Welcome to "Life as a Remote User" - Guide to the Virtual Workforce

This blog is intended as a guide to your professional development in the virtual workforce. My goal is to introduce you to fresh thought processes, allow you to streamline your professional life and guide you in your vision as you forge forward as pioneer of new ways.

What I’ve learned from playing with LEGO®

Tuesday, February 16, 2010 2 comments

(Photo: Legospective, originally uploaded by Guillermо.)

There I was, a young child, sitting in the middle of the floor in my parent’s living room with my box of LEGO® bricks, each in their own compartment sorted by color. My options were endless; with LEGO® I could be anyone, go anywhere and do anything. Now thirty odd years later in my own living room I relive those memories, sitting on the floor with my sons, toiling with them as they build their own LEGO® dreams.

As indirect as it may seem, I learned much from playing with my LEGO® building bricks. Many of those same lessons my sons will learn too.

1. Organization

“Organize your life around your dreams – and watch them come true.”

To this day, I am particularly organized; including lists, calendars, general tidiness and yes – color coding! Did it all start there so many years ago placing each color LEGO® into it’s own pile making sure none of the blue were mixed in with the red? Who knows, but I do know every day when it was time to clean up, each piece went back into its own color coded compartment ensuring the next time I brought them out, no sorting would be needed.

2. Following Instructions

I don’t remember them when I was a kid, but in today’s LEGO® sets there are step-by-step instructions of how to put together each item in the set. The coolest creations are made easy following along with page after page of pictures stepping you through the construction. Maybe it stifles the creativity a bit, but what it does is teach you how you can accomplish your tasks by following along with the directions. Not bad lessons to learn as you are starting out in life.

“Discoveries are often made by not following instructions, by going off the main road, by trying the untried.” – Frank Tyger

3. Creativity

“Creativity is the power to connect the seemingly unconnected.” – William Plomer

Once you get past the instructions and let your creativity flow, the options are infinite. With the LEGO® bricks in hand you can build whatever you want; there are no limits. When you build a straight up tower of bricks, it can be a rocket ship or a tall building or a sword, your imagination is your own limitation. Let your mind be your guide as you steer toward your life’s destiny.

4. Patience

“Patience is the companion of wisdom.” – Saint Augustine

Building with LEGO® bricks is a slow progression. It can be a grueling process, but it is a lesson in the value of patience. And patience is a virtue teaching you self control and restraint.

5. Attention to Detail

“In the successful organization, no detail is too small to escape close attention.” – Lou Holtz

Piece by piece you labor to advance your work of genius; each part needing to be in the right spot in order to achieve your desired outcome. I watch as my son studies in detail the pictures on the box, carefully calculating the placement and adjacencies needed in order to build his next LEGO® project. I recall similar analysis myself at a young age and to this day you can find me sitting down with a pad of paper and pencil to layout the design of my next project.

6. Adapt to the Situation

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. – George Bernard Shaw

One day you can build an airplane and the next day, with those same LEGO® bricks, you can build a skyscraper. If you find yourself a few LEGO® pieces short for your intended project you can modify your results by using another color, a different piece or scaling down your design. The possibilities are never ending. In life everything will not happen as we intended, we need to be able to revise our plans when necessary and go with the flow.

7. Any Mistake Can Be Fixed

“Ok, I can fix this” – My son upon breaking one of his LEGO® creations.

My son enters my office to showcase his latest LEGO® construction. As he extends his arms to present me with his creation as it breaks into two. There were no tears, no grumblings of anger, none of the negativity you might expect when something you worked so hard to build falls apart. On the contrary the first words out of his mouth were, “Ok, I can fix this.” We can all learn a lesson from this type of can do attitude, knowing no matter how awful circumstances may seem our problems can be repaired with a little ingenuity.

8. Problem Solving

“Any problem can be solved with a little ingenuity.” – MacGyver

One of the greatest characteristics I developed playing with LEGO® is the ability to know I could use my mind to remedy any situation. No challenge was too great; I would always be able to determine a method for success. It may not have been my original intended approach, but I knew there was always a path to my final destination.

9. You Can Build the Impossible Dream

“Without dreams, there is no reality!” – Luis B. Couto

Dreams are the means to a desired end. With LEGO® bricks you can capture those ideas, you can construct your vision no matter how large an obstacle it may seem. The same applies to your life; never accept that something cannot be accomplished – despite the barriers to can realize your dreams.

10. Never Give Up

“Never, never, never, never give up.” – Winston Churchill

Sure there are times when you want to throw your hands up in defeat, I did it myself and I see it from my sons as they construct a LEGO® projects, but the answer is to never give up. Determination is a key factor in life; if you endure the journey keeping the vision alive you will see some of the greatest accomplishments achieved you never thought would happen.

