How to Effectively Communicate with a Digital Team

Right now I am working on a couple of projects outside of my daily work duties. Both of these are with organizations that don’t have enough revenue to compensate their teams yet. That’s totally fine with me, because I think the investment of time and expertise is paid off with experience and networking. I’m truly grateful for these opportunities.

As the world economy moves away from a traditional 9-5 office environment and into a more digital workspace without offices or break rooms, we run into a huge problem with communication. You’re unlikely to “bump into” the project manager if you live 1,300 miles away, and there is no way that you’re all going to start and stop your work day (or week) at the same time as the rest of the team.

Between e-mail, instant messaging, video teleconferencing, social media groups, forums and listservs, we are absolutely overwhelmed by the methods of communication available.

In order to create an effective team, you need to orchestrate effective communication. I think one of the best things that people on digital teams can do is to have meetings.

In the traditional workplace, we see so many blog posts and articles telling us how meetings are unproductive time killers. However, we’re not talking about the traditional workplace, and we’re not talking about packing our calendars with them.

The great advantage of working digitally is that we have the opportunity to do things at our own pace and be rewarded for our results, not just our “time spent.” However, in order to ensure that the team is on the same page, it is important to wrangle everyone together.

How to Schedule a Meeting

Quite possibly the most important step in having a meeting is scheduling it. There are plenty of tools available online, but one of the easiest to use is a shared calendar like Google Calendar. When teammates share their calendars with each other, they can see when their counterparts are available.

It’s likely that there won’t be a time suitable for every member of the team, however steps should be taken to include as many people as possible. Another strategy to successful attendance is to rotate the meeting times to suit team members on different continents or working from different time zones.

Once you have identified a great time for the meeting, make sure to inform the participants. No, I’m not talking a tweet or a text message or a hidden paragraph in an e-mail. Create an appointment.

Those of us that work in a corporate culture live by our Outlook calendars. In fact, I’ve heard plenty of colleagues in my years say things like, “if it’s not on my calendar, how am I supposed to know about it?”

Digital calendars like those from Microsoft Exchange and Gmail are great because they allow us to collaborate and keep updated on all of our digitally connected devices.

During the Meeting

A meeting without purpose is just a waste of time.

Be sure to clearly define the goals of the meeting and ensure that you have someone taking notes. You and your team will benefit most if they walk away from the meeting with action items, goals and clear and concise expectations. Don’t use meetings to just discuss ideas or concepts, but use them as a tool to get things done.

If someone comes to a meeting with an idea, this is the opportunity to create a plan of action so when you meet the next time, you will have results to review.

Keep it concise. If the meeting is only carving 30 minutes out of its attendees calendars, don’t expect anyone to be happy if you carry one for 45 minutes to an hour. Time is precious, especially for those volunteering it to you.

After the Meeting

Follow-up is critical. If you don’t engage the attendees and your team members, you aren’t going to get the results you were pushing for. I’ve attended so many digital meetings where afterwards, attendees instant message each other asking whether or not there were any “to do” items, or any value taken from the conversation. Be sure that whomever was taking notes does an efficient job of capturing the topics covered, the takeaways and the action items and expectations for the next meeting.

Communicating Apart from Meetings

Meetings are just one small part of the way we communicate within teams. It is critical to adopt a standardized approach to how you will communicate with your team if you expect them to respond and be engaged.

If you are sharing a message on a private social media group for the team, then sending them an e-mail, but instant messaging them in between, people won’t know what medium they should be most focused on.

From the early stages of your startup, project or community, be sure to let your team know what your expectations are, how communication will be delivered, how often and what the expectation is for responses.

There are literally hundreds of tools available for communicating with teams, but it doesn’t mean that you should try to use all of them at once. Find what works best for your team. It will probably involve a combination of static communication (Google Docs), group conversation (Google Groups or Private Community) and instant/personal communication (E-mail or Instant Messaging).

Be careful, if you inundate your team with too much communication, or communication from too many methods, you might be overwhelming them. Also, if your communication covers too many topics, you might end up with a shotgun spray of results instead of a focused torpedo.

If you want to have a successful project, you need to have successful communication. Let your team help you shape the way you communicate and you will all come out winners.

Getting Back In Control

If you’re like me, you’re burning the candle form 17 different ends. You have a professional career which eats up most of your time, family spread across the country, weekends filled with social engagements and a million things on your to-do list. Or maybe you just have too much going on and feel like you can’t get things under control.

