WH: Participating in a video conference

Oh technology, how I love thee — but the video conference is one that I love to hate. Not because it isn’t a great tool, especially in the days of Covid-19, we can do more than ever before remotely. It enables people to work from home, collaborate and share ideas. At it’s best it also helps carbon emissions, reduces unnecessary travel (planes, trains, automobiles) and bloated expense accounts for meals and lodging… However, on the worst of days, it is a huge waste of time, distraction-filled and unproductive. A lot of that has to do with the presenter of the conference, which will be a topic for another day.

Today, we’re going to talk about how to be effective at participating in a video conference. After literally thousands of hours on both ends of a conference call, here are some lessons learned.

  1. Dress for the call – this isn’t a time to show off the joys of working from home, but to show that you’re still “showing up for work” and actually earning your keep.
  2. Join the call 10 minutes early – especially if this is your first conference with that specific person. If it’s new technology to you (Zoom, WebEx, etc) then plan perhaps even more time, 15 minutes or whatever. Don’t wait until the last moment.
  3. Check your background and lighting – unless you’re in witness protection, you want to be seen in a video call, that is the whole point. Make sure you have a plain background, usually a white wall. And then enough lighting to see your face. You need more light coming at you than behind you. Also, some apps like Zoom let you either blur out the background, or replace it with some sort of stock photo. Those are all great ideas. Because someone is going to zoom in and check out your home — ooh, they’re messier, cleaner, crazier.
  4. Announce yourself when you join the call – unless your specific room has a different etiquette. Out of the gate, it’s better to announce yourself than not to.
  5. Mute your microphone/phone – start off with mute, especially if it isn’t a free for all discussion. Beyond the auto distraction of background noise, some conference systems will automatically switch the video to whoever starts making a sound. So if your cell phone starts ringing in the middle of the call, all of a sudden, you’re the big-screen video, and everybody knows it was you. Oop! Mute the auto (mic, phone, etc)…
  6. Turn off all other audio distractions – More important if you’re the presenter, but do put your cell phones to silent, turn off your computer notifications, etc. Also, I will close my email application (Outlook, Gmail, etc) on my desktop/laptop altogether.

WH: Dress Code

After working from home for years, I put together this new series of posts to help those who are working from home for the first time. Tips and tactics to get more done in a day.

Today we’re going to look into the dress code when you work from home. There are many different views on this topic. Here are a few of mine:

I learned from an early age that how you dress actually affects you – it goes beyond just comfort. Sure one of the nice things about being socially distant is that you could work in your pajamas, but should you?

Much study has gone into this, and what has been discovered is that those who work in non-standard work attire (pajamas, sweats, etc.) have a lower overall performance IF your job is a typical desk or professional job. So from a performance, and getting stuff done approach – get dressed like you’re going to the office. And for me, it is typically head-to-toe — yes socks and shoes too.

Just like having a separate work area, it helps keep you in that “work mindset”. So even a casual answer of the cell phone generally has a more business versus casual tonality when answering. Plus if you have any impromptu webinars, video chats, zoom, google hangout, etc., you’re already set to succeed.

We’ve all seen the videos of people having absolutely no clue when on a video conference call. Don’t be “that guy” who looks like he just rolled out of bed, still have their curling rollers in their hair (do people really do that anymore?), or just are lounging on the sofa. Listen people are probably making fun of somebody, and I’d rather be made fun of for looking like I’m at the office, then the one who looks the worst. More on video conferences in another article.

But back to clothing… Keep up your routine — if you normally shower every other day, then keep doing that. Shave, keep yourself presentable. No need to return back to the office in a month looking like a caveman! Also from a phycological perspective, maintaining certain routines helps preserve normalcy in times of great change. It helps keep you calmer, more centered, about your work and life. And whatever you normally do when you get home from work (kick off the shoes, change into something comfortable, take off the tie, whatever) — do that. Keep whatever office schedule you set up for yourself.

Please take a moment and share in the comments below your routines for working from home dress code. What have you been wearing, and does this article change your mind in any way?