11. Teamwork

“The nice thing about teamwork is that you always have others on your side” – Margaret Carty

We can all use a little help now and again, my sons will periodically come up to us for assistance with their LEGO® creations needing my wife or me to snap a piece or two together. Sometimes we can all use a little guidance to get us through a tough spot and it is good to know you have others to rely on. There is no need to go through a difficult situation alone; the insights from others can often be inspiring as they allow us to see circumstances from perspectives outside of our own architecture.

12. Celebrate your Achievements

“The virtue of achievement is victory over oneself. Those who know this can never know defeat.” - A.J. Cronin

Finally, you have worked so hard to carry out your objective don’t let your labors go unnoticed. Boast your accomplishments with humility and place your LEGO® creation up on the shelf for all to see. The same policy is relevant in later life; use tact, but be proud of your accomplishments.

Those are just a few of the lessons I learned from play with LEGO®; I’m sure there are many more. Who knew back in 1934, when a carpenter turned, wooden toy maker, Ole Kirk Christiansen, took the first two letters of the Danish words LEG GODT, meaning “play well,” and put them together; the concept later developed by LEGO® would expand into a global staple of childhood toys shaping the minds, visions and futures of children into adulthood.

“Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” W. Clement Stone

What other life lessons have you carried into adulthood based on your childhood experiences?

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Before I die I want to…

Saturday, September 15, 2012 3 comments
 
 
Place your “Before I die I want to…” in the comments.
 
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Shhh! No one is listening to you. Here’s why.

Monday, April 23, 2012 3 comments


Shhh!...

(Image: Robert D. Brooks / Abe Novy)

“Why aren’t they listening,” you ask? Because what you are saying has no substance, no meaning, no purpose. They just don’t get it! So where did you go wrong? What can you do to generate a message they can believe in? How do you create content or a message they want to hear? Will they even remember what you said? And how do you get them to take action on it? Generating a Message with Purpose First your message must have purpose. Are you talking just to fill time or is what you have to say really going to be of importance to your audience? Be sure to consider your audience and determine if what you are about to discuss with them is really going to matter. Once you have done this it is easy to know the direction of your next steps.

“To talk or not to talk – be sure to ask the question!”

Getting their Attention Once you have decided that your message is important enough to move forward with; how do you do it? How do you get your audience to listen? Start with something to get their attention. A riveting statement, a perplexing question, an amazing fact, a brief story; anything that will turn their head and bend their ear in your direction, just make it relevant and make it something you can circle back to in the end. Developing your Message Know your audience and keep your message in context. Now that you have their attention; will they understand? Tailor your message to the level of your audience. If you are talking to a group of children, then make it simple and easy to comprehend. If you are speaking with a group of specialists, use their language and terms they familiar with. So what is your message? What is it you want to say? What do you want them to gain from your message? Think about these points. Include content pertinent to the idea you are trying to convey. Create an outline formatted to help you step your audience through the message in a logical process. Point A leads to point B which leads to point C and so on. Now you have your message laid out; is it clear and easy to understand? Take a second look, take some time away and come back to it with a fresh mind and maybe even do a dry run with a peer asking them to give you some critical feedback. What’s your back-up plan? Always have Plan B in your back pocket. Get down to the brass tacks. If you had to cut your 30 minute presentation down to 10 minutes or less, what would you say? You know your speech, you know the message you want to convey and you know the key points you need to drive home with your audience. So if the unforseen happens and now you only have 10 minutes to get your message across be sure to hit on those key points. If you are compelling with the key points, your audience will come back to you for more. Delivering your Message Ok, you have your message ready to go. How do you get them to believe in your message? How do you get them to remember? First, you MUST exude confidence! If you don’t believe in what you are saying, why should they? Look at them in the eyes when you talk to them it builds trust with the audience and will reinforce your believability. When you talk, use clear and concise sentences; speak clearly and avoid being monotone. Keep them engaged. Whether you are delivering a speech or giving a sales pitch you can keep your audience engaged by asking questions and taking time for dramatic pauses. Ask them to visualize what you are saying, it helps with recall. Use repetition, the more you repeat it, the more likely they are to remember it. Use repetition; the more you repeat it, the more likely they are to remember it. Be passionate about the message. Deliver your vision, make it their vision, get them on board and compel them to act. When you are finished, ask yourself: Do they agree with it? Is it something they will put into action?