Image Courtesy of Jutta under Creative Commons 3.0
Image Courtesy of Jutta under Creative Commons 3.0

The biggest desire for me is to keep control of my destiny and ensure that I am doing what I want to be doing for the rest of my life. I don’t want to be filing reports that no one will read. I don’t want to be wrapped up in deadlines that don’t have any impact on my employer’s business. I want a purpose in every one of my actions.

In order to pursue what we love doing outside of our regular jobs, we have to make a lot of sacrifices. Whether it is staying up a few hours later each night, not being so lazy on our weekends or forgoing social opportunities to engage in our other business interests.

The bottom line: being a part-time entrepreneur isn’t easy.

If you neglect your e-mail for a few days, don’t return a phone call or suddenly find yourself not engaging with the people that can help make you successful it can become overwhelming very quickly.

I’ll be honest, I have been struggling with focusing on my entrepreneurial aspirations while balancing my day job, time with loved ones and just “zoning out.” The implications of changes at my day job have been draining and it has been so easy to just get home and veg out as much as possible. It almost seems like a defense mechanism of our bodies, to just let our minds release all of the tension that envelops us and to find relaxation in something that requires no thought or consideration (television is an excellent example).

However, as rewarding as that temporary distraction might be; as good as you might feel sitting and doing nothing, it will only make matters worse when you try to get everything back under control.

Last week I made a spur-of-the-moment decision which has impacted me over the last several days. Immediately after getting my mouth x-rayed to determine how invasive and costly a surgery would be to remove all four of my wisdom teeth, I decided to take the bull by the horns and have the procedure done right there.

It was something that I had been putting off for years.

I was afraid it would hurt. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to afford it and most importantly, I was afraid of the suffering I would endure afterwards.

But, in retrospect, it wasn’t that bad. The procedure took all of about 35 minutes during which I was under heavy sedation. I followed the doctor’s orders and haven’t experienced any pain or swelling. To top it off, after my insurance coverage, it was a fraction of the cost that I thought it would be.

So why did I spend so many months and years worrying about having this done?

It never does us any good to put things off and worry. Sometimes things might feel like getting our teeth pulled, but sometimes getting our teeth pulled really isn’t that bad. In fact, it’s good for us.

So this weekend, as I enjoy a somewhat limited diet, I’m grabbing the bull by the horns on all fronts. I’m attaching my 1,000+ message inbox, my 22+ Google Voice voicemails and numerous unanswered comments in social media. I’m replacing Google Reader, reinventing the way I post to social media and exploring the idea of a weekly Flipboard magazine.

Keeping up with this world of constantly changing and improving technology can be a lot of fun, but it is also a lot of work. The longer you stay out of practice, the longer you will have to spend catching up.

Just a few weeks ago I renewed my passion for what I do online by speaking at a local SEO Meetup. I was challenged by some of the questions in the audience, but refreshed by everyone’s curiosity. I knew after that class that what I am doing is what I love and there is no reason I should be doing something else.

So now, with that renewed passion I am heading back into the sea of notifications, plowing my way through and plotting my continual course to success. No, it’s not a straight line, and it might not be the fastest way to get there, but if we stop dead in our tracks, we’ll never make it.

In order to succeed in what you love doing, you need to be relentless. You need to beg your loved ones to encourage you. You need to immerse yourself in whatever it is that you love. You need to know it, love it and breathe it. You need to exercise your passion every chance you get.

When you decide to get things back under control, start small. Evaluate what it is that you need to accomplish: write a list. Using tools like Evernote and Google Keep can help you sort out your priorities and keep focus of your goals. If you ever feel like you are drowning, get back to your list, remember why you are pursuing your passion and figure out what you need to do to start treading water again.

Once you take a deep breath and dive in, you will immediately remember why you love chasing whatever dream you’re after.

How to Find Direction

Freedom of choice by Krzysztof Poltorak used under Creative Commons 2.0
Freedom of choice by Krzysztof Poltorak used under Creative Commons 2.0

At some point or another in our lives, we lose direction.

Most of the time, though, we know where we want to go, but we don’t have any clue how to get there.

This morning while I was getting ready for work I listened to an interesting presentation given by Professor Renata Salecl which “explores the paralysing anxiety and dissatisfaction surrounding limitless choice.”

