On joining Dataminr

I’ve been eternally fascinated with the role that technology plays in making us more informed and more productive throughout all parts of our day. There are unprecedented amounts of data available today, and AI is shaping the way we can use it to positively impact our work and personal lives.

This impact is why I’m so excited to be joining Jason Edelboim, Ted Bailey, Jason Wilcox, and the rest of the amazing Dataminr team as their new SVP of Product, based here in our NYC headquarters.

Dataminr is pioneering groundbreaking technology for detecting, classifying, and determining the significance of public information in real time. The possibilities are limitless, and I can’t wait to see what new scenarios we build.

Let’s do this!

#ai #realtime #data #joining

Thanks Fuze! Onwards to new adventures…

After almost 7 combined years of amazing experiences at Contactive + ThinkingPhones + Fuze, I am closing this chapter and starting a new adventure in NYC next week.

I will always think cherish my time at Fuze. It’s often hard to tell where the professional and personal parts of my days at Fuze separated; work is not quite “work” when you’ve been fortunate to enjoy it as much as I have.

I am immensely confident in the strength of the Product team that Steve Dietz, Jed Brown, Elias Sardonis, Mark Haase, Alex DiNunzio and I built. We created a set of roadmaps and technology vision for our products that extend many years into the future, and created an amazing internal team culture built on Fuze values and our career development program.

I am forever in debt to Julio Viera and Inaki Berenguer for asking me to join Contactive in those early days, and then to Derek Yoo and Steven Kokinos for bringing us into ThinkingPhones. Thank you to Colin Doherty for his excellent leadership and friendship over the last two years, and to the rest of the Fuze engineering, marketing, sales, support, & IT teams for working arm in arm together with me as we grew the business.

Good luck friends! #fuzelife

My manager “README” file for 2019

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Setting expectations with your team and co-workers is a critical step in building productive, long-term relationships with each of them. This can be a difficult process even when you are all fortunate enough to be working in the same office or building, but what about when your organization is geographically distributed across multiple countries and time zones?

Fuze is a heavily distributed company and my product team alone is scattered across four countries and six different time zones. I’m constantly searching for new ways to improve transparency, set expectations, and increase collaboration between our product managers. I read this great article over at SoapboxHQ, “How to Set Expectations With Your Team“, that describes the concept of a manager “readme” file, and was inspired by the concept and some of the follow-up stories I read about managers building their own.

I took a stab at building my own readme file and have been testing it with the two new product managers that we hired in November. The feedback has been extremely positive and they each gave me some more items to include. I’ve posted the entire deck below and would love to hear any feedback on it, or ways that you think you could use this in your organization.

Happy New Year!

Link: Michael Affronti README (Google Slides)

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See all the slides here: Michael Affronti README (Google Slides)

428 Offices & Counting: How I Work From Everywhere

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Credit @DesignDeveloper blog

I’ve been a prolific Foursquare user ever since it was released several years ago. I rely heavily on its Swarm check-in app to keep a digital journal of my travels for auditing, sharing, and the occasional #tbt.

I recently did some searches for words like “work,” “office,” “Fuze” (our company name), “working,” etc. in an effort to try and find all the places I’ve checked-in over the past two years where I was working.

What I discovered was actually a little surprising.

All in all, I found 428 “offices” in my travel history. That’s 428 unique places that I can claim to have been doing work at.

Here’s a sample of some of the random places I’ve called an office:

  • A Waffle House restaurant in Atlanta, GA 
    (breakfast meeting with the local sales team)
  • Stalled somewhere in the south of France on the EuroStar train from Paris to London 
    (a video call with a customer back in the U.S.)
  • A donut shop in Park City, Utah 
    (emergency virtual team meeting during a ski weekend)
  • The pilot’s lounge at Heathrow Airport 
    (internet was down in the BA lounge so they brought me in there as I claimed I needed to join this emergency meeting)

While I was looking through this diverse list from across the globe, I started thinking about how few of my friends and colleagues are able to work in these sorts of places with any kind of consistency.

Some of course, would just prefer not to, and that’s perfectly fine.

However, in working at a globally-distributed company I have found that my ability to work from anywhere has not only increased my productivity, but also has allowed me to enjoy the freedom of having the world as a workplace.

And for me, that beats the corner office any day.

1. Build Hubs, Not HQ’s

More than anything, leaders and companies today should focus on making their spaces more conducive to the modern digital worker.

At our company, Fuze, we’ve recently taken steps to do this by making our new headquarters a true hub for our workforce. Our offices are now designed around collaboration spaces – both for large-scale meetings as well as smaller, huddle sessions – in addition to more traditional, individual work spaces. It has lots of “hotel” desks for employees like myself that are typically there for a few days before moving locations.

