So you think you can telework – Part Two -Tools (sort of)

My email and Twitter feeds are generously sprinkled with messages from tool vendors and consultants pitching their solutions to this new challenge of Working From Home (WFH). I want to scream, “This is not teleworking. This is staying at home in a pandemic and trying to work.”

Tools aren’t the WFH solution, no matter what tool vendors, your boss, the IT department or some dude on Facebook tell you. I’m married to Gadget Guy. As a result of that happy union, and having worked from home since the ’80s, I’ve accumulated heaps of teleworking tools and toys. Speakers, microphones, lights, cables, software, furniture, coffee makers. What do I use? Not many.

As I wrote in Part 1, when you’re WFH, tools are less important than behaviour. I can’t overstate the importance of the human aspect of working at home. It was always important; now, more so, since we’re working in a cloud of uncertainty.

Still here are a few things I’ve learned about WFH tools.

Team Agreement

This may be the most important WFH tool. Best created as a collaborative effort, it sets out how you’re going to work together. It’s formal, but not immutable. It will evolve as you learn what works for your team.
A team agreement sets out such things as:

  • How will we communicate? What tools for what type of communication?
  • What are our core hours?
  • How will work get done?
  • Where is information stored?
  • How will we define success? How will we measure that?
  • Whose Internet connectivity is iffy – or nonexistent?
  • Who is also responsible for looking after children or others?
  • Realistically, how productive can we be?

Space

Under normal circumstances, it’s best to have a dedicated place you can call your home office. But these circumstances aren’t normal. You may be sheltering in place with roommates, spouse or children who are also working from home. And pets.

  • Privacy may be impossible. As best you can, carve out some turf for everyone to assemble the stuff they need to do their jobs.
  • Find a box where they can put that stuff at the end of the work day. (See Habits, below.) Especially important if you have toddlers or pets who might mistake your stuff for playthings.
  • Get as comfortable as you can. Your chair will be important. So is lighting, both for doing your work and any video calls you may be on.
  • Find a way to communicate with others in your household when you’ll be on a call. That way they won’t be blasting Lizzo or walk into your Zoom call in their underwear. (Yes, we have seen this.)

Communication Software

Speaking of Zoom, there are a gazillion of remote communication tools available. Don’t use too many. When you need to find information someone sent you, you don’t want to have to check email, Slack, Trello, Sharepoint, the google drive and voicemail. (See team agreement, above.)

  • Pick tools that are easiest to use and learn how to use them. But don’t make things complicated. Just because Zoom has polls and breakout rooms doesn’t mean you need to use them.
  • Video will be important. The information richness chart (see Part One) tells us communication is more effective when we are face-to-face. Unfortunately, the signal may degrade the group is large and all are on camera, so you may, sometimes, need to make a tradeoff.
  • Still with Zoom or any video tool, get some light on your face so people can see you.
  • Keep calls as brief as possible. Or take breaks. Nobody wants to sit on a video call for more than 40 minutes. Even that’s tough.
  • And don’t have people there who don’t need to be.
  • Phone people, now and then, just to see how they’re doing. If you’re their boss (or whatever the term is this week), make it clear that you’re checking in, not checking up.

Habits

  • Get dressed. Sure, you could work in your jammies, but don’t. If you operate as if you are “going to work,” you will feel more professional.
  • Eat lunch. Hide the snacks.
  • Know when to knock off. You may not be able to leave your home “office,” but you can leave the work. So do. (After decades of WFH, I still haven’t quite got the hang of that habit.)
  • Take breaks. Step away from the computer. Walk the dog. Schnoogle the cat. Sing a song. Bang on the drum (but not all day. Sorry Todd Rundgren.)

So the big idea is: Don’t stress about the tools. Do the best you can with what you have. Do what’s really important. Don’t expect yourself – or anyone else – to be as productive as you are in your workplace. And remember we’re all human.

SUPER REFERENCE – LISETTE SUTHERLAND – COLLABORATION SUPERPOWERS
If you want excellent tips and resources for teleworking, head to Collaboration Superpowers, where our friend Lisette Sutherland has assembled tips, tools, resources, podcasts and workshops, all dedicated to working from home. When the coronavirus hit and people started working from home, she set up a How To page. https://www.collaborationsuperpowers.com/covid19/ It’s loaded with ideas and links to more resources.

So you think you can telework? Part One

Except for people providing essential services and a few idiots, most of us are in the second week of self-isolation due to COVID-19. Whether it’s lock down, shutdown, quarantine or social distancing, scads of people are now working from home. Nobody knows for how long.

