The Voice for Insightful Leadership with Shelley Row, P.E.

Latest "Business Skills" Posts

Exhausted after a Day of Zoom Calls? Four Tips to Manage Your Energy in a Virtual Environment

Meeting after meeting after virtual meeting. It’s exhausting. Have you noticed that meeting online all day is more exhausting than if you were meeting in person? How can that be? You’re calling in from your home or an almost-empty office. You may even be in jeans and flip flops. And yet, all this virtual exchange is draining. 

A few weeks ago, I shared the Over-Thinker’s Guide to Working at Home Effectively. This week we’re adding a new installment to that Guide. We’ll explore techniques you can use to manage your energy so that you are less fatigued by online meetings during the virtual workday and reserve energy for the work that really counts. 

 Let’s start with an understanding of why a day filled with virtual meetings is draining. Think about a typical meeting you would have in your office. Everyone sits around a table. You glance at your papers, your phone, you look casually around the room at the people. Some sit nearby and others farther away. Without realizing it, your eyes focus up close and at a distance. You make eye contact with one person than another.

Now consider a virtual meeting. Instead of looking around the room, near and far, you stare into the screen at faces within a 14” inches of each other. All this staring tires your eyes and contributes to “digital eye strain” including eye fatigue, dry eyes, headaches and more. Did you know that when staring at a screen, you blink less frequently – only about one-third as often as normal – and many of those blinks during computer work are only partial lid closures. 

Those weary eyes contribute to your feeling of weariness. Plus, without glancing around, you tend to be hyper focused on the image on the screen. Your brain is continuously at attention. This part of the brain is the highest energy part of the entire body and it’s not designed to operate at attention all day. But that’s what you’re demanding of it with on-screen meetings one after the other. Your brain drains your energy leaving you even more tired than usual at the end of the day and bleary-eyed. 

Here are four tips you can incorporate into your day to assist with online meeting fatigue. 

  • Use a phone instead. That’s right….a phone. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the extra connection that video provides; however, if you a) know the person and b) you’re having a day filled with Zoom meetings, switch to the phone. I bet you’ll notice the mental relief immediately and your eyes will thank you. 
  • Take notes during the meeting. Taking notes (on paper) or doodling your thoughts about the meeting (on paper) require you to look away from the screen. You’re still listening but your eyes have a chance to change their focus away from the screen. The back and forth, up and down between the screen and the paper exercises the eyes and helps your brain process differently and stay more present.
  • Give your eyes and brain a break between meetings. You may not always have control over your online meeting schedule but when you do, intentionally plan a break between Zoom, Webex, Teams or other sessions. During your break relax your eyes by walking away from the computer and gazing outside into the distance. Eye care professionals say to exercise your eyes by looking away from the screen at least every 20 minutes and gazing at a distant object (at least 20’ away) for at least 20 seconds. Looking far away relaxes the focusing muscles inside the eye to reduce fatigue. This gives your eyes a break. To give your brain a break, do something mindless for a few minutes. Put clothes in the dryer, step outside to feel the sunshine, walk around the block, bring in the mail, or, my favorite, close your eyes for a 2 to 5-minute meditation. These small tasks give the brain a break and revive your energy.
  • Keep the meetings short. This may not always be possible but if you can, keep meetings at 45 minutes or take short breaks throughout a longer meeting. Even though you wouldn’t typically take a break during an in-person meeting, on-line meetings are different. Short breaks help maintain attention for everyone and keeps eyes more rested. Both help you feel less fatigued. 

This new virtual work world requires adaptations large and small. Make the effort to manage your on-screen meetings so that you, your brain, and your eyes are rested and at their best.

 

 

Use This Checklist to Evaluate Your Program! (agency)

Trust is the currency of public agencies. You need trust to work effectively with elected leaders, to successfully argue for your agency’s funding, and to build relationships with citizens who pass judgment on your performance. While it is essential to have technically proficient staff and technically sound recommendations, it is equally or even more important to have staff who listen with empathy, speak succinctly and clearly, and make the boss/citizen/politician feel that they “get” them. These are the skills that staff use to create trust. These are the skills that need your professional development investment now.

The current environment foreshadows a future for public agencies with tighter revenue, constrained travel, and stressed staff. When belt-tightening the budget, professional development is often the first line item cut. That’s a really bad idea. Here are ways to effectively make the case to keep those funds in your budget.

  1. Stressed staff don’t create satisfied customers. When uncertainty abounds and resources are constrained, staff can feel stressed while trying to provide essential services to citizens. Stressed staff will not be exceptional public servants. Now more than ever your staff needs to know that you care about them and believe in their professional development.
  2. Listening is calming. Uncertainty activates the threat response in the brain. That’s why you see over-reactive bosses, citizens and elected officials. Listening and empathy sooth the brain’s threat reaction. Powerful interpersonal skills like listening and empathy can be a game-changer when dealing with an agitated community leader. That community leader wants to feel heard and know that staff can put themselves in their shoes.
  3. Technical data needs clear, concise communicators. During this unprecedented time, you want your leaders making decisions using available data. To do that, you need staff who can articulate technically-sound recommendations without sounding condescending or spouting mind-numbing data laced with jargon.
  4. Read between the lines and adapt. There is always a message under the spoken message. To be effective, staff need to see beyond the data and adapt to the unspoken messages. The most technically-sound argument can go down in flames if the staff person doesn’t pick up on subtle clues and adjust immediately.

These points can help you make the case for your professional development funding provided that it grows self-aware, high-functioning communicators. 

If you already have a professional development program, use this checklist to assess how it’s working for you.

✓ Is your professional development program designed specifically to meet your goals with engaging and interactive material?

✓ Does it use science-based content to transform touch-feely interpersonal issues into practical, logical technique?

✓ Does it convert number-crunching engineers into high-functioning communicators who write and speak like pros?

✓ Is the program designed to use neuroscientific learning principles like engagement, experiential learning and reminders to enhance retention?

✓ Is the program designed and conducted by a professional who led an engineering organization rather than someone who just talks about the theory?