We made these changes because an increasing amount of our employees expressed a desire to work from home, and a majority of remote/field workers (myself included) wanted a better experience when they are in an office for a few hours or a few days. This was coupled with the primary goal of using the office space to work more collectively with fellow colleagues when you’re face-to-face.

In this way our office has become a hub for face-to-face interactions and networking amongst teams. Unsurprisingly, this has led to higher productivity and better ideas, since workers can take care of their own agendas at home, and spend their in-office time focusing on shared projects.

2. Embrace Mobility

Individually speaking, in order to do this well you should invest in some common tools of the trade.

My must haves?

Get a good headset (I love the Apple AirPods). Get a great portable battery (I love my Anker). And get comfortable using remote collaboration software.

In terms of helping your employees become more mobile, take steps to build positive team culture by requiring video to be turned on in all meetings, and practicing effective video conference techniques.

Perhaps even more importantly, be sure you’re present and stick to your meetings schedule whenever possible while traveling. This will encourage your team to do the same.

At the end of the day, transparency and mobility like this is good for everyone, and has been shown to increase productivity and employee satisfaction – two important indicators of a successful business. The reason why is not a difficult concept to wrap your head around, since if employees are encouraged and able to work whenever and wherever they want, they’re able to get more done.

3. Be Physically Present

Another way to encourage working mobily and collaboratively is to plan time to bring your team together at one of the your company’s hubs once per quarter.

When doing this, budget and spend the money to bring remote people to the hub. Also, make sure it is not always the typical two-day “offsite” gathering, and instead do a week where everyone just “works from the hub.”

Doing this will leave time for spontaneous and planned face-to-face meet ups, which are some of the best opportunities you’ll have to connect with your employees during the get together.

Importantly, these 1:1’s will also offer a chance for you to promote further mobility by doing things such as bringing the meeting outside – a surefire way to be more effective and constructive with this time.

4. Balance Your Life

Ultimately, moving around a lot will often translate into suddenly realizing you never found the time to get to the dentist or run other life errands that you needed to be home for in order to do.

To remedy this, I make a point of blocking off one Friday per month to pack all of those appointments and tasks into, and I leave that day otherwise untouched on my calendar.

Doing something like this will ensure you remain grounded.

Embracing a flexible work style will unlock your true productive potential and probably even make you happier in your job, but without balance it can also allow your work to bleed too far into your life.

In other words, go see the dentist.

And, if you find yourself on a EuroStar train or sitting in a Waffle House somewhere in middle America, you can have that video conference, but don’t forget to also appreciate the French countryside flying by, or just how much you enjoy putting syrup on top of everything.

This post originally appeared on my Inc.com column on June 16, 2017.

How to Get 100 Hours of Work Done in Just 60

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This post originally appeared on my Inc.com column on March 27, 2017.

“Time is money.”

That tired old adage was used almost exclusively by the Wall Street fat cats of yesteryear, or your father when he was trying to teach you a valuable life lesson that one time.

Here’s the thing, though. Time is free, and we all get the same amount of it. Thus, unless you’re able to consistently find ways to produce more with the time you have, yours is going to be worth the same amount as everyone else’s–which is to say, zero (at least from a fat cat perspective).

But even if you’re not aspiring to be the next Wolf on the Street, learning how to be more productive with your time, especially in today’s age of hyper-connectivity–in which someone, somewhere, is always working on the same project you are, and will be emailing you about it tomorrow, early–can help you find success in all aspects of your life.

In my own experience, there are a few key habits one can learn to be as productive as possible. And, though, as with any habits, they will take time to develop, effectively integrating them into your daily routine will allow you to achieve a more balanced life in general.

1. Wake up early

Every weekday, I wake up at 4:22 a.m. I have for a long time.

Now, despite the litany of questions I receive about why in the world I would possibly do this to myself, it remains one of my favorite productivity hacks, and is without a doubt incredibly effective when it comes to keeping me healthy in my life.

Hopping out of bed before the sun has even thought about rising allows me to address the personal chores that I either won’t have the time to do once I get home or the desire.

You can read a full description of my morning routine and how I think it’s benefited me here, but I will give you the gist, since this is an article about saving time.

Some of the main things I try to accomplish before work include taking care of mindless household tasks like laundry or paying the bills, catching up on the latest news in the tech world, going to the gym, and partaking in a little self-improvement by learning a new language.

Each of these tasks exists under one of the four tenants I follow to maximize how proactive I am with my time in the mornings: Get to Work, Get Organized, Get Smarter, and Get Healthier.

