Monday, August 3, 2020

How the Pandemic Can Help Your Grow in Your Career



During these months of quarantining, working from home, juggling new schedules and home situations and just trying to remember what day it is, it can be tough to think about anything good that can come from this pandemic.

I'm not going to try and sugarcoat that "every cloud has its silver lining," blah, blah, blah. I don't want to offer empty platitudes that might make you feel worse. Still, I have been thinking a lot about how this pandemic is changing the world of work, and what it might look like when we come out the other side.

One of the issues I have written about often is the need to develop emotional intelligence. Before the pandemic hit, and there was great competition for workers, companies were looking for those who didn't just have the right hard skills, but also the skills that ensured they could get along with others, could communicate effectively and could collaborate. These are often referred to as soft skills, and they have been growing in importance in the workplace.

That's because even if someone has great technical skills, for example, an inability to talk to someone else, to be empathetic or be a team player can have a real adverse impact on that team's effectiveness or even on a company's drive to be more innovative.

I think that the pandemic offers all of us a chance to really hone our soft skills. We have all been impacted in some way -- it's been difficult to watch the suffering on the nightly news, or read about a family losing a home because they can't pay their bills. But the emotions we feel as we go through this pandemic -- loss, grief, compassion, stress and depression -- can ultimately help us be better colleagues and bosses in the future.

Here are some ways to deal with the changes and grow emotionally for the future:
  • Pass out compliments. Years ago, I heard this advice from a manager and I never forgot it: Put 10 dimes in your left pocket every morning. Every time you give someone a compliment at work, shift a coin to your right pocket. By the end of the day, try to have shifted all 10 coins. Even if you're physically not in a workplace right now, try the dime trick from your home office. You can send a compliment via text or Slack or Google Hangouts. You can compliment a colleague on an online presentation via email, or even pick up the phone. Compliments don't have to be long-winded, just an acknowledgement from you to another person: "I saw that you handled that difficult customer first thing this morning. Well done! Not everyone would have wanted to tackle that."
  • Be respectful. Everyone is under a lot of pressure right now, and there's no shortage of online videos showing people being less than kind. That's exactly why it's so important that you take the time to be respectful of your colleagues or your staff. Don't send late night emails if it's not absolutely necessary, and the same goes for weekends. Always say "please" and "thank you." Don't be late to meetings (and apologize if you are) and don't monopolize someone's time with your complaints or gossip.
  • Be adaptable. I know there's not one person out there who has not had to adapt in some way during this pandemic. Still, you may resent some of the things you've had to do, so think of it this way: adaptability is one of the key soft skills that you can develop in the workplace. Your ability to adapt is seen as being cooperative, a team player, collaborative and in tune with others. Continue to try and adapt -- it will get easier as you do it more often, and will have a greater payoff to your career down the road.

Monday, July 27, 2020

3 Ways to Ensure Online Meetings Don't Suck

Before I begin today's post, let me apologize for the blog being unavailable for the last several days. Due to a technical glitch (which I don't understand, nor do I want to understand), my website wasn't available. Things are all better now, so let's begin....




Once the initial shock wore off and we all realized our work lives were going to be upended from the pandemic, some of you began to look at what is usually termed "the bright side."

"I can work in my pajamas."
"I don't have to smell stinky reheated food in the office microwave."
"I don't have to attend meetings."

This last one, of course, didn't last long. As soon as the boss figured out how to use Zoom, meetings became even more of a big deal. They lasted hours. They included business and non-business items, such as how to make pizza out of dried beans and macaroni.

Now that we've settled into the routine of working remotely, or working with only some of the staff some of the time, it's time to rein back in those unruly meetings and establish some kind of order. Some things to think about:

1. Have an agenda. Just like in the old days when you met in person, meetings need an agenda -- and the meeting planner needs to stick to it. 

2. Stick to a time limit. Without a time limit, meetings will expand. And expand. And expand. Try scheduling them for no longer than 50 minutes. That's a tip I got from a management guru -- he told me that by having a meeting from, say, 10 a.m. to 10:50 a.m., it gives everyone time to take a potty break, check messages and be ready for an 11 a.m. appointment.

3. Be inclusive -- and exclusive. Zoom meetings mean that you need to get dressed and look decent, find something to keep your toddler busy and try and get your dog not to bark every time you shift in your chair. In other words, it can be a bit of a hassle. So, meeting planners need to think long and hard about who needs to be included in a Zoom meeting -- and perhaps even seek input from employees: "I'm having a meeting on XYZ. Are you OK with not being included, or is this something you want to sit in on?" At the same time, make sure you include everyone if the meeting is something like a morale booster or brainstorming session.



 

Monday, July 20, 2020

How to Connect More Easily With Anyone



Even before the pandemic, getting to know someone was difficult. Whether it was a new co-worker, a client or even a boss, finding the right mix of friendly small talk without crossing professional boundaries was a sometimes difficult balancing act.

