Tag Archives: technology

The Missing Component that Nerds Need to Succeed

woman it engineer in network server roomAs an engineering student, I missed out on certain parts of the education that my friends seemed to get in college.  I took the requisite number of core courses, like English and social studies, but my curriculum was mostly filled with science, math, and engineering classes.  While my friends were writing papers, I was working on problem sets and computer programs.  I received a great education in engineering and science, but I didn’t get as much training in writing and speaking.  When I graduated I had to play catch-up.  Does this sound familiar to you?

Honestly, I can’t blame college for my stunted developmentStudent in glasses with books in communication.  It was my own doing.  I wasn’t interested in reading the mind-numbing classics or writing tedious papers.  I wanted to learn how to make things that were useful and solve problems that mattered.  After graduation, I achieved my dream and went to straight to work as a design engineer in Silicon Valley.

But when I got there, I realized that completing problem sets and computer programs didn’t teach me how to communicate with other team members, manage my visibility, interact with sales and marketing, or see the end-user’s perspective.  These were all skills I had to learn to be successful at work.  I had graduated from Harvard and my education was lacking.  How could that be?

It turns out, I’m not alone.  This is very typical of people in STEM.  We become technical experts at the expense of learning people skills.  There’s no blame there.  It’s hard—impossible, in fact—to be good at everything.  We all have to choose what to specialize in.  Some focus on the people at the expense of technical skills.  It works both ways.

Businesswoman talking on cell phone in officeBut we’re finding that we all need to have some skills outside of our expertise.  People-people need to learn technology to survive in today’s world just as technical people need to learn people skills.  We don’t have to be masters at everything.  But we do need to learn just enough to get by.

That’s why I developed the Reinventing Nerds program specifically to help technical people develop communication skills.  I get it that you don’t want to be smooth-talking, manipulative, or touchy-feely.  You just want to be able to work effectively in a team, manage your manager, and understand the end-user’s perspective to get your product designs right.  I know.  I’m a nerd too.

Face It: Face-to-Face Is Important

business meetingA colleague told me just today that a client paid for him to travel to have face-to-face meetings because they believed the results were much higher quality than phone meetings. After he flew all the way across the country for a few hours of meetings, he said it was worth it to get that extra level of interaction.

We often take advantage of current technology to communicateantennae instead of making the effort to get together face-to-face. Even talking can be too much effort. People have told me on multiple occasions that they prefer texting to talking on the phone. But we are missing out on a lot of information when we interact via technology. Some situations benefit greatly from good old face-to-face interaction. Building trust and resolving conflict are two such situations. It may be inconvenient—and expensive—to get together in person, but the time and money saved in the long run is well worth it.

I interviewed a group of industrial design engineers at a multinational company to find out why they preferred to meet face-to-face, even when it involved international travel. The engineers said there were many benefits of meeting face-to-face. These included:

  • personal growth (travel and learning)
  • ease of interacting remotely after meeting face-to-face
  • obtaining a “sense” of the other person
  • seeing what others are trying to accomplish
  • facilitating teamwork
  • establishing personal relationships and friendships
  • building trust
  • seeing others’ reactions
  • seeing eye contact and body language
  • clearly focusing on the problem without distractions
  • resolving issues
  • having quick access to decision-makers for approvals.

Some people think old-fashioned communication skills are not needed in the modern world. But don’t forget that people are people. We still need to interact, understand, and connect with each other. For all these reasons and more, it’s a good idea to hone your face-to-face communication skills.

How I Turned my Sitting Desk into a Standing Desk for Less than $35

baby at computerIt’s really becoming clear how unhealthy it is to sit at your desk all day and type on your computer. “Sitting is the new smoking” I’ve heard on more than one occasion. Do I want sitting to cause me to have an endlessly miserable old age? Right in the center of middle age, I’m already starting to feel stiff and hear creaks when I get up after sitting for a long period of time. The writing is on the wall. It probably is for you too if you open yourself to the possibility.

What are the problems with sitting? Sedentary behavior is the biggest one—not moving can lead to weight gain, muscle atrophy, bone loss, and joint stiffness, among other things. On top of that, a seated posture puts pressure on your spine, squishing the discs into each other. Even worse is what bad posture can do to you. Continue reading How I Turned my Sitting Desk into a Standing Desk for Less than $35

Call for Predictability as a form of Flexibility at Work

This is a compelling story from the New York Times on how new shift scheduling technology (and corporate desire for higher profits) affects lower-level employees and their ability to meet demands outside of work.