✓ Is the training leader technically proficient AND a certified speaking professional™ (CSP) with the skills to maintain participants’ interest through real-life examples rather than a series of lectures with word-filled slides?

✓ Do you see tangible results that lead to practical, real-world applications?

 


 

If you are not getting the results you expect, now’s the time to make changes. There’s too much at stake. A sub-optimal professional development program leads to sub-optimal results. Is that what your citizens expect?

If you don’t currently have a professional development program, look for one with the attributes above because this is what your staff and clients deserve and what today’s environment requires.

Above all, keep the funding in the budget! Invest more now and you’ll be the agency who comes out of this on top.

At Shelley Row Associates we meet all the requirements above and more. Shelley is a professional engineer, former USDOT executive and a Certified Speaking Professional. Here’s what clients have to say about the impact of her custom-designed programs for public agency staff.

“Excellent presenter. Got me to think about a different way to approach how we present materials to the decision makers.”
Jon Fitzkee, Lebanon County Planning Department

“Excellent! Perhaps the best and most valuable presentation I’ve heard in four years of elected office.”
Mary Ann Gill, Woodford County Fiscal Court

 

Talk to Shelley now about your custom professional development program.

Other Resources:

Top Management Skills for Technical Managers: A Ten-Part Webinar Series

The Over-Thinkers’ Guide to Working from Home Effectively

Use This Checklist to Evaluate Your Program!

Your staff is working and serving clients because your organization provides an “essential” function. That’s great…for now. But you foresee a future with tighter revenue, constrained travel, and stressed clients. When belt-tightening the budget, professional development is often the first line item cut. Here’s why that’s a really bad idea.

When resources are limited and uncertainty abounds, clients want to work with organizations they trust. Now more than ever your technical managers need enhanced interpersonal skills so that you are the trusted company with whom clients want to work. After all, there are plenty of architecture and engineering companies with highly skilled technical staff, but not many have high-functioning communicators who can relate to clients, listen with empathy, speak succinctly and clearly, and make the client feel that they “get” them. Those are the skill sets worth investing in now more than ever.

You need technical managers whose interpersonal skills are equal to or greater than their technical skills. You want managers who can:

  • Create client relationships based on trust because your managers are good listeners and can put themselves in the clients’ shoes.
  • See beyond the data to sense the unspoken needs of the client.
  • Articulate your firm’s technical competence without sounding condescending.
  • Be clear, concise communicators without spouting jargon and mind-numbing data.
  • Delegate to build skilled staff so that more work gets done with more satisfied
  • employees.

If you already have a professional development program, use this checklist to assess how it’s working for you.

✓ Is your professional development program designed specifically to meet your goals with engaging and interactive material?

✓ Does it use science-based content to transform touch-feely interpersonal issues into practical, logical technique?

✓ Does it convert number-crunching engineers into high-functioning communicators who write and speak like pros?

✓ Is the program designed to use neuroscientific learning principles like engagement, experiential learning and reminders to enhance retention?

✓ Is the program designed and conducted by a professional who led an engineering organization rather than someone who just talks about the theory?

✓ Is the training leader an engineer AND certified speaking professional™ (CSP) with the skills to maintain participants’ interest through real-life examples rather than a series of lectures with word-filled slides?

✓ Do you see tangible results that lead to practical, real-world applications?

If you are not getting the results you expect, now’s the time to make changes. There’s too much at stake. A sub-optimal professional development program leads to sub-optimal results. Is that why your clients hired you?

If you don’t currently have a professional development program, look for one with the attributes above because this is what your staff and clients deserve and what today’s environment requires.

Above all, keep the funding in the budget! Invest more now and you’ll be the company who comes out of this on top.

At Shelley Row Associates we meet all the requirements above and more. Shelley is a professional engineer, former USDOT executive and a Certified Speaking Professional. Here’s what clients have to say about the impact of her custom-designed programs for technical staff.

“We saw immediate results the first time Shelley worked with our leadership team. She created a program uniquely suited to our company that worked for individuals and teams and was grounded in science. We’ve seen improved relationships, reduced volatility and a resulting increase in productivity. Her ongoing personal and group reminders are an essential part of the program’s effectiveness. If it worked for our team, it’ll work for yours.Bill Russell, Former CEO Eberle Design

Talk to Shelley now about your custom professional development program.

Other Resources:

Top Management Skills for Technical Managers: A Ten-Part Webinar Series

The Over-Thinkers’ Guide to Working from Home Effectively

In case you haven’t noticed by now, an effective webinar isn’t simply a regular presence on a screen. Webinars should be designed differently…well if you want them to be impactful. Particularly now with everyone participating in webinars, yours can stand above the rest for its content, engagement, and memorability. Here’s a checklist to show you how to up your webinar game in a few easy steps.

The first big difference between a webinar and an in-person program, briefing or discussion is that it requires a technology interface. Get the technology right first.

  1. Use video. We forget how much connection comes from being in a room with other people. That’s why it’s essential to use your video. It’s not the same as in-person engagement but it’s a lot better than talking to a black screen. Now that you’re on video, consider the background. We all understand that people are working from home. This is not a normal situation. Even so, do what you can to ensure that the background is reasonably professional or, at a minimum, not filled with distractions.
  2. Make eye contact. If you were in-person, you’d make eye contact with the people in the room. Now, the screen is filled with little squares of people and some are black boxes with just a name or, worse, a phone number. But there is a way to make eye contact with each of them. Look into the camera. Your natural tendency is to look at the faces on the screen. Don’t. Instead, train yourself to look directly into the camera. For those on the other end, it will feel like you are talking specifically to them. Warning! This takes practice because it doesn’t feel natural. It’s worth the effort for audience connection.
  3. Have good lighting. It doesn’t do any good to have your video on and make eye contact through the camera if they can’t see you! Because I do a lot of webinars and virtual workshops I invested in an inexpensive light. (If you’re interested in that, I’m happy to share information about the one I bought.) A special light isn’t necessary if you take a little care. Backlighting is the biggest problem. It might be tempting to sit next to a window but the bright light from the window will render you too dark. Consider your location and use lamps to even out the light so your audience can see you. Most importantly, test it. See how you look on camera with your lighting and background.
  4. Have good sound. Depending on your needs, the speaker in your computer may be adequate. If not, there are external microphones that will enhance the sound quality considerably. After all, it won’t matter if you have great information if they can’t hear you, your voice is garbled or cutting in and out.
  5. Hardwire for reliability. Wi-Fi is great but for a webinar or any online program of importance, hardwiring your computer is the way to go.

