Networking Via Virtual Conferences

Networking Via Virtual Conferences - The Conference Lobby
Virtual Conference Lobby

Background

Networking has traditionally been something that needs to be done on the ground. Coronavirus (COVID-19) has thrown a wrench into all that among other things. Like me, you’re probably wondering what it’s like to do networking via virtual conferences?

As a freelancer I get most of my business from networking at conferences. Therefore, I am motivated on a survival level to see if the value of conference networking can be recreated virtually.

My first successful virtual networking experience was via QuickBase’s 2020 Empower Conference. I was specifically looking to experience the networking component as I’ve attended virtual networking in prior conferences and it was a failure. In those instances, the software was not ready for virtual conferences.

Networking Via Virtual Conferences – How It Worked

QuickBase utilized the 6Connex Virtual Event Software. Networking was via Breakout sessions. The participant was given a list of networking subjects to choose from. QuickBase is a low-code platform marketing to the economy as a whole. Subjects included: “manufacturing”, “small business”, “not-for-profit”, etc.

After selecting the subject, the participant was then asked to register their name and email address for a Zoom meeting. Once this was done, the participant was given a Zoom meeting URL. When fully connected to Zoom, the participant briefly met with the conference organizer panel that was assigned to that subject. The panel then randomly assigned the subject to a micro-breakout session of 4-6 people.

The micro-breakout networking ended abruptly at the allocated time. If anybody was mid-sentence they were cutoff. The panel organizers followed the micro-breakout by addressing everybody in the larger audience (~45 people) as a wrap-up and terminated the session.

I arrived late, due to work commitments, so presumably the panel organizers prefaced the subject before assigning people to micro-breakouts.

Lessons Learned

  1. Prepare your workspace for remote working. I wrote a tips article on this subject: https://www.textor.ca/preparing-for-remote-working/
  2. If you know before-hand what the conference is using for video conference software, try to pre-install it. Zoom is very popular though, I suggest having it pre-installed either way: https://zoom.us/download
  3. Test audio and video prior to joining if possible or given the opportunity to do so.
  4. Be ready to video conference.
    • Wear clothes as if you were going into an office.
    • Make sure the background behind you is tidy.
    • Avoid use of virtual backgrounds. In my experience as a public speaker and having been given feedback, they are distracting as they do not work that well. This experience has been consistent over many types of webcams and video conference platforms.
    • Enabling video adds to your perceived level of professionalism. Many folks may not enable their video and that’s ok. But if you want to display professionalism, start with your video on when networking via virtual conferences.
  5. Be familiar with how to mute and unmute. It’s best practice to mute when you are not talking and unmute when talking. I can’t stress this enough and if you only make one thing a habit when working remotely it is this.
  6. Be prepared to take notes. This helps you follow the conversation and ask interesting questions during the networking session. This is something we may not have the opportunity to do in real life, so take advantage of it. I’ve used this technique when publicly speaking on panels and it has noticeably improved my performance over those panelist who do not do this.
  7. Write all the people’s names down in order to follow-up via chat post-call if necessary. The conference usually has a directory so you may be able to track them down to follow-up on conversation items and/or exchange business cards (virtually of course).
  8. Keep to the schedule. Look for an opportunity to ask if there is an interest in swapping contact info. Leave this no later than 5-7 minutes before the scheduled end if possible.

Conclusion

Honestly, the hard stop was frustrating but I can see the value of having this power to “pull the plug” from a conference organizer’s perspective. Clearly, it will take some getting used to networking via virtual conferences. But I see that it can be effective.

I’d like to hear from other’s experiences. What do you think?

About the Author

An avid writer, Trevor Textor has been quoted by Reader’s Digest, NBC News, Reviews.com and MarketWatch.com among others. As a freelancer Trevor has a “swiss army skillset” and has proven able to successfully assist many small, medium and large businesses in most areas of their business. Ask Trevor if he can help: https://www.textor.ca/contactme/.

Review of article “When Your Employees Are Remote, You Have To Stop The Body-In-Seat Mentality”

body-in-seat mentalityThe “body-in-seat” fallacy is one I’ve followed for well over a decade and COVID-19 may finally tip the scales. I’m talking about “… [The] insidious attitude permeating many companies; that when employees have their bodies-in-their-seats, it means they’re productive.”

The author of the article “When Your Employees Are Remote, You Have To Stop The Body-In-Seat Mentality” puts this issue directly in the cross-hairs and explains exactly why it’s a problem.