Working Anything But 9-5: Scheduling Technology Leaves Low-Income Parents with Hours of Chaos

Please comment on your own experiences and suggestions for improvement.  Clearly, flexibility and even predictability are critical to employees.  They are fellow human beings, after all.

Flexible Work Improves Employee Engagement

By Joanie Connell

surprisedA scary trend is emerging for companies to ban flexible work. Don’t do it. As explained in last week’s post about following along the fads without thinking, this is a bad idea.

The workplace is changing whether we like it or not. That is a constant. The workplace isn’t like it was and it won’t be like it is. The workplace requires our flexibility to keep up.

Why is this important? Because flexible work is inherent in today’s workplace. Some companies are trying to fight it, like Yahoo and Oracle, who have both recently implemented policies that ban working from home during business hours. This is a huge mistake.

working at homeWorkplace flexibility increases employee engagement. According to a recent Gallup study, remote workers are more engaged than on-site employees, and they work more hours too. The study found that a blend of working remotely and working on-site produces the greatest amount of employee engagement.

Those who spend less than 20% of their time working remotely are the most engaged… These employees likely enjoy an ideal balance of both worlds — the opportunities for collaboration and camaraderie with coworkers at the office and the relative sense of freedom that comes from working remotely… [T]hose who spend more than half of their time or all of their time working remotely have similar engagement to employees who do not work remotely.

On a more intuitive level, think about how the flexibility to work remotely has helped you and your organization. For example, how many people call in sick anymore? More often, they work at home when they are sick instead of taking the day off. Keeping the germs out of the office saves the whole team from getting it. People also increasingly work while on vacation. I don’t advocate this practice in general because I firmly believe that people need to take breaks, but if they are managing to balance their lives in this way, I support them.

When I was a professor and I had a baby, I made a point to spend time with my baby during the day when I could and work in the evenings and on weekends preparing my classes. Instead of 9-5, 5 days a week, I worked 7 days a week at various times. It was a great solution for me at the time and I was very effective at work. For example, my students loved it that I responded to their emails at night and on Saturday.

Now that my daughter is older, I still work flexibly but do other things, like exercise or meet a friend for coffee during the day. I still spread my work around at night and over the weekend because that suits me well. I mention this to make the point that flexibility is not only about family. People take advantage of flexible work to do many things, like go to the doctor’s and participate in hobbies. In San Diego, surfing is a way of life and there are numerous professionals who structure their work hours around the waves. I don’t know how good these folks are at surfing, but the ones I know are very effective at work.

Even if companies fight it, workplace flexibility is not going to go away. Technology has made it possible, global companies require it, and younger generations of workers expect it. Companies typically have two concerns about flexible work: (1) lack of control and (2) difficulty establishing a company culture. Both of these obstacles can be overcome with modern methods of managing and leading people. What these companies need to learn is that the workplace requires flexibility to keep up.  It’s better to embrace it than to fight it.

Stop and Think

by Joanie Connell

stop and thinkThe downside of operating at lightning speed is that we don’t have time to reflect on what we’re doing. We respond to challenges with knee-jerk reactions and leap onto the bandwagon without ever stopping to question whether this is the right way to go. We think it is right because everybody else is doing it and we don’t want to get left behind.

In today’s world, we are all under an enormous amount of pressure to do things quickly. We need to keep up with minute-by-minute stock prices, what is “trending now” on social media, whose kid is participating in the most extra-curriculars, which traffic lane is going the fastest, and what emails are already stacked up in our inboxes. It’s exhausting! Yet, we don’t stop. We keep running faster and faster, managing more and more information.overwhelmed

Ironically, the need for speed is slowing us down. Really. It. Is.

How could that possibly be? It is because we aren’t taking time to stop and think. When we run at full speed, we make careless mistakes. When we do too many things at once, we make haphazard decisions. When we feel pressure to keep up, we mindlessly follow the pack. If we don’t take time to stop and think, we may end up losing the race—remember the tortoise and the hare—and trampling others along the way.

CARELESS MISTAKES

Typos, bugs, and safety recalls are often caused by careless mistakes. We are racing to meet deadlines, under pressure to get torace car print or to market quickly, and we work fast without checking it over. Careless mistakes cost us time and money. For example, the most common reason for the IRS to reject an income tax return is because of a careless mistake, like the person forgot to sign the form. A rejection is usually accompanied by a fine. Thus, slowing down to proofread your tax form could speed things up and save you money.

