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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.

1 Simple Change to Make Your One-on-One Meetings Instantly More Productive

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This post originally appeared in my Inc.com column on August 12, 2016

Why I Fell in Love With Walking

I’m the VP of Product at Fuze, a tech company in the enterprise communication space. I’ve been an athlete and fitness enthusiast for about as long as I’ve been a geek, and in a past life I became a certified personal trainer at my local gym during college. Over the years I have learned that there’s a science behind feeling better as a result of moving and being active. Working as a personal trainer got me excited to help my clients be happy and healthy–which ultimately resulted in them feeling inspired and excited. Nothing made me happier than to see my clients achieve their fitness goals and then get ready for the next challenge.

Several years later while working at Microsoft I remember getting restless during a 1:1 with one of my team members; it was a gorgeous Seattle summer day outside and I hated being inside the office. I decided to try something simple and different during my next 1:1. Instead of sitting in my office for the meeting, I asked my team to try walking around campus and talking with me instead. Microsoft had these wonderful soccer fields that made it easy to do some laps around.

Not only did this turn out to be a healthy activity, the resulting conversations were also incredibly more personalized and free-flowing than they’d be if we just sat around in the office going over the same content.

I quickly found that walking meetings served as a great way to merge my passion for physical activities with the needs of management, meetings, and other work tasks. There’s a benefit from a business perspective, and a clear benefit with respect to you and your teams’ healthiness.

Build a Healthy Team

Right around the time I started walking for my meetings at Microsoft, the first of the quantified-self set of companies launched and, being a data and gadget geek, I bought a Fitbit to start tracking my steps during runs, soccer, and daily activities. Sometimes after meetings I would share the step count graphs from my FitBit profile with my employees to celebrate that we hit funny milestones like “longest meeting of the week in steps” or “fastest meeting in mph.”

My employees quickly took notice. Many of them bought their own devices and we started to enjoy a fun little competition. One of my team members at Microsoft was so inspired by some of our conversations that she got a Fitbit and a nutritionist to help focus on her health and wellness. We talked each week about her progress and I shared tips and insights from my own experience to help. It was wonderful to see her achieve a number of her personal health goals while excelling at being a product manager.

If walking meetings aren’t your thing, there are a number of other ways you can bring your team together while encouraging healthy behavior.

During my Microsoft days, I organized intramural soccer events between different teams in our group as we had those soccer fields nearby. In almost every city there are soccer fields and parks where you can easily organize a pick-up game for your team.

When I was at Contactive, my team and I joined an intramural dodgeball league that played in the Lower East Side. Playing dodgeball as an adult was hilarious and exhausting, but competing as a team every week kept us active and was a welcome stress relief from the 20-hour early-startup-days we were working.

Now, at Fuze, it’s not uncommon to catch me and my team doing a group run after work through the Flatiron here in New York City. We hit a milestone last month when we ran from our office to my neighborhood in Brooklyn, celebrating the 6-mile run with some wings and a beer at my favorite pub.

Healthy Thinking

I challenge you to take one of the things you like about an activity, sport, or exercise that you personally enjoy and find a way to share that with your team. It can be soccer, dodgeball, or even a simple walk around your neighborhood. Create active cultures and you’ll spur healthy thinking in your employees.

We all spend 40 or more hours working in an office each week. To drive health and wellness–and therefore create a more productive organization–you can incorporate daily fitness- or health-oriented activities into your workflow. Not only will your team be healthier, they’ll also be more happy and productive–a truly win-win scenario.

Header image from Advanced Aquatic PT

What do Tesla and Fuze Have in Common? A Look at Disruption in the Communications and Automotive Industries

Originally posted on the Fuze blog on Tue Oct 25.

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With user experience at the center of decision making, companies reimagine what’s possible

It’s tough to deny the appeal of the Tesla brand, whether as a technology lover like me or simply because of the name it has made for itself as an innovative force in the automotive industry. From its look and feel to the fact that it’s all-electric, the entire experience is captivating. For this and many more reasons, the company has cultivated an impressive following. After recently hosting events at local dealerships to invite Tesla lovers to get to know Fuze a bit better, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between how the two brands are challenging the status quo and all that we’ve come to know about driving and communication.

Though the similarities may not be immediately apparent, they embody what any brand hopes to achieve when marketintelligence meets market opportunity. When you take great pains to capitalize on the intersection of these two critical elements – and when you are passionate about putting experience at the heart of your product from concept to deployment – everybody wins.