After technology, the next significant difference with webinars is the challenge of keeping attention and engagement. You’ll want to redesign your presentation specifically as a webinar. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Move slides often. Movement on the screen is like a shiny object for the brain of your audience. Use more movement in your slides than you would during an in-person briefing. By “movement” I don’t mean animation like bouncing, flipping or sparkling text. I advise using animation sparingly and only when it helps make your point. Consider doing more “build” slides where each point comes in as you discuss it. That’s more interesting for their brains than talking for 5 to 10 minutes about a single slide. That’s too long for your participants’ brains to stay engaged.  Images are another way to engage the brain. Use real photos (not clip art!) that illustrate your points in a vivid way. Visual images or visual language engages the vision center in the brain which helps embed memory.
  2. Simplify your slides. While it’s never a good practice to have numerous words on a slide, it’s even worse in a webinar. The screen size is small, and the distractions are big. PowerPoint (or other presentation media) are a visual Simplify your presentation with large fonts conveying key points only. You don’t have to write in complete sentences. Plus, if you only have keywords on the screen, their attention is on you. Instead of all that text, use photos instead. Oh…. did I mention photos already? I’ll say it again. Use photos instead of text.
  3. Get engagement immediately. Intentionally look for ways to engage the participants. Tell them upfront that you’ll be asking questions, encouraging “chat” and other forms of interaction. That makes them more attentive. They now have a job to do. Then, ask a compelling question immediately. Ask them about why your topic is of interest or relevant to them. This gets them thinking and they make their own case for why they care about your subject.
  4. Use other engagement tools. Depending on the webinar platform, there are other types of engagement tools you can use. Know them. Use them. It may be a poll, a raised hand, a yes/no button, or thumbs up/down button. Review your presentation or briefing and identify places where you can ask for a response in chat, insert a polling question, ask for raised hands or unmute for real-time discussion. Plan interaction throughout your presentation so that people are engaged, listening and learning.
  5. There’s a good chance we’ll see more webinars and remote programs even after COVID-19 issues scale back. Now’s the perfect time to up your game so that you are the person people are pleased to engage with online.

Shelley Row, P.E. explains why NOW is probably the best time for technical managers to work on improving their leadership skills (and earn PDH credits!).
Registration & more info -> https://ilinstitute.teachable.com/

Photo credit: Aleksandr Davydov

 

This is the fourth newsletter based on the Over-Thinkers Guide to Working at Home Effectively. You can find the original guide here. Each week, we’ve written more information on one of the topics in the guide. This week’s virtual work topic is on the effective use of email. 

Email is More Important Than Ever. Learn Four Tips to Make Your Emails More Effective

Our virtual work environment is creating a heavier-than-ever reliance on email. There’s no more walking around the corner to discuss an issue with a colleague. Our inclination is to zip off a quick email. Zipping off an email is rarely a good idea and that’s even more true now. With fewer opportunities to connect in person, we rely on email even more. Now’s the time to learn tips that enhance your email writing skills. And, let’s face it, we need this skill no matter our work location. 

Tip 1. Use clear language. We dash off a quick email without much thought. We type a response in the last minutes of the day or while rushing to the car. We send off instructions without rereading them. Then, we are perplexed that there is miscommunication. Email is not fast. It is crafted and careful.

  • Remove ambiguous words. Words like “it,” “that,” “this,” “those,” and “them” leave room for ambiguity. Search for those words and replace them with the noun to which it/that/this/those/them refers. 
  • Assess acronyms. Will all readers understand the acronyms? If not, spell them out.
  • Reread the email for clarity. Will someone less familiar with the situation understand the nuances? Since the reader can’t read your mind, how could the email be interpreted differently? Adjust your text to ensure clarity. 

Tip 2. Structure for easy reading. Have you ever received a long email with big, rambling paragraphs? You feel overwhelmed before you start reading. Instead of rambling, structure the body of the email so that the reader isn’t intimidated. Plus, the structure allows you to cater to the communication styles of different people. Some want a summary; others need background. For important emails, you can provide both with good structure. 

  • Prioritize the messages. Start with the most important and work your way to the least important. 
  • Put the action step first. What action step do you want from the reader? Do you want their input on a big decision, participation on a doodle poll, or to send an update on the project status? And, when do you want their action? Make the action the first part of the email.
  • Use bold, italics, underline and highlight to focus attention. Visually identify the key points or sections in the email using bold, italics, underline and highlight. These visual tools allow the reader to quickly skim the email and find the most important bits of information. I know…you don’t want them to “skim” the email. But they will. Make sure they pick up the key messages by making those points obvious to their eye.
  • Provide a bulleted summary. Bulleted points are also useful to visually identify key points and provide white space in the email. White space gives the brain a break and allows it to more easily process information. The summary allows the person short on time to glean the information she requires immediately. 
  • Provide details below. Following the summary points, add detail for those who crave detail. Detail may include the background of the issue at hand, the research that supports the points, the factors that contribute to the decision. Providing details serves those who crave research and data and it documents the rationale behind your thinking.
  • Reread the email for ease of reading. Before you hit Send, take another look at the email. For those who skim, can your eye easily pick out the main points? Is there a clear organizing structure?

Tip 3. Tone. Unless you are writing to someone you know well – very well – strike a professional tone. No sarcasm, no dry humor, no witty comeback as this writing style is heavily dependent on the readers’ interpretation. Plus, email is an official document. Always consider that someone else may read it. Be professional.