I get it, I agree with it, I think I can do it, I’m willing to try it.” – Jeffrey Gitomer

Circle Back Bring it full circle. You started out with something to get their attention. A riveting statement, a perplexing question, an amazing fact or a brief story; now it’s time to get back to that statement or question. This will bring relevance to that statement which got them to listen in the first place. It will help them to understand your opening statement really does relate back to the end result. Bottomline: Prepare. Be confident, clear and compelling.

What are some of your secrets to delivering a message successfully?
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You won’t get help from me!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 Leave a comment

(Photo: Sarah’s Blog)

One of your employees comes to you with an urgent problem and you know exactly what to do. It would take you only moments to make everything right in his world again, but should you? By giving him the answer are you really helping him or are you inhibiting his learning process?

People tend to comprehend and understand resolutions to situations and problems when they are forced to work through the details and potential solutions, their learning capacity is greater when they use critical thinking skills to manage their way through a problem.
“Always make new mistakes.” – Esther Dyson
 
Let Them Make Mistakes
Let’s face it; no one likes to make mistakes. A mistake can be an embarrassing blow to an ego, but what would a person learn if they were always just handed the answer? Probably not a lot. Mistakes allow a person to grow and be enlightened to a situation. Mistakes help people to move forward in life by embracing the mistake and learning a valuable lesson. Think back to one of your mistakes in life. If someone had just handed you the answer would you have learned as much from the situation?
“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.” –Socrates
 
What We Can Learn from Socrates?
Socrates gained fame for frequently engaging others in conversations attempting to define broad ideas. During his conversations, Socrates placed himself in the position of student, forcing his respondents to act in the role of teacher.  By taking the subordinate role you can guide others toward a better understanding of established topic. Let them teach you about the situation they are having difficulty with; by teaching you, they can in-turn increase their understanding and bring about a resolution.
 
Interrogation
No need for the handcuffs or interrogation room, but much can be learned through a line of pointed questions. Start from the beginning and walk them through the problem they are struggling with step-by-step. Only ask questions and don’t contribute to the resolution. As your employee answers each question they will revisit the steps which brought them to the situation they currently face. As you facilitate this process continue to ask questions which will lead them to that “ah-ha” moment. In the end they will have resolved the situation on their own by working through each step.
 
So What? And then what?
If you could only ask the employee these two seemingly confrontational questions; could you help them resolve their problem? The answer might surprise you. The point of this line of questioning is to get to the source by digging in deeper to the source of the problem thereby leading to the solution. In the end as you continue to ask, “So what?” or “And then what?” they will have determined the source of the problem they are facing and how they can benefit from it or make a change for the better.

Some of my career’s most valuable lessons have been learned by working through things on my own and being allowed to make mistakes. Inspire your team to work through situations permitting them to succeed on their own. Once they have worked through the situation, allow them help others get through similar situations, which in the end will also help them to understand the means to a positive learning process.
 
What other ways can you inspire your team to learn?

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What do you want from me?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010 1 comment

(Photo: Center for Nonverbal Studies)

Living up to other peoples expectations can be difficult, especially as a remote employee your expectations can be even more elusive. So how do you get through it? How do you determine if you are doing everything anticipated of you and delivering what is expected of you?

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Ask Questions
If you want to deliver on expectations, you need to know what those expectations are. Be up front and revisit expectations regularly to determine if you are on track. Discover not only what your manager expects of you, but what is expected from you by others.

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Set Milestones
Setting milestones will keep you on track to achieve your goals. As you progress through your scheduled milestones communicate them, it allows others to get the sense of what you are actually accomplishing even though they cannot see you working first hand.

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Clear Communications
No one can see and appreciate the massive effort you are putting in so it is urgent to produce results and share your output with the team. Remember when you work remotely, no one is there to see your accomplishments first hand; the only way they will ever find out, is if you are delivering on your expectations and sharing your progress. They only know what you tell them and show them so don’t be humble, it’s not boasting, it’s communicating your progress.

Demonstrate Commitment
As with any great team loyalty and commitment  are critical. Be sure to demonstrate the attributes of a good team member:
  • On virtual team everyone works together and depends on one another so be sure to provide your team members what they need on time.
  • If there is an announcement or break through everyone could benefit from be sure the group is notified.
  • Share success stories with your team; if something worked well for you and improved a process it is likely something similar will work for others on your team and before you know it, your point of interest has become a best practice for the entire group.
  • For the most part people enjoy helping others to succeed, it makes you feel good inside when you help others in need. If someone helped you accomplish a task you could have not otherwise done your self or was just assisting you in meeting a timeline; tell the group, people appreciate the recognition and are grateful you recognize their efforts.
Sure it takes a little extra effort to keep everyone in the loop and to ensure you are living up to expectations, but in the end you will have achieved greater success through clarity and communications.
What are some best practices you have in place on your virtual team?

