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Communicating in the Virtual World

guest blog by:  Wayne Irwin

 

With the ongoing evolution of technology, virtual offices and teams are becoming more prevalent in organizations.  This provides a great level of flexibility at both an organizational and personal level.  At a personal level, technology allows employees to work remotely and have a more flexible schedule.  Organizationally, companies can leverage diverse skills that are found in varied geographic areas.

While there are a number benefits to remote offices and virtual teams, there are also nuances that need to be understood in order to take full advantage of what virtual offices can provide.  A key point that individuals and leaders must understand are the differences in communication needs with virtual teams. When teams aren’t physically collocated, you need to be even more effective at communicating.

Communication is an integral piece for the success of any team.  Additionally, developing strong relationships at work is important for one’s overall happiness.  As the nature of organizations change, so should the focus on communication and relationships.

Virtual teams have the ability to communicate through a number of technical medium – email, text messaging, instant messaging/chat, or voice calls.  While this “technical” communication can seem to be efficient, it isn’t always effective and lacks the richness and personal interaction that face to face communication provides.  This can put virtual teams or remote members of teams at a disadvantage.  With this in mind, face to face communications should be used as often as practical.

Keys to effective communication span the in person and virtual worlds; however, the rules become even more critical in a virtual environment.  The following are a few quick rules to keep in mind to enhance the communication in a virtual environment:

  1. Clarity – the meaning of your communication should be easy to understand and leave little open for interpretation.  Have a purpose for your communication that provides clarity to everyone involved.  This can be something that you put in the opening paragraph of an email or used as part of your opening statements on a call, but it provides scope and meaning to your audience.
  2. Concise – get your point across, provide facts & data, and don’t drone on.  Your audience likely will not take the time to follow your message and will quickly lose interest.
  3. Complete – your communication should cover all relevant data points and not leave loose ends.  Incomplete information opens your messages up to being confusing and ineffective.
  4. Confirm – virtual communication doesn’t allow you to “read” your audience and it is easy to assume that your message is being understood.  However, often times, both parties walk away with this understanding – and both are wrong.  Take time to validate that your message is being heard and that you are both on the same page.
  5. Considerate – in today’s world of rapid fire communication, be considerate and minimize replying all or replying with one word answers.

In the end, whether we like it or not, technology is driving us towards a virtual environment.  We all need to look at our communication etiquette to ensure we are being effective along with efficient.  Remembering the 5 “C’s” above will be the initial steps in facilitating better virtual communications.

Success: How to Stop Speeding and Get There Faster

Have you ever been driving to some important event, running a little late, and then you get lost?  You think you know where to go, but you are not quite sure, so you go faster and faster, trying to get there on time, but still getting more lost?   You think you are heading in the right direction, but not quite sure, so you go even faster.  You could stop to check the map on your phone, but you are so close, you know your destination is probably just around the corner.  So you speed up a little more.

This is what we do in our lives.  We think we are on the right course, but something doesn’t feel right so we just keep speeding up.  We keep getting busier and taking on more commitments because success and happiness are just around the next turn.  One more big project, one more raise, one more promotion, and we will arrive at happiness and success.  We think we are on the right path, but partially formed thoughts in the back of our heads keep nagging at us.  Unfortunately, we are too close to stop and re-evaluate.  We are too busy to take a few minutes and examine what we are doing or to admit we might have taken a wrong turn somewhere.  We might have something in our plans that is moving us farther from happiness and success rather than closer, but we are going too fast to stop and find out.

Is it time to stop and check the map?

  1. Stop and take 15 minutes to write down your definition of success.  What is success for you?  How will you know when get there?  What are the markers in your life that tell you when you have arrived?  Do they include your family, your health, and your relationships? Does your definition of success include being happier? Is there more in your definition of success than just your career or the amount of money you will accumulate?
  2. Now write the top 3 milestones you have to work toward each day to reach that definition of success.  What are the 3 things in your life, that when reached, you will be confident in saying that you have met your definition of success?
  3. Check your to-do list for today. Is working on each of your 3 milestones a top priority, or are other less important but more urgent matters pushing them down or even off the list?  Slow down and focus on your definition of success and your top 3 milestones.  Get those done first and you will know you are on the right path.

 

Write your definition of success and identify the 3 milestones you need to work towards each day, and you won’t have to keep speeding up.  But you will get there faster!

 

About 

My Passion is helping people become successful and happy. I have found that many people want to be successful but just don’t know how. More importantly, people want to be successful because they feel that reaching some success pinnacle will result in them becoming happy. The research and my experience has shown that just the opposite is the case. Success does not lead to happiness. Happiness leads to success.

