Category: Blog

Funny How We Listen

Everyone who finds it, finds it in their own way. Everyone who expresses it, expresses it in their own way. But you don’t find it until open your heart, and open your mind, and allow your energy to guide you without allowing those social expectations, and preconceived notions of what life is, and what life should be get in the way.

Vent

It's a sad day when I can't even come up with a decent title for a blog entry. No clever word play. No playful word cleverness. Just bland.

I think once things settle from the movie production I'm going to lock myself in my house for about four days, and write. A screenplay. A novel. Something. What are the stories that last throughout the ages? The struggles of a common man against great adversity? An eternal love spun from the horrors of the violence of humanity? Abstract looks at modern life, love, and the challenges represented by coping with our humanity? Cannibals? Ancient Composers? Marathon Runners? Gladiators!

I guess the point I'm trying to make is comedies, and sci-fi never really win best picture, and comparatively sell fewer books. 50 Shades of Gray has sold 125-million copies of four installments, and it is complete crap. Likewise, Twilight has also sold 120-million in five installments. Star Wars, one of the world's most popular franchises, has had over 300 installments, by various authors, and sources, and collectively has sold 150-million. 50 Shades of Grey which is probably on an even par with trashy paper-back Romance novels ("...her breath quickened as Duke Remington thrust his purple-headed solider into her moist, yet trembling apple pie of love.") except less creative, and poorly written, yet out-sells what is now a Disney franchise by a generously conservative 6:1 ratio per installment. Meanwhile, Star Wars also lost out on Best Picture to the story of an amateur boxer given a once-in-a-lifetime shot at the title, and thustly, was pummeled mercilessly.

So where do I start? A half-baked romance involving a billionaire predator trying to get a college student to be his sex slave? A fake documentary about a woman fighting against social injustices highlighting the socio-political, and religious shortcomings of modern society? I certainly can't write a sci-fi about the intergalactic socio-political struggles of a young man following an ancient religion. Or, the story of a stand-up comedian who just isn't funny. Not if I want it to actually work, and be recognized as a good bit of writing.

Ideas?

Suggestions?

She Said

She said I'm wrong
I said I'm right
She said things are black and white
I said all things can be colored by perspective
She said I have a type
I said my type is people who can love
She said I love too easily
I said love shouldn't be so hard
She said I'm a fixer
I said only for what can be fixed
She said I like to fix people
I said I like to show people how they shine
She said I only love the broken
I said everyone is a little broken
She said I seek out the broken
I said those that need me find me
She said I'll never be happy
I said my happiness grows when others are happy
She said things will never be
I said seeds don't grow if you don't give them water
She said she can't
I said she decided she won't
She said it's impossible
I said she doesn't see the possibilities
She said she is broken
I said everyone is a little broken
She said she is tired
I said sleep and look forward to tomorrow
She said she's afraid
I said she has to face her fears
She said she loves me
I said I love her too
She said I love too easily
I said love shouldn't be so hard

Thank You

“Yes, I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” – Oscar Wilde

My birthday was Monday, October 16th. Thank you to everyone who took the time to send your well wishes, and to answer back to many of you: Yes, I had a great day. I spent the first half of my day working on a movie, and the second half baking my traditional lasagna, and pumpkin pies, and enjoying it all with my children, my mother, and her husband, and the woman who helps me see the beauty in the world when our world seems to be lacking it.

And to those of you who wished me a happy birthday on Tuesday: all good! If you know me, you know how frequently I'm late for things, so I am far from qualified to hold that against anyone.

I share my birth date of October 16th with Oscar Wilde, the famous, and some would say, infamous author, playwright, and poet. Like many artists who are ahead of their time, the true scope of Wilde's fame didn't become realized until after his death in 1900. Among a controversial life, Wilde disrupted the Victorian societies of his time with brilliant stories such as The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest, and An Ideal Husband. Stories which examined in their time societal morals, norms, hierarchies, and the hypocrisies woven throughout them. Although these stories were written well over a century ago, if written today they would be just as timely, but perhaps less controversial.

Birthdays are often a moment where we pause, and reflect on life. It seems as though most people look upon this reflection in judgment of themselves; their regrets, their mistakes, what they want to change going forward. Like the annual practice of “New Year's Resolutions,” there is a statement of ,“I begin truly living today!” that seems to take place for many. I have never sought to live an ordinary life, I have only sought to live fully. In my past I have let many things prevent me from doing so, but as I've grown, and matured, I find fewer obstacles within myself, fewer inhibitions, fewer reasons to not take risks.