As businesses scramble to get set up with communication and collaboration tech tools to keep the wheels of industry turning, I thought I’d write a series of posts to share what I’ve learned in 26 years of working, teaching and learning from a computer connection.

THIS IS NOT NORMAL TELEWORKING
The first thing to remember is that, night now, we’re working from home as a result of a pandemic. Anything that anyone, including me, tells you about their past teleworking experiences needs to be viewed through a lens of “this ain’t normal.” This is not an experiment. We’re not doing this to save money or travel time. We’re trying to slow the spread of a deadly virus. Government health departments and, in some places, uniformed officers, are telling us to stay at home, for our own sake and that of others. People are, justifiably, distracted and concerned and that will affect everything they do.

Any organization that thinks people working from home will produce the same amount and quality of work as they did in the office is in Fantasy Land. In normal times, there’s a productivity drop, at first, as people sort out the procedures and processes involved in teleworking. In normal times, they’re not working with concern for their health, their loved ones, their jobs, the economy and the food supply. Lower your expectations. (This applies whether you are the boss or an employee.)

THE BIG IDEA
Remember you’re dealing with humans. Tools and processes matter but, despite what the vendors claim, they’re not the key to working at home. What matters is human connection. We’re a social species. Even when our work can be done solo, it’s important for us to know we’re working together, part of something bigger.

I was part of a team that started working from home in the early 1990s. As teleworking pioneers, our tools were lousy, by today’s standards – PCs on modem dial-up to a LAN/WAN, IBM’s chat tool, no email, no Internet, no printers, and the ability to call into a teleconference line. As we quickly learned, the tools were not going to be the key to success.

We made being remote work through reaching out to each other. We used that conference line for a quick early morning meeting to check in with each other and synchronize our work. (Agilists will recognize this as a virtual stand-up.) We used the chat system to share personal news, vent frustration, celebrate milestones, post dumb jokes. (This was before the era of cat photos.)

As managers, my boss and I felt we had a responsibility to keep people connected to each other and to the organization. He and I chatted every morning – a virtual coffee break. I did the same with my team in the afternoon. We made it very clear, by the nature of the conversation, that we were checking in, not checking up. This was critical in our time of change. It’s more critical, today, as people deal with additional burden of uncertainty and worry caused by the pandemic.

Invite your team to design its own ways of staying in touch and keeping the human connection going. Keep activities optional. Not everyone wants to attend a Zoom Happy Hour.

COMMUNICATION
All forms of communication become critically important when you are not face-to-face. The illustration to the right shows what communication professionals call “media richness.” We get the most information from a face-to-face discussion. (I currently believe there’s an even higher level – face-to-face with a whiteboard. But that’s a topic for another day.) The least info is conveyed by a poster or mass mailing.

When we’re together, we don’t rely on words, alone, to convey our meaning and intent. We have tone, body language, pace, intensity, volume. When we have only words, such as when we’re sending a text or an email, we must be careful about our choice of words. You’re not just responsible for the message you send; you’re responsible for the way it’s received. Be sure your intent and meaning are clear.

Give everything a “tone check” before you hit [Send]. And don’t rely on emojis to convey your tone. Your cute little grin may not travel well across platforms and applications. Instead, be conscious of your words and explain your meaning clearly.

You may recall that inside your mobile phone, there’s an actual phone. A call may not be as effective as a face-to-face conversation, but it’s kilometers ahead of anything you can write and probably a lot faster. Whatever method you use to communicate, your investment of time and effort in being clear will avoid misunderstanding, speculation and all the ugliness that can accompany them.

Up next: Teleworking tools
Coming soon: Distractions, staying sane, online training.

Draw people into the conversation – with visual facilitation

There’s an old saying, rooted in journalism, that a picture is worth 1,000 words. While we might ask for scientific evidence or challenge the math, most people agree that visuals add enormously to our understanding of things. Humans drew pictures before they developed written language.

And graphics still convey much important information in our physical world.The visual cortex is the largest system in the human brain – and half the brain is devoted to processing visual information. So it makes sense to supplement our messages with visual information. There are communicators, myself included, who believe we should adapt the Media Richness Theory, which puts face-to-face communication at the top of the scale for conveying information, to add a higher level, face-to-face with a whiteboard.

All this has led to the evolution and growing popularity of visual facilitation, in which we create images, in real time, to stimulate, focus, enhance and record a discussion. You don’t need to be particularly good at drawing to do this well. The key skill, according to experts, is listening. Sound familiar? That’s the key skill for coaches, facilitators, communicators, product owners, user experience experts and, well, pretty much anyone in a leadership role.

