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Optimizing IT Support for the Remote Executive Part 4

By Avinext on 7/3/2020


This is part 4 of our articles on optimizing remote workers.  See part 3 here...

Best Practices For Productive Video Meetings
Conducting a Zoom meeting seems to be the norm in today’s world with the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re a remote worker, you’ll know exactly what we mean. These days, a virtual meeting isn’t just there to check in on your friends and family but it can be an effective tool in managing your company and team.
Whether you’re using Microsoft Teams or sticking to other platforms such as Skype, WebEx, or Zoom, there are ways for your meetings to be more productive.
If it seems that you spend upwards of 5 minutes simply setting up the video meeting, then this article is for you! Here you will find our best tips and tricks to help you maximize your productivity during these calls.

How To Make The Most Of Your Video Meeting For Remote Workers:

As most organizations have become reliant on some form of a virtual meeting while we navigate our way through the coronavirus, it’s essential that your team is well equipped. Remote working tools like Microsoft Teams or WebEx have become a part of our norm and it’s time we learn how to make the most of them!
Secure Your Internet Connection
There’s nothing more frustrating or distracting than a video call that keeps buffering or freezing. Your internet connection is perhaps the most important part of carrying out a productive video meeting. A slow connection can lead to a long list of problems but a loss of sound and a break in the video are noteworthy.
Before starting a call, you can always do a quick and easy speed test to check your connection. Simply go to Google and search for “speed test” and carry out the steps. Secure connectivity cannot be done without when you’re a remote worker.
Choose The Right Software
In a normal working environment, your office would ensure that you’re utilizing the best software for your job, right? Well, when you’re joining the remote workforce, this is no different. Joining or hosting a virtual meeting requires a little bit of research so that you can work with optimal software.
There are a number of platforms and programs for you to make use of. However, it’s arguable that your best bet would be with Microsoft Teams, WebEx, or running a Zoom meeting. These platforms come highly rated and are less likely to give you any problems.
Confirm A Meeting Time
As with a “normal” meeting, confirming a date and time is crucial. Even though you’ve gone digital, setting a time for your meeting will reduce the risk of any delays or issues. We recommend setting a start and finish time so that you can schedule your day accordingly.
Set Out an Agenda
The problem with video meetings is that there is an increase in unnecessary chatter. Remote working often leaves us seeking updates on our co-workers’ lives and situations. However, although it’s great to catch up, this can reduce your productivity.
There’s a simple solution for this: set out an agenda. Sticking to a list of meeting notes and to-dos will guarantee that the call stays on track. Furthermore, it will provide a reminder for any points that have yet to be discussed.
Remove Any Distractions
Before going into a video meeting, it’s essential that you place your remote work office in a distraction-free zone. Not only will this help you stay focused on the topic at hand, but it will also prevent your co-workers from being disrupted too.
In addition to this, most virtual meeting tools come with a mute function. This allows users to silence themselves when they’re not talking to avoid any awkward sniffs, coughs, or sneezes.
Provide The Necessary Tools
For any managers or business owners, this one’s for you. For remote working to be successful, your staff has to have the right tools. Without them, this could lead to a huge loss of productivity. For a virtual meeting, all participants should have access to a computer with a camera, internet, and a working microphone.
Furthermore, it’s important that everyone is familiar with these tools and the platform that you choose for your call.
Agree On Talking Cues
When it comes to virtual meetings, it’s easy for the call to become reigned by interruptions. Speaking over one another is a common problem in these situations that can often lead to time lost.
Productivity can be improved by agreeing on a set of talking cues. For example, if someone wants to interject or offer their input, they can simply raise their hand. This will signal to the group that they are next in the conversation.
Select A Meeting Host
If you’re familiar with conducting a Zoom meeting then you probably already know the role of being a meeting host. However, a meeting host isn’t just for controlling the call but we suggest that they should guide the conversation too.
This host should direct the call in covering important topics, acknowledging talking cues, and ensuring that the meeting times are adhered to.
Reduce Your Group Size
A general rule of thumb is that the larger the group size, the greater the difficulty to control the situation. With more people on the call, chatter and distractions increase, which reduces your meeting’s productivity.
Of course, sometimes large groups can’t be avoided. In this case, it’s advisable to mute those who aren’t talking to keep the focus on the matter at hand.
Avoid Last Minute Calls
As you can see, there’s quite a lot of aspects that need to be prepared ahead of your video meeting. As a remote worker, creating a schedule will help you stay productive and keep you on track for your to-do list.
When it comes to your meetings, the same should apply. Last-minute calls can be highly disruptive and often leave participants in a fluster.
Remote working and virtual meetings go hand-in-hand these days. This list of tips and tricks should help you make the most out of your meetings and keep productivity at 100%. In a matter of no time, your familiar setting of a traditional, in-office meeting will quickly be replaced by the likes of virtual reality.