Happiness in the Workplace

Happy employees enhance the overall performance of an organization.  However, studies show that only 1 in 5 employees (20%) actually report being happy at work.  So that means that approximately 80% of employees are unhappy at work and therefore, negatively impacting the performance of your business.  Companies are now beginning to recognize the changes in employee attitudes and are focusing on improving the culture of their company.

First of all, let’s start with WHY you should care about the happiness of your employees.  As mentioned above, happier employees are more productive and will provide higher benefits to your business.  Lately, probably for a variety of reasons including economic environment and world tragedies, employees are feeling more stressed, less secure, and ultimately less satisfied at work.  This environment adds up to higher absenteeism, less productivity, and higher turnover in your organization.  All of these issues have a negative drag on the business.

While HAPPINESS can be defined in a variety of different ways and is comprised of many elements, Martin Seligman outlined the key elements impacting HAPPINESS… Pleasure, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment.  If you can find a formula the leverages these elements, you will generally see that your employees:

  • love their work and find it meaningful
  • consistently give all that they can
  • work collaboratively with others

Resulting in a happier employee and stronger business.

One interesting note is that HAPPINESS becomes an ongoing circle for your employees and your business.  Happier employees are more satisfied with their lives, enjoy better health, live longer and have better relationships.  Additionally, HAPPINESS is contagious.  Happy employees on your team will drive others within the organization to be happier – thus continuously driving improvements.

While it has such an impact on business performance, like most things, establishing a culture that drives employee happiness isn’t rocket science; however, it does take a bit of effort and focus on doing a few things all of the time.

Here are a few broad areas to align your focus on – Purpose, Autonomy, Mastery, and Connection.

  • Purpose – give everyone a purpose and show how they link to the bigger purpose of the organization and beyond.  When people have a purpose, they are excited and driven.
  • Autonomy – give people the freedom in achieving their goals.  This doesn’t mean that we aren’t held accountable.  There is a balance.
  • Mastery – give everyone the tools and opportunities to be successful.  Tools can be coaching, equipment, training, applications, etc.
  • Connection – people need a level of connection and collaboration with others.  It is important that a team is well connected internally and externally.

The formula is to leverage a combination of these elements because focusing on just one will not achieve the greatest results.  For instance, if you simply provide someone with a strong purpose, but don’t give them access to the tools for success or don’t allow them to achieve their objectives, overall success will suffer.

 

 

Get into the Flow

Flow is a state where you lose track of time and your surroundings. You are so caught up in what you are doing, your brain doesn’t process unrelated outside information.

 

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times…the best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

 

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the leading expert on flow, found that people who became really absorbed in what they were doing had higher levels of happiness. The more they got into flow, the happier they were.

Athletes call it being in “the zone”. That place where time stands still and you understand exactly what you need to do and how you need to do it. In your work, there are probably several tasks you seem uniquely suited to. Activities where you have been doing them long enough that you can focus and knock them out, but that always require you be at your top performance. You set aside time and start working. At some point, you are interrupted by a colleague about going to lunch. You look up and realize you have been focused for more than an hour and it seems like only minutes. You don’t remember anything else being in your life in the past hour but you and the task. You feel energized and happy at getting so much done. That is when you have achieved flow.

Flow is something we can control. We can work to find ways to achieve flow and as a result, we can find ways to be happier.

To find flow find adapt your tasks to include the following characteristics:

  1. Potential for Completion – you have a realistic chance of completing the task or that phase of the task.
  2. Concentration – you have or can create the silence or isolation in your environment so you can fully concentrate.
  3. Clear goals – you know exactly what you are going to accomplish and can clearly measure or see that accomplishment.
  4. Immediate Feedback – you know in the moment how you are doing and that you are accomplishing your task.
  5. Control – you feel you have a sense of control over your actions.

 

Finding Flow will help you be happier while the results of your work while you are in a state of Flow will help you be successful.

About 

My Passion is helping people become successful and happy. I have found that many people want to be successful but just don’t know how. More importantly, people want to be successful because they feel that reaching some success pinnacle will result in them becoming happy. The research and my experience has shown that just the opposite is the case. Success does not lead to happiness. Happiness leads to success.

Making Happiness Soup

I have heard a lot of questions and discussions about the one thing that leads to happiness. Everyone wants to know, “What is the one secret?”  Even happiness research focuses on one skill or activity at a time, because researchers need to isolate a variable in order to find clear answers about causality.

Is it possible we are complicating the problem by attempting to over-simplify.  A single happiness secret seems like it would be easier, but it may result in us missing the wonderfully unique facets and variations of happiness. The happiest individuals, organizations, and even countries do not look alike; while they may have some similarities to one another, they are unique in how they experience and express happiness.

