Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tips for Setting Up a Remote Workforce

Since technology can keep us connected to work 24/7, many companies are scrapping the idea of traditional office space and instead embracing the idea that work can happen remotely.
Still, such arrangements can come with challenges:
• How does a boss keep employees engaged when they're thousands of miles away?
• How can a leader communicate key concepts effectively so that workers are on the same page?
• How can a manager detect via video chat that a worker is feeling low and needs more face-to-face interaction?

These are issues that Clint Smith, chief executive of email-marketing company Emma, confronts daily. Though his company is based in Nashville, Tenn., Smith has 100 employees working across the country.
"I think what I would tell anyone who is going to try this for their company is not to underestimate the complexity of the model," he says.
While some employees work in spaces they share with other remote workers or labor from a coffee shop, Smith says the key piece that's missing is the water cooler.
"So much happens through osmosis. You're walking by the office water cooler, and you stumble into these conversations," he says. "It's those casual interactions that are so important and something you can't re-create virtually."
So how does Smith handle the challenges of leading a worker who may be 2,000 miles away? Here are some strategies that he says Emma has used effectively:
• Hiring the right personalities. "It's hard to imagine what it's like to work remotely if you haven't done it before," he says.
"I had one employee who was just going to work in her apartment's kitchen, and I told her that I would rather pay for her to work elsewhere." That's because Smith says the isolation of working remotely can start to weigh on some workers, and even sitting in a coffee shop with a laptop "can help those who aren't wired to be alone all the time."
He says he also looks for workers who are self-confident and are willing to initiate regular conversations with him and other staff members to make sure they're kept in the loop.
• Having regular get-togethers. Every two weeks remote workers are patched in through video chats with other worker so a 45-minute staff meeting gives everyone a chance to connect and catch up.
Remote workers also travel to Nashville for big events such as holiday parties, and the company maintains a condo so remote workers can visit whenever they need to.
"They often know when they need to come back. Sometimes they come to Nashville because they want to soak up time with the people," Smith says. The key is "really being intentional about communicating. You have to build it into the routine."
• Relying on technology. Whether through email or instant messaging, Emma employees stay connected.
Yet even with 21st-century technology, Smith tells employees not to discount one piece of 19th-century communication: the telephone.
"Don't underestimate the power of the voice, the power of the face and the power of face to face," he says. A conference room is ready to set up video chats whenever employees need them, and Web-based group-chat tool Campfire helps employees collaborate.
Other collaboration tools used at Emma include Salesforce customer-relationship management apps, Dropbox file-sharing service, Basecamp cloud-based project management and Jive social intranets for businesses.
"I think we're still on the search for the ultimate collaborative tool, but all these things help," Smith says.
Smith gave up his office and now has more of a space where mail can be dropped. He often travels among his office locations, laptop and smartphone in tow.
Still, not all his leadership challenges deal with employees working too far apart.
"We've got 90 people tripping over each other in the Nashville office," he says. "Sometimes you're just looking for somewhere to just carve out a little space for yourself."

Friday, April 20, 2012

How Men Sabotage Their Careers

Are you one of those men who favors the use of sports analogies to explain everything from giving birth to taking over a third world country? Do you find nothing wrong with the fact that you chew your nails, tell dirty jokes and leave the toilet seat up?

If so, you may fit right in with the 12-year-olds at soccer camp, but in the world of work,you stick out like a foul-mouthed, ragged-nail, thoughtless slob who should never be put in charge of anything and certainly never worked with closely if it can be helped.

It’s something men don’t often realize: Their personal habits are often just offensive enough that women will avoid working with them. That means any great project spearheaded by a woman may omit such a man. Any female boss is likely to think twice about sending a man wearing a tie from 1985 and too much Aramis to meet with an important client.

While the majority of leaders (64%) are still men, a recent Zenger/Folkman survey found that women are ranked higher when it comes to what are seen as the competencies of top leaders: inspiring and motivating behavior; a talent for building relationships; and an ability to collaborate.

Many of those top competencies are because women often are more aware of how their personal behavior – from body language to grooming habits – affect those around them. While they are sometimes too attuned to others and squash some of their own assertiveness, their ability to put others at ease and encourage conversation are qualities more men should try to emulate.

For example, men may believe they’re doing nothing wrong when they crack their knuckles – or some other body part – in a meeting and don’t see why clipping their nails at their desk is such a big deal.