“…[T]here’s much to be said for focusing on the results someone achieves rather than how long they sit in front of a computer. But when we’re operating with a body-in-seat mentality, we’re de facto telling people, ‘it’s not what you get done but how long you sit there that matters.'”

He further goes on to explain why top freelancers are more productive and how they do it. I highly recommend having a full read if productivity is of concern.

Body-In-Seat Mentality A Distraction

I often hear “yes but”. For many, it’s obvious that productivity and ability to work remotely all depends on the development level of the individual. The body-in-seat mentality is simply an inappropriate leadership response and distracts from addressing the needs of each individual.

And this is a problem best addressed separately from working remotely since it exists no matter what the setting. The Hersey-Blanchard model can shed some light on this and the leadership styles that need to be applied. The take-away though is that each individual needs varying levels of support and an organization needs to be able to supply this support. It’s important to note that the tools to address staff developmental support might change with remote work.

Body-In-Seat Mentality Blocking Productivity Gains

There is a large and growing body of research showing productivity gains with remote work. 

Reasearch by Adam Ozimek, chief economist at Upwork, shows that “32% of hiring managers say remote work has increased productivity“. Jory Mackay of RescueTime blog dives more into how exactly working remotely translates into productivity, which the reader can access here.

One issue exasperated by COVID-19 is technology issues.  Companies have not been ready to supply the technology and training required for staff to make the remote work switch. The NPR Podcast “The Indicator” speaks to Adam Ozimek about the future of work from home and you can listen to or read the transcript of the the episode here. The expectation though is that this is a temporary problem.

Preparing for Remote Working

Working remotely does not “just happen”. Preparing for it is critical. See my article “Preparing for Remote Working – During Coronavirus (covid-19) or Otherwise” for tips on where to start.

About the Author

Trevor Textor has worked in various roles requiring remote work since 1997. Since 2014 he’s been supporting small, medium and large businesses as a freelancer (contingent labor) with a “swiss-army knife”-like suite of skills. In addition to setting up policy, procedures and technology for himself and his partner he has also met this need with clients in enabling their remote work. Trevor has been quoted by Reader’s Digest, NBC News, Reviews.com and MarketWatch.com regarding setting up appropriate Internet and WiFi service for remote work. Ask Trevor if he can help: https://www.textor.ca/contactme/.

Preparing for Remote Working – During Coronavirus (covid-19) or Otherwise

Remote WorkingAs Telecom networks deal with “unprecedented” pressure it may feel like there isn’t much you can do to prepare yourself for working remotely. While that’s somewhat true, it isn’t entirely true. Here are some things you can likely do when preparing for remote working.

Preparing for Remote Working

  1. Plug directly into your internet service modem/router. If you think you don’t have a cable, try looking in your original computer/modem/router boxes if you still have them. They usually come with a cable and you may have collected some unwittingly over time.
  2. If online stores are still open, invest in a good router. I talk more about this in my article: “Forget a bandwidth upgrade! Try these 4 things to make the home internet experience better“.Consumer Reports came out with article echoing the things I’ve mentioned but better yet, they make product recommendations: https://www.consumerreports.org/home-office/work-from-home-covid-19-tech-that-will-make-it-easier/.
  3. If your router has a Quality of Service (QoS) feature, use it. Assign your work computer to the “highest” setting while making sure junior is watching TV on a lower QoS setting. Break out your router’s manual to find out if you can do this.
  4. Set any video, including video for a teleconference, to its lowest quality setting. Most video streaming services have a “download to device” feature which can make sure the device is not streaming while you’re trying to teleconference. Switching from HD to SD can save up to 25% of your bandwidth – article: “Netflix And YouTube Switch To SD To Ease Pressure On European Networks
  5. Think you’re ready for your work teleconference? Test your changes to see how well you did. The Cisco Spark WebEx Network Test measures all pieces of your internet service to make sure you’re ready; it’s not just about bandwidth!
  6. While you might not need a webcam, you’re going to need a really good headset (again, if you can still order one online). I talk more about this in my “PMI-SAC Remote Working Tips” article. Don’t forget to mute if you’re not talking while on a teleconference!
  7. Make sure your workspace is ready:
    • Have a room with a door that can be closed and that is quiet.
    • If you’ll be doing video meetings, ensure the background behind you is tidy.
    • Have a proper desk and chair setup. Do your best to make it ergonomic.
  8. Wear something that makes you feel productive. For many people this means not wearing pajamas but if that’s not you, then you’re good!
  9. Keep consistent work hours as much as possible.
  10. Go outside at least once during the day; especially important for those who live in areas where vitamin D supplements are necessary.
  11. Exercise at least 30 minutes a day.
  12. Get used to thinking about what is the best way to communicate to your team members depending on your needs. For instance, if you need to discuss something right away and at length, instant messaging might not be the right forum. Know when to pick up the phone or start a teleconference.
  13. You’re going to have to develop your ability to pick up on tones people are using. You may have heard that if you lose one of your senses, another sense goes into “overdrive”. Well, the same with remote working. You don’t have the luxury of a physical presence. More on this subject and more via the article “These are the 7 reasons why working from home can make you a better communicator“.
  14. If you need 1-1 check-ins, schedule them. Don’t assume someone is going to stop by regularly; make that happen.