 

WH: Set a schedule

After working from home for years, I put together this new series of posts to help those who are working from home for the first time. Tips and tactics to get more done in a day.

Transitioning from working in an office to working from the home can be a lot like a teenager moving out of their parent’s house. From a structured environment to an unstructured one. And what at first seems like unlimited freedom devolves quickly into chaos. We all had different ‘out on your own’ experiences. Some more successful than others. My wife quickly noticed how many of her coworker’s natural schedules started to show through when they’d send emails. Some emailing really earlier, others late at night. Everyone isn’t a natural ‘day person’. I certainly am not.

Here are some tips that I’ve collected over the years:

  • Make your bed after you get up – I know it’s a crazy idea, it’s based on a book I read years ago by the same name by Admiral William H. McRaven. The concept is simple, no matter what happens to your day’s schedule, you’ll have accomplished at least one thing.
  • Clean the kitchen – following quickly on the first item – get the simple, easy things out of the way. I do it while making breakfast. Slay those easy to do tasks nobody really wants to do.
  • Have a specific work area and clean anything with-in eyesight of it. And if there are others home with you, make sure they know that is your work zone. Have little ones at home, then you’ll need to manage this differently than those without — more on that another day. (I’ll link it here when I get around to writing it!).

Okay, so right now you’re probably asking if you’re reading the right list. Yes, you are – this is for people who have regular day jobs, white-collar, work from an office or classroom. Stick with me. One of the biggest distractions from people getting stuff done from home is the distractions of the house. These first three help avoid those distractions and get stuff actually done.

  • Set specific “work hours” – otherwise things get out of hand really quick. This is both for your sake and your coworkers, managers, etc. One benefit of working at home is often scheduled flexibility. But what messes this up is bosses who expect you to always be available, and home/family needs who feel you’re totally accessible. Boundaries need to be set on both ends.
  • Reinforce your work hours by managing when you communicate with coworkers and the office. If you want to be available 9 to 5, but are sending late-night emails, it communicates that you’re available after hours. Is that what you really want to communicate? Likewise, if you’re tending to your kids during the normal day and really only work before breakfast and after dinner, likewise reinforce that with how and when you communicate. There are several ways (depending on how you’re setup) to even write an email and schedule it to be delivered later, during your ‘office hours’. I used this extensively. I would sometimes burn the midnight oil, but not necessarily want to be ‘available’ for an immediate reply or give the impression that I normally work that late. Instead, I’d write a lot of emails that would go out at 9am.
  • Protect your privacy with a virtual phone number – Only answer work calls during your specific work hours. More details at Virtual Phone Numbers article.

 

This article will be updated as I create more articles that cross-reference each other. None of the links to products or services on here are affiliate links (I don’t make any revenue from them.) Additionally, the WordPress platform I use does provide other advertisement links that generate them revenue but I receive zero financial benefits.

 

 

WH: Virtual Phone Number

After working from home for years, I put together this new series of posts to help those who are working from home for the first time. Tips and tactics to get more done in a day.

If your work has issued you a work phone (cell, desk, virtual phone) you can skip this article. This is for those of you who have only your personal phone to communicate with workers, students, etc, the last thing you want to be doing is giving out your personal cell to everyone. And as part of maintaining boundaries with coworkers, you need to be able to turn off those calls.

Imagine this:

You can give a number out to your coworkers/students/etc, that they can call and it automatically forwards to your cell or home phone. That this magical number you can have it only forward those calls during your ‘office hours’, and the rest of the time it goes to voicemail. And perhaps after all of this Carona/Covid shelter-in-place is over, you can turn off that number and still keep your personal phone number private!

There are two great ways you can do this:

  1. Google Voice is completely free and if you have a Google account, such as gmail.com it’s really easy to set up!
  2. Ring Central is a fantastic business level option, and during this Carona/Covid situation, if you’re in education, healthcare, non-profit or a few other cases get Ring Central Free at this link. I have personally used Ring Central for years – and they’re great, and I was really excited to see they’re offering this free for select industries. Of course, they’re hoping you’ll fall in love with it and pay to continue service, but there is zero obligation. And remember Google Voice is permanently free!