Now I realize that altering your sleep schedule is neither an easy nor attractive proposition. However, I implore you. Start small. Wake up 15 minutes earlier every week for a month. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve with a little discipline and coffee.

2. Become an expert time manager

This is a simpler way to fuel productivity, but no less effective.

I would estimate that for a majority of you reading this, the areas where you will be able to trim the most fat are in places like answering email and scheduling. For these, don’t underestimate the value of using Google or Office 365 to set up organized folders and calendars using the platforms’ wealth of management tools.

Again, some tweaking might be required to find a sweet spot, but generally speaking, utilizing these tools will help you shave valuable minutes off these otherwise monotonous tasks.

For everything else, experiment with the wealth of productivity apps available on the market today. Personally, I like organizational tools like Hootsuite and Pocket to manage my social media and news, as well as YouNeedABudget for taking care of my financials efficiently.

3. Make your meetings active

Whenever possible, I like to hold my one-on-one meetings in an active atmosphere.

As with the rest of these hacks, it’s not a novel idea, but in practice I’ve found it to work wonders for both the quality of communication I have as well as my ability to maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle throughout a busy day.

Doing something as simple as walking outside and talking instead of sitting face-to-face across a desk will allow conversation to flow more freely, and encourages my employees to be healthier themselves, which ultimately leads to a happier team and a more productive organization overall.

If you can’t get outside, or are holding most of your meetings in a videoconference setting, remember to employ some active strategies to remain focused and engaged in the conversation. These methods include things as simple as using your hands when you speak or standing up, but can lead to vastly more effective communication.

Stretching this idea of activity even further, I’d encourage you to look into things such as intramural sports leagues for your co-workers, which, at the end of the day, can not only be superb team-building exercises but are also almost unanimously considered to be an awesome time.

And, to reiterate, being awesome (and efficient) with your time is kind of the whole point.

Left-Brain or Right-Brain: Which Builds Better Products?

This post originally appeared on my Inc.com column on February 16, 2017.

Left-brain vs. right-brain. Calculated, precise, and mathematical vs. creative, flexible, and emotional. Two opposing hemispheres locked in an internal battle to determine what from within makes it out into the world.

It’s a perceived struggle that has raged on for the entirety of human existence, and for the most part, the war has been balanced. However, never has the fight been more one-sided than in the current world of business.

The dawn of the tech giants and big data has thrust us into an era of emphasis on STEM and its introduction into a person’s education as early as possible. Some argue that to be successful is to be technical. Once revered backgrounds in the humanities, arts, and social sciences are so underrepresented in the workplace that the majority of undergraduates have begun to avoid such degrees altogether for fear of being unemployable.

But to invoke a few key ideas from these forgone disciplines, the overemphasis on technical prowess in business is a tragic, and often – especially when it comes to entrepreneurship – fatal flaw.

What Can The Humanities Offer Businesses?

As with many of the concepts in the realm of the humanities, the question of what value hiring right-brained employees can add to a company has a largely open-ended answer.

This is simply because the areas where those well-versed in the liberal arts can help a company thrive – such as in understanding what customers want, how they want to be treated, and how to anticipate their future behavior – are either hard to quantify or intangible altogether.

But understanding culture and being able to readily assess and interpret the ever-changing perspectives of society is something that can help drive successful innovation in today’s increasingly competitive marketplaces.

To substantiate this claim, look towards the startup industry’s insatiable desire for being “disruptive.” By definition, dreaming up a disruptive idea requires an ability to redefine or even create a new industry altogether. In truth, such a thing can only be achieved if one has the ability to challenge traditional theories, predict outcomes based on concepts rather than data, and then effectively communicate how and why this idea is important, to both colleagues and customers alike.

A few leaders I follow who have tapped into their humanities backgrounds in order to achieve this way of thinking: Reid Hoffman (Founder of LinkedIn), Mike Krieger (Founder of Instagram), Chris Cox (Former Product Officer at Facebook), Marissa Mayer (Former Yahoo Head), and Scott Forstall (Creator of iOS).

The Critical Balancing Act

Does this mean having employees with technical prowess is not important in business? Definitely not.

What’s more likely is that it’s best to have people who are adept at balancing both their technical and humanist sides when making decisions.

Going back to the aforementioned individuals, all of whom were graduates of Stanford’s Symbolic Systems major – a degree focused on studying psychology, logic, and linguistics – it seems the best product leaders tend to be equal parts philosophy and computer science.

This balance is useful because it allows individuals to bridge the gap between the more social, empathetic, qualitative challenges a business faces, and the more data-centric, quantitative ones which dictate a business model.

