Working the Virtual

Are you getting the most out of Virtual Work that you can?

When I first started thinking about this I wanted to talk about virtual tradeshows and conferences. As I played with the words, I started thinking of the benefits and also the challenges we are having with virtual meetings, virtual workshops, and virtual meetups. Let’s face it, on the other side of COVID-19, life will be different and what was normal business will no longer exist. We will have innovated new processes; we will have limitations on what we used to do or how we used to do it; we will have discovered new vendors, partners, competitors, etc. 

Let’s start with the challenges so we can end on a high note.

Challenges

Virtual takes preparation

Preparation is required for meetings, virtual or not. Pretending or ignoring that it does not, means the meeting starts late, it is not as effective, and is frustrating for attendees.

In an in-person meeting, there is/was preparation too: grab a drink, paper, maybe run to the restroom, bring data… if you traveled there was the booking of the flight, packing for the flight, taking the flight, maybe finding a hotel. There was a LOT of preparation for travel-in-person meetings.

For virtual, we have bandwidth challenges, the router is in a noisy room but the quiet room has almost no signal, someone refuses to use a headset and sounds like a Wookie. Where we used to scribble on a piece of paper, now we have to find the electronic equivalent of that.

As the Navy says: Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail.

Plan, prepare, and anticipate. I could go on. Spend the time now to make meetings better and your post-COVID in-person meetings will be better too.

Plan your online meetings with as much care as your in-person meetings

Virtual takes longer

It seems that virtual takes longer. I read that learning virtually seems to take longer for all those students and teachers trying to figure out online.

Or maybe, we are still trying to figure out the online analogs of what we used to do when we were 12 inches apart. We struggle with the bandwidth, the headset, and the online tools.

Regardless, it is prudent to plan for more time to accomplish your meeting goals.

There is a saying in Toastmasters: Squeeze the content in; Squeeze the listener out. I am working on a virtual workshop with a friend. In our first online session, we tried to squeeze too much in and had to cut content out on the fly. In our second online session, we did a much better job of pacing and hit our goals of topics covered.

Life interrupts

The tenuous separation between home life and work life, which we pretend are separated when we go in to the office, gets strained. Our colleagues are now trying to balance being parents, teachers, and workers in the same small space and sometimes at the same time. Perhaps our colleagues’ partners are now unemployed and the wolf is now knocking loudly at the door.

We are all being asked to go with the flow. Lead by using the flow.

Participation is sketch in the virtual

In-person you can see people on their phones instead of participating in the meeting; you can look them in the eye.

Those same people now are the ones who are doing something else, not watching the presentation; they leave their cameras off, or worse they act as voyeurs in your meeting, maybe not even announcing themselves.

If you are the one “dialing-it-in”, let’s be real. You are not fooling anyone. Figure out how you can contribute and be in the meeting. This is the time that bosses are going to pay attention to who is part of the solution and who is part of the precipitate. Don’t be the sludge at the bottom…

If you are leading the meeting, it is time to lead. Figure out why you have dis-engaged team members. You need everyone you have in times like these. Figuring out how to lead remotely will be noticed. In a good way.

Rocking the Virtual

This is a great opportunity for many of us, if we can find and capitalize on the silver linings:

  • No travel — more time. 2 days of travel for a handful of meetings, can now be spent planning and holding better meetings.
    • Set meeting goals
    • Plan how to meet goals
    • What is the best way to achieve the goals
    • Are there materials which could be assembled in advance to allow all attendees to prepare?
  • Everyone is virtual. Maybe you can actually include MORE people in your meeting.
    • More international attendance
    • Asynchronous attendance (video/record it for later)
  • No commute — more time. You can invest the new found time
    • Attend an online class
    • Complete organizational tasks
    • Upgrade or update your website
    • Discover new tools
    • Read a book
    • Chill. Gain perspective. Restore yourself.
  • Virtual = technology.
    • Discover online collaboration tools. I’m using google docs more with teams as it allows them to be in the same document at the same time.
    • Discover online engagement tools. I’ll be trying out a polling app in powerpoint this week which could be a lot of fun. (edited after the call: it could be fun if your audience is super tech-savvy. We had some technical issues with the less tech-savvy.)
    • Leverage communication tools to tell your story. Governor Cuomo is a study in leveraging powerpoint to tell his story:
Rock the Virtual

V is for Virtual

Are you virtually working or working the virtual?

vir·tu·al /ˈvərCH(o͞o)əl/ adjective
almost or nearly as described, but not completely or according to strict definition

Virtually working

Working from home, when you are used to going in to work, working with other people, and separating your home life from your work life, is like having the rug pulled out from underneath you. If you feel stressed, weird, out of sorts — it is completely normal and understandable. Furthermore, the reason we are all working from home is stressful, distracting, and filled with all kinds of emotions of loss, sadness, and bitterness. It just is. And it sucks. I’m there with you. We all are.