  • Consider the reader. What tone do you “hear” in their emails? Is it light and friendly, serious, to the point, formal? Match that tone in your response. What do you know about the sender’s situation? If they have a sick child at home with COVID-19, that’s not the time for, “Hey! Don’t you love working from home!?!” 
  • Weigh the use of exclamation points. An exclamation point can convey lightheartedness (Are you as stir crazy as me?!). Sometimes I see an exclamation point used to convey urgency such as, “We need this proposal finished now!” Personally, I shy away from the latter as it comes across like yelling. If there is a problem with timely performance, that’s the time to pick up the phone. 
  • Prohibit emojis in a professional email. When in doubt, skip the emoji particularly if the email is to a key person (client, boss, elected leader) or the email will be shared widely. However, if the email is to a close friend or is unlikely to be shared with others, an emoji may be fine. (FYI. There is no consensus on the plural. It can be either emoji or emojis. I checked.) 
  • Reread the email for tone. Go back and read for tone. How does the language come across? Is it too cutesy, too stiff, too familiar, too businesslike? Is the tone appropriate for the receiver’s situation? If you don’t know his/her situation, tread even more carefully. Almost everyone is impacted in some way by the pandemic. Be sensitive to the possibility that all may not be well.

Tip 4. Details. Details matter with email. Have you ever hit Reply All when you meant to hit Reply? I’ve seen terrible situations result from a Reply/Reply All mistake. Take a few moments to scroll down to reread and recheck everything before hitting Send. 

  • Review the entire thread. Check the people and conversation on the entire email thread before you forward it.  Otherwise, you risk sending information that was not intended for the bigger audience. 
  • Review all the names in the To and CC lines. Before hitting Reply All or Forward review the names on the receiving end. Are your comments and all comments throughout the chain appropriate for everyone on the email?
  • Review for email overload. Think about the relevance of your message to everyone on the email. Do they all need to see your response? They do if: your comment adds substantive information to the conversation; you want others to see your participation; you want to register your agreement or disagreement with the group, They don’t if: there is no added value to the group (such as cc’ing everyone only to say “Thank you”); there is nothing in your response that furthers the discussion (such as “Received”). We all receive plenty of emails. Don’t copy everyone if it isn’t necessary. 
  • Reread the email for the details. It is no coincidence that each of these four tips concludes with “reread the email.” That practice is worth learning and using every day. Think of it this way. The time it takes to reread the email and make adjustments is small when compared to the time it takes to unravel a misunderstanding due to a poorly worded email.

We are in unusual times and everyone is adapting to the temporary situation. Even after the COVID-19 threat recedes, we will likely see an uptick in virtual work and the use of virtual meeting platforms. Be the manager who is on top of this shift and create the skills for you and your team to be both productive and connected. Learn effective email techniques. And, remember, email is not a fast-medium. To use it well requires thought.


Shelley Row, P.E. explains why NOW is probably the best time for technical managers to work on improving their leadership skills (and earn PDH credits!).
Registration & more info -> https://ilinstitute.teachable.com/ 

 

 

I bet you have been on more virtual meetings in the last couple of weeks than ever before. Locked in the house avoiding COVID-19, we’re all working on virtual meeting platforms. Take Zoom, for example, the company added more users in the first two months of 2020 than in all of 2019. More than 10 million people join a Zoom meeting every day. Whether you use Zoom or another virtual meeting platform, these platforms are the best option we have to simulate an in-person meeting environment. Take advantage of this unique opportunity to hone your virtual meeting skills and train your team in the protocols that make a virtual meeting most productive.

 

 

Follow good meeting protocol. The basics of a well-run meeting are the same whether the meeting is virtual or in-person. Defined goals and agendas benefit any form of meeting. Here’s a short checklist to ensure that you covered the basics.

  • Have an agenda with defined times.
  • Identify the specific goal for the meeting (“By the end of this meeting we will….”).
  • Review action items at the end including the responsible parties and due dates.
  • Be aware of the communication preferences for each of your team members and adapt your style accordingly.

Engage everyone. Involving everyone in the discussion can be a challenge on a good day where everyone is in the office. Virtual meetings can allow a person to sit quietly and not engage or multitask. It can be tricky to assess the dialog and jump in appropriately until you create virtual meeting norms pertaining to engagement. Instead, take a proactive approach that more consciously engages everyone in the virtual meeting. Giving each person a role also ensures their attention throughout the meeting.

  • Define a role for participants and set expectations for their engagement upfront (Keisha will discuss the project x update and Jose Luis will discuss program y progress).
  • Give everyone a heads-up about their participation (After Keisha tells us about her project, Dave, I’ll be particularly interested in your marketing perspective).
  • Use casual conversation to kick start engagement. You can go around the virtual “room” and ask about their work-at-home experience (What do you like best about working from home? What do you miss that surprises you?)

Test the technology. You’ve been there. You log into the virtual meeting only to discover that the sound doesn’t work properly, there’s screeching feedback, the meeting host struggles to share their screen, and a key participant can’t find the video button. Don’t waste the start of the meeting with technology that doesn’t work correctly. Check everything in advance and be prepared for the unexpected.

  • Test the link in advance. Encourage everyone to download software in advance. Some platforms are sensitive to the browser. Test it before the start of the meeting.
  • Test the connection in advance. When the virtual meeting link is critical, hardwire your computer to the Internet. If that option is not available to you find a way to make it available to you. If the meeting is critical, so is the connection. If the meeting is not as critical a wireless connection may do. If problems develop turn off the camera.
  • Test the webcam. One of my laptops has the camera at the bottom of the screen near the hinge – yes, the hinge. It provides an excellent visual image of my nose! Know that in advance. I’ve been on calls where the speaker’s head is cut off or only the top of their head is visible. In another call, the camera dropped so that we saw the participant’s lap. Check the webcam and the video image beforehand. We don’t need to see what we don’t need to see.
  • Check the sound. Sound is the most common problem I encounter in a virtual meeting. I’ve seen issues with computers defaulting to a headset so that sound won’t come through the computer. If you are the main speaker, test a headset. It may provide greatly enhanced quality. Sound quality is a key determinant of a successful meeting.
  • Know how to use the basics. Make sure that you, as the host, know how to mute/unmute, raise electronic hands, manage a chat function, use the whiteboard, record if needed and share your screen. It’s not hard. Learn these skills in advance, not in front of busy staff.
  • Zoombombing. Yes…Zoombombing. Like photobombing, an uninvited person arrives in your Zoom meeting and may share unwanted, unwelcome and potentially obscene images. You don’t need that! Here’s a link to an article that provides the settings to use that will impede Zoombombing. https://www.adl.org/blog/how-to-prevent-zoombombing

Set virtual meeting guidelines. To get the most from your virtual meeting provide clear, explicit guidelines. Develop and enforce virtual meeting norms such as the use of cameras, muting, and multitasking. The guidelines may vary based on the size of the meeting. Small meetings of 4 to 6 people have more flexibility. As the number grows, use more structured interaction. Here’s a checklist to develop your own guidelines.