In the talk, Professor Salecl talks about how being faced with a choice can make us feel. A classic example that I related to was sitting at a restaurant and ordering a bottle of wine. Salcel tells the story of a colleague that becomes anxious each time he is faced with this task. If he chooses the most expensive bottle, his friends will think he is a show-off, if he chooses the cheapest, his friends may perceive him as a cheapskate. So, as a general rule, he always chooses something in the middle and insists on paying for it.

That got me thinking. Do we always force ourselves into choosing something in the middle? Whether its our jobs, the clothes we wear, the food we eat or the level of difficulty we chose in sports and games, are we always limiting ourselves to the middle?

Clearly, we cannot all be number one at the same thing. That’s just impossible. If everyone that worked for every company was the CEO, there wouldn’t be anyone in the company to manage. It sounds silly, doesn’t it?

The way that we can override our natural tendency to be something in the middle is to dare to be something more. To make our own choices that might be off the beaten path.

Right now, more than anything, I want to quit my job and start my own business. (I am completely flattered by those of you that continue to ask me why I have not already done that.) However, quitting my job and starting my own business exposes me to a lot of risk:

  • What if I don’t make enough money?
  • How will I get health insurance?
  • What if one of my clients sues me?
  • Where will I get the money to advertise?
  • What happens when I can’t handle all of the work on my own?

If you are thinking of going off on your own, you are probably asking yourself all of these questions. They are great questions, too. The problem is, where you work, you probably have a department of people that worries about your company’s revenue, a department of people that deals with providing your insurance, a legal team that handles litigation, a marketing team that keeps consumers informed of your products and a management system to ensure the work is being accomplished.

Going off on your own, you are going to handle all of those things on your own. So how do you get the big push you need to do it?

You need to make the choice.

Most people do not start their own business because of the risks involved. They already have a steady income, a decent HMO and a corporate 401(k) match (if they are lucky). To start on their own would mean abandoning all of these things already provided for them. Not only that, but it is a lot easier to maintain a middle management job while flying low on the radar.

Why would you leave all of that? Who in their right mind would want to sacrifice healthcare, free retirement money and the ability to wear a sport coat instead of a suit on Friday?

At some point we need to make the choice to step outside of our comfort zone. To try something new. To be adventurous.

If you are like me, you have already made the choice to start something of your own. However, if you’re smart, you haven’t ditched your day job yet.

This is where the direction comes in.

If my working conditions were completely unbearable and I couldn’t stand another day in the office without harming my personal relationships, I would have left. However, things are tolerable and manageable. They are where I need them to be in order to succeed in my next venture.

In order to find direction, you need to find the people that will help you get where you are going.

Whether they are your family, your friends or your special someone, you need to find the people that will help point you in the right direction but not be afraid to tell you when you are about to do something completely stupid.

Many times I have come home and told myself I was going to quit my job and start my own business. However, I am lucky to have the people in my life to show me that I can’t just give up without an exit plan. Some of these people are mentors whom I have met online, others are former co-workers and the most important one is my lovely girlfriend, Brittani.

Each day they influence me and help me develop my strategy for success. They point out what I am passionate about and what I should work harder on. They challenge me to think about things differently and to renew my perspective. Because of them, I am constantly growing, changing and evolving my plan for success.

It’s with these people that I find direction.

Surround yourself with people that have been successful, people that care about you, and people that admire you.

Know what you want to do. Make the decision to change. Do what it takes to get there and depend on the people that enrich your life to help you find the right path to get where you’re going.

Once you get there, don’t forget to look back and offer your hand and share with those that could benefit from your wisdom.

 

Your Community Sucks and Here’s Why

A Guide to Jump-Starting your Google+ Community

We are now on day six of Google+ Communities and people are starting to learn a number of things very quickly. First and foremost, if you missed the opportunity to be the first to create a unique community surrounding one of your interests, don’t worry. It’s not about being the first, it’s all about being the best.

The first thought that crossed my mind when I heard that Google+ was releasing a communities feature was whether or not there would be a community for people that like to manage communities. It seems meta, I know, but it is very likely that the creators of these communities would like a forum to share their knowledge, tips, tricks and questions, while making a few important connections.

Since creating the Community Moderators community, we have had over 1,100 unique members join. We have had dozens of people’s questions answered, some very interesting feedback expressed towards the betterment of communities, and most importantly, a fellowship of people with like-minded interests.