Fewer reasons to not see the good that is all around me, and take in as much of it as I can.

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” – Oscar Wilde

My reflection is not one of regrets. My life, like every life, has been filled with moments of wonder, and moments of despair. I have struggled, succeeded, failed, risked, lost, and continue to pull myself back to my feet, and push forward. I know I have never been perfect, but I cannot change my past self. I accept who I am, who I once was, and all of the growing that has occurred in between. I continue to work diligently to forgive myself for those imperfections, and sometimes the specters of past mistakes still haunt my mortal consciousness, and scream from their subconscious prisons. But where their voices are silent, I focus on living in the moment, and loving everyone in my life as deeply as I am capable.

Everyone that has entered my life, and that includes the many who have only been temporary tenants of my time, and energy, have taught me valuable lessons about myself, and how I create the world I live in. For that, I am grateful to everyone. And as a life lived, much the same as Mr. Wilde's, I intend to continue living mine to the fullest, through my passions, my love, my art, and my creativity, challenging the things that we accept in our collective lives, and hopefully, seeing the world change for the better before my time here is done.

My growth as a person continues. For my children, I will always strive to be a better father, a better guide, a better mentor, and the lighthearted, loving balance they need to deal with the grim seriousness that often envelopes us in our society.

For my love, and my inspiration, Cortney, I will always strive to be the partner that she deserves, give her the best parts of me, and do my best to reflect how she inspires me, and brings beauty into my world. As I once told her, she is both the Sun, and the Moon – shining a light to help others find their way, and reflecting the light of others when they cannot see how they also shine. For me, she is all of this, and more.

“You don't love someone for their looks, or their clothes, or for their fancy car, but because they sing a song only you can hear.” -- Oscar Wilde

What more can be said? I am looking forward to our every adventure together!

Many thanks, again, to all of you for your warm wishes.

Where Do You Go

Sunflower fields forever

We love to play in summer blooms
In fields of green, under a silver moon
With petals so bright
Shinning stars, and sun light
The bluest of skies
Her crystal blue eyes
Warm skin, warm within
A lover's embrace
Kindness, and grace

But where do you go
When the skies turn to gray
Empty fields where you no longer play
Scattered remains of happier days

Where do you go
When the colors all fade
Summer warm replaced by Autumn's change
When the wind rattles skeletons
Of those happier days

Do you still come to visit
When the sun goes away?
Do you still find the beauty
In these cold autumn days?
Do you still hold tightly
When everything has changed?

Where do you go
When winter's slumber begins
Eyes fade to gray
And the cold bites your skin
Will you still come to visit
And find the beauty within
A colder embrace
Less kindness, and grace

Where will you go
Until it is summer again?

A Story From Days Gone By

Sitting on a flight to Chicago. Flying United is like flying on a school bus…

Waiting for my originating flight in Montreal was a bit odd. There was no non-stop and at every gate CNN feed. Instead they had on a Canadian new feed that was mostly in French. I don’t speak French, at all… yet somehow it was still more informative than CNN.

Someone who will remain nameless… let’s just call him douchebag… asked again tonight if I could meet him in Chicago at 9:00PM when my flight takes off from DC at 9:58PM… logistics are so difficult for him.

It should be an interesting night… and tomorrow. Getting into Chicago late tonight and needing to be up early tomorrow for training. I feel like tomorrow is going to be a day of scrutiny against me… just the way things have been going for me lately. I feel like they’re looking for a reason… any reason, to shove me out the door from this contract. I’m still trying to solve the reason why. I have my suspicions, but I’ll keep them to myself.

Still, I think it’s funny. From the side of the contract I’m on, no one on the team has been doing this longer, or better, in my opinion.

The local sales rep commented, “I can’t believe how quickly and how well this whole project came together this week with no prior IT planning…”

“Well, they sent you the best they had…” was my only response.

And I sincerely believe that. Ok, that might sound a bit conceited, but those that know me know I am anything but. I will be the first person to be disappointed in myself. I have the highest expectations for me and falling anywhere short of those expectations is devastating to me. I have to do better.

But in this case, I am the best they have.

The attitude they’ve taken towards me lately has been more than discouraging in what has already been a very one-sided relationship.