Here’s what we stand to learn from companies that are bold enough to shake things up:

  • The need to anticipate market shifts.

Tesla moved the needle on the electric car industry at a time before demand was certain. In just three years, the global electric car market moved from selling just 12,000 electric cars to selling one million vehicles. Tesla tapped into a real need by betting on electric cars and getting it right. Timing is on Elon Musk’s side.

The time is also right for companies to consider the move to UCaaS. In 2015, market growth hit an all-time high, but even still UCaaS has less than 10 percent market penetration. Market share is expected to grow by a factor of almost 6x by 2020 – up to 40 percent – and forward-looking companies will want to make the move ahead of the competition to take advantage sooner. Much like Tesla sensed the market’s openness to electric cars before it became more widespread, innovative communication companies will be wise to observe shifting preferences for how teams wish to communicate in today’s modern business setting.

  • Putting user experience at the forefront.

In my mind, the fact that a Tesla Model S is an electric car is the least interesting part of its value. Those that have purchased the car for this attribute in particular will disagree, but what piques my interest is how it feels to sit in the driver’s seat. After taking a test drive, it’s not hard to imagine how a Tesla owner might approach travel in a completely new way. With a large touch screen panel, drivers can scan their route and quickly map out steps throughout a trip much as they would on their mobile device. All of this functionality is intuitive. They barely have to process their actions. It’s a natural extension of what they do at work or at home, blending technology preferences with driving behavior in ways never before experienced.

Likewise, messaging, video, and voice should function intuitively in the business setting. Up until recently, the experience has been clunky and required use of many different platforms – both sanctioned by IT and not. By simplifying that process, UC vendors can allow users to focus on the equivalent of hitting the road: improving collaboration and outcomes.

  • Steer your course with data on the dashboard.

Tesla’s dashboard takes the guesswork out of everything. If you’re going on a road trip, you can enter your destination in the center console and the car will take it from there. It can tell you where to charge up, how to optimize your route, and which sites are worth seeing along the way. Contextual information enhances the overall experience.

For workers – salespeople, in particular – contextual data can also make their journey smooth. With the right unified communications platform, they can gain insights about a prospect from previous touch points, purchase decision behavior, even social media activity, all available at their fingertips. The right application gives sales teams the right information to move along a conversation and get closer to closing a deal.

Be it transportation or communication, the confidence in knowing something just works is the Holy Grail of a positive experience. Experts will want to know how the gears turn, but most won’t be concerned with understanding how the backend supports the frontend. All that matters is that it runs well when we need it to. We build trust and confidence when it does. With the user experience at the center of innovation, all industries stand to benefit. The companies that lead the way will make their mark by changing the way people work and play.

How I Stay Productive in 8hrs of Video Meetings

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Photo by wikipedia user Raysonho

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.

Check out the full post on my Inc.com column.

#UCExpo Series: A Q&A with Michael Affronti

This was originally posted on the Fuze corporate blog on Tue Apr 19.

We sat down with Michael Affronti, VP of Product for Fuze, to dig deeper into the michael affronti“appification” of the enterprise ahead of his upcoming session at the UC Expo in London.

Attending the show? Click here to check out Michael’s conference session.

How have you seen the industry shift to address more user-centric technology? What have companies gotten wrong when it comes to applying this thinking to new innovation?

Several years ago the phrase “Consumerization of IT” caught on as early-adopters inside of companies were pushing IT to adopt new products and services. It then became “Consumerization of the Enterprise” as it extended beyond the IT function and into the everyday apps and services used by every information worker (IW). IWs spend nearly 65 percent of their time at work communicating and only a fraction of that time (20 percent) creating and editing content.

Smart companies embrace a BYOD philosophy, while picking the right tools for core collaboration scenarios. It is great to allow your teams to bring their own mobile phones to work, but having their work communication scattered across a smattering of consumer tools is both inefficient and dangerous. The smartest companies look at what and why their employees are doing with consumer apps and then bring in the right enterprise-grade tools to be used in place of them.

Fuze recently conducted research in Europe, indicating that two-thirds of those surveyed thought workplace technology needed to catch up with personal technology. What can businesses learn from user preferences outside of work?