How does visual facilitation help meeting participants?

  • Visuals add to their understanding. With more neural tissue devoted to vision than anything else, you stimulate more of people’s brains with images. They also understand faster. We read images faster than we read text. We “get the picture” with just a glance.
  • They’ll remember more of what was discussed. Not only will visual stimulation enhance understanding, it will improve retention and recall. People remember what they see.
  • They stay on track. Drawing the discussion encourages focus and prevents people from getting lost in the weeds. If the meeting is about the weeds, that’s a different drawing.
  • They may see patterns. As you capture the flow of the discussion, you or the participants may see patterns emerge that might not be noticed with traditional note taking. The picture can depict the flow of ideas, process or products as well as connections between them and their impact on people and things.
  • They can see what has been covered in the discussion. Better still, they can clearly see their input has been captured.
  • They stay interested longer. Images are just more fun than lists on flip charts. So people will pay attention for longer.

How does visual facilitation help me, as a meeting facilitator?

  • You get people’s attention. It’s a big shift from powerpoint, note taking or capturing ideas in an online tool.
  • You can capture emotion. Your illustrations can move beyond cold facts and depict the concerns, feelings and reactions of people involved in the discussion.
  • You can help people focus on the key elements. What you draw is what they will pay attention to.You don’t have to cover old territory. People can see what has been discussed.
  • You can use the finished drawings to share the story with people who were not at the meeting.

You don’t need to be able to draw!

There’s a “visual vocabulary” that anyone can learn. One of this is “bikablo,” a method that emerged in Europe and has caught on worldwide. You master basic techniques for simple illustrations that you can mix. match, adapt and use to tell the story of your meeting. (Leanintuit is bringing bikablo training to Canada – November 27-28. See below for registration details!)


Other ideas to explore:

  • Teach your team members to express themselves visually. It encourages collaboration when you all draw together. It’s also a way to engage quiet people and those whose first language is not the team’s working language.
  • Attract people to your booth at conferences or trade shows. It will immediately make you stand out from the crowd because something is happening live and in person.

  • Capture the proceedings from conference sessions. That way people can see what happened in the concurrent sessions they missed. Or they can gather at the recording of the keynote talk and discuss particular elements. (This graphic, by Sam Bradd, depicts a keynote session I attended at a Communitech conference. A great reminder of Susan Cain’s excellent talk.)

 

  • Create your own illustrations for your presentation slides. This can save you hours of searching through stock image sites. When you create it yourself, you get exactly what you want.

  • Draw your presentation. Jeff Patton (see image) and Dave Gray,  leaders the agile and user experience communities, respectively, use overhead projectors and sketch out their presentations while they talk. Super engaging!

 

 

 

Training in Toronto – November 27-28

If you can get to Toronto for a couple of days at the end of November, you have a unique opportunity to learn visual facilitation from the best. We’ve invited Andrea Rawanschad, of the bikablo academie , in Cologne, Germany, to return to Canada and run a second two-day workshop. The first Canadian session, earlier this fall, sold out quickly and was a hit with participants. For those who couldn’t attend the first session – or didn’t know about it – we’ll be gathering in downtown Toronto on November 27 and 28. With a maximum of 12 people in the class, there are just a few spots left, so don’t delay. To learn more and register for this unique experience, follow this link

If you have questions – contact me.
Eventbrite - Visual facilitation workshop with bikablo®

And peace to men of goodwill

Goodwill 123When I first studied accounting I was astonished that “goodwill” is something you can quantify and express with a financial value. I’d always thought of it as kind thoughts towards my fellow humans. Those are valuable, for sure, but not exactly something you can put a dollar sign on.

Along come generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) to tell us that goodwill isn’t just about benevolent feelings towards others. It’s also the amount one company pays to buy another that’s over and above the tangible value of the assets being acquired. How could a company be worth more than its tangible assets? A strong brand, customer relationships, intellectual property and existing contracts might qualify as goodwill. It sits on the balance sheet as an intangible asset.

It’s interesting to ponder the value of goodwill during this season of “Gloria. Peace on Earth to men of goodwill.”

Goodwill, the kind thoughts variety, makes us worth much more than our tangible assets. It connects us to others, something we need to keep us human. There’s ample evidence of a link between the mind and the body that suggests positive thoughts and acts of generosity lead to more than just good feelings – they promote physical health. The explanation is that reciprocal benevolence kept our ancestors alive back in the days of “kill or be killed.” So we’re wired to be kind to each other.