As much as we like to think that we are good at multitasking, the evidence is to the contrary, especially when it comes to complex tasks. Of course, doing a load of laundry while you are washing the dishes is fairly benign (unless you forget about the laundry). Texting while driving is not. At work, we read email during meetings and wonder why our meetings are so ineffective. At home, we do our homework while instant messaging. It’s hard to concentrate on more than one thing at a time. You can shift back and forth, but even then you may lose time reintegrating yourself into each task. Often, completing a task before you move to another can save you time.

CROWD MENTALITY

Much of our world is online and crowd driven. Add time pressures to the mix and we end up with impulsive, irrational decisions that are made carelessly, without contemplation. Stock market crashes, fads, and riots are caused by a crowd mentality. We lose ourselves in the presence of a crowd. It’s called “deindividuation” in social crowdpsychological terms. When we get caught up in the excitement and momentum of a crowd, we lose our judgment and do things we wouldn’t normally do on our own. Riots after sporting events are a good example. Most sports fans would not smash car windows and set fire to things on their own, but when they get caught up in the post-game fury of a stadium full of fans, they can find themselves doing extreme things. The same is true in business.

Online interactions have a similar effect. People deindividuate when they are online. For example we’ve all seen people post comments on blogs or send emails that they would never say in person. We feel less personally accountable online, similar to when we are in a crowd. And what are we doing online? Creating crowds! People these days define their value by their numbers of followers, friends, likes and retweets. The news reports on what is “trending now” on social media to acknowledge what the largest numbers of people are doing and saying. It may be “trending” but it doesn’t mean it is a good idea.

SOCIAL COMPARISON

People feel better about themselves when they are better than someone else. When you get a B on a test, you feel better when you find out someone else got a C. Social comparison is a way to feel better about yourself by thinking or saying negative things about other people. Gossiping is the quintessential example.

The flip side of putting others down to make ourselves feel good is to compete with others to do better. To feel good, we want to outdo our neighbors, coworkers, classmates, FB friends, and Tcompetitionwitter followers. For example, if my friend is taking 4 AP classes, I should take 5. If the competitor is decreasing costs by 5%, we should decrease by 10%. If my coworker works 10 hours a day, I should work 12. If my teammate runs 12 miles a day, I should run 15. This also manifests with opinions and positions. If others in my political party are moderately liberal/conservative, I will be more liberal/conservative to show I am better or more committed to the group. After enough people do that, the party is broadcasting extremist statements. This is called “group polarization.” We all know what calamities that can lead to.

It’s tpauseime to stop and think.

It’s time to slow down and check our work to avoid careless mistakes. It’s time to pause and make well thought-out decisions to make sure we are doing what we want to do. It’s time to question the crowd to see if it is going in a direction we think is valuable for us to follow. The cost of not thinking is far greater.

Get Web Meetings off to the Right Start!

men on computerby Joanie Connell

Want to waste less time in web meetings waiting for the technology to work? Follow these tips to make your virtual meetings more efficient.

There are numerous tools out there for making virtual meetings possible, such as GoToMeeting, WebEx, Skype, and so on. The problem is, however, not everyone has the software installed or knows how to use it. Even if one person in your meeting is not up to speed, it can slow down the entire meeting. We’ve all experienced this, probably more than once. The key to preventing a frustrating delay is to prepare in advance and to make sure attendees are prepared too.