  • Everyone uses their camera. This increases the feeling of connection and it discourages multitasking during the meeting since everyone can see each other. Note the point above about having a strong Internet connection. You’ll need that.
  • Manage the mute function. I prefer to mute everyone on entry into the meeting. For large meetings, you might consider leaving them on mute except when speaking. This is particularly important with large virtual meetings. But even small virtual meetings are disrupted when the dog barks, doors slam, the Amazon delivery person literally drops off a package, or a lawnmower revs up.
  • Raise your hand (visually or through the platform) when someone wants to speak. This allows you to moderate the discussion and ensure that everyone has a chance to speak. Unlike a real meeting, this method ensures that people don’t interrupt or talk over each other. It also means that the meeting may take longer.
  • No multi-tasking during the meeting. Be clear that cell phones are not to be used during the meeting. The participant’s attention is expected to be on the discussion in the virtual meeting. You wouldn’t walk out of the meeting to grab a cup of coffee or answer the door if you were there in-person. Don’t do it during the virtual meeting either.
  • Introduce everyone. Request that everyone login under their own name so that it appears on the screen. If there’s no video and people are on the phone, request that they state their name before talking.

During this COVID-19 period, virtual meetings are the norm. As you gain proficiency with the virtual meeting platforms and master these tips for conducting effective meetings, you may find this tool to be a valuable option even when we all can go back to the office for real.


Shelley Row, P.E. explains why NOW is probably the best time for technical managers to work on improving their leadership skills (and earn PDH credits!).
Registration & more info -> https://ilinstitute.teachable.com/

 

Particularly for those of us who work on technical projects, it’s tempting to use the time working from home to focus project work; however, as a manager, your staff need your attention now more than ever. Maybe you supervise highly technical people who enjoy working alone. Or, perhaps you have a team filled with social butterflies. Likely, it’s a mix of the two. In either case, they are human and they need connection – some to a greater degree than others. Plus, for productivity sake and collaboration, you want them to stay connected to each other. How will you help staff and team members feel connected when everyone is sequestered in their homes away from water cooler chitchat? Think about connection for the sake of productivity to keep projects moving forward. And think about connection for the sake of mental health, general well being and to create a sense that you care personally. As a leader, you need to provide both.

Use this checklist to plan your connection strategy.

Know your staff or team. Think about your team or your staff. What do you know about their communication styles?  If you participated in my webinar last week, Know Your Staff: Know Their Superpowers and How To Use Them, you have a good idea of who your detailed data people are and who needs the stimulus of other people. If you weren’t on the webinar, why not?  Just kidding. If you weren’t on the webinar take a mental assessment of your people.

  • Who likes to focus on their project with minimal interruptions?
  • Who likes to chat with colleagues?
  • Who is the person who networks with everyone?
  • Who are the data-driven researchers?

Now, consider their environment. You may need to adjust your expectations based on the realities of personalities, communication styles, and home care logistics.

  • Who has small kids at home?
  • Who has other responsibilities that will challenge the at-home work environment?
  • Who has support at home to help with the kids?
  • Who may be lacking a support system?

With that mental map of your people in mind, consider your plan for keeping you and they connected.

For office productivity:

Have regular meetings. If you had regularly scheduled meetings with your team or your managers, keep them up virtually. Include a few minutes at the beginning of the meeting to chat about the COVID-19 situation. Continue with:

  • Staff meetings
  • Project team meetings
  • Working groups
  • Task forces
  • Committee meetings
  • Office happy hour
  • Office lunch and learn or just lunch and chat

Connect visually. Use video conferencing services for visual connection (I use Zoom). Adding the visual component makes a virtual meeting feel more conversational and alive.  Have you noticed that you feel more connected when you have a visual image of your employee in their home office? Leverage that natural tendency by providing a virtual “tour” of your home office or the view from your window. Give your staff a visual context of you at work in your home office and offer them the opportunity to share their home workspace (if they wish).

  • Determine the video conferencing service for the team
  • Ensure that everyone has the equipment and information to successfully connect.
  • Test the functionality that you are most likely to use.
  • Provide a virtual tour of your work environment.
  • Offer that option to others.

Weekly summaries or meetings. Consider sharing a brief weekly summary of the status of work across units. It doesn’t need to be long. Bulleted points are enough. The goal is to keep everyone in sync with the big picture and each other. You can also request that a short summary of status be sent to you weekly. This keeps you up to date on the work of your dispersed office and conveys your interest in their work.

  • Would a weekly status summary assist in keeping the team on the same page?
  • Could you manage the work better with a bulleted update from staff each week?
  • Are you receiving adequate information for decisions and informing your boss?

For personal connection:

Touch base just because. Call your staff or team members even if you need to put these calls on your to-do list. Plan the calls into your day. For those of us who go-go-go, this may not feel like a productive use of your time.  But research shows that people who feel engaged and cared for are more productive. You are actively contributing to productivity when you place these calls.  Call (not email) to inquire about them (not the project). Show interest in their personal well-being. That matters to an isolated person with limited contact.

  • Ask the impact this pandemic situation is having their life with kids?
  • Do they have older parents?
  • Have vacation plans been canceled?
  • Have they tried any virtual parties with friends or family?
  • Are there any health situations with family members or friends?
  • Is there a funny story about working at home?

Offer your support. Whether on a phone call, FaceTime or on a virtual meeting platform, ask how you can help them be more productive and feel more connected.