You might argue that we don’t have to look far to find people whose learning or circumstances and choices override that basic human inclination towards goodwill. We see the impact of extremism and zealotry on the nightly news.

As I write that, I’m reminded of a quote from Anne Frank, who wrote, as she was hiding from the Nazis, “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.”

We can choose goodwill. Each of us can do our own bit to look for the best in others. As coaches, it’s our job to not only see their best but also to help them see it – and do something with it. Anne Frank said it best, “Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”

This is a series inspired by House of Friendship Kitchener’s 12 Days for Good project. There’s a theme for each of the 12 days – no pipers piping required. Learn more at http://12daysforgood.com

Keeping things safe with Elmer

Elmer“Safe travels!” We hear that a lot, this time of year, when folks head off for the holidays. What does it mean to be safe?

My first official memory of safety involves Elmer the Safety Elephant. We met him in kindergarten and he was a fixture in our primary and elementary school lives. Since “an elephant never forgets,” Elmer’s job was to remind us to be careful. He had his own flag and it was a big deal to help put up the Elmer flag every day, signalling that the school had been accident free. He had five safety rules:

  • Look both ways before crossing the street.
  • Don’t go between parked cars.
  • Ride your bicycle safely and obey signs and signals.
  • Play games in safe places, away from traffic.
  • Walk, don’t run, when you leave the curb.

Elmer was born in Toronto in 1947, through a collaboration of the mayor, the police department and one of the daily newspapers. This vintage CBC video tells the story. (It’s worth a peek just to see the cars.)  Child accidents declined and word spread across the nation. A national program followed and children in the hinterland, like me, got to meet him and learn and practise his five rules.

“Whatever happened to Elmer?” I wondered, this morning. Well, boys and girls, he’s still around. Like so many other celebrities, he’s had a facelift to counteract the effects of aging. And today, in addition to traffic safety, he now dispenses wisdom about fire safety, railway safety and Internet safety.

As adults, how do we channel our “inner Elmer?” Safe driving, snow tires, shovelled sidewaks, fresh batteries in the smoke detectors, holding the handrail and, yes, looking both ways – all these promote physical safety for ourselves and others.

I also think about another sort of safety.

  • How do we make it safe for people to express themselves?
  • How do we encourage people to listen to ideas with open minds?
  • How do we encourage people to speak up about things that matter and ask questions about things that puzzle us without fear of being judged, labelled and dismissed?

One way to do that is to be conscious about our communication. We can assess the impact of our words before we speak them. We can share the intention that lies behind them. We can listen to understand, rather than simply to respond.

We create a climate of safety. Just like Elmer.

This is a series inspired by House of Friendship Kitchener’s 12 Days for Good project. There’s a theme for each of the 12 days – no geese-a-laying required. Learn more at http://12daysforgood.com

What are you nourishing?

Clipboard01I am about to wander downstairs and make shortbread, as generations of women in my family have done and will continue to do long after I am gone. Shortbread, fruitcake, mince tarts, pfeffernüsse, stollen, bûche de noël and tourtière are baked into our Christmas traditions with varying amounts of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, almonds and way too much butter.

Acknowledging that there are people in my family (and, perhaps, yours) who question whether fruitcake is food, or even edible, it’s safe to say that Christmas baking is about more than nourishing our bodies. We nourish traditions. We feed memories. We satisfy a craving for a time – real or imagined – when Christmas wasn’t about spending money but about spending time together.

When we nourish someone or something, we provide them with food and other things needed for health. We help them develop or grow stronger. Providing food is the most obvious form of nourishment. Today our local food bank put out a call for the most useful donations:

  • Peanut Butter
  • Beans in Sauce
  • Canned Fish
  • Canned Fruit
  • Cold Cereal

We also nourish spirits, our own and others.

Music nourishes my spirit, especially this time of year when some really excellent music can be found. We learn to tune out the ubiquitous drone of ‘Santa Baby’ and ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ and track down the carols and anthems that have been treasured through decades, if not centuries. (Speaking of which, I cannot resist the opportunity to promote our concert, tomorrow evening.)

What nourishes your spirit? Meditation? Prayer? A walk in nature? A call from a friend?A call to a friend? I’m betting it’s not fruitcake.

It’s easy to lose track of that side of ourselves in the pre-holiday rush at work, the gifts, the greetings, the tree, the travel and, yes, even the baking.

What are you nourishing?
Who are you nourishing?
How can you nourish yourself?

This is a series inspired by House of Friendship Kitchener’s 12 Days for Good project. There’s a theme for each of the 12 days – no golden rings required. Learn more at http://12daysforgood.com