But every crack…crack….snip! is recorded by a woman. She notices smells – whether it’s your onion breath or the backpack that smells like the bottom of a gym locker – and that doesn’t encourage her to stop and chat with you about a big new project. She thinks that leaving the toilet seat up in a unisex bathroom signals disregard for others, so does she want you... (read more here.)


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Network Like It's 1959

In fashion, what's old is often new again.

If you doubt it, just look at the styles coming out this spring: 1950s-style dresses for women and streamlined suits for men just like the characters in Mad Men.

You may also want to heed another fashion from that era: in-person networking.

You're not likely to see anyone on Mad Men use online social networking to forge a relationship although they do put the "social" in networking with their lunch meetings and after-hour soirees. If you watch those interactions, you'll see a good example of how the art of building relationships has been lost through too much reliance on technical gadgets, one expert says.

Vicky Oliver, author of numerous books on career development such as 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions, says it's time that people learned some of the best techniques for networking don't come from friending someone on Facebook or tweeting tidbits to strangers. While she believes those social networks are useful, we all should learn to embrace "retro" techniques.

Of course, not everyone will like the idea of coming out from behind their computers and entering a roomful of strangers to network or getting on the phone to ask someone for help, she says.

"Everybody is shy," she says. "But it gets better with practice. Even striking up a 2-minute conversation with someone while waiting somewhere is a good chance to practice your skills."

So you have to put away your smartphone or drop the iPad and learn to take every opportunity to interact with someone face to face. Here are some of Oliver's suggestions for honing your networking skills:

• Travel the friendly skies. Join an airline club so you have time to mingle with others in an airport lounge.

Use layover times in airports to schedule meetings with someone in that city. Use an online golf club to book a game with other business travelers once you reach your destination.

• Volunteer. The great thing about working at a food bank or other community event is that you'll meet a diverse group of people from your area in a relaxed setting.

Not only will you make a good first impression because you're volunteering your time but you'll also feel an immediate connection with others because you support the same cause. It's often easier to strike up a conversation while boxing food or doing some other task where you don't feel as if you're in the spotlight.

• See life as a team sport. Join activities where you'll be around lots of other people.

Joining collectors at hobby shows, participating in a biking club or even starting your own book group will help you develop interpersonal skills and potentially lead to valuable professional connections.

• Learn from the masters. Next time you're at a social or professional gathering, look for the person who seems to be the life of the event.

That person is a master connector who is comfortable in such an arena and can be key in introducing you to others.

Don't fret that you'll be bothering the person if you introduce yourself and ask for help in meeting others because such people thrive in building relationships. Pay attention to the person's body language, tone of voice and the topics of conversation because these are all lessons you want to learn.

• Make social networking more useful. Using Twitter and Facebook can be helpful in making initial contact with someone but pursue tweet-ups in person or make an appointment to meet someone from Facebook at a conference you're both attending.

With LinkedIn, consider removing your "anonymous" tag when viewing someone else's profile.

"This will then let you see who is looking you up," Oliver says. "When I did it I was absolutely shocked to see who was looking at my profile. It can help you follow up and make a good contact."


Friday, April 13, 2012

When a Demotion Makes Sense

If you’ve ever been unemployed, you know the joy that comes from finally getting that job offer.

But that elation may be tempered by the fact that the job pays less than your previous one, or is certainly lower on the career status level than you desire.

According to an Urban Institute research, job seekers have taken positions that pay 16 percent less than what they earned before the Great Recession. It’s not uncommon for experienced professionals to accept lower status jobs, or even part-time work as a way to hang on to existing jobs or get new ones.

And while you may tell yourself – and anyone else within earshot – that you’re grateful to have any kind of job no matter the title or pay, the truth is that it hurts. And ticks you off a bit.
It makes you angry that your skills are being underutilized and that you’re in a job that won’t help you get ahead. You’re peeved that you are working alongside those with fewer skills or less experience – when in a sane world you would be managing them!

If this is your attitude, it’s time to make a change. Because believe it or not, you can learn valuable lessons from any job – lessons that could actually help you develop a more successful career. It’s time to flip your thinking by:

1. Attending management class. If you have less authority in a new job, use it as an opportunity to step back and observe how others handle their management duties. What interpersonal styles work best and which ones wreak havoc? What can you take from those observations to improve your own performance in the future should you regain a leadership position?