Story of my life, I think.

Now to solve that problem. I don’t know if it will happen tomorrow, or Friday… but it will happen.

I’m set to embark on the next phase.

But the first couple days of this trip were pretty awesome. Montreal, a city I have always wanted to visit but have never done so. I need to make it a more frequent spot to go. Besides Melbourne and Sydney, this was by far the best place I’ve been. I think it’s the European flair and flavor that gets me. The narrow, cobblestone streets. The turn of the century architecture. The language… the people… the fashion… it was all so captivating to me. So much different than the little snow-globe world I grew up and have lived in my whole life in upstate New York.

Now granted growing up only a 15 minute drive from the Canadian boarder, the culture in Buffalo is at least a little more aware of Canada – the differences, the similarities… where it is on a map. Much more aware than the average area in middle-America at least. But the culture in Buffalo is still so much American. Rigid, self-centered, conservative…

Much different than what I have found the places I’ve visited and spent time in further north to be.

And I had a great time with the local rep for the vendor. Someone who actually said, “Hey, your first time in town, let me show you around.” Usually they want little to do with the contractors after the day is done. We went to a restaurant in old Montreal, spoke to beautiful women, watched a Canadiens’ game, had excellent wine. He taught me a little French and I taught him what a Jagerbomb was.

I actually had a really good time.

I was a bit worried about working with the guy after he asked me for the fifth time if I could fly in on Monday night, and I had to answer that Tuesday morning was the best I could offer, yet again. He seemed uptight about the job. I assured him we would be fine with one and a half days to finish what needed to be done. And, of course, we were. He was much more relaxed after the first day when he saw how quickly I could go through what needed to be done.

I’m pushing to get more jobs up there. With more notice and no trip to Chicago right afterwards, it’s a drive, not a flight. I can deal with that.

But I have to sort the issues at hand and get the jobs.

Ahhh… as Joe Walsh has sang, “Lucky I’m sane after all I’ve been through…”

Yeah, for the most part, life’s been good to me so far…

Ironic that I feel I can say that right now… it really is.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

November 20, 2008

Managing Remote Workers: 5 Best Practices for Virtual Companies

In an ever changing global business landscape, businesses, and other organizations constantly seek new ways to streamline resources, reduce over-head, and reach new geographical regions without opening satellite offices. Offering telecommuting positions to accomplish these goals has grown in popularity among large businesses, small businesses, and government agencies. With improvements in technologies to make telecommuting both possible, and efficient, telecommuting opportunities continue to increase.

Managing remote workers, however, is a challenge most businesses venturing into the world of telecommuting struggle with initially, and a concern that keeps many businesses in more traditional modes of managing personnel.

If you’re a business owner, or manager considering moving to telecommuting policies, it is important to know that there are well researched, and documented strategies for successfully managing remote workers. Such policies have been researched, and implemented by other successful telecommute friendly organizations such as Amazon, Dell, UnitedHealth Group, and Federal Government Agencies coast-to-coast.

What are some of those challenges that concern managers with telecommute initiatives? An MIT study in 2009 showed the most common concerns are communication challenges, resulting in a lack of trust, a lack of team unity, a lack of shared responsibility, and a lack of commitment by team members when working on achieving team goals. Also, business leaders felt managing remote workers could lead to a failure to develop task-related processes, clear goals, and standards, while lacking ways to effectively collaborate while taking advantage of team member skills, and expertise.

However, even these concerns shouldn’t dissuade managers, or business owners from implementing work from home policies. The noted benefits of having a virtual workforce should far outweigh these concerns. Advantages such as cost reductions, increased sharing of knowledge of markets, and best practices, and geographic diversity with the ability to cover multiple time-zones, or even continents, are all compelling factors that have driven so many other businesses to move more, and more toward virtual workforces.

Working to the benefit of business is the ever increasing, and rapidly expanding technology capabilities that can be leveraged to facilitate these business initiatives. Managing remote workers becomes much easier, and less frustrating for managers, and the remote workers as well when technology is properly utilized. Technologies such as hosted VOIP based telephone, and office communication systems, unified communications, instant messaging, video teleconference, paperless document management, secure electronic signatures, cloud based collaboration platforms, and cloud based data storage..And, of course, backed by an expanding high-speed broadband, and wireless broadband infrastructure that is reaching more remote locations all the time.