But now, we have masks that cover our faces during face-to-face conversations, or contend with bad phone connections or video conferencing that can make small talk even more challenging.

Many years ago social psychology researcher Arthur Anon came up with a list of questions that are found to deepen connections. His research shows these queries only take about 45 minutes to discuss, but make participants feel better about the other participants.

Here's a sampling:

1. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

2. What would constitute a perfect day for you?

3. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained one quality or ability, what would it be?

4. What is your most treasured memory?

5. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?

There are more questions listed here, and some may not be appropriate for professional situations. Still, it's interesting to think about your responses to these questions, and how they can help you interact more easily with others on the job. At a time when we're trying to connect more honestly with others, this may be a great place to start.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Bad Zoom Habits to Break Now




When we first started using Zoom meetings, it was a learning curve for many. It was often funny -- the cat who constantly walked in front of a co-worker's computer screen or the pants-less spouse who ran by in the background.

But Zoom has become a daily fact of life for most of us, and a lot of these "funny" or "odd" or "embarrassing" incidents have lost their charm. Colleagues no longer want to look at your cat or hear your kid's TV program blaring in the background. They don't want to see you looking like you were dragged through a hedge backwards.

It's time to accept that Zoom meetings are here to stay, and it's time to conduct yourself just as you would in any professional situation. Here are some things to think about:

1. Prepare yourself. Don't show up to a Zoom meeting after just working out or just waking up. Would you walk into a conference room dressed in ratty sweat pants or with your hair sticking up in five different directions? You've had plenty of time to adjust to working at home and starting to dress like a grown-up. Doing otherwise signals to your boss and your colleagues that you're not taking them or your job seriously. (And don't think you can get by with using an avatar -- everyone is expected to show their actual face by now.)

2. Improve your environment. It's been interesting to see pieces of various homes while on Zoom. But it's no longer interesting to see your dirty dishes, your unmade bed or your dying plant. Many people associate a messy desk with a disorganized person, so don't send that message from your home. You may have a limited space to work, but take the time to convey your professional approach to your job -- or others may think you're just waiting to crawl back into that unmade bed as soon as the call is over.

3. Use your manners. Showing up late, slouching in your seat, messing with your phone and not being prepared for the issues to be discussed are all bad form during a meeting, and that includes those conducted via Zoom. Make sure you're speaking clearly, smiling when appropriate and sending a 'I'm-here-and-I'm-ready" visual vibe to others. Anything less than that is rude and unprofessional.

While many of us are working from home, our face-to-face contact with colleagues and bosses is limited. If you're not making the best impression possible during Zoom calls, you're seriously undermining your career because that visual interaction will provide a lasting -- and unimpressive -- memory for others.


Monday, July 6, 2020

How You're Showing Intolerance at Work



The ongoing protests and calls for greater equality in our country are prompting many changes, from renaming buildings to large donations to diversity organizations.

For many, however, these changes won't directly impact them. Whether they're working from home or going back to work, they may not really think about diversity other than to be supportive of various causes or to voice their concern.

Yet, diversity does affect all of us. Every day. Whether we can admit it to ourselves or not, we all show prejudice in various ways at work. This doesn't mean we are openly hostile to someone of color or nationality, but it still exists.

These prejudices also don't mean we're all bad people. We just need to become better informed and more aware of our own actions. Things we do or say (or don't say) can lead to real harm, whether it's damaging someone's reputation, ensuring the person doesn't get ahead or even leading to that person losing a job.

Here are some things to think about:


  • Your network. Check out your online connections, whether it's Facebook or Instagram or LinkedIn. How diverse is it? Do you have connections -- people you regularly connect to -- who are from different cultures, races, genders, etc.? Do you have conversations about topics outside of work-related matters? Do you listen? Do you learn? Do you interact with people who disagree with you?
  • Your effort. In your workplace, are there people with names that you find difficult to pronounce? Is that the reason that you've come up with a nickname or otherwise shortened the name to make it easier for you? No one should be forced to change his or her name for such a reason -- it shows a real lack of respect and professional courtesy. You may need to ask the person to help you with the pronunciation, but that's OK. Start making an effort to be more open and receptive to others who aren't like you.
  • Your assumptions. More than once, I've met someone in person who says: "Oh, you sounded blonde on the phone." What does that even mean? How do you sound blonde? Or, I've been treated derisively by someone because of the slight twang of my voice. We often make assumptions because it helps us quickly categorize people and decide what we will do in reaction to that person. So, a shorter-than-average man must have a "Napoleon" complex, a blonde girl who dresses preppy must be a sorority airhead and a Black woman who went to Harvard must have been an affirmative action student. Think hard about how many times you do this, and even ask family and friends to make you aware when they hear you making assumptions about colleagues.