The “appification” of consumer services has now fully bled over to the enterprise. The pattern that a user employs at home is what they expect to happen at work: if their work tools don’t provide the right functionality, they will just find an app in the app store that does the job. It used to be the case that only a handful of companies, usually small/medium-sized businesses, allowed for users to bring their own devices and use their own apps. We’re now seeing financial firms and healthcare companies moving services to the cloud and allowing for their teams to use more and more modern apps. This is often in conjunction with a mobile device management strategy.

This sounds like a BYOD issue. What should employers keep in mind when navigating unsanctioned app usage in the modern workforce?

Having a clear and enforceable BYOD strategy is important. Even more critical is deploying apps and services that your employees actually want to use. If you roll out poorly designed apps, your users will vote with their feet and find a way to use the apps they love (even if they’re consumer-based and insecure). I’ve even seen users rubber-band two iPhones back to back – one locked down too tightly by their company, the other a personal device where they use WhatsApp to talk to their co-workers!

How can companies support the modern worker to be more collaborative by using technology?

Listen to your workers! Ask them about their favorite apps and find out why they’re using them. This will directly impact your rollout plan for introducing new apps and help you communicate it in a way that will be receptive to teams. Next, find out what line of business apps they want linked into their new apps. A critical part of rolling out new collaboration tools is having them connected into the important systems they use on a daily basis.

If you’re heading to UC Expo, come visit us at stand H805 and learn more about our presence here.

Why I’m Teaching

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It was 10th grade in high school and I was taking a class called “College Marketing.” It was a college-level course being taught as a part of a business program our school was piloting. The teacher, Mrs. Stein, pushed our class to explore potential career paths through cool projects and presentations. Mrs. Stein was always encouraging me to explore fun side projects and to network with everyone that I met. She eventually gave me advice when I started “MicFlash Enterprises” that fall (my 1-person desktop publishing ‘company’), and through our conversations that year she helped me understand what a career in business and technology could be. Mrs. Stein later introduced me to her husband at a class field trip to his office at Viacom in NYC, and some follow-up conversations with him led to my first internship at Viacom headquarters in Times Square. I can trace almost every job (and a best friend) since then back to the people I met at that first internship.

Mrs. Stein played a seminal role in my life. As an educator she taught me skills about business and professionalism that I still remember and use today, and as a mentor she gave me guidance about my career and connected me to my first job. I can never thank her enough for the path she showed me.

Twice a year for the last nine years, I have been going back to my old high school on Long Island and giving a talk to the students in Mrs. Stein’s classes. I call the talk “You Don’t Have To Be The Valedictorian To Have A Career You Love,” and it’s my attempt to show them how important the experiences, people, and relationships they make will be to their life. I do this by walking the students through a bit of my career journey: building web pages at a leather gun holster manufacturer in New Hyde Park when I was 14, DJ’ing, building web apps for Viacom, being a personal fitness trainer, then mainframe programming for insurance companies, eventually going to Microsoft, then Contactive, and now ThinkingPhones. I share how every opportunity, every job, and every success (or failure) was the result of a relationship I had made with a key person in my life.

Throughout my career I have continued to look for ways to coach and mentor others. As a manager at Microsoft I quickly realized and embraced that much of my role was teaching and coaching my team so they could grow and perform as quickly as possible. Working in the NYC startup scene at Contactive was a big change since our team size made it so I had a very tiny team and almost no time to manage. That wound up being a great impetus to jump into mentoring and advising other companies, and it’s something I continue in earnest now at ThinkingPhones.

Recently a mutual connection introduced me to one of the founders of General Assembly, Matt, at an event in NYC. He told me about GA and their mission, and almost immediately I said “Sign me up!” I loved the idea of working with a set of industry veterans to teach and coach others who were passionate about Product Management and design.

I’m now extremely excited to be joining the General Assembly family as an Instructor for their part-time Introduction to Product Management course. You can check out the details here on the GA site.

I can’t wait for the summer. I look forward to learning as much from the students as they (hopefully) learn from me.

Thanks!

This NYC Startup Will Be Your Personal Digital Doorman

Brilliant. Facepalm.

This NYC Startup Will Be Your Personal Digital Doorman

The Do’s and Don’t When Meeting with a VC

Appearance and enunciation matter as much as content.

The Do’s and Don’t When Meeting with a VC

Talk nerdy to me

Awesome presentation tips for talking nerdy to non-nerds by @MMarshallPSU at @TED http://bit.ly/1og5IfB

Talk nerdy to me