Based on the research we have seen, happiness might be compared to homemade soup.  It has a basic set of ingredients, but they can be mixed in thousands of different variations to suit the taste of the individual.

Happiness Soup Recipe

Ingredients

  1. Relationships – start with a base of relationships. Create and nurture positive relationships with the most important people in your life. Own the success of the relationship and share your closest feelings and authentic self. Relationships will form a strong base to which other ingredients can be added.
  2. Strengths – These are kind of like the vegetables in your soup. They make it hardy and unique.  Everyone brings their own combination of vegetables and strengths and everyone uses them in different ways. The key is to not get carried away and forget about them. You need to know what they are and find every opportunity to use them.
  3. Health – Eating right, getting enough sleep, and exercising is like a seasoning. It adds zest and energy to the soup. Without health, your soup would be bland and unappealing. By taking care of your health and doing the right things in the right amounts, your soup always has a lively and interesting flavor.
  4. Caring and Kindness – Do kind things and give to others. It is like salt and pepper in the soup. It adds a little more flavor. You mix in different amounts on different days.
  5. Purpose – With purpose, some people add a lot and some people add a little. You probably start with a little when you are younger and add more as you get older and discover more about yourself. It gives the soup character and direction. Just like your life, it is what unites the soup and brings it all together.
  6. Positive Mindset – Positive mindset is the heat you can turn up or down to cook your soup.  The more positively you think, the hotter the soup gets and the better the ingredients mix together to form that wonderful flavor. On days when you have a less positive mindset, you have to eat your happiness soup a little cold. But once you turn it back up, you can feel the warmth and satisfaction as your soup lights up all the right taste buds at once.

Since this is homemade soup, we don’t use preservatives.  Sometimes you can set aside enough to get you through the rough days, but mostly you have to make it and mix it every day. When you are running low, your friends and neighbors will offer you a little of their happiness soup. But eventually you have wake one morning and start making your own again. The ingredients and flavors change as our lives change, but if we practice every day, we can always create wonderful new flavors of happiness soup.

Happiness in the News

The good news; happiness is starting to consistently make headlines.  The bad news; not everyone is happy.  More good news; there are a lot actions you can take to become happier.

 

Happiness at Work

From a recent New York Daily News article:

Workplace morale heads down: 70% of Americans negative about their jobs, Gallup study shows ‘Bosses from hell’ are giving U.S. workers the Monday blues. Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report had grim findings, including that 70% of those surveyed either hate work or are completely disengaged, and perks don’t help.

A Harvard Business Review blog offered some hope by explaining how to create a happier team.

“Happy, engaged employees are good for an organization. Research shows they are more creative, produce better results, and are willing to go the extra mile. What’s more, happiness is contagious; it creates a virtuous cycle that leads to further engagement. To bring more of that into your team, focus on what psychologists have identified as the three pathways to happiness: pleasure, engagement, and meaning. Consider whether you are actively encouraging these things in your people. Do they enjoy their relationships and their environment at work? Do they laugh? Do they fill roles that fit their skill sets and offer appropriate challenges? Do they feel they’re a part of something that matters? If the answer is no to any of these questions, brainstorm how you can adjust the team environment to bring more happiness in.”

Jonathan from Advance Life Skills gives us some insight into productivity and happiness.  It seems we all want to be more and more productive.  The problem is we don’t know when we are productive enough.  We interfere with our happy and relaxing times by trying to be more productive so we can have more happy and relaxing times.  This sends us into a downward spiral of unhappy productivity.   Being productive helps us feel accomplished and good about ourselves.  The challenge is we have to create balance.  We are being productive so we can have time to be happy.  To be happy we need to identify times to stop being overly focused on productivity and just be happy and in the moment.  Set your priorities and know when to step off the productivity merry-go-round and enjoy the moment, time with your family and friends, and all that you have accomplished.

 

 

Happiness from Giving

Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, authors of the recently released Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, offer some ideas based on their research of giving money away.  They offered participants either $5 or $20 and gave them one of two possible scenarios.  Spend the money on themselves before the end of the day or spend it on someone else.  They measured the participants’ happiness before and after they spent the money and found that the people who spent the money on someone else were much happier than those who spent it on themselves.  It didn’t matter whether they got $5 or $20 spending the money on someone else made them measurably happier.  Dunn and Norton and offer several tips for how to spend money and become happier including; Buy Experiences, Make it a Treat, Buy Time, Pay Now – Consumer Later, and Invest in others. You can read more here and here.

 

You can read more about the 7 Habits of Happiness or about Happiness in the Workplace.

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