But we still have to work, stay busy, and stay sane.

I have now spent more than half of my adult working life, working from a home office. Some days it is great. Some days it is easier than going in to an office. Some days it totally sucks and I do laundry, clean, or surf the internet. The days where I am not working, and I feel like I should be, are the worst.

I have been working with a number of teams where progress is not being made at a rate that we think it should be, and I have been thinking it might be because the team is still getting used to working in isolation, without peers to keep them going, that connectedness you get when you go in to work. In my past jobs where I worked from home, I could do it for 2 or 3 years and then I would quit — I had to go in to work. This last stint, 8 years, I have done a better job of managing myself, maintaining connectedness, and having more fun at my work.

Here’s how I do it. I lean into my strengths.

Lean into your strengths

First, I had to discover my strengths.

I was working with a friend (shameless plug for Sara Douglas, she’s awesome!) who uses this Gallup Tool, StrengthsFinder in her executive coaching. Gallup told me my top 5 strengths are:

  1. Strategic. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.
  2. Achiever. They take immense satisfaction in being busy and productive.
  3. Learner. They have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. 
  4. Activator. They want to do things now, rather than simply talk about them.
  5. Analytical. They search for reasons and causes. 

Yes, my strengths are also my weaknesses. I assume you can all see the patterns in the data that I see. I assume you all want to work as hard as I do. I assume that you all want to continuously improve. We all know what happens when one assumes…but I digress.

I was complaining one afternoon about procrastinating on a project and Sara said to me, “you get your energy by leaning into your strengths. Lean into your analytical side, see what happens.”

I went home and by midnight I had built this pretty awesome workbook that automated data collection on ticket sales for a client. I was so energized, I could hardly sleep. In actuality, I used all 5 of those top strengths to build that workbook.

What are your strengths?

There are lots of ways to figure out your strengths:

    • What do you enjoy doing at work? Things that give you joy and are fun to do are likely in your strengths column.
    • You can follow the link to StrengthsFinder and see what they tell you.
    • You can set up time with Sara or a coach of your own.

You will get farther faster if you play to your strengths.

For example, if you have Discipline as a strength, then you are happier during this time of upheaval if you can keep routine and schedule going.

As an Achiever, I stay on target by setting goals for the day.

If you enjoy working with people and in a team as a skill (Relator), you need to stay connected to people to feel that team mo-jo. Maybe daily video chats, Slack, or old fashioned telephone calls will fill the void and keep you going.

If you like to collect facts and know more (Input) you might be fighting this huge desire to know everything you can about COVID-19. Input is my 7th highest strength. I spent the first week surfing the internet to know more, more, more. Now I use that desire to know more as a reward when I get done what has to get done that day (lean into the Achiever).

Try it, you might like it.

The next time you feel frustrated by the current situation, pull out your list of strengths, and see if you can lean into one of them.

Let me know how it goes!

Working virtual. This post went pretty long, so follow this link to another post on Working the Virtual.

Alexander Graham Bell Day

It is March 7, Alexander Graham Bell Day. Pick up that telephone and call someone.

It is that simple and yet it is still hard.

Three ideas to get you going and lower your energy barriers:

Check in on how the last order, service call, or project was received by their customer. I had a consultant in a previous life who was really good at this. About every six months, if I had not called her, she would call me and ask “how is it going?” Not only did she get feedback, I usually had another project to give her and get off of my desk.

Miller’s Law, 7 ± 2, derives from the data presented in a 1953 psychology paper that our short-term working memory is limited. People forget to reach out, even when they need to. Save them the time, energy, and embarrassment. Call them first!

The “Did you know we also do?” call. Just this weekend I was speaking with a general practitioner friend, and he was telling me a story about a patient who needed a doctor to see her kids. She had never thought her GP could be their GP until it was mentioned during a routine visit. He had never asked her if she was happy with her kids’ doctor. We often forget that the people with whom we do business add services, do more than one thing, or already have the solution to a problem we have.

