

We can learn from great brands. In a world that’s increasingly digital, people still matter. How we show up and the impressions that we make are important differentiators. I’ve dedicated my career to those human-to-human moments: helping the people in my community achieve greatness in work and in life.

I define personal brand as the intersection of your strengths and your passions. It’s how you show up and the authentic words you use to describe yourself.

So, what’s my personal brand?

The authentic words that I always come back to are generous, driven, and helpful. (What’s an authentic word? Download my playbook and discover yours!)

I thrive on making complicated things simple, and I love learning. I enjoy taking on big challenges and doing things that haven’t been done before to improve people’s lives.

Looking back on my many jobs, I now see how my personal brand shows up across all my different roles. This is the power of personal brand—recognizing that it can adapt to a variety of jobs for each person.

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman

Personal brand in the gig economy

Call them what you will—freelancers, contractors, consultants, independent experts, high-end gig workers—a growing number of professionals are shifting from traditional corporate careers as full-time employees at a single company to creating their own path. The freelance workforce in America rose by 4M in 4 years, reaching 65.7M in 2018. 61% of freelancers do so by choice, and the continuing growth is driven by younger generations of workers.

In this increasingly competitive market, it’s not enough to just be able to do the work. First, you have to land the work. And that requires knowing and articulating your unique personal brand statement—not just what you do, but why you do it and how it adds value.

At Simplicity, we receive thousands of applications each year. The ones who stand out have taken this message to heart. Rather than regurgitating their resumes, they’ve tapped into their authentic personal brands and gotten clear on why they’re unique. They’re also intentional about what they’re putting out in the world. They’re asking for the work they want, and not asking for the things that don’t meet their criteria (even if they’re good at them!).

Each of us has our own definition of success and each of us has a unique personal brand. I believe that personal success—whatever that looks like for you—is achieved by understanding your unique personal brand and choosing to live it. As Oscar Wilde said, “Be Yourself: Everyone else is already taken.”

Here’s to you!

Download the personal brand playbook

Get started! Download my personal brand playbook to get clear on your personal brand and achieve professional success—whatever that means for you.

Check out my virtual personal brand workshop

Ready to dig in? Watch my on-demand personal brand workshop where I guide you through the five steps to defining your personal brand. You’ll leave inspired, informed, and energized to create and share your unique story.

FFA x Simplicity: Sponsorship in action

2019 was transformational for the Female Founders Alliance (FFA).

The organization tripled its membership, launched its programming on a national scale, inked a deal with WeWork, honored an incredible group of women and allies at the Champion Awards gala, and successfully completed its second Ready, Set, Raise Accelerator cohort—which collectively raised $2.7M and counting.

We’ve been proud to sponsor FFA as it works tirelessly to support female and non-binary founders of venture-scale companies. To show our support, we funded a marketing resource—the talented and values-driven Sara LeHoullier—for 2019 to help FFA expand its reach. As the year rapidly winds to a close, let’s take a look back at all the organization accomplished in 12 short months.


But first, what does FFA want you to know about FFA?

“We are #ActionLeaders laser-focused on accelerating the growth of venture-backed companies founded by women and non-binary individuals,” says Divya Kakkad, FFA's Director of Marketing.

“FFA is more than just a group you join to say you're in it. It's a real, action-oriented community of women and non-binary founders.”

Sara LeHoullier, FFA marketing manager, via Simplicity Consulting

And beyond that, membership isn’t just something to pad your LinkedIn profile.

“FFA is more than just a group you join to say you're in it,” says Sara LeHoullier, a Simplicity consultant who’s supporting FFA’s marketing efforts as part of our sponsorship. “It's a real, action-oriented community of women and non-binary founders … and they're so open to talking, helping, connecting with each other—it’s clear that this isn't a zero-sum game.”

And for Sara, that’s exactly why she loves this work.

“Some people are able to separate their work and their personal life completely. I have never been able to do that … I want my work to reflect my values as a human being,” says Sara. “With Simplicity, I've always been able to be myself—and with FFA, I’ve felt the same. We all have different communication styles and personalities, but instead of feeling like I had to conform, I felt like I could bring something a little different to the table. And I believe in the mission of FFA so strongly that it was a natural fit for me.”