 

Also, be sure to watch to pay special attention to the feature that prevents your personal voicemail/answering machine from grabbing the message. Both Google Voice and Ring Central have options for this – that way your work and personal voicemails stay separate.

Finally, be sure to check out the texting options also available on these platforms!

 

This article will be updated as I create more articles that cross-reference each other. None of the links to products or services on here are affiliate links (I don’t make any revenue from them.) Additionally, the WordPress platform I use does provide other advertisement links that generate them revenue but I receive zero financial benefits.

 

 

Welcome to Apple

Apple is recognized as one of the world leaders in innovation and bringing consumer products to market with outstanding success. While there are some amazing leaders at the company who are visionaries, including the late Steve Jobs, there is a lot more at play going on. There is a company culture which empowers all of their employees. I received a copy of their “welcome to Apple memo”, which, while short, is amazing powerful. It speaks to the culture of the company, where they encourage their employees with an enhanced sense of purpose.

In the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink, which is backed up by several published academic studies, purpose is one of the driving factors of what motivates us in life. There is a shift taking place in workplace as it relates to motivating employees to improve productivity. Our industrial era management thinking says that placing a proverbial carrot (bonus, fear, or other monetary pain/pleasure) was effective when the labor required no cognitive thought (assembly line work), but as the nature of work in the majority of western countries evolve into positions requiring cognitive thought processes, the concept of the carrot provides worse results.

What Pink speaks about, which can be seen at TED, as well as animated at RSA, is that we are motivated by purpose, autonomy and mastery. This welcome memo to all new employees at Apple is an excellent example to reinforcing the culture of purpose.

Interested in learning

Continued from before, it is very important to understand that we are all life long learners. There is always something new to learn, and more to understand. Choosing the right sources for information, including related trade and general business publications, journals, etc., is excellent. Moreover, attending low cost training seminars frequently is great! Try to get to at least 4 per year – once a quarter. Focus on business related topics, and leave your trade related training out of the 4 per year. For example, I spend at least one seminar a year on tax related issues – what’s changed, what can I do better; I also spend at least one on human relations – how to work better with your employees, as well as what do I need to legally understand; I also spend at least one on business growth; leaving one open to whatever strikes me this time around. The first three are essential learning, so you can see how easy it is to go to at least 4 per year.

I would also try to mix up the training between large firms or travelling seminars against smaller firms offering training. Keep an eye on your local Business Journal which often lists low cost (or sometimes free) training seminars.

Invest in your future by growing your business understanding. Also, while you’re there, don’t forget to network – make those future business relationships!

Do you know, or do you think you know?

One of my mentors early on in business tough me this very important question: “do you know, or do you think you know”. The answer to that is key in many areas of business. It is something that you need to constantly be asking of yourself. But today, I’ll brush back on my discussions about building a team of advisers. You need to surround yourself with people who know that they know what they’re doing. How often do we get caught in “not knowing what we didn’t know”. We cannot afford that of our advisers who we are paying (or should be paying) good money for. (On an side, you should be paying your advisers at least twice as much as you are charging our clients!)

Now the big quandary is that you are paying them to know what you don’t, so how do you determine that they know more about something that you don’t know about? Double-talk, sounds like it. So how can you really know this. I was watching a program on PBS the other day about wealth management, it just happened to be on. Some of what they guy had to say made a lot of sense, other parts didn’t. But what I took away was how he addressed this very problem – how do you know your adviser knows his stuff.