Optimizing IT Support for the Remote Executive Part 3

By Avinext on 6/30/2020


This is part 3 of our articles on optimizing remote workers.  See part 2 here...

Developing A Culture Of Remote Work As A Remote Executive

Now that more people are working remotely, remote management teams to equip their remote workforce adequately. This means providing them with the tools that they need in order to do their jobs.
Below, we will look at how to develop a positive and productive work culture with a remote team. There’s a need to communicate in a new way and to focus on managing remote worker engagement.
How will you promote company spirit, carry out one-on-ones, and which team-building exercises will you look at implementing?

This is an opportune time to remind your team about the values and mission statement - as this is what underpins the culture of an organization. Communication needs to be increasingly strong during this time to make sure that remote workers are clear on their targets, are equipped with the necessary information, and that they still feel a sense of connection.
If this is the first time that the team is working remotely, it’s important to make it clear how you’ll be communicating and set out guidelines.
Collaboration is key when communicating. Make sure to incorporate tools that contribute to efficiency. Set up daily routines, such as virtual meetings, to help create normalcy. This can be done with Microsoft Teams or a similar platform to help you connect with your teams, check progress, and help set goals.
Find the digital tools that work best for your team’s required work output. Ensure that your teams are comfortable with using these tools.

Focus On Employee Engagement

As a remote manager, you’ll need to consider the different types of personalities of your team and find a way to be sensitive to everyone’s needs and reactions. Keeping employees engaged speaks to trust, allowing them to feel free and open to communicate.
Remember to take a break and remind your employees to do the same - even if it’s just for idle talk. It’s important for remote workers to feel close during this time and to keep a positive and open atmosphere. Guard against making employees feel like they are stranded. Clearly outline who they can contact when they need answers or need emotional support.
Regardless of where employees are located, rewarding them for a job well done is still a great motivator. As a remote executive, recognize that employees are motivated differently and then identify how you are best able to accommodate everyone in that regard.
Team Building Exercises 

Teams may feel isolated, so it’s important for remote managers to create chemistry through team-building exercises. This will help employees feel that they are still part of a team even though they are geographically separated.  
If it is a question of different time zones, allow employees to create videos of the selected team-building exercises if possible. Team building exercises, such as online karaoke, virtual trivia, and board games, build team morale, and create a sense of inclusion.
Depending on how open or close-knit teams are, suggest doing house tours where they are able to show each other what their home “offices” look like, as well as any pets, and which corner of their homes they escape to if things become a bit chaotic.
Share pictures of out of work interests and passion projects. Play a virtual guessing game to find out a little more about who your colleagues really are but keep it light. Share what’s on your bucket list, they might discover that a few of them share similar interests.

Virtual team meetings are necessary and one-on-ones are even more so. Not everyone enjoys meetings but working remotely will require a willingness to have one-on-ones more regularly. Remote work requires a culture shift to some extent and this can become a complicated task if teams don’t communicate as often as they should.
It’s very important for remote teams to schedule regular meetings where they can share updates and solve any problems they may have. Remember, it’s not only about having one-on-ones for the sake of having them, but they also need to be productive. Making use of an app is a convenient way to keep track.
One-on-ones don’t necessarily always have to be about work - especially now with the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe. Chat to your team members about what’s happening beyond just work. Ask them about their family, pets, or interests, if they are open to it - while not overstepping the boundaries of course.
Promote Company Spirit

We’re now more aware that being in the same building as your colleagues actually allows for a much-needed connection for most of us. As a remote executive, one now has to think about the reality of low employee morale and the feeling of isolation.
As a remote manager, introduce activities such as virtual company challenges and online lunches. These virtual workplace meet-ups can be used as an opportunity to acknowledge those that have achieved a goal while faced with challenges. Thus, promoting company spirit.
Birthdays should still be celebrated, making employees feel special and reassuring them that they are not alone. As a remote manager, be mindful of the stressful situations that employees might be experiencing. Boost their morale by making them feel appreciated and not adding to their stress.
Cheer them on and listen to suggestions that they may have to make the load a bit lighter. Remind and reassure employees that this shouldn’t be seen as a setback, but instead as an opportunity. An opportunity to adapt and emerge as a stronger team.
The Bottom Line

As a remote executive, you need to create an environment in which your employees feel that they are trusted and valued. Take care not to micromanage in such a way that employees feel that they are being checked on more than usual simply because they’re working from home.
This may be a new way of working for many so it’ll take practice in order to build a positive and healthy remote working culture. Communicate, listen, and give it your best. After all, it is teamwork that makes the dream work - even though the dream might look slightly different now.