  • What would make the experience better for them?
  • What do they struggle with?
  • What is it like for them to work from home?
  • How can you help?
  • How you can help them stay connected to you, staff and the organization?
  • Don’t forget to thank them for adapting to this strange environment.

These are strange times and they call for unique management considerations. Make sure your staff feel connected for productivity’s sake and for a sense of caring during an unsettling time. Your efforts to provide connection will pay off now and will pay dividends with goodwill when this is all behind you.


Shelley Row, P.E. explains why NOW is probably the best time for technical managers to work on improving their leadership skills (and earn PDH credits!).
Registration & more info -> https://ilinstitute.teachable.com/

photo credit: rawpixel

 

The world has shifted and here we are – at home – working. Having worked out of my home office for years now, I can say with assurance that there is a difference between working at home for a couple of days a week and working at home for an extended period.  Extended periods at home offer two challenges: productivity and connection with colleagues. Particularly for technical professionals like me, working from home is a chance to dive into those project details that require uninterrupted time. But don’t underestimate the need for connection (and people who feel connected are more likely to be productive). While our current situation is driven by the response to COVID-19, we are likely to see long-term shifts in our work patterns. Start now to develop the habits you will need to work productively from home and keep connections alive and well.

 

Here are four areas to master to remain productive and connected when working from home.

Manage Distractions at Home

Drop-in a load of laundry, pick up the Amazon package, make a grocery list, put the laundry in the dryer, order an item from Amazon, pay a bill online, do a quick check on social media (okay…so that wasn’t so quick), plan dinner, and, in your spare time, entertain your kids. Before you know it, the day is chopped into bits and productivity disintegrates. Instead, bundle the day into productivity pockets that give you focused spurts for designated tasks. It takes will power but you will be rewarded with that good feeling of a day well spent. Use these bundling tactics to your own productivity pockets.

  • Identify the key tasks that need to be accomplished today. What is the task and what is the outcome for each? Approximately how much time will each take?
  • Align the tasks with your energy. If a task requires significant focus, slot it into your high energy period. For choppy tasks, like emails or phone calls or checking in on staff (see below), slot these into lower-energy parts of the day.
  • Balance work tasks with home tasks. Inevitably there are a few tasks around the house that I want to weave into the day. Identify them, too. Slot them into the space between your productivity pockets. For me, that momentary break is a reward for achieving the task goal. Yes, unloading the dishwasher is a reward. Not because I love unloading the dishwasher but because it’s a brief brain break that allows my mind to rest. Use these personal chores strategically in the day. Otherwise, you break concentration, lose your train of thought and spend more time getting back into the groove.

Set yourself up for success by clarifying expectations for response times.

  • Clarify the expected response times with your boss. We tend to believe that responses are needed faster than they really are. Discuss this with your boss to negotiate reasonable response times that balance promptness with productivity.
  • Clarify your expectations on response times with your team or staff. They probably think you expect an immediate response when that may not be necessary. You should think through the same balance between promptness and productivity. Every time you ask them to break away to email, Zoom or call you, they are distracted from other work. What’s most important?
  • Be transparent about your productivity pockets. Tell your boss and staff that you expect to be focused on THE big project from 10 am until noon. You will be off your phone and off email. You’ll check messages at the end of the window. If need be, coordinate with another person to cover for you during that time so that you alternate productivity pockets.

Once you define your productivity pockets, protect that time from the time vampires that suck away the day moment by moment.

  • Turn off the sound on your computer and phone. Turn off the sound. (Caveat: you may have a family situation like a sick child or elderly parent with whom you need to always be available.)
  • Turn off popups. Every time that tiny envelop popups up that indicates a new email in your inbox, your brain is momentarily distracted. It breaks your focus and time drains away as you regain your focus. Simply turn off the popups.
  • Move the phone outside of view. I confess. To truly focus during my productivity pocket, I do best if I move the phone physically out of the room. It’s simply too easy to pick up the phone to check the time, the weather, text messages, Messenger and more. My level of productivity soars when the phone is out of sight.
  • Execute the plan. Sure, something unexpected may happen (actually, something unexpected will happen). When it does, deal with it and get back on your plan and protect your productivity pockets.

Stay connected to employees

It’s tempting to take a deep dive into focused project work; however, as a manager, your staff need your attention now more than ever. Even if you supervise highly technical people who enjoy working alone, they are human and they need a connection. If you have high social people on your staff, they definitely need connection. How will you help them feel connected when everyone is sequestered in their homes away from the watercooler chitchat?

Touch base just because. Call your staff or team members. If need be, put these calls on your to-do list. Plan them into your day as a productivity pocket. I know…this doesn’t feel productive to those of us who go-go-go. But, bodies of research show that you increase productivity when people feel engaged and cared for. When you place these calls, you are actively contributing to productivity.  Call (not email) to inquire about them (not the project). Ask the impact this pandemic situation is having their life with kids, older parents, and canceled vacation plans. Show interest in their personal well-being. That matters to an isolated person with limited contact.

Offer your support. Whether on a phone call, FaceTime or on a virtual meeting platform, ask how you can help them be more productive.  What would make the experience better for them? What do they struggle with? What is it like for them to work from home? How can you help? Ask how you can help them stay connected to you, staff and the organization. Don’t forget to thank them for adapting to this strange environment.

Weekly summaries of meetings. Consider sharing a brief weekly summary of the status of work across units. It shouldn’t be long. Bulleted points are enough. The goal is to keep everyone in sync with the big picture and each other. You can also request that a short summary of status be sent to you weekly. This keeps you up to date on the work of your dispersed office and conveys your interest in their work.

Connect visually. Use video conferencing services for visual connection. Adding the visual component immediately makes discussions feel more alive and real.  Leverage the visual element by providing a virtual “tour” of your home office or the view from your window. Have you noticed that it helps you feel connected when you have a visual image of someone in their home or office? Give your staff a visual context of you at work in your home office. Plan to connect visually on a regular basis to fight the sense of isolation.