“We are #ActionLeaders laser-focused on accelerating the growth of venture-backed companies founded by women and non-binary individuals.”

Divya Kakkad, FFA, Director of Marketing

Expanded Access on a national stage

“We really grew into a national organization,” says Samantha Agee, FFA’s Vice President of Business Alliances. That growth to new markets enabled the organization to meaningfully connect with founders across the country.

The organization received press from Forbes and Fast Company to Cheddar and Tech Crunch, the latter of which dubbed FFA’s accelerator the “Y Combinator for female founders.”

And FFA’s Access Tour, which exists to foster meaningful connections to help female founders move their businesses forward, travelled from Seattle to Portland, LA, and New York. The tour combined panels, AMAs, and 1:1 meetings with an impressive lineup of investors, leaders, and coaches like the Riveter’s Amy Nelson, Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan, Dreambox Learning’s Jessie Woolley Wilson, and HBS professor and WeWork board member Frances X. Frei, to name a few.

“FFA couldn't exist without the support of our partners, so we couldn't have hit any of our milestones without support from our partners, including Simplicity.”

Samantha Agee, FFA, VP of Business Alliances

Ready, Set, Raise! No, really

One of the most tangible effects of FFA’s work is its Ready, Set, Raise (RSR) accelerator program.

The second RSR cohort represented a diverse range of industries, as summarized by TechCrunch:

Collectively, the cohort’s 8 founders raised nearly $3M as a result of the 6-week accelerator program, says Divya.

“FFA couldn't exist without the support of our partners, so we couldn't have hit any of our milestones without support from our partners, including Simplicity,” says Samantha. “The accelerator is the easiest place to point to: Two of our companies have closed their rounds.”

One of those companies is Give InKind, a smarter giving platform founded by Laura Malcolm of Tacoma, WA. The startup tripled its pre-seed round goal, bringing in $1.5M from Seattle investors.

Pay it forward

It’s FFA’s ambitious goals and meaningful results that attracted us to the organization in the first place.

“I’m committed to FFA’s success because its mission is SO vital: enabling female founders to make their mark and literally change the world,” said Lisa Hufford, Simplicity founder & CEO, in an earlier post detailing why she committed to funding a marketing resource for FFA in 2019.

And for Lisa, supporting FFA is about paying it forward: “As we find success in our careers and learn from the inevitable failures along the way, it’s the responsibility of us all to pay it forward, again and again. Take the meeting. Lend a hand. Teach a lesson. Share your expertise. Those little actions add up to big change in our community.”

Simplicity’s support—funding Sara as a marketing resource for 2019—was critical to FFA’s growth.

“Her passion for women-founded companies and the community at large was apparent in her work,” says Divya. “She helped us move the needle on key metrics like growing our community, newsletter, and social following.”

FFA’s founder and CEO, Leslie Feinzieg, sees Simplicity’s support as the embodiment of a key theme of her message.

"I talk a lot about the importance of sponsorship over mentorship, and Simplicity's support for FFA is exactly what this should look like,” says Leslie. “2019 was only our second year in existence, but it was also a transformational year, one in which we went from a regional community with a single employee using trial and failure to figure out what works, to a national community with proven success stories and a six person team. We could not have done that without Simplicity and without Sara.”

FFA in 2020

The team is energized by the growth they’ve experienced in 2019—and what’s on tap for 2020.

“It’s been amazing to see how the entire community, including Simplicity and investors and all our partners, have come together in that united mission to move these companies forward,” says Samantha.

In the new year, the organization plans to continue its growth into new markets like Boston, San Francisco, and Atlanta, with a goal of being in each major VC hub.

Ultimately, FFA wants to be the biggest community of female and non-binary founders. If this year is any indication, the organization is well on its way.

Work + fulfillment

This post was originally published by Lisa Hufford on LinkedIn.

Last week I was privileged to travel to Palm Desert to attend the 2019 Global Annual Meeting of EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women—a program that now includes 500 women entrepreneurs from around the world. To say it was inspiring would be a serious understatement. Lisa Schiffman, pictured below, is our fearless leader and fairy godmother who we are grateful for leading this program since its inception.