Wrapping Up on Preparing for Remote Working

I hope it’s clear that being good at working remotely doesn’t just happen. Preparing for remote working takes preparation and some skills development. Don’t beat yourself up though, it takes time. Try to make the changes gradually if you can.

For more remote working suggestions see them here: https://www.inc.com/lindsey-pollak-eileen-coombes/remote-work-home-productivity-communication-self-care-morale-team.html

And another excellent article “4 Work-From-Home Mistakes That Cost Businesses Thousands Of Dollars” which outlines important rules teams can adopt to maximize productivity and overcome limitations that offices allow us to workaround but become big problems when working remotely:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/stephanieburns/2020/06/02/4-work-from-home-mistakes-that-cost-businesses-thousands-of-dollars/

About the Author

Trevor Textor has worked in various roles requiring remote work since 1997. Since 2014 he’s been supporting small, medium and large businesses as a freelancer (contingent labor) with a “swiss-army knife”-like suite of skills. In addition to setting up policy, procedures and technology for himself and his partner he has also met this need with clients in enabling their remote work. Trevor has been quoted by Reader’s Digest, NBC News, Reviews.com and MarketWatch.com regarding setting up appropriate Internet and WiFi service for remote work. Ask Trevor if he can help: https://www.textor.ca/contactme/.

How to write Productive Emails

Writing a Productive Email

Considering how much office workers use email it’s appalling how bad we are at it. Luckily there is a resolution and it doesn’t take more than a couple minutes to review the productivity tips and start writing emails effectively.

Starting by writing an appropriate subject line will immediately improve the productivity of all your recipients. Keep it to 3-4 words and make sure it describes the content in a unique way. More here: http://www.asianefficiency.com/email-management/productive-email-subject-lines/

For the email body, as long as it’s appropriate to your subject, keep it to between 50-125 words, use a 3rd grade reading level and do not include more than 3 questions.

Always consider the intended audience and adjust TO:/CC: lines. Consider if “reply-all” is appropriate and if changing audiences, consider if the subject needs to be modified in order to take the conversation in a new direction (thus avoiding the “grouped conversations” stack).

If your email is attempting to “hook” your audience – e.g. to get information, sell/market something or get an invoice paid, consider sending it in early in the morning or during lunch rather than mid-morning and afternoons. More here: https://blog.boomerangapp.com/2016/02/7-tips-for-getting-more-responses-to-your-emails-with-data/

Thinking that instant messages and shared calendars are going to be the answer to productivity challenges? I encourage the reader to reconsider: https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2018/08/21/640596144/why-people-cant-get-work-done-at-work

Remote Working Tips

* As published in the PMI-SAC April 30, 2018 email newsletter.

Remote Working Tips

Sometimes its impossible to avoid having remote team members. Here’s some tips for preparing to communicate:

1) On teleconferences, mitigate any “bad connection” problems by reminding all participants to mute unless they are talking.

2) Check the internet connection before the meeting. If possible, choose a wired connection over wireless. If the internet is bad or unavailable a participant may become audio only. As a contingency to audio only, having a team sync tool that offers use in offline mode can be useful. Examples are: Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox.

Extra tip: Cisco Spark has a tool for testing internet readiness for softphone calling, screen share and conference calls. In addition to bandwidth it also tests for critical real time application requirements such as jitter: https://mediatest.ciscospark.com/#/main. If the remote work site is a location that will be used often then it might be worth having the local internet service provider look into any issues the Cisco Spark tool finds.

3) Ensure the remote worker has a good headset. As long as the internet connection is good typically a stereo headset will noticeably exceed cell phone quality. It also avoids having to connect two tools: a phone and a screen share. Here’s a site with headset reviews: http://www.toptenreviews.com/business/articles/best-voip-headset-review/

Extra Tip: Have a visual cue to remind yourself of your mute status. This reduces the chance for the dreaded “talking while accidently muted” issue. The author uses the Logitech H820e wireless headset as the boom mike has a red LED.