Conduct effective virtual meetings

You’ve probably had more virtual meetings in the last couple of weeks than in the last month. Virtual meeting platforms (I use Zoom) are remarkably good at simulating an in-person meeting environment. But, they are not the same. To get the most from your virtual meetings you need a different approach. Take advantage of this unique opportunity to hone your virtual meeting skills and train your team in the protocols that make a virtual meeting most productive.

Follow good meeting protocol. Virtual meetings like a “real” meeting benefit from the same principles. Have an agenda with defined times. Identify the specific goal for the meeting (“By the end of this meeting we will….”). Review action items, the responsible party, and due dates. As in an in-person meeting, you want to be aware of the communication preferences for each of your team members and adapt your style accordingly.

Engage everyone. Virtual meetings, more so than an in-person meeting, benefit from pre-defined roles. Set expectations for their engagement upfront (Keisha will discuss the project x update and Jose Luis will discuss program y). Giving everyone a role also ensures their attention throughout the meeting.

Test technology. Don’t waste the start of the meeting with technology that doesn’t work correctly. Test the link, the webcam, the sound quality, and the connection well in advance. If needed, have participants download the software before the meeting. Make sure that you, as the host, know how to mute/unmute, raise electronic hands, manage a chat function, use the whiteboard, record if needed and share your screen. It’s not hard. Learn these skills in advance, not in front of busy staff.

Set virtual meeting guidelines. You need clear, explicit guidelines to get the most from your virtual meeting. The guidelines may vary based on the size of the meeting. Small meetings of 4 to 6 people have more flexibility. As the number grows, you need more structured interaction. Use this checklist to develop your own guidelines.

  • Everyone uses their camera. This increases the feeling of connection and it discourages multitasking during the meeting since everyone can see each other.
  • Mute everyone on entry into the meeting and keep them muted except when speaking. This is particularly important with large virtual meetings. But even small virtual meetings are disrupted when the dog barks, doors slam, or the lawnmower starts up.
  • Raise your hand (visually or on the platform) when someone wants to speak. This allows you to moderate the discussion and ensure that everyone has a chance to speak. Unlike a real meeting, this method ensures that people don’t interrupt or talk over each other. It also means that the meeting may take longer.
  • Mute cell phones and no multi-tasking. Be clear that phones are not to be used during the meeting. Attention is expected to be on the discussion in the virtual meeting. Participants are not to walk out of the room during the meeting.
  • Introduce everyone. Request that everyone login under their own name so that it appears on the screen. If there’s no video and people are on the phone, request that they state their name before talking.
  • Have a good connection. Ask that everyone be in the best location they can for Wi-Fi or cellular reception or hardwire into Wi-Fi.

Write clear emails

Clear communication is a challenge, particularly when working virtually. Email is heavily used (too heavily?) communication medium on a “regular” day in the office. With staff isolated in their homes, email becomes an even more important communication tool. And, email is routinely handled badly. Now’s the time to enhance email writing skills. And, let’s face it, we need this skill no matter our work location.

Clear language. We zip off a quick email without much thought. We type a response in the last minutes of the day or while rushing to the car. We dash off instructions without rereading them. And, then, we are perplexed by miscommunication. An important email is not fast. It is crafted and careful.

  • Reread the email for clarity. Will someone less familiar with the situation understand the nuances? Since the reader can’t read your mind, how could the email be interpreted differently? Make adjustments to ensure clarity.
  • Remove ambiguous words. Words like “it,” “that,” “this,” “those,” and “them” leave room for ambiguity. Search for those words and replace them with the noun to which it/that/this/those/them refers.
  • Assess acronyms. Will all readers understand the acronyms?

Structured for easy reading. Have you ever received a long email with big, rambling paragraphs? You feel exhausted before you even start reading. Instead of rambling, structure the body of the email so that the reader isn’t overwhelmed. Plus, the structure allows you to cater to the communication styles of different people. Some want the summary; others need background. Provide both for important emails.

  • Prioritize the messages in the email. Start with the most important and work your way to the least important.
  • Put the action first. What action do you want from the reader? When do you want their action? Make the action the first part of the email.
  • Use bold, italics and highlight to focus the readers’ attention. Visually identify the key points or sections in the email using bold, italics and highlighting. These visual tools allow the reader to quickly skim the email and find the most important bits of information. I know…you don’t want them to “skim” the email. But, they will. Make sure they pick up the points you intend by making those points obvious to their eye.
  • Provide a bulleted summary of key information. Bulleted points are also useful to visually identify key points and provide white space in the email. White space gives the brain a break and allows it to more easily process information. The summary allows the person short on time to glean the information she requires immediately.
  • Provide details below. Following the summary points, add detail for those who crave detail. Detail may be the background of the issue at hand. Detail may be research that supports the points. Detail may be factors that contribute to the decision. Providing details serve those who crave research and data and it documents the rationale behind your thinking.

Tone. Unless you are writing to someone you know well – very well – strike a professional tone. No sarcasm, no dry humor, no witty comeback as this writing style is heavily dependent on the readers’ interpretation. Plus, email is an official document. Always consider that someone else may read it. Be professional.

  • Reread the email for tone.
  • No emojis in a professional email (FYI. There is no consensus on the plural. It can be either emoji or emojis. I checked.)

Details. Details matter with email. Have you ever hit Reply All when you meant to hit Reply? I’ve seen terrible situations result from a Reply/Reply All mistakes. Take a few moments to reread and recheck everything before hitting Send. Email is not a fast-medium. To use it well requires thought.

  • Reread the email for the details.
  • Check the people and conversation on the entire email thread before you forwarded it.
  • Imagine that the email was forwarded to someone else without your knowledge. Would it be received in a professional way?
  • Review all the names in the To and CC lines before hitting Reply All or Forward Are your comments and the comments throughout the chain appropriate for everyone on the email?
  • Think about the relevance of your message to everyone on the email. Do they all need to see your response? They do if your comment adds substantive information to the conversation if you want others to see your participation if you want to register your agreement or disagreement with the group, They don’t if there is no added value such as cc’ing everyone only to say “Thank you.”

We are in unusual times and everyone is adapting to the temporary situation. Even after the COVID-19 threat recedes, I believe we will see an uptick in virtual work and the use of virtual meeting platforms. Be the manager who is on top of this shift and create the skills for you and your team to be both productive and connected.