I was selected to join the 2014 class of Winning Women and through the years of attending the annual conference, many of the women have become friends. There is nothing more empowering than being in a room of driven women, each making an impact in their own way. This year was no different.

Our first speaker, Jeff Stier, Executive Director of Purpose & Leadership at EY, talked about connecting vision and mission with fulfillment. It reminded me why I started Simplicity in 2006. I was on my journey to find my definition of fulfillment. At that time in my life, I had two small boys, and I wanted to do meaningful work in a flexible way … which made consulting an appealing alternative to the traditional employment model. Little did I know that creating my own path would unearth my passion for helping thousands of other professionals find that same work fulfillment and transition from their corporate jobs to consulting.

66% of employees are unfulfilled at work

Jeff shared that 66% of employees are unfulfilled at work (source: Imperative's 2015 Workforce Purpose Index). Despite all we hear about employee engagement these days, he believes that what people really want is fulfillment. That resonated with me.

I believe the definition of fulfillment is deeply personal, and different for each person and at different points in their life. As I was reflecting on what fulfillment means to me at this point in my career, I thought about the personal brand workshops I have led over the years. In them, I help people define their unique strengths and passions and articulate what they want in a confident and credible manner. This is the heart of fulfillment: authentically identifying and sharing the thing(s) that motivate you right now in your life. And this is work that each of us must do on our own to determine if our jobs are fulfilling. Sometimes it takes a perspective shift toward our current roles to see that we could be more fulfilled if we could do a little more of what we love every day.

Top job satisfaction driver: business practices in line with my values

For employers like myself, fulfillment is an especially important concern, because 75% of employees are Millennials and Gen Z, and they’re demanding alignment of their personal vision and purpose with that of their employer’s. Aerotek recently conducted a survey of more than 1,200 workers across industries and skill sets and found that the top satisfaction driver was business practices in line with my values. It’s clear that the companies who want to attract the best talent are those who are focused on helping employees achieve fulfillment at work above all else.

What are you doing to find fulfillment at work? And leaders, how are you actively fostering your people’s fulfillment?

5 Tips For Successfully Managing Remote Employees

This post was originally published by Lisa Hufford on LinkedIn.

It’s #WorkFromAnywhere Week (thanks for the head’s up, Career Contessa), which is as good a time as any to talk about remote work.

In this business, I spend a lot of time talking with leaders and hiring managers about the future of work. And for so many of them, enabling and managing a remote workforce is a big, scary unknown.

But here’s the thing: Remote work isn’t scary. And it isn’t any different than on-site work. The same management principles apply in the office and remotely—they're just heightened with a remote workforce. I’ll dig into why. But first, the data:

Remote work is on the rise. It’s grown 91% in the last 10 years, and 159% over the last 12 years. As of 2019, nearly 70% of companies allow remote work and 16% are fully remote. In fact, 75% of all highly-skilled freelancers already work remotely. (75%!) And 73% of all teams will have remote workers by 2028.

Gone are the days of the 9-5 sitting at your desk and having your manager hover over you. What has emerged is a fluid culture, one that embraces flexibility and favors the self disciplined, with perks for both employers and employees.

We all know why people want to work remotely. They’re tired of wasting time commuting, want to lower their carbon footprint, desire flexibility to fit it all in, all enabled by great technology tools to “feel” like you are in the office.

Every manager I talk to wants access to the best talent and increasingly the best talent demands flexible, high impact work. It’s a win-win!

I built my business because of my personal desire to work mostly remote in 2006. Since then, it’s proven to be more than a passing trend: Employers must embrace the remote workforce or be left in the dust.

My Remote Journey

13 years ago, I left my job at Microsoft after the birth of my second son. I still wanted to do impactful work, but I wanted the flexibility to spend meaningful time with my family. I was tired of traditional office hours and spending time in airports with my breast pump in tow.

I found that not only did I like working remotely, I loved it! I was more productive and focused. I didn’t have to waste time fighting traffic. And I was able to balance my time and priorities in a way that worked for me and my family. And my clients loved my work because my only focus was solving their big problem. I didn’t have the day to day distractions and meetings all day like they did. I loved being their secret weapon and providing plans and strategies to drive their business.

Over the years, I’ve talked to so many women who have the same story. And that’s what our business model is based on: enabling talented professionals to work (mostly) remotely while helping managers get business-critical work done. I love that we can help people work however they want without compromising on quality.

