Time Management

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.

4 Reasons Why I Still Wake Up at 4:22 A.M.

screenshot-2016-11-14-07-42-11Photo by flickr user FotoArt MB

This originally appeared on my column at Inc.com on 10/27/2016.

I love waking up when it’s still dark out. I feel the most productive when I can get several things done before most of the world is even awake. Eighteen months ago, I wrote a post about why I do that, called “Why I Wake Up at 4:22 A.M.,” and the response I received from readers all over the world was incredible.

I was talking last month to one such reader about how he could make some small changes in his morning habits to increase his productivity. The first question he asked me, however, was “Are you still waking up that early?”

A lot has changed in my personal and professional life over the last year and a half–I’m traveling more for work, my job has changed in scope as our company has grown, and I have several new responsibilities. Through all of this change, one of my most important constants is that I still wake up at 4:22 each morning.

Why?

Many people I encounter are a mixture of impressed and confused, or scared, by the fact I spring out of bed when most everyone else is still sleeping. But I actually find it pretty easy to get out of bed that early. That’s because I’ve discovered that determination and commitment to regimens are crucial–even during times of change.

1. I’ve recognized that things have changed

Since I published the piece referenced at the top of this article, Fuze has changed significantly. The company’s grown. My team has grown. I have more direct reports. The list goes on.

Throughout all that, I’ve kept my center by staying healthy, starting my day off right, and dedicating even more of my time to planning to make sure everything is as smooth as it can be.

Remember, having more or different responsibilities doesn’t mean you have to change what got you where you are.

2. I’ve embraced my constants

While a number of things have changed in my life since March 2015, there are a lot of things that haven’t. I still wake up at the same time–something I’ve been doing for more than a decade.

I find that the early morning hours are incredibly productive. Although my day-to-day roles and duties have changed, I’ve kept my early-morning hours free to devote the peaceful time to free thought. I also use my mornings to catch up on industry news and find out what our competitors are up to. I still vacuum twice a week. There’s also time for nonwork stuff, too. I’m still doing CrossFit every day at 6 a.m. and have started running on Friday mornings in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

3. I’ve learned to be adaptable

I spend my days running the product management team at Fuze here in NYC. I also spend about half the month traveling, to our headquarters in Boston as well as our various customers and sales offices around the world. During normal work hours, I don’t have time to just sit down and write anymore.

Rather than accepting that reality, I’ve chosen to be proactive in the early mornings. I use the time to write position papers, do competitive analysis, and try new products. I also do a considerable amount of planning, using Evernote to catch ideas that relate to product strategy. Once I make it to the office, I cue up what I’ve found and discuss it further with my team.

One of the biggest changes I’ve had to adapt to is the fact that I travel a lot more. Despite long flights and changes in time zones–think landing in Europe at 10 p.m. local time–I still force myself to wake up early and exercise.

You might think it’s a little obsessive to only book hotels that are within running distance to a CrossFit gym. I have found that no hack for fighting jetlag works better than taking a melatonin to get a deep sleep upon arriving, and then forcing myself to go to a 6 o’clock class the next morning. With a little bit of planning, you’re much more likely to work out and stick to your schedule. Your body remembers the pattern and starts to boot up much more quickly than if you’d given in to your jetlag and stayed in bed.

4. I know that staying healthy makes me happy

The bottom line is that no matter what comes your way or what changes in your personal or professional life, you need to take care of yourself. You need to take time for yourself and your job that allows you to plan better and become a more effective leader.

So many of us deal with changes by adjusting our whole routines. But, it turns out, sticking to some parts of your original regimen will help you adapt to the changes you face. There’s no sense in changing your entire life around just because you had a change in your life or job. Stick to what got you where you are, and chances are it’ll take you even further.

You Should Have A Date Night

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“I believe the change in attitude came from truly connecting and tuning in at home. This required disconnecting from work (e.g. turning off the computer and phone), and completely focusing all of my attention on the details of the home. Cooking a great meal. Helping with a science project. Discussing the future with my partner.”

— Scott Weiss, “Success at Work, Failure at Home

A great article by Scott on the challenges of balancing work/life when you’re the CEO of a growing startup. I think the insights are broadly applicable outside of just the CEO role. For me, working at startup after being at big company for 10 years has forced me to rethink several key parts of my own personal work/life balance.

I love to work, so a while back Amy and I worked on a few simple “strategies” for ensuring we stay connected regardless of how intensely I throw myself into my job. My favorite, Friday Date Night, is something we loved doing in Seattle and have picked up with gusto here in NYC. We need to work on “leaving our phones in our pockets”, but making sure we have one or two dedicated nights per week of just cooking dinner, binge-watching Netflix, and drinking good wine definitely helps keep me grounded.

Another strategy we’ve adopted is simple but effective: shared calendars and weekly planning. On Sunday nights Amy and I discuss the week and plan out what dinners, events, and shows we have planned, and then make sure our calendars are up to date. This helps because I can then identify one to two nights where I can work late without feeling bad, because I know Amy has a sorority alumni event or drinks with her girlfriends planned. You can’t always plan the work days that are going to turn in late nights at the office, for sure. For me, knowing I have some evening time where I can crush some deliverables, answer queued emails or do market research without stressing that I’m late for dinner makes it way easier to leave at a decent hour on a night that Amy and I have plans.

How do you maintain your balance?