We can all do better and there's no time to waste. Start today thinking about the way you interact with others at work and how you can really start to make a difference in your own actions and attitudes.


Monday, June 29, 2020

Why You Need to Be Worried About Your Job Now -- and What to Do About It



If you're still employed, congratulations.

But, also....be worried.

It's a sad but true reality that even if you're employed right now, things are clearly not going to go back to normal anytime soon. A new study says that 30% to 43% of U.S. employees will not go back to their pre-pandemic jobs. For every 4.2 new hires made, there will be 10 job losses, meaning that millions of people are going to unemployed.

Clearly, there are hard-hit industries right now such as those in hospitality that are showing huge job cuts. But think of the ripple effect these jobs losses have had -- farmers who can't sell their produce or milk because restaurants have cut back so drastically.

That's what you need to consider when you think about the safety of your job. If you work for a company that has a lot of government contracts, you could be threatened as the U.S. government begins to slash contracts with private companies. Or, if you work for a business that provides service or parts for water theme parks or even Disney World -- then you're going to be in real trouble as those venues remain closed or severely restricted.

Even white collar jobs are in trouble. Think of the entertainment law firms that no longer have entertainment business to handle because television and movie projects have been postponed. What about the accountants who handle the business for resorts? Those vacation destinations have been hit hard -- how many accountants will lose their jobs because there isn't enough business?

While your job may end up being safe, you should never be lulled into being complacent right now. Here are some things you need to do to improve your chances that you'll land on your feet should you become jobless:


  • Diversify your network. Look over your contacts on LinkedIn and other social media channels. If you're in advertising and all your contacts are in advertising or public relations or marketing, you're going to be in trouble should the industry take a big hit. Start looking for those in other sectors -- healthcare, tech, engineering, etc. You may need to make a real pivot to another industry -- do you even know anyone in another industry?
  • Grow your skills. Try to branch out. Think about taking a coding bootcamp, project management courses or other tutorials. Check out some options here.
  • Get to know your company better. A lot of employees don't really know much beyond the basics when it comes to the company's business. But if you're dependent on a paycheck from a business, then you need to know if that business is vulnerable. Do some online sleuthing, read industry publications and even try to get your boss to open up a bit about where he or she sees the company going. Paying attention may give you a heads up that your job may not be as safe as you thought.

Monday, June 22, 2020

How to Handle Going Back to Work After COVID-19



If you're still working from home, you need to start preparing to return to your workplace.

The thought may fill you with dread. Maybe you love working from home. Maybe you're scared of catching COVID-19 when you return to work. Maybe you're just getting used to your new routine and the thought of commuting and going back to your co-workers fills you with anxiety.

Just remember that you're not alone. We've all been experiencing a lot of stress, depression and anxiety since the world was turned upside down and we were required to quarantine at home.

"Uncertainty and unpredictability can really create an unhealthy amount of fear and stress, especially when it's sustained over such a long period of time," says Dr. K. Luan Phan, head of psychiatry and behavioral health at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.

Still, when the boss says it's time to return to work, you know that you will probably return to work. So, how do you do it and still feel safe? How do you prepare yourself mentally and emotionally to, once again, confront change?

Here's some things to think about:

1. Take your own precautions. Just because your boss says there will be hand sanitizer and social distancing doesn't mean you shouldn't take your own steps to feel safe. So, bring your own sanitizer. Wear a mask even if no one else does. Don't use the communal coffee pot, water fountain, beer keg, etc. Take the stairs instead of the elevator full of people. Some people are much more lax about social distancing and wearing a mask, but you don't have to be. Do what makes you feel safe.

2. Start the transition. So you've been wearing sweatpants and college sweatshirts since you started working at home. But now it's time to get out your adult clothes and figure out if they still fit. (No judgments!) Try on several outfits and think about how you feel in them -- if nothing works it's time to try a little online shopping to get yourself ready.

3. Get organized. It may have taken you a while to set up your home working space, but it's time to start thinking about what you need to go back to work. Start organizing the files, computer cables, workbooks, etc. that you're going to need to take back to the job.

4. Prepare your household. Whether it's kids or pets or partners, consider what will also make the transition easier on them. Do you need to set up a schedule that will mimic the one that you'll have once you're working away from home? Do you need to find new treats or toys for your pets to keep them occupied when you're not taking them for five walks a day? Do you need to prepare more freezer meals for when you're not home to cook when you want?

5. Remember to breathe. When we all first went into lockdown, we had to learn to cope with the scariness of it all, the weirdness of our lives and the uncertainty of what was going to happen. Think about what calmed you then. Was it listening to music? Talking to family more? Doing yoga? You may need to rely on those things again as you transition to working away from home. Rely on what works for you and call on it in the coming weeks as you begin this new change.