meetings

What's the Frequency, Kenneth?

frequency

Reducing Audio Feedback Across the Global Pond

As many global teams know all too well, staying on the same wavelength in video conferencing—despite all of our modern technologies—can remain a herculean effort. In a world getting increasingly smaller, a bad virtual connection reminds us of the distance that still remains between us. For teams working against great cultural and geographical distances a good audio connection can make the difference between teams working effectively together or simply wasting each others’ time.

In a recent Bridging Distance consultation with a globally distributed team we encountered typical feedback troubles.

Our first transatlantic meeting with this organization consisted of virtual attendees in Cambridge, Massachusetts; northern Massachusetts; New Jersey; and Paris, France. As the meeting opened in Cambridge, the attendees a mere hour away were greeted with static, feedback, and white noise, though the attendees in Paris heard them with crystal clarity. Although Cambridge, Massachusetts, considers itself to have a real European flair, this did nothing to facilitate communication with the actual Europeans. What happened? More importantly, what steps need to be taken so that everyone can participate fully?

The following are three tips to ensure communication clarity across distance

mute button

 1.  The Mute Button is Your Friend.

Use it.  When not speaking, mute your computer (especially if you are taking notes, as the even quiet clicking of a keyboard is amplified and broadcast to everyone).  Muting is often overlooked as “too basic” to make a difference, but even if you think you are in a quiet location, ambient noise can be the death knell to a productive virtual meeting.  Just be sure to unmute your microphone before speaking.

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2.  Wear Headphones (Not Just Earbuds!)

Headphones with microphones will reduce feedback, such as a Bluetooth or even the headphones that are included with the iPhone.

the screamEchoes are deadly.

With headphones, not only will you be able to hear your co-participants but they will be able to hear you!

If there is more than one person physically with you during the conference you may want to invest in a Polycom Calling Kit, or similar device.

The Polycom computer calling kit enables the phone to work with the Polycom PVX desktop video conferencing application, serving as the microphone and speaker for desktop video calls. Polycom Calling Kits will heighten the level of professionalism and take your business to the next level.

Polycom also makes a more cost-effective speaker and microphone device to plug into your computer. They are each optimized for different software and computer configurations, so be careful to purchase the correct one for your needs.

While Polycom may be the gold standard, the Yamaha PJP-20UR Web Conference Microphone Speaker is an example of a plug and play echo-cancelling device that seems simpler to use than the PolyCom devices.

3.  Limit Computers / Audio Sources to One Per Room.

business-woman-in-office-with-computer-talks-on-headsetThough it may be tempting to crowd around one screen when you have multiple people at one location, having more than one computer in a room increases feedback as the microphones pick up what other team members are saying. This is especially important if you do not have headphones and do not mute your computer, thus disregarding our previous expert advice.

While the difficulties may seem daunting and at times frustrating, audio and video conferencing is worth the effort.  Being able to see and hear each other clearly across great distances will lead to a greater sense of community and better collaboration across the board and across the world.

Question for readers: Have any advice or Pet Peeves when it comes to audio / video conferencing?

Breaking the Global Ice

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Nowadays walking across the street can be more challenging than speaking to someone across the country. While we all have heard that companies are increasingly open to flexible work hours and allowing employees to work virtually, less is heard about the resulting difficulties. One of the most common complaints among employees who work remotely is the sense of isolation from the rest of the community.

When meetings are fully or partially virtual, the inclination is to jump straight into the business at hand and forgo the casual banter that happens naturally when people gather together in the same room. Skipping this human connection, however, often leads to decreased job satisfaction as the sense of being on a team diminishes.  As both experts on virtual work and a virtual team ourselves, we take great care to purposefully nurture that human connection whenever we can.  Taking just five minutes at the start of every virtual meeting goes a long way to bridge the distances between us.