Optimizing IT Support for the Remote Executive Part 2

By Avinext on 6/1/2020


This is part 2 of our articles on optimizing remote workers.  See part 1 here...

Productivity Tips for Executives Managing a Remote Workforce
With the rapid migration to remote working for many businesses, endless articles and webinars have been offered on remote working tips. How to choose a video conferencing application. How to set up your web cam to look professional. How to keep from getting distracted by your kids or your pets. How to stay on task with a daily schedule. Plenty of good advice. But what about managing your team when they're all working remote?
Remote working is one set of skills that's important for workers to remain productive. Activating and empowering remote workers is something altogether different. In general, there are two sets of skills that are important executives to understand: remote leadership and remote management.

Remote Leadership

Leading a remote workforce has many unique challenges, most of which don't become obvious until after your team has been working remotely for a few weeks. For the first few weeks, everyone's focus is on adjusting to the new environment, and adapting new technologies and workflows to remain productive. We've all had a front row seat to this stage reading constant social posts and news articles about Zoom meetings. It's not until the new working environment really settles in that the reality of working together distantly becomes clear.
Leadership is largely about showing others the way, by clarifying your business vision or mission, defining clear objectives, and organizing resources and activities to accomplish those objectives. The parts about vision and mission, in particular, are typically communicated in ways that don't immediately translate to remote working.
It's one thing to read a company blog post or annual report that lays out the company vision, but it's entirely different to spend time around colleagues and executives when seemingly trivial but meaningful anecdotes are shared, in the halls, in the staff room, or around someone's desk after a meeting. They may be anecdotes about a sales meeting, or a project that's being considered, or even just a corporate event. But those anecdotes fill in a lot of gaps about the company's culture, its outlook and vision, and communicate a wealth of information to employees that helps contextualize their work and give it meaning.
When workers are suddenly distant and communicating only through their devices, a lot of that ambient contextual information disappears, while the focus of work becomes the latest set of assignments and tasks. So it's critical for good leaders to fill in those gaps with their remote team, and fortunately it's not that difficult. It just takes awareness and effort.
The important thing is just to share a little more information with your team about what's going on in the business, what you're working on as an executive, even about business challenges and opportunities that business leaders are addressing. Obviously you want to be careful about what you share--don't share sensitive information, or use it as a chance to parade your position and status. The point is just to informally fill in some of the gaps that would normally be water cooler talk at the office, and give your team some of the operational visibility they would get on site, but have lost while working from home.

Remote Management

Remote management is a bit more cut and dried. You need to manage employee strengths and weaknesses, set clear objectives, assign tasks, coordinate resources, resolve disputes and disconnects, and track activities until objectives are fulfilled. All of that is true in an office setting, it just changes a bit when everyone is working remote.
Managing employee strengths and weaknesses definitely takes on a new meaning with remote work. Some people are naturally attuned for remote working while others are not. Some of the key indicators are the ability to stay focused and avoid distraction, the ability to be self-directed and figure things out, and the ability to share information and knowledge with others effectively.
Often the first signal that an employee lacks strong remote working skills is that they don't show up to virtual team meetings consistently, they show up but don't contribute, or they're unable to overcome a continuing stream of roadblocks to working remotely with their colleagues. As a manager, you have to address these challenges head-on, rather than let an unproductive team member undermine team cohesion or morale.
This is where setting clear objectives, assigning tasks and coordinating resources becomes so important, because it becomes clear very quickly who is pulling their weight and who's not. Whether you use excel to track objectives and tasks or a dedicated teamwork application is less important than having a functioning and consistent process to prioritize, assign and track your team's work, and make it clear to each worker what's on their plate. This is the only way to see clearly how team members are showing up, and then apply your management training to address weaknesses and leverage strengths.