More The Same Than Different

At the Geekwire Summit this week, Auth0 CEO Eugenio Pace was asked about maintaining culture and managing his mostly remote workforce. He answered that it’s largely the same as a traditional office culture—remote work simply surfaces problems that can remain hidden in a typical face-to-face environment. What becomes of utmost importance in a remote environment is clear, deliberate communication of goals and tasks and a bias toward hiring people who don’t just diagnose problems, but present solutions, too.

I couldn’t agree more.

In my years of experience enabling marketing and sales leaders with remote employees, I’ve learned a lot about making remote work work. And the bottom line is this: It’s not scary or a completely new way of doing business.

Remote work is still just work. It’s about business goals and people. And it’s grounded in setting clear expectations and rules of engagement at the onset.

Best practices for managing a remote workforce

If these sound like just being a good manager—they are! However, these best practices are even more important when dealing with remote workers.

  1. Set clear, measurable deliverables & success metrics. Like any successful project or team, start by defining success. Ask yourself:
    • What does success look like?
    • Are there clearly defined metrics that we can be measuring against (quantitative or qualitative)?
    • How do these metrics align with client and/or team accountabilities?
    • What are some of the upcoming key deliverables and milestones that must be met?
  2. Set everyone up for success by establishing the ground rules.
    • Establish communication preferences. Identify and communicate your preferred communication style and method (e.g., direct/open, formal/informal, email, Slack, IM, text, etc.).
    • Set working hours. Or don’t. Get clear on what works for you and your team. Do you want to mirror in-office working hours or allow for more flexible schedules? What’s the expectation of when remote workers should be online and available? Whatever you decide, focus more on the results of the work than time on tasks.
  3. Schedule regular touchpoints. Set a weekly team sync, even if it’s just 15 minutes. If you want a recurring 1:1 with your reports, get it on the books and include a rough agenda to make the best use of the time. Have employees provide a weekly status report every Friday with updates on the goals you defined together. This makes performance management easy because you will know very quickly if the goals are being met.
  4. Enable anywhere collaboration & communication with cloud-based tools. We use Microosft O365 which is an amazing cloud-based tool for document sharing and collaboration, meetings, and chat. Ensure that remote employees are aware of and have access to all the same resources as their on-site counterparts. And I highly recommended using video calls whenever possible. It encourages team members to fully engage in the meeting and builds rapport.
  5. Face to face still matters. Technology is incredible, but nothing fully replaces in person interaction.
    • If possible, build in f2f time as part of the onboarding process. Arrange team building opportunities for new members to bond. It's much easier to work over Zoom or Teams when you’ve established a personal relationship.
    • Establish regular f2f events with the team. It doesn’t have to be every day, but try to get your people together semi-regularly. This could be a QBR where everyone is present with a rotating location or organizing regional meet-ups and activities for a dispersed workforce.

Check out our remote work real-talk

Want more support? Check out our on-demand remote work webinar with our founder and CEO, Lisa Hufford, and remote work experts Monica McNeil, Mary Cronkhite-Johns, Maura Donaghey, and Hai Duong, for a real talk on how to thrive in the new world of work.

GeekWire Summit 2019

The GeekWire Summit did not disappoint.

We learned. We laughed. We met some of our local heroes. And we left feeling inspired by the future of tech and the incredible talent and innovation in our region.

Here are a few of our favorite moments from the event:

On leadership

Thursday’s conversation with UW president Ana Mari Cauce, DreamBox Learning CEO Jessie Woolley-Wilson, and Marilyn Strickland, president and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, included so many gems.

Core values that make a difference

On disruption

Charlene Li delivered an incredibly powerful presentation on disruption and why some organizations fail when others transform. She challenged us all to examine our organizations’ current beliefs and get clear on which will move you forward—and which will hold you back.

To drive forward, Charlene believes that organizations must embrace openness, agency, and bias for action.

Ask the right questions

Microsoft President Brad Smith shared his big-picture views on the future of tech.

He discussed the importance of being curious and not just asking questions, but asking the right questions.

He also stressed that humans must be able to press the off switch as AI continues to progress, citing the example of plane crashes that claimed lives because the pilots were unable to take control.