At Bridging Distance we begin every virtual meeting with a “check-in” question to break the ice. These questions are a great way to learn about one another and to strengthen the bonds between us.  A different member is tasked with bringing and asking the check-in question; anything from weather to sports to life philosophy. Rotating this task keeps the group from falling into a rut, elicits creativity from all members.  These icebreakers play a key role in creating a trusting atmosphere, especially in the early stages of team formation and remain critical in keeping relationships fresh, interesting, and growing and time goes on.

business_group_seated_laughing_400x250Check-in questions spark lively conversation, help flesh team members out as people, and lead to mutual respect and understanding. Think of these first few minutes as an investment in your team’s cohesion and ultimate success.

I’ve found in my time with Bridging Distance that, not only do check-in questions allow us to segue smoothly into the meeting, but also bring a sense of levity and–with the right question–can bring an amount of introspection. In my experience, the questions with the most potential for humor were the ones that brought us closer together. Laughter can break quite a bit of ice.

Here are some of my favorites

  1. Where would your ideal, no-expenses-spared vacation be?
  2. What would be the first thing you did if won a million dollars? (After you were done jumping up and down.)
  3. What is the most positive thing that has happened to you this week? Can be professional or personal.
  4. Would you rather be stuck in an elevator with someone who talked too much or didn’t talk at all?  Why?
  5. “Show & tell” with your favorite mug via video or pictures.  Consider advance notice for this.  (Our favorite — “I like big mutts!” — thank you, Kelly!)
  6. As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
  7. What is one thing you did not understand about the world when you were a kid? (My dad’s boss was British, and I didn’t realize that not everyone’s boss was British, though I suppose that was one day the case.)
  8. What is your greatest minor triumph? Your biggest small win?
  9. Would you rather have to walk around all day with jelly in your shoes OR sleep all night with sand in your bed?  Why?
  10. What’s the weirdest thing you have ever eaten? (Not for the squeamish.)
  11. How much cash do you have on you?big mutts coffee cup
  12. What most irritates you at a restaurant?
  13. What is the best bumper stick sticker you’ve ever seen? (Mine “You! Out of the gene pool!”)
  14. If you could change one thing about the world what would it be?
  15. If you could live in any period in history what would it be?
  16. What’s your favorite word? Least favorite?
  17. What is something you know you do differently from most people?
  18. Do you collect anything?
  19. Who is someone you look up to and why?
  20. If you were in the Miss America Pageant what would your talent be?
  21. Are you more concerned with doing things right or doing the right things?
  22. If you were just given a yacht, what would you name it?
  23. If you could rid the world of one thing what would it be?
  24. When was the last time that you did something for the first time? What was it?
  25. What would this company/team look like if your mother ran it? (source: 75 Cage-Rattling Questions by Dick Whitney and Melissa Giovagnoli)
  26. If you are pressed for time in your meeting you can always ask participants to choose between X and Y. Coffee or Tea? Cat or dog? Sweet or Salty? Superman or Batman? Beach or mountains? Morning or night? Paper or plastic? Too hot or too Cold? Glass half full or glass half empty?
  27. What is the sound you can best imitate?  Do it!

 Even though you may be tempted to respond with “long walks on the beach,” dating sites like Match.com or eHarmony are an interesting resource for “getting-to-know-you” questions; as their whole business, it turns out, is based around bridging a certain distance.

And the list goes on. You know your team best, so tailor your questions to your team.

Question for readers:  What’s the best icebreaker you’ve heard lately (or not-so-lately)?

 

Meeting-itis

Meeting-itis

A Syndrome of Pain & Discomfort Caused by Extensive Overuse of Meetings

Current research shows what we all know to be true — we waste too much time in meetings!

“That was a great meeting”  said no one ever in corporate America.

Meeting-itis is our lighthearted look at this “illness” that pervades our workplaces.

Follow our infographic to help reduce the pain of Meetingitis in your workplace (hang in there, its been loading slowly today):

 

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Meetingitis

Meetingitis

Meetingitis is our lighthearted look at the “illness” that pervades our workplaces.  It is a syndrome of pain and discomfort caused by extensive overuse of meetings.