The Role of Technology

For remote executives, effectively managing a remote team typically takes a little more technological power than the average worker. Your desktop gets cluttered quickly with presentation, documents and communications tools, and your bandwidth often seems to bog down when you're simultaneously running video meetings, team applications, and other resources like product demos.
Whether you use a laptop or a workstation, it often takes an array of peripheral devices to maximize your productivity. Many remote executives run two monitors to maximize workspace, and invest in a wifi camera and noise-cancelling headset to optimize professional communications. A docking station helps manage peripherals if you're using a laptop, and adding an ergonomic mouse and keyboard can make those long days at the home-office desk more comfortable.
If you'd like to learn more about productive remote management, particularly the technology, devices and applications needed to manage and support a remote workforce, we'd love to help. We equip many remote and virtual teams with technology from leading manufacturers like HP, and software from leading virtual meeting vendors like Microsoft Teams and Zoom. We can help you select, deploy and and support the right tools for your team, wherever they're working today .

Optimizing IT Support for the Remote Executive

By Avinext on 5/19/2020


The rush to enable the remote workforce has challenged many businesses to rapidly adjust IT operations, from expanding VPN licenses to provisioning devices and platforms that most effectively support virtual meetings. The flood of users migrating to remote offices has shown a spotlight on some of the differences between the requirements of the average remote worker and the remote executive.

Different Paths to Remote Workforce Security

The first and most important issue for remote team management is obviously security. Many companies automatically assume that everyone who needs access must be on VPN, and they scramble to rapidly scale VPN licenses. However, depending on your business operations, it may be better to draw a clear line between workers that need VPN access to network resources, and those that could be more securely supported with access to cloud services without direct corporate network access.

If your remote workforce primarily needs to collaborate and share documents, migrating them to cloud services may be a more secure option than provisioning VPN licenses to access the corporate network. This can minimize vulnerabilities to your corporate network from workers who might not otherwise follow secure computer practices in their home. Hackers have certainly paid attention to the remote working surge, and they’re targeting workers who may provide a convenient doorway into corporate networks.

For remote executives, VPN access is likely more of a requirement, in order to manage and provision corporate resources on the network. In this case, ensuring the use of a reputable VPN client—and training executives on how to use it effectively—is essential. Additionally, remote executives will need access and training for the cloud services that their staff may be using for day-to-day work collaboration.


Optimizing Equipment for Remote Executive Communications

Another difference between average remote workers and remote executives is the level of computing resources needed on a device to support normal remote working functions. For most workers, working offsite requires access to communications and collaboration tools. Some of those tools are asynchronous, like email or Slack, which require lower levels of processing power, while other tools require real-time simultaneous video and data connections, like the surging use of platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

The more tools a user needs to access and use at the same time, the more processing power that user will need to be productive. A customer service worker that just needs to monitor and respond to trouble tickets will need less computing power than an executive trying to conduct a Zoom meeting while simultaneously presenting Power Point presentations or running a live product demo.

Similarly, peripheral devices required for average remote working may be simpler than those needed to support remote executives. Most workers can likely get by with the audio and video systems native to their laptop. For executives interfacing with customers or strategic partners, a higher level of professionalism might dictate the use of a dedicated Webcam to optimize lighting and angle of view, as well as a quality noise-cancelling headset.


Moving Beyond a One-Size-Fits-All Approach

Obviously these differences are going to depend on the nature of your business and the job roles of your team. The important point to understand is that remote working is not a one-size fits all solution. It has been treated that way because of the sudden and urgent demand for remote working support on an enormous scale.

Smart businesses, however, are now taking a deep breath and analyzing the actual need and mapping it to roles and profiles of their worker’s job functions. It’s not essential for every employee to have an HP Z-book remote workstation with the ability to run data visualizations in real-time for a virtual meeting. But if you have executives that need real processing power, handing them a chromebook isn’t going to help them do their job.

When you need a more tailored approach to how you provision your remote teams, from average workers to remote executives, Avinext can help you map out and quantify your needs. From procuring the right devices matched to the needs of a job function, to helping provision your VPN and cloud services, our team of experienced technicians will help you make the right choices to get the job done. To learn more about our Remote Executive solutions, call us at 979-846-9727

Many businesses have suddenly found themselves in the deep end of the pool with remote working and virtual meetings. While some are quite comfortable with virtual meetings having worked from home for some time, many are experiencing challenges with adopting the technology in a way that keeps their team productive. From managing the discomfort of being on video from home to keeping teams engaged, here are some of the top tips for running productive meetings.

1. Scheduling time

You know the scenario: everyone has agreed to a meeting at a certain time, and then someone says they can't make it, can the meeting be moved, and suddenly the whole calendar is up for debate again. The more people on your team, the more challenging it becomes to accommodate everyone's schedule. If you're managing a team, the best practice is to set a recurring time that works for key stakeholders and most team members and stick to it. If someone can't make it, rather than blow up the schedule, keep the meeting with the rest of the team and loop the missing person in by sharing the agenda, asking for input, and sharing the meeting notes and actions after the meeting.