Miller’s Law, 7 ± 2, re-iterates that when you do not need the information, you let it go out of your easily accessed memory. This is especially true for customers who associate you and your company with a particular solution or product. If they had no need of other products or services when you mentioned it, they immediately lost the ability to recall that.

“Did you know” will place a new memory in their brains — especially if they need it now!

Calls trump email. Follow up with a quote, a trade show call, or a inquiry.  You never know if the email got lost in the ether or they forgot it was in their inbox.

In the rule of remembering, 7 ± 2, your customer has probably already forgotten your email. That email got forgotten about the time she suddenly remembered to pick up milk on the way home the other day.

“It’s been xxx days/weeks since we last spoke and I was wondering if this project was still under way.” Who knows what you will learn.

It’s called “dialing for dollars” and it works. What are you waiting for? You can always start with “Happy Alexander Graham Bell Day”!

Electricity of Ideas

Ever feel energized by coming up with a cool new idea?

Or do you feel energized by completing a project?

The Data

For fans of Myers-Briggs, the introspective self-report questionnaire for sorting out differing psychological preferences, the most quantifiable of its characteristics is extroversion versus introversion — or “where you get your energy from.” Though I must say I was a bit shocked when I did research on the research behind Myers-Briggs; I learned that the data was not terribly credible.

The Gallup Strengths Finder assessment ranks you on 34 “strengths”. The theory being if you play to your strengths you will move forward faster and be more personally successful. As with Myers-Briggs, the data can be sketchy. However, it is fascinating to contemplate the top 5 strengths the survey will reveal to you and how you can focus on them to achieve greatness or at least (your) world domination.

Extroversion/Introversion

According to the MBTI-school, extroverts get their energy from being with people; introverts get energized by being alone. Some of us can be energized by being in a group of people coming up with cool ideas. Others find energy reading a book or analyzing data.

Regardless of what MBTI tells you, you probably have a sense that you fall into one of those buckets more often than the other. Make note of it as that is your energy source.

If you work with a team, think about your team mates. Have you noticed where and when each member of the team “finds” his or her energy? Have you asked?

Gallup’s Strengths Finder

Based on a book written by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton, StrengthsFinder is the theory that there are a certain number of “fixed universal personal-character attributes” sometimes called ‘talent themes’. By focusing on your strengths, you move forward faster.

For $10 you can take the quiz online and your top 5 strengths will “pop out”. Spend a bit more and you can get all 34 ranked. Every strength has a dark side. Activators get stuff done; however, they rankle people who do not have highly ranked activator attributes as “rushing”.

Spooky? Horoscope like? Maybe. The placebo effect is real. Use what you can, right?

Strategies to Harness Your Energy

Now that you have figured out what you think your strengths are (ha-ha or ask a trusted friend to tell you the truth!) — how do you use that to further your efforts?

Strategy is the overall campaign plan; tactics are the means to achieve the plan. 

  1. Develop a plan to use your creativity at your highest energy point
  2. Plan your teams’ efforts to use their highest energy points
  3. Balance your team (if you can between introverts and extroverts) to make best use of each skill set/personality trait.

Examples:

  • Plan to use a large event like a trade show to get the team’s energy behind a new initiative, like creating a catalog of products, new literature pieces, or new displays and videos.
  • Use an organizational change to re-vamp the website, launching the new website with the roll-out of the change (if possible).
  • Plan your content marketing in trade journals for the whole year
    • Work out a schedule with the journals & product managers
    • Schedule around key events (trade shows or new product launches)
    • Commit to the plan

Tactics to Find Your Energy (when slightly lost!)

Tactics are the day to day things you do to keep going, keep innovating, keeping to that schedule & strategy you worked so hard to develop at the beginning of the year.

  • Use a strength from strengths finder. For example, I get completely energized when I analyze data. In that 3 o’clock slump, if I can find some data to review, slice, and dice, before I know it I’m re-energized. Weird but true.
  • Start a 30 minute task. If you get energy from starting projects, pull out your planning tools and start planning. Pretty soon you’ll go from planning to executing (or getting the team to execute.
  • Learn something new. Learners can “find” energy by learning something new. Now is the time to try that new program, app, or to find the new program or app that will make this year easier & better.
  • Do a no-brainer. Expense reports? Cleaning off your desk? Filing your paperwork? When your mojo has left the building, sometimes doing mindless tasks will open up the creative flood gates.  This is why Einstein worked in a patent office.