Those afflicted may experience a lack of focus and a lack of belief in their ability to contribute to the overwhelming number of meetings they are expected to attend.  Symptoms are often accompanied by feelings of frustration at having available technologies but not the training to use them effectively.

Follow this infographic to help reduce the pain of Meetingitis in your workplace (hang in there, its been loading slowly today):

 

What about you?  Too  many meetings in your life?

Email Overload

What’s going on here?

Our research, completed in 2010, revealed that the average person spends 30 minutes PER DAY deleting, or thinking about deleting, email!!

When did email become our work product and why do we have so much?!  It’s getting out of hand.

No one expects you to be a drone and tap away at your computer endlessly, tied to your machine for every minute of every day, but 3o minutes deleting email?  Over the course of a standard work-week, that’s 2 1/2 hours.  In a month, 10 hours; in a year 120 (15 eight-hour workdays).  That’s a lot of time you’ll never get back.  And that’s just you.  Multiply that over your project team, department, or company, and you just might feel a little ill.

Why?  Why do we get so much email that we don’t read?  I’m not talking about email lists that you sign up for giving you the latest sales from your favorite store.  Those aren’t counted in this research.  This research focused specifically on work-related email messages that were sent by real people to real people.

Does this mean that, even after all this time, many people still don’t understand how to use email effectively?  Yes, indeed it does.

What can you do?  They answers are not as simple as they appear on the surface (as is true for our most persistent problems).  For the sake of this article, we’re going to take a look at how a simple shift in your attitude toward email can help reduce the number of unwanted messages that you send and receive.

First, understand the purpose of the “TO” and “CC” fields. “TO” requires action.  “CC” requires none, it is a “for your information only” indicator.

Second, use “CC” sparingly.  Sending your manager or team leader multiple messages every week in which no action is required from them is just an annoying way to say, “look, Boss, I’m doing my job!”; “look at me!  look at me!”; “still here, working away!”  like some yappy little dog.  If you don’t feel trusted to get your work done, then that’s a different conversation you need to have face to face with your team lead.

Finally, resist the temptation to “CC” your team lead / manager whenever you feel a dispute is in the works and you want an “official” record of your position. This culture of “CYA” – “cover your … ahem, derriere” leads to unnecessary email messages and wasted time.  Take your dispute off-line and work it out in person.  It will be infintely better, trust me.

We get too much email.  We send too much email.  We delete too much email.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Start taking control through the judicious use of the “CC” field.

This article is the first in a series designed to help reduce your email overload.  Please share with us any comments / stories you have about your own email situation.

Review: The Power of Reputation

The Power of Reputation by Chris Komisarjevksy, Amazon, 224 pages, $16.50

Here is a book review by Brianna Snyder of Women@Work.

Reputation Matters

How to manage your most important brand – you!

By Brianna Snyder/Women@Work

We’ve all been in the business of reputation management since middle and high school. Back when we were concerned with popularity and how we were received at the dance, at gym, at the cafeteria, we were all — some more clumsily than others — learning how to navigate the choppy and awkward waters of social interaction and public persona. We know now how crucial those lessons were to how we became grownups.

What Chris Komisarjevsky explores in his book The Power of Reputation is the importance of reputation to your business and your career. Reputation, he says, is trickily personal andprofessional — “One thing is for sure: there really isn’t any distinction between our personal and our professional reputations,” he says — which brings the challenge of figuring out what’s sharable in the workplace and what’s best kept at home.

The key, says Komisarjevsky, is to be genuine. In other words, be your engaged, interested, competent and sincere self. The writer shares anecdotes throughout the book (both personal and from colleagues and friends) to reinforce the idea that a reputation is the soul of a career. The writer breaks down what a reputation is and means, how it’s built on caring and respect, values and good communication. He incorporates the still-new challenges of social media and managing your online reputation and emphasizes the need to be mindful of the consequences of Facebook and blogs. He calls this “the double-edged sword of the digital world” — you can use these digital places to enhance an already-good reputation or watch in disbelief as these same places dismantle it.