Obviously if a key stakeholder can never make a recurring schedule, you'll need to assess calendars. But once a schedule is set, resist the temptation to debate rescheduling, and try instead to accommodate non-attendees with information through email and follow ups.

2. Have an agenda

Just like a normal business meeting, good virtual meetings have a defined objective, whether it's a one-time meeting or a weekly call. Be clear about the meeting objectives and any desired outcomes, and include them in the meeting invitation. Ask your team to review the agenda and provide feedback before the meeting, to be sure you've covered the critical points. Also make sure your agenda is achievable in the time allotted. Meetings that meander and stretch on long after the expected time will increase distractions and undermine the motivation of your team to participate.

3. Turn on your cameras

It's often hard for some users to feel comfortable live streaming video of themselves from home. They may not like seeing themselves on screen, they may not feel confident in the way they look, or their environment, or distractions that may show up on screen. But video is a powerful way to feel connected and engaged. It's deeply humanizing to see each other candidly, to see facial reactions and interest, and to be able to "read" the virtual room. Almost everyone has some discomfort the first time they turn on the video feed, so try to provide some encouragement and positive feedback for users new to this medium.

Some basic tips for optimizing your video feed:

• Put your camera at eye level. Looking up or down at your face from a steep angle is often unflattering.

• Make sure there is light shining on your face, either from a window or an extra lamp. You can use the lightening to soften shadows on your face that can accentuate your least favorite features, particularly wrinkles.

• Virtual meeting platforms like Zoom allow you to substitute a virtual background, if you don't want to share a view of your personal space.

4. Learn the technology

Whatever platform you decide to user for virtual meetings, spend some time working with the software before you host a meeting. Make sure you understand how to invite users, let them into the room, manage rooms with passwords for added security, how to enable presenters, and how to mute or enable user's microphones. Many of the virtual meeting platforms are making rapid changes to features in order to respond to the growing use of the technology--like adding passwords to block out unwanted interlopers. It's important to be comfortable with the technology to instill confidence in your team and avoid wasting time trying to adjust the controls while everyone is waiting.


5. Use the mute button

Background noise and feedback is a major distraction for all users. When you're not talking, hit the mute button and encourage others to do the same. If you're the host, you can automatically mute users by default, and let them unmute when it's time to speak. Again, learn the tools so you can easily respond to background noise. If you live in a noisy environment, explore the use of noise-cancelling headsets to block out background noises. Gaming headsets in particular often have more sophisticated noise cancelling features than standard business headsets.

6. Make time for small talk 

While agendas are important, having time to connect with your team is also important, and research shows it improves productivity. Some meeting hosts like to have a structured ice breaker, such as having everyone mention one good thing that happened them since the last meeting, others prefer a more casual period of chatting and small talk before the agenda. You can set the tone as the host, either by sharing something yourself, or asking others how they're doing. Be mindful of your agenda and time, though, and be ready to reel in the discussion to kick off the agenda.

Some people are mixing things up for recurring meetings by adding novelties to their calls. "Funny hat day" where everyone where's a strange hat or wig has been popular. Bringing a goat or a llama to your meeting from one of many online farms has also gotten a lot of press. If that's your corporate culture, be creative and try things to break up the routine. But be aware that some users will see this as an unnecessary waste of their time, so know your audience. Some teams just want to cover the necessary agenda and move on with their work.


7. Take notes and Assign Actions

For some reason, the tactics we all develop for in person meetings often get forgotten in a new environment. Taking notes during a meeting to track feedback, outcomes and assigned actions is critical to ensure a productive meeting. Often that's hard for the host who is trying to manage the platform and users, so consider assigning someone to take notes, and distribute them after the meeting. For recurring meetings, you should assign clear actions for your team, distribute them with the meeting notes, and check in on them in the next meeting to track progress.


8. Engage your team

Often some users will drop into the background during a meeting. Maybe they're not confident they have something to contribute, maybe they're distracted by something else on their desktop. As the host, you should monitor team participation and constantly read the room. Ask users for their ideas and input, and draw them into the discussion. If users are disengaged, they're more likely to tune out of the discussion and feel disconnected from the team.

If you need help determining the right technology to support productive virtual meetings, from devices to meeting software, MNJ can help. We support remote and virtual teams with everything from laptops to peripherals from leading manufacturers like HP, and software from leading virtual meeting vendors like Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Our specialists can help you select, provision and support the right technology for your team, wherever they're connecting to get the job done.