In my last post, I talked about how Communities could be the answer to your biggest circle management nightmares. That theory only works if you are dealing with successful communities. So how do you make your community a success?

Bring the right people into the conversation.

A community is much like a new house, it is not going to build itself. However, it does require some of the same fundamental features of a house. It needs a good foundation, support beams, and protection from the elements.

Abandoned House near Hooper's Farm to Oast House Archive
Photo: Abandoned House near Hooper’s Farm by Oast House Archive (Used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0)

The foundation of my community is a group of people that share passion for a common interest. Without the foundation, we would have no place to establish our pillars for success. Finding the people the are right for your community is tricky. Of course, you could always spam out to all of your followers and ask them to come and join, but what is in it for them? To attract valuable members to a community, you must show them the value of becoming a member.

For the Community Moderators community, the value was easy to demonstrate, if you come and join us, you will learn from other community moderators, have a chance to ask questions and gain valuable insight towards growing your own community. It sells itself, really. However, for some community topics, it may be harder to market value. Regardless, if you can cast your community in a light that shows value to potential members, you are more likely to attract members that are likely to actively participate in the conversation.

Support the conversation and keep it going.

As a community moderator, you will quickly find that you cannot answer every question and stimulate every conversation. The remarkable thing about having a community, is that the members of your community can work with each other to answer questions, create engaging conversation and exchange valuable content relative to your topic.

Initially, it may be difficult stimulating the level or quality of conversation that you would like to see within your community. Just like in a cold room, people are often shy and do not want to be ridiculed for their opinions. Start with some light conversation. Break the ice with your community. Show them that you all have humility and good will and can learn from each other.

As more people become more comfortable with sharing their thoughts and ideas, the conversation will begin to grow. Before you know it, you may have to call for some help to make sure the conversations are headed in the right direction and that people are familiar with your community and its guidelines.

Protect your community from the elements.

The Internet is like any other place in the world. It has good people, it has bad people and it has some people that just don’t know any better. Your job as a community owner is to ensure that you are moderating your community in a fashion that is not restricting free speech, but keeping out unnecessary commercial solicitations, spam and otherwise annoying contributions.

When you begin to protect your community from spammers, trolls and bullies, keep in mind that you are not InterPOL and your function isn’t to control what every member of your community has to say. Your just to to facilitate the conversation, keep it rich, keep it on topic (if necessary) and keep the evil doers at bay.

When deciding how to moderate (not police) your community, you might want to consider establishing a Code of Conduct or set of Community Guidelines. I have worked with the Google+ community at large to create an open-source set of Community Guidelines that you can find on github. These guidelines are free for you to use, interpret, change or use how you would like. If you would like to contribute to the project, please free to do so.

Keep in mind that your community guidelines should be general, light-hearted but also clear and concise. Your goal is not to create a rule for every possible situation, but to express to the community that certain behaviors such as hate speech, bullying or spam will not be tolerated. Set the tone early and remain consistent and your community will respect your efforts.

Most importantly, as you watch your community grow, remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

How to Better Manage Your Circles in Google+

With the release of Google’s new “Community” feature on Google+, you can take a deep breath and stop trying to sort each and every person you come across into the right interest-based circle. The community function allows you to focus on not only who you are interested in, but what you are interested in. As communities begin to develop and mature and you continue to use them, you might find yourself spending less time managing your circles.

Photo By Leo Reynolds used under Creative Commons 2.0
Photo By Leo Reynolds used under Creative Commons 2.0

Communities take the guesswork out of circles.

Up until this week, you were charged with the task of keeping up with people on Google+ exclusively through circles. If you found someone that was also interested in Technology, you might have added them to your Tech circle, but realized they are also passionate about cats. You hate cats. Communities solves that problem. Sometimes we aren’t as interested in the people we interact with as we are interested in the topic at hand.

Now with communities, you can focus on conversations focused around topics that interest you and not just people that may have said something interesting at one point in time. No longer do you need to blindly create circles centered around topics in fear of “missing” something relevant. With communities, you can rely on quality curation of the content you’re really looking for.

So what should you do with all of those topical circles, or the random circle shares you added? Give them a rest. Go into the individual sliders and pull the volume down to ‘Mute.’ Give it a week or two. Notice a difference? Less noise? I guess you can live without that circle after all…

5,000 People, That’s It?