We all know what makes our mechanic the best mechanic, our dentist or lawyer the best dentists and lawyers — these are the people we trust not just to be honest with us (though that’s infinitely valuable) but to do a good job. We trust that they know how to do their work, that they’re well-practiced and careful, and that they care about their jobs and us, whether they’re mending a tooth or a flat tire. They value our time and they do their jobs well. That alone is enough of a foundation for a great reputation.

Notable Quote:

“We are in an era in which the demand for candor, understanding and clarity of purpose is greater than ever before. Transparency creates confidence and underscores authenticity.”

Instant Recall:

  • Research what you’re selling — whether it’s you or your product — “to the point at which you believe there is nothing better out there.”
  • Talk to people. Let them know you care about them and their needs. Listen to them.
  • Respect your clients and your colleagues. The more you give, the more you get.
  • Be personal and personable at work; share your interests, passions and ideas.

Read this book if…

You’re just starting a new job or business, or even if you’re beginning to think about who you are in your career, what your personal “brand” might be.

Virtual Meeting Confusion

Virtual Meeting ConfusionIt never fails to amaze us how many different places people can be in and yet have the ability to come together for a common cause.  The virtual meeting.  It’s fantastic!

Companies and people have the freedom and the technology to truly be flexible.  We can — and do — meet with people around the globe without ever getting on an airplane.

Most of us take this for granted.  The fantastic has become the pedestrian.

We are reminded that everything has its pros and cons.

One stumbling block that our coaches are constantly asked to provide answers for is the challenge of everyone talking at once in a virtual meeting.

This can, and does, happen in any meeting, anywhere.  When everyone is in a room together people exchange looks — someone shrugs, someone else gestures for the most-anxious looking participant to continue — the meeting resumes.

The massive quantity and quality of unspoken body language transmitted between people is glaringly obvious in its absence.

What do you do when everyone is in their own space, shouting at their computer screen, tablet, or smartphone?

The critical first question you have to ask yourself is:

Is everyone excited or is everyone disagreeing?

Either way, you need to reign everyone in and re-establish a conversational flow.  If the former, you must do so without dampening that invaluable enthusiasm.  If the latter, you need to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard in a professional manner.

Specifically:

1.  Reclaim the floor with a simple phrase like, “Hang on!  I want to hear everyone’s opinion, so I’m going to call on each of you, one at a time.”

2.  Use this opportunity to call on the people you know to be a little more hesitant to join in the fray, but who have good insights and contributions.

3.  Continue to call on each person until everyone has been heard and the meeting is back on track.

Thank you for reading and we’d love to hear about your experiences in virtual meetings.  Why not get the conversation started?

En Garde! Dueling Loyalties

By nature, a matrix is flexible and allows people to come together when their experience, expertise, or knowledge is best suited for the project at hand.  It allows project leaders access to resources they wouldn’t have if they were limited to those people reporting directly to them in a traditional supervisor / employee structure.

The very flexibility that makes this a viable structure, also leads to the following challenges:

  • The lack of clarity makes people unsure, they don’t know how to proceed, and minor issues quickly escalate.
  • The lack of structure makes people feel unconnected and lost as they are squeezed between competing and conflicting goals.
  • Too many meetings, too much email, and too much personality drama.

In a perfect work environment, you would work half of each day for each team, assuming you are only part of two teams.  But our workplaces aren’t perfect and you constantly need to juggle these expectations.

What can you do to increase your effectiveness within this structure?

Have a presence with people — Respond to their requests, add value to others and they will be more likely to do the same for you.

Be clear about decisions – Is someone asking you for input, an opinion, a vote, or an actual decision?

Be proactive with conflict — Deal with tensions and misunderstandings quickly and explicitly. Often, simply acknowledging disagreements aids in a speedy resolution.

Clarify expectations — don’t assume!  As with any team, priorities shift.  When you are on multiple teams, it is incredibly easy for them to shift unbeknownst to you.  A quick email to confirm action items, goals, objectives, perhaps even which processes to use, can save you a lot of frustration.

Thank you for reading.

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