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“That’s Impossible!”

Tuesday, March 9, 2010 Leave a comment

(Photo: Richard.Asia)

You can’t get what you want and still make everyone happy. . . can you? Yes, it is possible! I have always been a person to find a way to get things done, a method of accomplishing the goals I wish to achieve. Maybe it started in childhood when my mother said, “no,” so I went to my father asking the same question. I can’t tell you how many times I heard the line, “What did your mother say?” Lesson learned; if it doesn’t work the first time–take a different approach. Preparation

“Start out with an ideal and end up with a deal.” – Karl Albrecht

  • First you have to know exactly what you want, define it and determine acceptable variations–this will keep you focused and on track.
  • Prepare carefully and research all aspects of the deal. This will ensure you are fully prepared for any counters you may incur.
  • Negotiation is nothing personal so don’t make it a personal attack on the other party. And don’t take the other party’s actions as a personal attack upon yourself.
  • Look at the situation from the perspective of the other party and show compassion toward their situation.

Discussions

“If you can’t go around it, over it, or through it, you had better negotiate with it.” – Ashleigh Brilliant

  • Listen to the needs of the other party.
  • Be persistent.
  • Don’t expect to “win” the first time. Your first job is just to start the other person thinking.
  • Work through the terms, discussing multiple resolutions.
Can you accomplish your objectives without compromising your values? Yes!

  • Give a little to allow the other party to feel as if they gained some ground.
  • Admit, when appropriate, the validity of the other party’s arguments.
  • Avoid ultimatums and other forms of non-negotiable demands.
  • You must be fully prepared to lose a great deal in order to make a great deal.

Resolution

“The first principle of contract negotiation is don’t remind them of what you did in the past; tell them what you’re going to do in the future.” – Stan Musial

  • Work together with the other party for a common resolution.
  • Don’t be selfish; try to base a solution incorporating the needs of the other party.
  • Negotiation is always best if both parties are happy and you can develop a win-win outcome.
  • Put your bargain in terms of his or her needs, advantages, and benefits.
  • Define and set a timeline for the transaction to take place.

Negotiation can bear a negative association so be sure to take the time to fully understand the situation, be a good listener, work to develop win-win resolution and never compromise your values. So dream the impossible dream, achieve your goals and gain a new confidence in life to go out and take the world by storm!

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I’m gonna count to NOW!

Thursday, March 4, 2010 Leave a comment

(Photo: jbelluch)

Has there ever been a time where you should count to 10 and relax for a bit? Well, I’m gonna count to NOW!

Are there ever times in your life when you should take a moment, count to ten and relax? Instead, you find yourself so infuriated you can only count to NOW! Let’s face it sometimes all we need is a little lesson in patience. Perhaps we should take a couple minutes right now to explore patience, before you blow your top.

“Serenity now!” -Frank Costanza (Seinfeld)

What is Patience?
Patience is the act of remaining calm and collected during times of stress, challenges or difficult circumstances.

Determining the Cause
What caused this turmoil, why are you so upset? Take some time to reflect and become conscious of the reasons you are so irritated.

  • Generate an awareness of what brought you to this level of impatience.
  • Are there any triggers prompting your irritation?
  • Be conscious of reoccurring patterns causing your patience to be tested.

Counteracting Your Impatience
When you feel the tension of intolerance building here are some things you can do:

  • Determine what got you to this point.
  • Visualize what the appropriate action should be instead of loosing your patience.
  • Exercise or perform a physical activity to exert energy and release the tension.
  • Take slow deep breaths.
  • Listen to some relaxing music to calm yourself.
  • View calming photos which bring you fortitude (i.e. sunset, water, landscapes, etc.)
  • Do nothing; take a moment clear your mind, relax and meditate.
  • Remove yourself from the emotion of the moment; if possible take an hour and come back calm and relaxed.
  • Enjoy the moment and smile clandestinely knowing you will get through this.

Stop Your Frustration BEFORE it Happens
What preemptive measures can you take to dissipate the emotion and ensure they don’t reoccur moving forward?

“Good things come to those who wait.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

  • Slow down there is no need for immediate gratification, in fact most successes are achieved over time.
  • If the situation is beyond your control; then why worry about it? There is no sense getting worked up about conditions you cannot influence, just take proper steps to prepare for the results.
  • Expect the unexpected; quite frequently events will not go as anticipated the first time around.
  • It is appropriate to have high ambitions, but stop holding yourself and the world around you to unreachable standards.
  • Get organized everything runs smoother when you are prepared.