2. Getting back in touch. The problem as you rise in the ranks is that you often lose touch with the people doing the work on the front lines. If you’re doing a job (read the rest here.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Real-World Experience Pays Off

Journalism has always been one of those professions that demands experience before you even get your first job at a television station or newspaper.

In my case, I began working for the school newspaper and writing articles for my hometown newspaper by the time I was 17.

In college, I was required to work on the school newspaper and have internships before I graduated.

The result is that I entered my first job with real-world newspaper experience, and I not only benefited from all those years in the field, but so did my employer.

It seems more employers are clamoring for such experience, no matter the job. I recently did a story for Gannett/USAToday that shows one school meeting the need....

Since the economic downturn, one of the biggest problems for recent college graduates has been a dearth of real-world job experience.

They may have degrees from well-respected institutions, but many have been unable to get jobs because employers would rather choose workers with experience in their industries.

For the past 100 years, Northeastern University in Boston has had a program that addresses this issue. The institution partners with companies around the world as part of a co-op program to put students in the workplace before graduation.

The university received more than 43,000 applications for a freshman class of less than 3,000 in 2011, andPresident Joseph E. Aoun says he believes the number is that high because of the co-op arrangement and the part it plays in getting students jobs after graduation.

"Employers tell us they want those who have had real-world experience, especially on a global level," Aoun says.

Northeastern University students apply for opportunities to work for six months for some 2,700 employers around the world, in profit and nonprofit organizations. Students are interviewed before being offered positions.

Once a student's time with an employer is complete, students return to their classes although they can apply for future co-op opportunities, says Renata Nyul, the university's director of communications.

The downside: Students may need five years to complete college if they are hired for or more co-op jobs. But most find it's worth the wait; the National of Association of Colleges and Employers reports that 60 percent of students with internships or co-op experiences are offered full-time jobs upon graduating.

"We were happily surprised" when the number of co-op opportunities for students didn't drop during the recession and actually increased, Aoun says.

"Employers told us that they stopped offering summer internships because they did not think it was fruitful for them," he says. In summer internships, "they only had two months with the students, and the first month was spent just training them."

With the co-op program's six-month stint, employers said they had a chance to train the students, expose them to different skills and opportunities, and really assess whether a person was a good fit for the organization, Aoun says.

In the past five years, Aoun says the program has become more global, a boon for students because companies focused on competing internationally are interested in future employees who may have worked overseas.

"They want the students to be of the world," he says.

Even the application process for the co-op program gives students real-world experience, Nyul says. It teaches them how to promote their qualifications, interview with an employer and present themselves in a positive and professional manner.

While most students do receive a salary while working a co-op job, some scholarship money is available if a student will be working for a nonprofit and needing help with living expenses, she says.

Students in any major can apply for the jobs, and one student even did a co-op stint in Antarctica, Nyul says. About 7,000 students participate in the co-op program every year.

Aoun says the program continues to evolve as students and employers give feedback on how to refine it.

"Right now, I think we're in a period of knowledge explosion," he says. "Fields are growing constantly, so we're now looking at co-ops in not only established fields, but in new areas."

Historian James Truslow Adams once said there are "two types of education. One should teach us how to make a living, And the other how to live."

"This kind of program does both," Aoun says. "It's a different philosophy of learning. It teaches students how to make a living and how to live."


Friday, April 6, 2012

How to Develop Your Charisma

People known for their charisma must have been born with it — because if charisma could be learned everyone would have it, right?

Olivia Fox Cabane says charisma can be learned, but many people don't understand how to go about it. They make attempts that fall flat or use strategies that make them seem fake, annoying and arrogant.

"You can be born with a predisposition for charisma," she says. "And some people are naturally better at it than others, just as some people are naturally better drivers than others

"But just like driving, charisma is a skill," she says.

As an executive coach, Cabane has run into many people who use charisma correctly and recently wrote a book, "The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism," (Porfolio, $25.95)

"The thing to remember is that some of the most charismatic people — such as Bill Clinton or Oprah Winfrey— are also the most disciplined," she says. "They pay an extreme amount of attention to what another person is saying and don't get distracted."

That ability to listen intently and make a person feel like he or she is the most important one in the room is a key trait to learn if you want to be more charismatic. Among Cabane's suggestions:

• Get in the mood. Before going to an event, think about which meetings or activities you will be attending.