Via Geekwire: “That should speak to us,” Smith said. “That is not just something that should speak to one company or just one industry. It should speak to everybody who creates technology, who uses technology, in every part of society, and that’s a lesson we should remember. We’ve got to be able to create good technology and we’ve got to be able to turn it off.”

Customer journey, a la NYT

Marc Levalle, Executive Director of R&D at the New York Times, shared a glimpse into how the news machine is using cutting edge tech to bring news to life. We loved this view of the Times’ customer journey map as they think about how consumers engage with the news throughout the day.

The kids are all right

The fan-favorite inventor was 12-year-old Nir Pechuk, CEO of Extentek and creator of Galina, a device to help visually impaired people avoid over-filling a container when pouring. Nir nailed his elevator pitch and wowed us with his journey from LEGO prototype to market-ready product.

Tech Impact Awards 2019

We’re honored to receive a Tech Impact Award alongside our region’s top tech leaders like DreamBox Learning, Smartsheet, TomboyX, The Riveter, and Zipwhip.

One of the PNW's most distinguished tech honors, the Tech Impact Awards recognize companies in Washington state that are using technology to have a significant impact on business, industry, or society.

To our people, this award is for you! Thank you for showing up each and every day for your clients. This recognition is truly a testament to your hard work and commitment.

“Today, Simplicity is the go-to partner for some of our region’s leading companies as they navigate digital transformation and embrace the future of work. And we’ve helped thousands of talented professionals (70%+ women) do the work they love, however they love to do it.

In our work, we see firsthand that in today’s increasingly digital world, it’s still all about people. We believe that supporting and empowering our people makes us, our communities, and our businesses stronger—helping us all find success in the new world of work.”

Lisa Hufford, Simplicity founder & CEO

Get the story—and the full list of winners—at Seattle Business.


(un)Gala at a glance

Team Simplicity recently attended the UW Bothell School of Business' annual (un)Gala. It was a celebration of the people who make the school great, and a chance to hear from alums and students on how the program has shaped their lives.

We're proud to support the school and proud of our CEO & founder, Lisa Hufford's, commitment to the school's programming and students—as a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council for the past seven years, a former professor, and an employer.

Read Lisa Hufford's recap of the fundraiser event on LinkedIn.

13 Years of Simplicity

Simplicity turns 13 today.

Our founder and CEO, Lisa Hufford, reflected on where we've been—and where we're going. Read her LinkedIn article: Grateful & Inspired.

Thanks to everyone who made Simplicity what it is today. Cheers to 13!


Daring Woman Lisa Hufford

We love daring women.

We religiously follow Seattle Business magazine's Daring Women series—featuring local inspirations like the Riveter's Amy Nelson and DreamBox Learning's Jessie Woolley-Wilson—and we were a proud sponsor of this year's Daring Women event.

So we were thrilled when our own Lisa Hufford, Simplicity CEO and founder, was featured in the Daring Women series. In her profile, Lisa talks leadership, confidence, personal brand, and the importance of building relationships.

Here are a few of our favorite takeaways:

Check out the full interview with Lisa at Seattle Business magazine.

Here's why we're supporting FFA

This year, we're funding a pro bono marketing resource for the Female Founders Alliance (FFA).

Learn why, from our founder Lisa Hufford, in this excerpt from the FFA blog:

"I became involved with Female Founders Alliance as a mentor last year for its inaugural Ready Set Raise accelerator. This year, I’m honored to be a member of the Champion Awards selection committee.

But that didn’t feel like quite enough, because supporting women entrepreneurs is a cause that is near and dear to my heart and core to my life’s work.

That’s why I’m putting my money where my mouth is and stepping up as a Gold Sponsor of the Female Founders Alliance.

At Simplicity, our marketing, communications, and business operations experts help our clients tell their stories, engage their networks, and reach new audiences. To pay it forward, we are funding a marketing resource for 2019 to help FFA amplify its message and grow its reach. I’m excited to see how this contribution will accelerate FFA’s impact.

I’m committed to FFA’s success because its mission is SO vital: enabling female founders to make their mark and literally change the world."

Read the full story on the FFA Blog.

Learn more about the Female Founders Alliance.