What to do in the Future
Take it each day as it comes with a vision for the future. To succeed you need to prepare a well thought out plan with a clear vision.

“Our life is what our thoughts make it.” – Marcus Aurelius

  • Research and exude positive convictions sharing your optimism with others. Doing so will generate confidence among the group.
  • Remember what is important to you by having clearly defined objectives.
  • Convey gratitude for the gifts you have in your life and career; be it your family, friends, employment, customers, etc.
  • Act in a mature manner. Outrage is not the way to impress others.
  • Understand and accept; what is the worst thing that could happen? Most times if you center in on the worst case scenario, it is not as bad as you first made it out to be.

Patience is an important factor to a well-balanced and harmonious life. As you progress through your life and excel in your career there will be times of great stress. Take the time to be patient and make calm rational decisions rather than quick disorganized reactions.

What are some tips you have for patience?

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Facebook as a Workplace Tool?

Thursday, February 25, 2010 Leave a comment

(Photo: Robert S. Donovan)

Can Facebook really be used as a serious workplace tool? The answer may surprise you…
With so many virtual teams scattered and far flung around the globe we need to find a way to cultivate the team bonding experience achieved in an office. In today’s mobile workforce the sense of presence is limited which in turn decreases the opportunity for team bonding, communication and trust. Sure we all have email, phones and other means of communication; but what opportunity do we have to really get to know each other? What can be done to stifle the disconnect and bring people closer together? The answer is…Facebook.

Why Facebook?
What’s lacking in the virtual workforce is the personal bonding which typically occurs when colleagues work side-by-side day after day. Relationships develop; people learn about one another, hear about family life and gain perspective of each others personal interests. A bond is a close personal relationship that forms between people working toward shared goals using collaborative efforts. So how do you duplicate this in a virtual team environment?

How Do I Get Started?
Start by creating a Facebook group for your team. If you company is large make sure you pare it down to only include the members of your team directly. Be sure to incorporate your team identity and include basic information to the group such as:

  • Links to company site and other team sites.
  • Newsletter.
  • Upcoming events including: Webinars, conferences and other programs where someone from your team will be present.
  • Update your group or fan page on a regular basis with helpful information.
  • Answer FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions).

What Should Each Team Member Post?
Now you have your group set up and you are ready for your team to join the group and start posting. If any of your team members are new to Facebook here are some guidelines to assist them in determining the content they should share:

  • Individual bio’s
  • Background
  • Education
  • Work history
  • Areas of expertise
  • Certifications
  • Training
  • Work Goals
  • Family happenings
  • Personal Interests
  • Pictures
  • Personal Goals
  • _
    At first they may be apprehensive about contributing personal information to the group, let’s face it many people are a little uneasy about tipping their cards. Make clear to them you would not expect them to share any information they would not otherwise discuss if they were in an office setting. Explain to them you are working to create a more personal, humanizing dimension to people who are otherwise perceived as distant and unconnected. It is also significant to note to your virtual team there are many security settings on Facebook allowing them to pare down the information they choose to share with the group.

    What Should Each Team Member Avoid?
    How do you know what is appropriate? Of course it is imperative for people to know the boundaries of acceptable material. Set specific guidelines and add to them as needed, to start…

    • All information should be non-proprietary.
    • Be respectful of the company, brand, and reputation.
    • Avoid rumors and gossip.
    • Steer clear of stories or photos which may seem provocative or make others in the group uncomfortable.
    • Set guidelines for the amount of time spent online.

    Why Incorporate Facebook at All?

    “We think it could be valuable when used in an appropriate way.” – Haydn Long, spokesperson for Flight Centre

    Employers are embracing Facebook and believe it can help build a sense of community amongst employees and help foster bonds with clients. A spokesperson for Facebook stated, “Facebook is an incredibly efficient way for people with real-world connections to share information and communicate, including among people who work together.” Among other things Facebook is a good way to…

    • Increase trust: Colleagues get to know one another, then like each other and when they like each other they trust each other.
    • Immerse a new employee into the group by getting to know the interests of their counterparts.
    • Have long term employees gain further insight to their colleagues.
    • Allow for a connection and create a sense of presence you would otherwise find in an office environment.
    • Stay up-to-date as people’s interests change.

    Let’s face it remote employees are spread far and wide across the globe today and if you are looking to bolster loyalty to the company and generate a team atmosphere it is crucial you embrace the technologies available to your workforce. Rather than forbidding these tools as many employers do find ways to utilize them as functional workplace mechanisms.

    Can Facebook really be used as a serious workplace tool; what are your thoughts?

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