Fill your glass

If you see your glass as half empty, pour it into a smaller glass and stop bitching.

Half empty

In the past three years alone:

  • my accountant passed away from pancreatic cancer
  • my photographer passed away from too many cancers to count
  • three close neighbors died from heart-related surgical complications
  • my dad had a catastrophic heart attack and died instantly
  • my in-laws passed away within 24 hours of each other from dementia
  • my 95 year-old grandmother passed away in her sleep
  • a client passed away from a neuro disease
  • several former colleagues passed away
  • we experienced a flood that caused extensive, expensive damage
  • three computers have fried or melted their hard drives
  • my doctor threatened me with a statin

Time for a new glass

Appreciation time.  My neighbors, Roger and Diane, were lovely people. They had lived in China, Turkey, Finland, and Nigeria. They survived coups, Russian wire-tapping, amputations, and the death of a child.

They hung out on their porch, invited neighbors for a glass of wine, and eventually started a weekly Friday-after-work bring your own wine and tapas tradition. They worked hard to appreciate what they had, their neighbors, and their family.

While my recent three years have been spent on appreciation exercises and expeditions to visit people who have been important in my life, your appreciation time can be with customers, potential customers, past colleagues, or influencers.

I had a colleague once tell me that our most difficult customers made us better. He was right. Appreciate the customers who make you better. The bosses that made you work hard.  The colleagues who were difficult.

Be funny. Be memorable. Ed, a client who recently passed away, once told me that I was really funny. He thought his organization needed that humor because he thought that humor would be memorable. We remember humor:

Where’s the beef?
We’re gonna need a bigger boat!
Queen Elizabeth II parachuting into the Olympic Games.

Injecting a bit of humor if your brand can tolerate it (if Queen Elizabeth can be funny, probably everyone can be) is a great way to become memorable.

Do your best, even when you think no one is looking. Actually, Stu Schmill, Varsity Lightweight Men’s Coach used to shout, “Do not allow yourself the luxury of pain.” The first time I heard that I was sitting in the stroke seat of the Women’s Varsity 8 for the very first time. It was a cold, rainy, grey (did I mention wet) morning —  I was trying out for the stroke seat, completely nervous (wet and cold) and afraid of failing. Melissa Norcross, the coxswain of our boat, dutifully repeated the chant: “Do not allow yourself the luxury of pain.” Years and years later, at a master’s rowing event, “Coach” who had also been witness to that same practice, retold the story of that morning to his companion, saying “It was the best practice racing I ever saw. Lynore never gave up, she just coming back, pulling even, pulling ahead, and coming back.”

Do not give up. Sometimes we all need help with this. Is it time to out-source a difficult task? Or one that’s not getting done?
– I hired a personal trainer so I could not “allow myself to feel the luxury of pain”
– I found and deployed a new computer back-up system
– I asked everyone I knew for an IT support person referral
– I asked everyone I knew for an accountant referral
– We have a new and improved first floor after renovations

Work hard. In rowing we do what’s called a Power 10. 10 hard strokes. It helps pull focus into the boat; it gets everyone in sync; it gets the swing back to keep working hard.
– I eliminated the bad foods from the house
– I stock and prep good foods to make it easier to eat right
– I enabled the Fitbit feature that tells me to go to bed
– I enlisted my son to help me stay the course

What can you do for yourself or your team that would be your metaphoric Power 10?

It rains on everyone. Today, our ski area has had only 8 inches of natural snow. All of the Colorado and New Mexico ski areas have had paltry snow this year. If the ski areas give up, they go out of business. They are playing to their strengths (bike & ski with the same lift ticket!) — as should the rest of us.

Complaining about the snow is not going to improve the snow, help my skiing, or improve my mood. I am personally using this ski season as my time to get stronger, get better at telemarking, and improve my turns.

Play to your strength or shore up a weakness. Pick one. Right size your glass.

Find a new glass if you see your glass as half full.

Just Do It!

Get ‘er done!

Execute!

Press Play!

Lots and lots of sayings, inspirational quotes, even advertising campaigns to tell us what we already know. We must move to create change.

Move.

Kick your saboteur to the curb. The little voice in your head that says “it’s not perfect” — tell it to shut up.  If you must, call a friend who can help you quiet the saboteur (it really all is in your head).