During this time, try to avoid difficult conversations and focus on pleasant or fun interactions. Consider using a music playlist that gives you the energy boost you need or helps you move into a calmer state.

• Choose your style. Not everyone has the same type of charisma.

For example, Colin Powell has "authority charisma" while Bill Gates has "focus charisma." Consider your own personality and what you hope to accomplish before deciding the kind charisma you may need.

It could be that a certain situation calls for you to be more kind and empathetic to others while a situation at work calls for you to be more charismatic by demonstrating confidence and authority — or you may have to move between different kinds of charisma.

• Listen carefully. It's not enough to stay quiet and watch the other person's mouth move.

You've got to be really tuned into what they're saying or it will be evident. If you find yourself zoning out, try focusing on your toes, which will "force your mind to sweep through your body," she says.

Another trick: Pretend the person is the subject of an independent short film and you're doing a character study, Cabane says.

• Be aware of feelings. No one will think you're charismatic if you evoke bad feelings.

Highlight what someone does right more than you point out what is wrong. If someone pays you a compliment, don't brush it off but take a moment to enjoy it and then let the person see that you're pleased.

Offer a "thank you very much" or tell the person that their kind words made your day.

• Mirror body language. Don't invade someone's personal space or dart your eyes around when listening.

Assume the same kind of body language as the other person to promote comfort. If someone is hostile or defensive, hand him or her something to look at, which can help break a rigid posture.

• Email doesn't count. "There is no such thing as email charisma," Cabane says.

"Face to face is the way you develop charisma. If you're on the phone, you can have voice charisma," she says. "Be warm, be present and don't try to do something else like typing on your computer."

What the biggest mistake people make when trying to be charismatic? Cabane says many people have running conversations in their head "full of self-recrimination" for what they said or didn't say.

This distraction is evident and undermines your ability to be present and be confident. It also makes people think you're cold, aloof or arrogant, she says.

"Your own criticism is what undermines your ability to be charismatic," Cabane says.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Is Working 24/7 the New Normal?

Achieving work/life balance has been credited with making workers more productive, more loyal and less stressed, and yet a recent survey from Harvard Business School shows that even global executives feel the need to be on the job 24/7. One even commented that his own inability to delegate means that subordinates should “be prepared to get emails at night.”

Said another: “I think that people today expect that you are available and going to be available at all times, and if you don’t return an email within an hour, or even minutes, then people think that you are not paying attention to them.”

“It’s not an objective; it is not something I want to do,” he said.

Meg Cadoux Hirshberg knows a thing or two about trying to juggle the demands of work and a personal life. As the wife of Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Farm, she and her husband struggled to balance the demands of a business with the demands of their children and marriage. Meg has also been busy with her own career as the author of two yogurt cookbooks and as a regular columnist for Inc. magazine. She currently is promoting a new book, “For Better or for Work.” I caught up with her to see what survival lessons she could share about balancing life in this 24/7 culture.

AB: Because of the difficult economy in the last several years, do you feel finding a work/life balance has become more difficult?

MH: Intuitively, I do feel it’s more difficult because we’re all under so much pressure to find a job or keep a job and that becomes the crisis. We tend to prioritize whatever is screaming the loudest and a lot of times other things fall by the wayside even if you don’t want them to.

AB: What are some of the common complaints you hear?

MH: Everyone is distracted, which is not new. But with the devices that keep us available 24/7, it’s more imperative than ever than we consciously prioritize our friends, our family and our community. There are some kinds of jobs that require you to think even when you’re not at work. We’ve got salaried executives who don’t take the vacation time they’re allotted because they don’t feel they can and they want to show they’re working hard, especially in a tough economy. So that means that critical bonding time with family starts to ebb away.

AB: But couldn’t they still stay connected to work even on a vacation, but still spend time with their family?

MH: I’m a big believer in vacations. It says to other people when you take that time away with them that you’re sweeping everything else aside and making the unspoken statement: “This is important to me.” You’re creating memories. If you’ve got to bring a device, at least limit the time you’re on it.

AB: Do you think work/life balance is more difficult for women than for men?

MH: I do think that women have a much heavier cross to bear. The bulk of maintaining the household falls to women. They’re expected to have dinner on the table ....(read the rest here)