Shelley Row, P.E. explains why NOW is probably the best time for technical managers to work on improving their leadership skills (and earn PDH credits!).
Registration & more info -> https://ilinstitute.teachable.com/

Whether your technical expertise is in engineering (like mine), law, finance, technology or science, we technical folks don’t have good reputations as managers.  When a technically accomplished person is promoted into management, suddenly the old skills that made us successful are not as relevant. 

I’ve seen technically talented managers become perplexed by people issues, stymied by office politics and mystified by seemingly illogical decisions made by “management”. You don’t have to be perplexed, stymied or mystified. Here are the top ten skills that I learned the hard way when I became a manager. Now, you can eliminate the frustration by learning from my mistakes so that your management competence matches your technical competence.  

  1. Know your staff. Take the time to get to know each of your staff individually. 
  • What’s their background? 
  • What are they passionate about in their work and life?  
  • What are the skills that they love to use? 
  • What type of work makes them feel fulfilled? 
  • What is something that you have in common? 
  • What do they need from you to be successful? 

     2. Know your skills and preferences. If you haven’t already, now is the time to become self-aware. You need to see yourself clearly and honestly. 

  • What are your strengths – those behaviors that you do so easily that you didn’t realize it was special?
  • How do those characteristics support you at work? When do you overdo them at work? 
  • What are your communication style preferences? How do you respond to those who communicate similarly to you? How do you respond to those who communicate differently from you? 
  • What are the stories in your life that color your perceptions? 
  • What are the filters through which you see the world? 
  • How do you prefer to work? When will you have that in your management role and when will you not? 
  • What people and situations trigger you and why? 
  • Are you coachable? 

      3. Know your boss. You need to know the motivations, stresses, and strains that your boss is under. 

  • What makes your boss tick? What does she care about? 
  • What’s his career and personal background? 
  • What’s his pet project? 
  • What frustrates her? 
  • What is his biggest time waster? 
  • What keeps her up at night? How can you help alleviate some of that stress?

     4. Know the influencers. Regardless of position, there are people inside and outside the organization who count.

  • Who are the power players who wield influence? Whose opinion carries weight in the office and with your boss?
  • What can you learn about their background, interests, headaches, and passions?
  • Who are the deep thinkers who everyone respects? What do they think? What are they worried about?
  • Where is an area of commonality that allows you to connect with them?
  • How can they become your ally?

5. Know the factors other than the data that are influencing organizational trajectory. Organizations are impacted by factors that can’t be measured.

  • Are there political factors that will impact your organization? If so, what are they? 
  • What are the societal trends that you should attend to? Global trends? 
  • Are there relationships outside the organization that impact its success? 
  • What can you do regularly to remain attentive to these forces?

6. Know the person who can get things done in the office. There is someone in the office who is a skilled networker and sleuth.  She knows everyone! This person has informal power and knows where the bodies are buried. Everyone probably owes him a favor. She will know about birthdays, anniversaries, family illnesses, staff worries, hopes and fears.  Because of these connections, he will have an uncanny way of getting things done. 

  • Who is it? Find out and make friends.

7. Know a broad range of information sources. We all have a natural inclination to seek information from sources that are comfortable and familiar. 

  • Where are you getting your information? Is it from people you know and trust? The people who are like you? 
  • Are you reaching outside your comfortable circle to those with different backgrounds and demographics? 
  • Are you seeking input from the people who make you uncomfortable or who are likely to disagree? 
  • Do you need to expand to a bigger reach?

8. Know how to challenge your initial impressions. It is easy to make and hold initial impressions but there is usually more to the story than that. Our mental shortcuts – the impressions we form – can be heavily influenced by biases of all sorts. 

  • What immediate impressions have you formed about the people on your staff and the people you will work with? Now, challenge those impressions. 
  • Ask yourself why you immediately like some people but not others. Why are you impressed or not? You will likely discover that you naturally connect with people who are like you in some way such as a common background, work style, or value systems 
  • Are you listening more to them and discounting input from those with whom you don’t naturally connect? 
  • Are you allowing this human tendency to skew your perceptions and decisions? 
  • How can you challenge yourself to look beyond initial impressions of people? 

9. Know your vision for the organization. As a leader and manager, you need a vision that charts a clear course for your organization. This creates confidence and certainty for the staff. 

  • Do you have enough information to have a vision? 
  • What are the trends? 
  • What data can you collect? 
  • What is your initial impression of the data? Now, what are the different interpretations of the same data? 
  • What other intangible factors need to be considered? 
  • Combine the data with the intangibles. What’s the trajectory for the organization and the factors you need to watch?

10. Know your leadership philosophy. Like having a vision for the organization, your leadership philosophy guides decisions about the investment of time, money and creation of the office culture. You need clarity about your leadership beliefs.

  • What do you believe about leadership and do you behave in accordance with your belief? 
  • Do you believe in transparency? 
  • Are you willing to allow others to see that you don’t know everything? 
  • Do you trust your staff? Do they trust you? 
  • How much control are you willing to relinquish? 
  • How much do you believe in coaching and staff development? Do you believe in staff development enough to invest time and money? 
  • How do you invest in your leadership growth?

If you found this helpful, there is a ten-part, interactive webinar series based on these skills. Click here for more information and to register. Or, email kerry@shelleyrow.com for details. 

Contact Shelley Row at the Insightful Leadership Institute to assist you and your staff to grow your skills as an insightful leader.

 

I recently was asked to speak on the PharmCast podcast (where they talk all things pharmacy and wellness.policy, people and the profession) to share ideas and tools for pharmacy leaders to steady themselves and their staff. This is part two of my conversation with PharmCast where I share how to separate yourself from the crowd in Episode #5: Why Should You Get Hired?

Every year a new cohort of P4s joins the job/residency hunt and other professionals are looking to change companies or practicing settings. With clinical skills being on par, how are you communicating what you bring to a practice that is different than your counterparts? I share tips for creating a personal branding statement that lets anyone know you are right for the job. These tips shared in this podcast are applicable to any profession.

Listen to the episode here: