working remotely

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?

When Only a Few are Virtual

logo

Meeting When Not All are Present

You’re at a meeting–well, virtually. You’ve dialed in to a meeting with 6 or so members of your team who work physically together. They are sitting around the conference table with the squawk box (Polycom may be the technical term for it) in the center. The meeting starts out orderly but as the meeting progresses it devolves into clamour as spirited members attempt to speak over one another. Though it may be a productive discussion for those physically present, for you as a virtual participant it’s too hard to follow who’s talking, let alone jump in, so you retreat to finishing work tasks, checking email, scanning Facebook, or playing Tetris on your phone.

This scene may seem all too familiar.

The internet is replete with tips for running in-person meetings and for running virtual meetings. So what do you do when only some of your participants are virtual — when you have both in-person and remote attendees? All too often, what happens in such a “blended meeting” is that the virtual participants struggle to keep up with those who are physically present. Once you have even one person dialing in, in order for that member to be able to participate fully, and for your meeting to successfully accomplish its goals, you must understand that your meeting needs to be approached differently. A blended meeting is neither a virtual meeting, nor an in-person meeting. These “somewhere in the middle” meetings require their own framework; otherwise, your meeting will turn into an in-person meeting with a few lost souls trapped hopelessly in the ether!

There are different schools of thought on how best to approach a blended meeting. One school dictates that colocated team members should stay at their desks and dial in, even though it may seem easier to gather together around one speaker in a conference room. This levels the playing field for all participants. However, another school of thought is that forcing in-office team members to attend virtually would ruin the “synergy” or “juju” (they’re synonyms, trust me) of the meeting; and therefore the onus is on the virtual attendees to do their best to stay engaged with the rest of the group.

Promoting a meeting environment hospitable to virtual participants requires a concerted effort from all members. The most important thing a team can do is agree together on rules of engagement AND commit to follow them. Begin with a brainstorm of what rules ought to be followed for your particular team. Below are some best practices to get you started.

 1. Alternate the meeting format

The best solution is for the blended meeting to alternate between being conducted entirely virtually and conducted with both colocated and virtual attendees. Alternate between conducting your meetings with everyone dialing in, and conducting them with only the remote people dialing in. This will help everyone to understand the difficulties of being virtual, and this understanding will improve all meetings.

2. Eliminate side conversations.

When people at a meeting indulge in a conversation of their own, one that is unrelated to the matter at hand, one that the virtual attendees cannot see, it leads to feelings of exclusion. If virtual attendees don’t understand the context of comments, there are more opportunities for misinterpretation, especially if there is not a sufficient amount of trust amongst team members or they do not yet know each other well. Furthermore, side conversations are simply distracting!

3. Say your name before saying your piece — Every time.

While it may seem tedious, especially if the team has been working together a long time and know each other well, saying your name before you speak will immensely help virtual participants keep track of the unfolding conversation. It requires a fair bit of mindfulness because, as meetings progress, participants are inclined to dispense with the formality to the detriment of those who cannot identify the speaker.

4. Work — actively — to include those not in the room.

Mindfulness is key. Be aware when virtual attendees have been silent too long and elicit their feedback. Actively call on them by name. Engage them. Leave silence and space for them to talk. Articulate what’s happening in the room for them: who’s leaving, who’s arriving. Consider sending them a picture of what is happening. 

5. Provide name tags.

Place name tents or some other sort of name tag of the virtual attendees on the conference table (with photos is ideal). This helps to remind those who are in the room that the virtual participants are there, too.

6. Revisit your rules of engagement.

Pull out those agreements every 4 to 6 weeks and see if you are really following them and if not, why not? Change them if you need to — the key is to keep the conversation going.  Working together to establish your own rules of engagement is a good thing. Consider bringing in someone from the outside to help evaluate how you are doing.

If everyone actively works to include virtual participants and elicit their thoughts, they’ll have no more excuses to shut their eyes, mute their speakers, and power nap during the meetings.

P.S.  And just don’t rustle papers in front of the microphone!

 

Question for readers:  What suggestions do you have for running good blended meetings?

 

Virtual Team Fairness

fairness

Virtual Teams — The Future of Work

We work in a rapidly evolving environment.  Gone are the days in which everyone worked within the same building; gathered around the same whiteboard; and decided important things around the water cooler.

Today, nearly all knowledge-based workforces span the globe.

It is a tragic misstep to believe that simply replacing traditional in-person communications with equally synchronous virtual communications will yield the same results.  The challenge for leadership is to resist the old, yet comfortable and familiar ways of leading and assessing global teams.  Methods that rely heavily upon subjective, anecdotal, and observational means simply don’t work across distance.

There are aspects of your virtual team that are undoubtedly unique.  Each company, each industry, each team develops in its own quirky way.  Generally speaking, however, our experience has shown us that there are several key areas in which virtual team management commonly differs from in-house teams.  We’ll share one of them here:

Perception of Fairness Between Virtual and in-house Teams

Most teams are a blend of people located with you and those located remotely.  Our experience has shown time and time again that those far away perceive a preference for those located with the leader.  There may or may not be an actual preference, but they will think there is, and that’s an insidious feeling that you need to address.

Leaders often respond with a knee-jerk denial of this possibility.  They would “know” if their team felt dissatisfied.  In the past, that might be true — you would be able to look around the room and sense the unease within your team.  Short of having some  superhero ability that allows you to peek into your virtual team’s office when the cameras are off, you probably don’t know.

What you can do

1.  Make all meetings virtualglobal_meeting

Even for those located with you!  Having all attendees participating in the same way sends a subtle, but powerful message, that leadership holds all “teams” in equal standing, regardless of location.  Participating virtually when others are co-located is like watching a party through a window. It looks great and you feel left out.

2.  Send thanks to your team

Thanksgiving is a  uniquely North American holiday, but everyone appreciates being recognized for their contributions, and this holiday is a perfect example of an opportunity to do so, regardless of which part of the globe your team resides in.

Don’t limit this to your virtual team.  Thank everyone who works for you.  You will be amazed at how powerful this is for you as a leader and for all of those who work for you.

3. Thipastriesnk of your virtual team at holiday time

If you are planning an office holiday party, ask yourself how you could include the remote team.  Some possibilities:

    • Send every member of the virtual team a gift certificate to take their family out to dinner.
    • Provide a budget for a virtual team holiday party and designate someone local to create a party that is on par with your own.

4. Every now and then, send muffins

Or bagels, or donuts, or anything yummy to say “good morning, thinking of you.”  Everyone loves it when someone else brings in the decadent breakfast goodies.  Be that someone.

 

Question for readers:  What do you do to ensure your virtual team members feel included?

Do You Have 8 Minutes?

Do you want a chance to win money?

If you work remotely — away from your main office — at least two days a week, then you are eligible to take our survey and enter to win!

Win_instant_cash_sweepstakes

Here’s the Deal:

We’ve been developing an online assessment to help telecommuters know what their strengths and weaknesses are when it comes to their telecommuting work habits.  But, we need a LOT of real-world people to take the survey so we can “test” the survey itself.  We’re calling it the Telecommuter Fitness Assessment (TFA).

The more the merrier! our Industrial Organization experts tell us that the more people we can get to take the survey, the better the survey will be.  So, if you know of any telecommuters, feel free to forward this email along.

Thank you for your consideration.  We appreciate your time.

Your completed survey is your entry to win the $100 cash prize.

Please note, sometimes the Survey Monkey link works best when cut and pasted directly into a browser.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TFAblog

Thank you so much.  

The TFA development team

Bridging Distance

The fine print:

NO PURCHASE IS NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A PURCHASE DOES NOT INCREASE THE CHANCES OF WINNING.
1. Eligibility: Sweepstakes (the “Sweepstakes”) is open only to those who complete the Telecommuter Fitness Assessment (TFA) and who are 18 as of the date of entry. The sweepstakes is only open to legal residents of  the United States and is void where prohibited by law. Employees of Bridging Distance (the “Sponsor”) their respective affiliates, subsidiaries, advertising and promotion agencies, suppliers and their immediate family members and/or those living in the same household of each are not eligible to participate in the Sweepstakes. The Sweepstakes is subject to all applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations. Void where prohibited.
2. Agreement to Rules: By participating, you agree to be fully unconditionally bound by these Rules, and you represent and warrant that you meet the eligibility requirements set forth herein. In addition, you agree to accept the decisions of Bridging Distance, as final and binding as it relates to the content. The Sweepstakes is subject to all applicable federal, state and local laws.
 
3. Sweepstakes Period: Entries will be accepted online starting on or about October 15, 2014 and ending Nov. 14, 2014. All online entries must be received by Nov. 14, 2014 11:59PM EST.
4. How to Enter: The Sweepstakes must be entered by submitting an completed TFA survey entry using the online form provided on this Sweepstakes email. The entry must fulfill all sweepstakes requirements, as specified, to be eligible to win a prize. Entries that are not complete or do not adhere to the rules or specifications may be disqualified at the sole discretion of Bridging Distance. You may enter only once and you must fill in the information requested. You may not enter more times than indicated by using multiple email addresses, identities or devices in an attempt to circumvent the rules. If you use fraudulent methods or otherwise attempt to circumvent the rules your submission may be removed from eligibility at the sole discretion of Bridging Distance.
 
5. Prizes: Winner will receive $100. Actual/appraised value may differ at time of prize award. The specifics of the prize shall be solely determined by the Sponsor. No other prize substitution permitted except at Sponsor’s discretion. The prize is nontransferable. Any and all prize related expenses, including without limitation any and all federal, state, and/or local taxes shall be the sole responsibility of the winner. No substitution of prize or transfer/assignment of prize to others or request for the cash equivalent by winners is permitted. Acceptance of prize constitutes permission for Bridging Distance to use winner’s name, likeness, and entry for purposes of advertising and trade without further compensation, unless prohibited by law.
6. Odds: The odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries received.
 
7. Winner selection and notification: Winners of the Sweepstakes will be selected in a random drawing under the supervision of the Sponsor. Winners will be notified via email to the email address they entered the Sweepstakes with within five (5) days following the winner selection. Bridging Distance shall have no liability for a winner’s failure to receive notices due to winners’ spam, junk e-mail or other security settings or for winners’ provision of incorrect or otherwise non-functioning contact information. If the selected winner cannot be contacted, is ineligible, fails to claim the prize within 15 days from the time award notification was sent, or fails to timely return a completed and executed declaration and releases as required, prize may be forfeited and an alternate winner selected.
 
The receipt by winner of the prize offered in this Sweepstakes is conditioned upon compliance with any and all federal and state laws and regulations. ANY VIOLATION OF THESE OFFICIAL RULES BY ANY WINNER (AT SPONSOR’S SOLE DISCRETION) WILL RESULT IN SUCH WINNER’S DISQUALIFICATION AS WINNER OF THE SWEEPSTAKES AND ALL PRIVILEGES AS WINNER WILL BE IMMEDIATELY TERMINATED.
 
8. Rights Granted by you: By entering this content you understand that Bridging Distance, anyone acting on behalf of Bridging Distance, or its respective licensees, successors and assigns will have the right, where permitted by law, without any further notice, review or consent to print, publish, broadcast, distribute, and use, worldwide in any media now known or hereafter in perpetuity and throughout the World, your entry, including, without limitation, the entry and winner’s name, portrait, picture, voice, likeness, image or statements about the Sweepstakes, and biographical information as news, publicity or information and for trade, advertising, public relations and promotional purposes without any further compensation.
9. Terms:Bridging Distance reserves the right, in its sole discretion to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend the Sweepstakes should (in its sole discretion) a virus, bugs, non-authorized human intervention, fraud or other causes beyond its control corrupt or affect the administration, security, fairness or proper conduct of the Sweepstakes. In such case, Bridging Distance may select the recipients from all eligible entries received prior to and/or after (if appropriate) the action taken by Bridging Distance. Bridging Distance reserves the right at its sole discretion to disqualify any individual who tampers or attempts to tamper with the entry process or the operation of the Sweepstakes or website or violates these Terms & Conditions.
Bridging Distance has the right, in its sole discretion, to maintain the integrity of the Sweepstakes, to void votes for any reason, including, but not limited to; multiple entries from the same user from different IP addresses; multiple entries from the same computer in excess of that allowed by sweepstakes rules; or the use of bots, macros or scripts or other technical means for entering.
Any attempt by an entrant to deliberately damage any web site or undermine the legitimate operation of the sweepstakes may be a violation of criminal and civil laws and should such an attempt be made, Bridging Distance reserves the right to seek damages from any such person to the fullest extent permitted by law.By entering the Sweepstakes you agree to receive email newsletters periodically from Bridging Distance. You can opt-out of receiving this communication at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the newsletter.
10. Limitation of Liability: By entering you agree to release and hold harmless Bridging Distance and its subsidiaries, affiliates, advertising and promotion agencies, partners, representatives, agents, successors, assigns, employees, officers and directors from any liability, illness, injury, death, loss, litigation, claim or damage that may occur, directly or indirectly, whether caused by negligence or not, from (i) such entrant’s participation in the sweepstakes and/or his/her acceptance, possession, use, or misuse of any prize or any portion thereof, (ii) technical failures of any kind, including but not limited to the malfunctioning of any computer, cable, network, hardware or software; (iii) the unavailability or inaccessibility of any transmissions or telephone or Internet service; (iv) unauthorized human intervention in any part of the entry process or the Promotion; (v) electronic or human error which may occur in the administration of the Promotion or the processing of entries.
11. Disputes:THIS SWEEPSTAKES IS GOVERNED BY THE LAWS OF United States AND Massachusetts, WITHOUT RESPECT TO CONFLICT OF LAW DOCTRINES. As a condition of participating in this Sweepstakes, participant agrees that any and all disputes which cannot be resolved between the parties, and causes of action arising out of or connected with this Sweepstakes, shall be resolved individually, without resort to any form of class action, exclusively before a court located in Massachusetts having jurisdiction. Further, in any such dispute, under no circumstances will participant be permitted to obtain awards for, and hereby waives all rights to claim punitive, incidental, or consequential damages, including reasonable attorneys’ fees, other than participant’s actual out-of-pocket expenses (i.e. costs associated with entering this Sweepstakes), and participant further waives all rights to have damages multiplied or increased.
12. Privacy Policy:  Information submitted with an entry is subject to the Privacy Policy stated on the Bridging Distance Web Site.
13. Winners List: To obtain a copy of the winner’s name or a copy of these Official Rules, mail your request along with a stamped, self-addressed envelope to: Bridging Distance 41 Worcester Road, Townsend MA, 01469, USA.Requests must be received no later than Nov. 20, 2014.
14. Sponsor:  The Sponsor of the Sweepstakes is Bridging Distance 41 Worcester Road, Townsend MA, 01469, USA .

An Exciting Time

survey

Final Validation of our upcoming Telecommuter Fitness Assessment (TFA)

 

Do you work remotely — away from your main office — at least two days a week?

If so, and you have 10 – 15 minutes, we’d politely ask that you help us out.  We get that your time is valuable, so we are offering a cash prize for one lucky person who does help us out (also our Industrial Psychology experts tell us that a prize will motivate you!)

As experts in the field of virtual work, we recognize the increased importance of telecommuting in today’s organizations.

For the past two years, we’ve been developing an online assessment tool that evaluates telecommuting work habits.  This tool — the Telecommuter Fitness Assessment (TFA) uncovers weaknesses and strengths to help you become better at working remotely.

Here’s where you come in (and how you can win a cash prize):

As we near completion of our final validation cycle, we are in need of real-world data from real-world telecommuters such as yourself.

We would greatly appreciate it if you would take the next 10 – 15 minutes to complete the TFA and helps us gather that real-world data.

Your completed survey is your entry to win the $100 cash prize.

Please note, sometimes the Survey Monkey link works best when cut and pasted directly into a browser.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TFAblog

 

Thank you so much.  

The TFA development team

Bridging Distance

The fine print:

NO PURCHASE IS NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A PURCHASE DOES NOT INCREASE THE CHANCES OF WINNING.
1. Eligibility: Sweepstakes (the “Sweepstakes”) is open only to those who complete the Telecommuter Fitness Assessment (TFA) and who are 18 as of the date of entry. The sweepstakes is only open to legal residents of  the United States and is void where prohibited by law. Employees of Bridging Distance (the “Sponsor”) their respective affiliates, subsidiaries, advertising and promotion agencies, suppliers and their immediate family members and/or those living in the same household of each are not eligible to participate in the Sweepstakes. The Sweepstakes is subject to all applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations. Void where prohibited.
2. Agreement to Rules: By participating, you agree to be fully unconditionally bound by these Rules, and you represent and warrant that you meet the eligibility requirements set forth herein. In addition, you agree to accept the decisions of Bridging Distance, as final and binding as it relates to the content. The Sweepstakes is subject to all applicable federal, state and local laws.
 
3. Sweepstakes Period: Entries will be accepted online starting on or about October 15, 2014 and ending Nov. 14, 2014. All online entries must be received by Nov. 14, 2014 11:59PM EST.
4. How to Enter: The Sweepstakes must be entered by submitting an completed TFA survey entry using the online form provided on this Sweepstakes email. The entry must fulfill all sweepstakes requirements, as specified, to be eligible to win a prize. Entries that are not complete or do not adhere to the rules or specifications may be disqualified at the sole discretion of Bridging Distance. You may enter only once and you must fill in the information requested. You may not enter more times than indicated by using multiple email addresses, identities or devices in an attempt to circumvent the rules. If you use fraudulent methods or otherwise attempt to circumvent the rules your submission may be removed from eligibility at the sole discretion of Bridging Distance.
 
5. Prizes: Winner will receive $100. Actual/appraised value may differ at time of prize award. The specifics of the prize shall be solely determined by the Sponsor. No other prize substitution permitted except at Sponsor’s discretion. The prize is nontransferable. Any and all prize related expenses, including without limitation any and all federal, state, and/or local taxes shall be the sole responsibility of the winner. No substitution of prize or transfer/assignment of prize to others or request for the cash equivalent by winners is permitted. Acceptance of prize constitutes permission for Bridging Distance to use winner’s name, likeness, and entry for purposes of advertising and trade without further compensation, unless prohibited by law.
6. Odds: The odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries received.
 
7. Winner selection and notification: Winners of the Sweepstakes will be selected in a random drawing under the supervision of the Sponsor. Winners will be notified via email to the email address they entered the Sweepstakes with within five (5) days following the winner selection. Bridging Distance shall have no liability for a winner’s failure to receive notices due to winners’ spam, junk e-mail or other security settings or for winners’ provision of incorrect or otherwise non-functioning contact information. If the selected winner cannot be contacted, is ineligible, fails to claim the prize within 15 days from the time award notification was sent, or fails to timely return a completed and executed declaration and releases as required, prize may be forfeited and an alternate winner selected.
 
The receipt by winner of the prize offered in this Sweepstakes is conditioned upon compliance with any and all federal and state laws and regulations. ANY VIOLATION OF THESE OFFICIAL RULES BY ANY WINNER (AT SPONSOR’S SOLE DISCRETION) WILL RESULT IN SUCH WINNER’S DISQUALIFICATION AS WINNER OF THE SWEEPSTAKES AND ALL PRIVILEGES AS WINNER WILL BE IMMEDIATELY TERMINATED.
 
8. Rights Granted by you: By entering this content you understand that Bridging Distance, anyone acting on behalf of Bridging Distance, or its respective licensees, successors and assigns will have the right, where permitted by law, without any further notice, review or consent to print, publish, broadcast, distribute, and use, worldwide in any media now known or hereafter in perpetuity and throughout the World, your entry, including, without limitation, the entry and winner’s name, portrait, picture, voice, likeness, image or statements about the Sweepstakes, and biographical information as news, publicity or information and for trade, advertising, public relations and promotional purposes without any further compensation.
9. Terms:Bridging Distance reserves the right, in its sole discretion to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend the Sweepstakes should (in its sole discretion) a virus, bugs, non-authorized human intervention, fraud or other causes beyond its control corrupt or affect the administration, security, fairness or proper conduct of the Sweepstakes. In such case, Bridging Distance may select the recipients from all eligible entries received prior to and/or after (if appropriate) the action taken by Bridging Distance. Bridging Distance reserves the right at its sole discretion to disqualify any individual who tampers or attempts to tamper with the entry process or the operation of the Sweepstakes or website or violates these Terms & Conditions.
Bridging Distance has the right, in its sole discretion, to maintain the integrity of the Sweepstakes, to void votes for any reason, including, but not limited to; multiple entries from the same user from different IP addresses; multiple entries from the same computer in excess of that allowed by sweepstakes rules; or the use of bots, macros or scripts or other technical means for entering.
Any attempt by an entrant to deliberately damage any web site or undermine the legitimate operation of the sweepstakes may be a violation of criminal and civil laws and should such an attempt be made, Bridging Distance reserves the right to seek damages from any such person to the fullest extent permitted by law.By entering the Sweepstakes you agree to receive email newsletters periodically from Bridging Distance. You can opt-out of receiving this communication at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the newsletter.
10. Limitation of Liability: By entering you agree to release and hold harmless Bridging Distance and its subsidiaries, affiliates, advertising and promotion agencies, partners, representatives, agents, successors, assigns, employees, officers and directors from any liability, illness, injury, death, loss, litigation, claim or damage that may occur, directly or indirectly, whether caused by negligence or not, from (i) such entrant’s participation in the sweepstakes and/or his/her acceptance, possession, use, or misuse of any prize or any portion thereof, (ii) technical failures of any kind, including but not limited to the malfunctioning of any computer, cable, network, hardware or software; (iii) the unavailability or inaccessibility of any transmissions or telephone or Internet service; (iv) unauthorized human intervention in any part of the entry process or the Promotion; (v) electronic or human error which may occur in the administration of the Promotion or the processing of entries.
11. Disputes:THIS SWEEPSTAKES IS GOVERNED BY THE LAWS OF United States AND Massachusetts, WITHOUT RESPECT TO CONFLICT OF LAW DOCTRINES. As a condition of participating in this Sweepstakes, participant agrees that any and all disputes which cannot be resolved between the parties, and causes of action arising out of or connected with this Sweepstakes, shall be resolved individually, without resort to any form of class action, exclusively before a court located in Massachusetts having jurisdiction. Further, in any such dispute, under no circumstances will participant be permitted to obtain awards for, and hereby waives all rights to claim punitive, incidental, or consequential damages, including reasonable attorneys’ fees, other than participant’s actual out-of-pocket expenses (i.e. costs associated with entering this Sweepstakes), and participant further waives all rights to have damages multiplied or increased.
12. Privacy Policy:  Information submitted with an entry is subject to the Privacy Policy stated on the Bridging Distance Web Site.
13. Winners List: To obtain a copy of the winner’s name or a copy of these Official Rules, mail your request along with a stamped, self-addressed envelope to: Bridging Distance 41 Worcester Road, Townsend MA, 01469, USA.Requests must be received no later than Nov. 20, 2014.
14. Sponsor:  The Sponsor of the Sweepstakes is Bridging Distance 41 Worcester Road, Townsend MA, 01469, USA .

 

Day in the Life: Working Remotely in the Big Apple

Times Square on a rainy night in New York City

8:15 am

I wake up to my third alarm. Per my request, my iPhone screen encourages me, “WAKE UP. YOU HAVE A LONG SHIFT TODAY”. It’s amazing how much more difficult it is to pull yourself out of bed when you know that there isn’t a whole office full of your superiors awaiting your arrival. I’ve found that if I don’t hold myself accountable, no one else will. Hence, multiple alarms with multiple threatening messages.

8:50 am

En route to my favorite coffee shop, I pass my favorite bakery. It is slightly dangerous that both of these locales are within two blocks of my apartment. I convince myself to continue past the bakery, promising myself that if I work out after my shifts today and tomorrow, I can stop for a pistachio baklava on Wednesday.

9:00 am

I sit on a café barstool facing the window with an iced coffee, orienting myself for the day. I check my email, create a list of priorities, and begin my first task. I can already tell that I’m on a roll today, which is good. It’s hard to motivate yourself when you work alone, so a little caffeine and enthusiasm go a long way.

11:00 am

The task I’m working on is tedious and after about two hours I start to lose focus. My eyes are tired from looking at the computer screen, so I let my gaze wander to the city streets on the other side of the glass. I laugh with a café employee as his moped gets tangled in an extension cord outside. In the absence of my real coworkers, it’s nice to have these honorary coworkers. I watch the rain as it falls in sheets, encouraging a wide array of personalities and demographics to duck into the café for reprieve. As disheveled as they look, they are as happy as I am that this weather is dramatically (albeit briefly) lowering the heat index.

11:15 am

Back to work drafting questions for a survey project. I can tell I’m fading, but I want to squeeze 30 more minutes in before I take my lunch break.

11:45 am

The rain is starting to let up, and I don’t know how much time I have before it starts to pour again. I pack up my laptop, bid my café “coworkers” adieu, and walk home for lunch.

12:00 pm

I eat my handcrafted sandwich while talking to my mother on the phone. I hate eating meals alone, so I’ve gotten in the habit of calling a friend or family member on my lunch breaks if I’m unable to meet up with anyone. I recount the weekend’s adventures in Midtown and Williamsburg, with a complete analysis of the people I met and an elaborate description of our experience at Sing Sing Karaoke. After a prolonged goodbye (as is always the case with the two of us—longwindedness runs in our maternal line), I grab my backpack and head south a few blocks to the nearest Queens public library.

12:45 pm

I’m back “on the clock”, but it takes a few minutes to refocus on my work in the new location. I like this library a lot—free wi-fi with a library card, and there are a lot of different types of people coming in and out. The energy of the interactions sparks my creativity, so I decide to shift gears to something a little more fun. After 30 minutes of researching, I construct a blog about the benefits of telework and why organizations should adopt telework programs. This is, after all, a big chunk of my specialization within this position, so I figured putting it in a blog format would be a great way to simplify and consolidate some of my research. I have a little fun searching for a Dilbert cartoon to include, and then submit the blog to my supervisor.

2:30 pm

Now what? I’ve made a pretty big dent in my main project, and I’ve even finished a blog. I start to worry that I won’t be able to find anything else to do until 5:00 pm, so I start to look at my long-term priority list. I’m feeling eloquent, so I opt to write a second blog for the day.

3:15 pm

I catch my mind wandering as I’m writing this blog, and I glance up to see a man with kind eyes teach his daughter about libraries. For as many jerks as there are in NYC, it is so refreshing to see this interaction. The dad encourages her to interact with the librarian independently, and the librarian treats the five-year-old girl as if her request is the absolute most important intellectual question he’s encountered on the job. This is not at all pertinent to my work, but there’s something about witnessing this positive exchange that breathes life into me and reminds me of how much I enjoy “working from home” when I force myself out of the house for a few hours.

3:40 pm

I am wrapping up my blog, so I rack my brain for what to do with my last hour “at work”. I decide to return to my original task to bring it to a more final product. I set a goal to send the draft to my team members by the end of the day so that they can give me feedback by the end of the week.

4:40 pm

I’ve achieved my goal and sent out the draft. I spend my last twenty minutes polishing the blog and checking email. I plan to stop at the grocery store on the way home, and then work out before dinner. That pistachio baklava is calling my name.

IMAGE SOURCE: http://www.iwallscreen.com/stock/new-york-city-times-square.jpg

Note: This blog was written in the summer of 2013 by our amazing remote intern, Sarah Chatfield.

Telecommuting? It's all about Control.

Whether you’re bookmarking an article to make an after-school snack, interrupting a teleconference to soothe a crying baby, or simply reiterating to your partner that you are on the clock and thus unavailable, working at home introduces distractions that aren’t found in a traditional office space.

So how can you balance work with family, and still maintain some semblance of sanity?

Recent research on telecommuting (Kossek, Lautsch, & Eaton, 2009) has pointed to two important factors to consider when creating a positive telecommuting experience.

  1. You must perceive control over how, when, and where you work
  2. You should set clear boundaries between work and home roles

Control

As an employee, do what you can to establish your own control over your work. If you find yourself constantly changing your schedule to align with a co-worker’s, try to be more assertive in setting meeting times. Talk to your manager about having more autonomy in your job. This could mean setting your own deadlines or creating your own list of weekly goals. The more control you feel, the better you’ll perform—both at work and at home.

As a manager of a telecommuting workforce, it is important to grant your employees individual autonomy in deciding how they do their work. If they have certain hours that they prefer, or they want the option of working in multiple locations, it is important that you support their decisions. The more control employees feel over the way that they work, the less work-family conflict they will experience. Thus, they will be less likely to turnover or move on to a new career.

However, there is a delicate balance between allowing employees autonomy and ensuring a predictable flow of communication. For instance, it is difficult to coordinate “catch-ups” with employees who have highly irregular schedules. Thus, depending on how often you feel that you need to meet with your employee, try setting a regular (e.g., weekly, monthly) meeting that is inflexible. This will ensure that contact is still readily available, even if your employee is working at times or locations that don’t align with your own.

Setting Boundaries

It is also important to be deliberate in separating your work and family responsibilities. Individuals who integrate their work and family roles (e.g., using one “catch-all” email account for work and home) are more likely to experience work-family conflict. In contrast, individuals who make clear boundaries between their work and family roles experience a greater sense of well-being and balance.

Having trouble separating your responsibilities? Try creating a space in your home that is “off-limits” to family members while you are working. This could mean closing the door to your workspace, or posting a sign that says “Dad is not available until 4pm”.

Just as you communicate to your family when you’re working, you should also communicate to your co-workers when you are enjoying family time. Grant your co-workers access to your weekly schedule so that they know when you are available to answer phone calls and emails. Set a precedent of not answering communications when you are “off-duty” unless it is time-sensitive or a high priority. Setting these clear boundaries ensures that others respect how you manage your responsibilities, which will decrease your work-family conflict and increase your well-being.

Source:  Kossek, E. E., Lautsch, B. A., & Eaton, S. C. (2009). “Good teleworking”: Under what conditions does teleworking enhance employees’ well-being?. Technology and Psychological Well–Being. Cambridge, MA Cambridge University Press.

Telecommuters — Get Connected!

It’s not enough to get the job done.  When your workspace is not physically connected to your team, you must make the effort to connect in other ways.

You are already trusted to work on your own, at home, unsupervised.  You must’ve already done something right.

Now that you are working outside of the office, you need to continue to “do things right” in order to be viewed as a valued and trusted member of your team.

But here’s where most companies fail with regards to people working from home — they seldom provide explicit guidelines or expectations.  And then they run on feelings and random observations to form their opinion of your abilities.

This is dangerous to your career as your ability to communicate and to meet unspoken expectations becomes the basis for evaluation.  Read that carefully — this is not an evaluation of your actual abilities.

You can rock your skill set, yet become stagnant in your career if you aren’t great at “being part of the team” that you are physically separated from.

What can you do?  Specifically:

  • Keep a consistent work schedule and communicate that schedule to both the people on your team who need to reach you; and the people most likely to interrupt you while at home (your family, friends, etc.).

– Your team will develop the mindset that you are working, available, and                                 “there” for them.

– Your family and friends will be less likely to make demands on you during                             this time (dog will not likely understand, however, and still drop balls at                               your feet and scratch at the door).

  • When you know of an upcoming interruption to this schedule, let your team know. Working from home implies that your discretion is to be trusted, so if you need to work differently on any given day, a quick heads-up to your team will go a long way to head off any frustration at not being able to reach you.
  • Communicate frequently with your teammates.  Stay Connected.  There are so many ways to talk to each other, there is no excuse to be out of touch.  Participate in phone conferences, video-meetins, company newsgroups, etc..  If these aren’t created yet — Create them!

How do you create mindshare when separated from your team?

Hey! Where's my "Snow Day"?

Last week, as we hunkered down to weather the storm — Blizzard Nemo — I was both thankful and a little disappointed that I worked from home.

Thankful because I wouldn’t have to be on the road commuting to work in what was forecasted to be the worst storm since 1978; disappointed because the storm wouldn’t give me a “snow day” unless I lost power.  Which I didn’t, and I should also be thankful for that, but part of me had been hoping for that gift of a random day off, with nothing but boardgames and hot cocoa.

Which had me questioning — do I work from home or live in my office?

I enjoy being home to let repair people in, to let assorted pets in and out of the house on demand, to be here at the end of the school day for my sons.  These, along with the bunny slippers, are the perks of working from home.

However, I find I am a more stringent taskmaster than any employer I have ever had (with the possible exception of my father).

My computer, laptop, and iPhone each beckon to me with their siren calls of “just one more quick thing” long past the hours of normal business and effort.

Is this normal?  The lines between work and not-work are often blurry.  When my sons tend to their homework after school, I will take the opportunity to review copy or research; as they putter around the house in the morning, I’ll be scanning my work email before my “workday” begins.

Some days, every waking hour becomes part of my work day.

Here are 6 tips that can help us all to stay in balance:

1.  Establish consistent work hours each day. Having a daily routine will make it easier to both get into your work and to walk away from it at day’s end.

2.  Set up a separate computer “desktop” for work. This provides a completely different screen “environment” for work vs home.  At the end of your work day, switch to your home desktop and leave work behind.  Better yet, have a separate computer or laptop for work, if possible, and leave put it away after hours.

3.  Train your immediate family. If you have kids at home and you allow them to interrupt you whenever they want, they will.  Around here, the rule is, if I’m working there better be profuse bleeding involved before they interrupt me.  Not kidding.  Email and texting is a great, non-intrusive way for them to ask a question and then wait patiently for a response.

4.  Let friends and extended family know when your “work hours” are. This is simple, powerful, and effective.  If people know you are typically working between the hours of 8:00 am and 3:00 pm, they won’t call.  If they do call, they will leave a voice mail that you can answer when you’re having lunch and/or are done for the day.  They’ll understand and respect your workday.

5.  Work hard. Work diligently.  Stop working.  Enjoy your family.  Walk away when your workday is over.  There is always more to do than there are hours in the day.

6.  Learn to identify when that extra effort is truly needed from you and when you just “want” to do more. Some days you will work harder and longer than others, and that’s okay.  Allow yourself to ebb and flow as work and family demands.  But if you find yourself always “on”, take steps to figure out why.

Balancing work and home can be tricky.  Do you have any tips you can share?

Save Our InBoxes!

Email overload.  It’s getting out of hand.  We spend an alarming amount of time each and every day simply responding to email messages.

Why?  And, more importantly, What can we EACH do to reduce this problem?

For years, we have been coaching people, teams, and organizations on the importance of managing email.  We have helped countless groups establish protocols that have helped to increase productivity and to unchain people from their ever-growing inboxes.

But it’s not enough.  Current research has shown that the average amount of time that each person spends during their workday on email is growing.

We need to get the word out, and here’s an excellent resource that can help you today.

It’s called the Email Charter.

The core principle in action is that every single one of us has to take responsibility for reducing the amount of time spent on email by our colleagues.  Here’s problem, as viewed through this lens:

For each email that you write, you are creating “work” for others.  Our instincts tell us it takes longer to write than to read, so reading an email should take less time than it did to write it, right?  Wrong. It takes longer to respond to an email than it does to write.  Here’s why:

When you “check your mail”, your process is more apt to be like:  scan your inbox; decide what to open; open it; read it; think about whether you need to respond or not; compose the response; edit your response; send your response.

Every time you engage in this process, you are removing yourself from your flow of work, you are diverting your attention and it takes time to regain that rhythm.

Now, think about this — every time you compose an email message, you are creating the same interruption of work for someone else.  Here are some very common email “habits” that add to the overloading of our inboxes and unnecessary consumption of our collective time:

  • Open-ended questions that are time-consuming to answer.  For example, “What are your thoughts on this?”, “How do you think we should proceed?”  Quick to ask, not-so-quick to answer.
  • “CC” – so easy to click and add multiple recipients, but each additional recipient exponentially increases the amount of time your email is consuming.
  • “FW” – forwarding and/or cutting and pasting text from other resources creates an increasing burden of time as your recipient scrolls, reads, and sorts through to find the salient points.
  • Links and videos – easy to add, but each link and video can take minutes to view.

We love the internet.  We love our email.  It takes an iron will not to linger and peruse all the wonderful, distracting nuances of the world wide web, and to share our discoveries with others, and they with us.  “Just copy a link, paste, and send … and boom, the world’s cognitive capacity takes another hit!”

All of these things contribute to the massive consumption of our work week.  We need to get it under control and we need to do so now.  I don’t recall any of my job descriptions (ever) including “checking email” as a line item, and yet, when I’m not careful, it can consume my day.