With both approaches in hand, individuals that drive a business, such as Product Managers, can have a higher level of vision when assembling the pieces of their idea into a coherent strategy. And this superior point of view ultimately leads to a product or service that not only knows what its customers want, but can also understand why – two importantly separate things.

Fuzzy vs. Techie

Sticking with Stanford for a moment, where students self-identify and differentiate between “fuzzy” (i.e. arts, humanities, social sciences) and “techie” (self-explanatory) disciplines, we can see further evidence of how each way of thinking remains at odds with the other.

At the end of the day the real benefit of a Liberal Arts background comes from its student’s abilities to re-think how something can work, and communicate this idea in a compelling manner. And an often overlooked fact is that the Liberal Arts also includes natural sciences.

I got a chance to read an early version of The Fuzzy and the Techie, a new book by Scott Hartley that comes out in April. He explores this idea that product leaders must balance empathy and psychology with design and development in order to be best poised for success. He attempts to debunk this faux opposition of technical versus non-technical by describing what it takes to create our best products, companies, and organizations. It takes both. Give it a read when it comes out.

And as tech grows increasingly complicated, it will become essential to have individuals who not only can understand how to build something, but who can also maintain a solid grasp on a product’s ultimate goals and direction amidst the often chaotic changing tastes and moods of its customers.

3 Steps to Make Virtual Meetings Actually Productive

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Photo Credit: StudioC

This post originally appeared on my column on Inc.com on July 18, 2016.

Videoconferencing is revolutionary. It allows people in the East Village to connect with international colleagues in real time–not only hearing what they have to say, but also seeing how they gesticulate when they’re talking. Seeing as though much of human communication is nonverbal, this is nothing to take lightly.

At Fuze, I manage a team of Product Managers spread across four different time zones. And I’m proud of the fact that I’m able to use my company’s software to connect with my team. I spend about 50% of my time traveling since I believe face-to-face meetings are immensely important. However when I’m back in my office in NYC, my days usually consist of joining back-to-back virtual meetings from my office for hours at a time. How exactly can you and your coworkers stay productive when you’re in videoconferences all day long?

Setup your office correctly

Believe it or not, making a few changes to the way you configure your work environment can have a tremendous impact on your videoconferencing productivity.

Not surprisingly, videoconferencing drives engagement during remote meetings. Those who attend videoconferences hold their attention 52% longer than those their peers who meet via conference call. What’s more, in a recent survey, 56% of respondents indicated that they multitask often during phone meetings. Compare that to only 4% of respondents doing the same during videoconferences, and you begin to see how these modern meetings are more productive.

But this all doesn’t mean that switching to videoconferences will automatically make your meetings more effective. You have to set yourself up for success. Here’s how:

Use your hands

Having a wide-angle camera (I use this Logitech webcam) allows you to be standing in full frame three or four feet back from your computer. Other attendees won’t just see your face. Wide-angle cameras make videoconferences more authentic because they enable you to talk with your hands, making it feel as though you’re in the same room with remote team members. Authenticity comes from engagement; when your meeting attendees see you actively talking and gesturing they know you’re being serious. Since people can see you in totality, they’re not worried if you’re hands are off-screen typing or using your phone. Remember, just because videoconferences are more productive doesn’t mean attendees won’t browse the web here and there. A wide-angle camera cuts down on those unproductive habits.

Sketch it out

There’s certainly a lot of digital whiteboarding software out there and it tends to work well when needed. To best mimic the in-person experience, however, you may be better off pairing your wide-angle camera with an actual whiteboard that’s facing it. That way, other attendees feel that much closer to being the same room as you. Sketching is a great way to get your creative energy going and help come to consensus faster when brainstorming with another person.

Stand up

The last thing you want is to doze off during a videoconference–something that becomes more likely when you have to go long periods of time without talking. To mitigate the risk, utilize a standing desk. This will make you more alert–and more importantly, less likely to embarrass yourself or the speaker by falling asleep!

Get up and walk out

Lastly, above all else, don’t forget to get up and out periodically. Though you may be tempted to stay in your office all day when you have back to back meetings, sometimes it’s okay to change the environment even though it seems to be working well.

It’s easy to get caught up in back-to-back meetings where you end one videoconference and launch another. In some instances, this may be unavoidable.

You should block yourself small chunks of time you can use to go for a walk, bounce ideas off a colleague, or have a one-on-one meeting. Movement encourages motivation. So take a break, get water, or interact with a local barista to make sure you’re not sitting (or standing) in your office all day.

Videoconferencing can seriously improve productivity. But you have to set yourself up for success. Follow these tips and you should see your videoconferences become much more effective.