The answer is simple, ask plenty of open ended questions and judge how he responds. The content is less valuable then how… For example, what is the most recent law change, that they know of, which affects their role. For example, the case of us choosing an HR attorney (back in 2006), what law has recently changed that affects employer/employee relations. They should be able to name something specific, that they can explain in layman’s terms and note that it was recently (say the last 3 months or so). When I spoke with our attorney recently, I brought up that I noticed that the Court of Appeals of California ruled that employers are not required ensure employees take their breaks, but rather that they are only required to ensure that the break is available and cannot prevent or dissuade them from taking their breaks. This was a landfall ruling for employers. When I brought this up, my attorney mention, that yes, it was a big victory for employers, but it really doesn’t mean a whole lot until it is turned into law, which is what it is in the course of doing right now. You need to have people on your team that are more informed about the current issues than you are.

Another couple of questions to as are:

  • How to you keep yourself up-to-date in your trade?
  • What is the last conference/seminar you attended?
  • When was your last certification/credential/etc?
  • When was the last time you worked with a client with a similar situation as mine? (This would be a great one to ask your medical doctor next time!)
  • What was the last time you turned away a client because their need did not match up with your ability?

Those are challenging questions to ask your advisers — or candidates. They are also challenging questions we need to honestly ask ourselves for our own business.

There is a lot of people who “practice” in their area of employment — do you really want to be “practiced” upon? There is no perfect advisor out there for you, but there are a lot of bad choices. A lot of people who “think” they know what they’re doing. We call those interns, or journeyman, or whatever. There is a place for them, and they may be a part of your team in some areas. But you also need your fair share of experienced people on your team, someone to pickup the slack. A good example may be this…Dancing…

In dancing, there is a leader and a follower — they are typically separated out by gender roles, but not always. My wife and I have very little experience dancing and can fumble through a lot of things, more on my end then hers. We trying a free private ballroom dancing session. It was amazing, when either of us danced with the pro, we did fine. But when we danced with each other it seems to go far worse. We did get through it, but they key was when we were with the pro, one of us knew what was going on. When neither of us had a clue, it fell apart. The same goes for your team. If at least one of you is a pro, they can acknowledge the deficiencies of a team member and help bring them up to speed. But when your team is full of amateurs, you can get into trouble quick. Yes you can fumble through it, but the mistakes may be costly.

Make sure you have more pro’s then amateurs on your team. If you are an amateur at business, then you need to hire a few pros. If you’re a pro, then perhaps an amateur or two may be an acceptable liability for you. But in the beginning, don’t skimp on experience!

Don’t forget the person

This will be a bit different than you first might expect. This is about lessons learned about not forgetting the people in your life…away from the office. As I read more and more about successful people they have managed to hold together their personal lives in various forms, and despite what the media appears to focus on, more successful people are happily married with children, then the multi-marriage-disaster we’ve come to expect.

While growing and forming your business is very, very critical — and is one of those: do what you have to do, so you can do what you want to do – sort of things. On the same part, sometimes we “want” to do work, and what we need to do is pour value and significance onto our families and friends. We will all pour so much into the office and our employees, who may betray us at some point — our families are forever, and we need to remember and treat them as such.

For each person, that attention and value can and will be expressed differently. For some it is coming home always at 4pm, for others if was when they got home (whatever hour) they were automatically, fully 100% devoted to their family, virtually ignoring the world; yet others it would take the form of occasional (but frequent) holidays and vacations – or perhaps “weekends with dad”. Whatever form suits you and your family, find it, and then live it — commit to it. Whatever it takes for you, if that is placing it on the calendar, or having your spouse “hound you” or having your secretary keep you on-top. Whatever it takes, it is vital. Your homelife will have a greater impact on your work, far beyond what you could ever imagine.

Time Management

I just completed reviewing How To Manage Your Time and it included a list of great time management tips. All very valuable. What hit me the most was the last one: Closed door / open door. While we all try to keep an open door policy, it is important to have a closed door most of the time, at least physically. That way you can get the work done, and it shows that you are busy, working, being productive. Open the door when it is a good time – perhaps even schedule it (privately) — that is to set some times in your outlook calendar to remind you to open the door, but don’t let anyone know about that schedule, otherwise they’ll begin to count on it. But to make yourself available does not mean that you always need to be available.

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