The notion of being able to “follow” 5,000 people is ridiculous and if you claim to be able to do it with any sort of consistency, then you have super-human powers. In fact, a study with Facebook users found that if you follow too many people, you might become unhappy.

“Among the group who read updates, the study revealed that having 354 Facebook friends seemed to be the tipping point after which people were increasingly less happy with their lives.” – Menshealth.com

When you look at the way you manage circles on Google+, ask yourself “Why did I follow these people?” Maybe you thought that keeping in touch with a group of people could lead to a new job. However, if you were following people just because you thought the picture they posted that one time was interesting, you are probably circling for the wrong reasons.

Today I chatted on the phone with Laurie DesAutels, a talent acquisition expert that specializes in connecting with people based on their skills and talent. “If I’m going to be interacting with 5,000 people in my circle, I’ve got to be kind of picky. I want it to be people that post regularly and people that I want to see in my timeline.”

She went on to say “It’s not all about quantity, it’s about quality.”

Use your circles to connect with the people that you care about.

Keeping your topical correspondence and your personal/business correspondence separate has just become that much easier. Focus less on strangers that only peak your interests 10% of the time and start focusing on the people you care about through your circles and the topics that interest you through communities.

Now that you have a degree of separation between relationships and interests, you should be able to better strengthen and develop your relationships while enjoying more relevant content centered around your topics of interest.

Give it a try, hit the mute button on your random circles and leave the Home stream to people you care about.

What do you think? Are Google+ Communities the best thing since sliced bread, or just another distraction? Will Communities help you turn down the noise and turn up the volume on the things you love?

A Week In Review: Taking Content Curation on Google+ to the Next Level

A few of Google+’s power users, such as +Mike Elgan, have touted the network as their new blogging platform. I have to concede that the majority of my content creation and curation takes place on Google+, but I’m not completely satisfied.

The way Google aggregates your posts and content doesn’t make your list of posts easily digestible. Looking at my profile, you’ll see a mess of status updates, long form posts, photographs, check-ins and shared posts from other creators.

What I would really like to see is a way to organize my content on my profile. Not in the quirky way you organize posts on your Facebook timeline, but in a blog-like fashion, much like Blogger.

Until then, we have a great tool at our disposal. We now have the ability to embed Google Docs into our posts. Embedded today for your enjoyment is my last week of quality content. I’ve sorted out some of the less valuable content and left you with what I call my quality posts.

Take a look at the Google Presentation and let me know what you think of the idea. This is a fairly simply presentation to compose, can be easily assembled, shared and gives me a vehicle to notify my audience without spamming them 25 times during the week.

Setting one up is easy. Just launch Google Drive, create a presentation and add links to your favorite posts. Once you’re done, share away. Since you’ve digested everything into a neat package, your followers might not mind a notification in their inbox…

How to Create Consistency Across Your Brand

So, here you are. You’ve arrived. You’re on Google+ and probably at least a half dozen or so other social networks. So what’s next?

If you’re here for a particular reason, maybe you’re a content creator, a brand ambassador or a marketer looking to gain exposure to your content, or you’re just here building your personal brand, it’s important to keep things consistent.

Think about the air pressure in your tires, if you have one under-inflated, two over-inflated and one at the right pressure, your car probably isn’t going to get the best gas mileage or keep you going in the right direction without a little help from you. Marketing yourself online is actually very similar. Continue reading How to Create Consistency Across Your Brand

How to Use Craigslist Better with GMail and Google Voice

So, tonight I was on a quest to liquidate some furniture from my house. It’s mostly inexpensive stuff from +IKEA that I have accumulated over the years and will no longer have room for in my new apartment.

In order to quickly get rid of it, I decided to post it on Craigslist for FREE! Yes, that magic four-letter word. But, I wouldn’t dare do that without a strategy.

I posted several things simultaneously on Craigslist, the furniture Continue reading How to Use Craigslist Better with GMail and Google Voice

Why You Need a Good Support System

One of the freedoms of being an entrepreneur is exactly that: freedom. You can try a million different things, you can make changes on the fly and you can ultimately chose to do whatever it is you want to do however it is you want to do it. But, let’s face it, sometimes things go wrong.

Inevitably, you are going to be faced with a situation, a problem or an issue that you don’t have all of the answers for. Maybe you get too far in over your head with a particular project, or a client asks you for one thing, and it turns out they are really looking for something completely different. Having a good support system in place will make you shine in these circumstances. Continue reading Why You Need a Good Support System