  • For a very important or first time virtual meeting, send out invitations ahead of time and have people practice getting connected ahead of time. “If you don’t test it, it’s not going to work, no matter how confident you are,” grumbled one seasoned executive.
    • Make sure people have the correct software downloaded for the meeting. Also, make sure they have computers that are able to handle a web meeting. Some people have limited processing power or very old computers.
    • Have people test their audio and video as needed. Many people don’t know that they need headsets for a good audio connection or how to change the volume on their computer or how to mute. Some people also don’t realize that some headsets don’t have audio inputs and they won’t understand why no one can hear them.
    • Have a backup alternative to computer audio. Offering a dial-in number for people to call in on their phones can reduce time wasted getting technology to work. Most people know how to do a conference call.
    • Tell people that they should have a good internet connection to attend a web meeting. A cellular connection is a last resort and public wifi is asking for trouble. As nice as it is to conference in from home, you may need to go to the office to have the right hardware and IT support if needed.
  • Include an alternative way to contact you in the meeting invitation. Email, cell phone, and Skype chat are some suggestions. If someone cannot get on the meeting, they will need to find a way to get in touch. Make sure you have a way to reach attendees as well, in case you need to call them to help them out or give them instructions for an alternative course of action.
  • Ask people to get there 15 minutes early. This means that people may start sitting down at their computers 15 minutes early and after they realize they need to install software, find headsets that will work, and get logged in, they will be there on time.
  • As the host, get there 15 minutes early to help people with technical problems.
  • Send out the meeting information again 30 minutes before the meeting. This will remind people that they need to get started ahead of time and clue in the clueless where the meeting will be held.
  • If you are the presenter and you have resources, have someone else set up the meeting and deal with problems that arise while you focus on the meeting.

The most important tip is to expect complications and don’t let them stop you from being productive. I recommend proceeding with the meeting and letting latecomers add on as they can. It sets the expectation that people need to be prepared so this won’t keep happening. In any case, here are some tips for backup solutions.

  • Email out slides or resources for people to follow along in case they can’t see them on their screens.
  • Record the meeting and make it available to people who could not get connected in a timely fashion.
  • Have a conference call number available in case it’s so bad you decide to abort the web meeting entirely.

If you like these tips, you may also like my tips for getting technology to work for in-person presentations.

Tech Tips for Presentations

  man on computerBy Joanie Connell

How much time do you waste in meetings—in web meetings or in person—waiting for the technology to work? Here are some tips for making your meetings more efficient.

  • Find out what kind of technology you’ll be using for your presentation.
    • Your own laptop? USB or other connector? If you have an Apple computer, make sure there is a plug adaptor for the projector cable.
    • Someone else’s computer? Apple or PC? What software is installed on the computer?
    • Do you need audio for your presentation? If so, make sure there will be sound.
    • Do you need the Internet for your presentation? Figure out wifi or other connections in advance, not to mention firewalls and passwords needed.
  • Get there early to set up and make sure it works.
    • If you can do a dry run the day before, that is the best in case there is a problem.
    • If it’s “just in time,” get there at least a half hour early. I recommend 45 minutes but some people won’t be willing to meet you that early. Perhaps you can meet the IT person early to set up.
    • If the person who is hosting you is not tech savvy, get someone who is to help you out, like an IT person. If something goes wrong, you’ll need them. Ask them to stick around for 5 minutes after you start to make sure everything is going smoothly. If the meeting is critical, have the IT person stay the whole time.

I gave a presentation last week in an auditorium full of people. I followed the steps above and still had a major tech failure. Per the host’s instructions, I put my presentation files on a memory stick and plugged it into his laptop. I opened the PowerPoint presentation and tested the videos I was planning to use a half hour before the meeting. Everything worked perfectly. Then, between the times that others spoke and when I got up to speak, the computer ran a hardware scan and installed some updates. (It was clear he hadn’t used his laptop in some time.) When I got up to speak, my video files were blocked. There I stood, in front of an auditorium full of people, trying to figure out why my videos wouldn’t run, wishing I had insisted on using my own laptop.

This is why it is important to always have a backup solution (or two or three). Here are some tips for backup solutions.

  • If you are using your own laptop, bring a memory stick with the presentation in case you have to switch to someone else’s computer.
  • If you are supposed to use someone else’s computer, bring your own laptop anyway. Bring a power cable! Bring extra cables to connect with various projectors and the Internet. Some people still use old equipment and not everyone has wifi available.
  • If you need the Internet for your presentation, bring a wireless modem. However, I highly recommend you find a way around depending on an Internet connection for your presentation. Download the files ahead of time if possible. You may find you’re presenting in a cinderblock room in the middle of a building and there is no signal on your cellular modem.
  • Make a PDF copy of your presentation.
  • Bring paper (yes paper!) copies of handouts.
  • Email out slides or resources to the host and/or participants ahead of time.

The most important backup solution is to bring your sense of humor along. Stay flexible and move forward even if the technology doesn’t work. Talk through a video example, write on the white board (bring pens!), or turn it into an interactive discussion. It’s even better if you have a backup plan thought out in advance, but no matter what; don’t let a technology glitch stop you from getting your message across. Humans have been communicating for centuries without computers. We haven’t lost the ability yet.