What first step can you take today? Ok. Now. do. it.

Perfect comes with practice. Practice comes from doing. You gotta do. And we’re back to Nike….

Create.

Crossing things off our list, ticking things “done”, are not just to track what’s done versus left to do — it is a pat on the back that says “I did it”. Tracking also helps us keep going when going seems like too much energy, not working, or whatever else your saboteur is telling you.

  • Crossing off each day you worked out (even if you dialed it in) will help you push to work out each day. Fitbit pushes out reminders “2,838 steps to go” or makes a badge each time you work out 5 out of 7 days. Woo-hoo it says.
  • Keep yourself honest: Scheduled 1 push email a month; Executed 1 push email a month. While not each push email is going to have the same results, collectively they are far more powerful because it is about touches, repetition, and staying top of mind.
  • Discipline is a muscle than needs to practice and be trained. Our moms told us to pick up our clothes, make our bed, and put our dishes away. Mom was right — it becomes easier, quicker, and just better if we keep practicing our discipline.

Change. 

Change happens slowly.

Depending on what it is it happens while we sleep, while we are driving to work, over long periods of time. One day we wake up and notice we have muscles where there used to be flab; more people are acting on our emails than last year; sales are going up.

We are impatient for change; Amazon and the internet have taught us instant gratification. We need to keep ourselves busy executing and tracking that execution. With time, we can and measure the change. But for now — you gotta lean in to the process — and do. it.

Plan to Plan

New Years Resolutions, sigh

Isn’t it always the case? You plan to go to bed early, get up early, work on those sit-ups and back stretches. Then, it all goes pear-shaped. The kiddo throws up; you spend 8 hours in the emergency room.

Now you are not only NOT getting ahead, ticking off the items on your to-do list, you are behind. Sigh.

In a time management class I took a long, long time ago, they said make time in your schedule for the upsets, schedule buffers. They gave an example of a client whose day looked perfectly organized at 8 am. By 10 am, fire fighting on that day’s problems had blown up the schedule. After 10:05, nothing on the “To-Do” list ever looked the same and most did not get done.

The time management expert said, “then why plan at 8 when you know you don’t know what you need to know until 10:05?” Duh.

At 10:30, the client would look at the new fires, schedule the appropriate time to put out the fires, and then schedule the highest priority items from the standing To-Do list. Success!

When I, personally, am most successful, happy, and in control, it is because I scheduled out my blocks of working time, work-out time, and other tasks on my calendar. I know they will change. When life interferes, and it always does, I don’t delete the block, I move the block.

The time management people also said to prioritize A, B, and C tasks. Sometimes B tasks turn into A tasks; sometimes they turn into “nice to have” C tasks. If a B task keeps getting kicked to the curb…. it’s a C task.

Quick Tips to do right now:
  1. Schedule time with yourself to mark up your calendar
    a) pick a time that is quiet where you WILL not be interrupted, like in the morning before the family wakes up or that first hour you are in the office
    b) pick a spot that is good for thinking, where you like to think
    c) treat yourself. Hey I’m all into bribes. I use a nice warm cup of coffee.
  2. Put on that calendar appointments with yourself to work/execute/plan your 2018 Resolutions
    a) last year I started scheduling my jogs on my calendar (I jogged more!)
    b) in January I scheduled time to work on my personal finances, business finances, and taxes. All that stuff that I like to ignore and procrastinate on. I learned a lot about where I was losing money, spending money I didn’t need to, and got my financial house in better order. Talk about stress relief.
  3. There’s an app for that!
    My friend the executive coach has an exercise where she has you imagine how your cell phone, light switch, chair or other random object would solve your current problem. I am a big fan of “is there an app for that”.Last year I found:

a) 5k training plan/app for 30 minute finish time. Every day I did what it said to do. I did not think, stress, I just did it. And voila! it worked.
b) this year I found the “clicklist”. A personal shopper for groceries. It’s like magic: the food goes on the list, I drive by the store, stop for 5 minutes, and the groceries are magically transported into my car. No wandering around the store looking for where this particular store hides rice milk, mole sauce, or tikka masala sauce.
c) ski distance, runs, speed app. It makes skiing more entertaining and more like a work-out (i.e. it makes me work harder).W

What app could you find that would make your life easier, simpler, less-stressful?

Plan to Plan