There’s no real mystery behind managing remote workers, although previous research has definitely outlined some guidelines to make it easier. One pitfall that some managers fall into is thinking that remote workers have to be managed in fundamentally different ways than traditional office workers. When it comes down to it, they’re still people working for an organization, and toward a common goal. Treating them fundamentally differently can cause feelings of alienation. However, focus must be put toward keeping open lines of frequent communication with virtual workers, and with the teams they need to collaborate with in order to help virtual workers feel connected to their teams.

Fortunately this is an area where I have direct experience. As a business owner handling a contract that required field services in the healthcare market throughout North America, the Caribbean, and Asia-Pacific, having a virtual workforce was the most effective, and efficient way to provide the services our clients demanded, while keeping control on expenses. We leveraged technologies effectively, including unified communications, and central document storage, which was vital since my technicians where not only a technical implementation, and technical support team, but also acted as traveling project managers of these multi-million dollar implementations. With a mix of direct employees, and contracted technicians from multiple geographic areas, we were able to balance service levels, and travel times, with productivity, and even allowed our contractors extra time at home; after all, life-work balance is important for everyone, and happy workers tend to be more effective, and loyal workers. We effectively became a virtual company, providing an unequaled level of service to our clients!

Here is our list of the top 5 best Practices for Virtual Companies in managing remote workers:

Keep virtual workers in close communication.

This one should speak for itself. One of the benefits of having a co-located staff is seeing them everyday, allowing them the opportunity to directly communicate with each other, and management, and being able to directly communicate with them in real-time when necessary. Communication with remote teams can be a little different since fact-to-face contact within moments is not always possible, but keeping open lines of communication is both possible, and essential. Advances in technology to unify communication systems, and of course the proliferation of mobile devices make this extremely easy these days.

Best practices state there are guidelines, and expectations that should be clearly laid out, and required. Expectations such as how long it should take to respond to emails, what follow-up steps should be taken, and set days, and times for remote workers to “check-in” with a phone call. Without such structure, remote workers will begin to feel isolated, forgotten, or even inconsequential. Remote workers should understand they are obligated to meet these requirements as part of their position. The use of instant messengers, and other virtual collaboration tools should also be encouraged.

2. Create a collaborative team environment.

Managing remote workers is still a team building process. Co-located workers, and remote workers might perform their duties over a physically disperse geographical region, but ultimately they wear the same team uniform, and have the same team goals. Although some healthy competition, and cooperation can help fuel performance, a manager still needs to be cognizant of the importance of building a collaborative team environment.

Now, a collaborative team environment might seem to imply that everyone gets along all of the time. This is not the case. Without some conflict, whether it be opposing ideas, or simply stating unpleasant truths, team members might be withholding ideas, or suppressing their own viewpoints, which are backed by their unique knowledge, and experience. If ideas are suppressed in an effort to keep the peace, or not upset other team members, there are lost opportunities for growth, or efficiency. Without this input, the team can be losing out on the very benefits of having a diversity among team members.

As a manager, each team member needs to know that they are valued, and their opinions within their role on the team are important.

In my role as a virtual manager, any time my team came together in one place, which was usually for the purposes of R&D or training, I made sure that we set aside time during that visit to all be in each other’s presence, discuss problems, issues, concerns, or simply new challenges that we were facing, and I facilitated a round-table discussion on how we could best achieve results in dealing with those obstacles. Whether it was based around process workflows, or simply the rigors of working independently, and traveling daily, we had open discussions, created lists of solutions, and then implemented policies, and best practices based on those meetings.

3. Establish performance standards, and clarify expectations

Regardless of their physical location, the expectations, and requirements set with remote workers shouldn’t vary greatly from those set with co-located workers. Again, they’re all part of the same team, so extreme differences in requirements may create feelings of animosity, or alienation.

The establishment of performance standards is essential. Managing remote workers, for the most part, eliminates the ability to observe their work, and results directly. Furthermore, working with remote workers who may all come from different cultural, or business backgrounds can create major breakdowns in performance, and communication if these expectations are not clearly laid out. Expectations should outline the team goals, and how each member is to go about achieving those goals. It should also include expected communication standards, and behavior standards, as noted in the first bullet-point regarding communication.

Have I mentioned communication is really important? I think I may have.

Along with this, be sure to recognize the positive accomplishments of your remote workers. Celebrating goal achievement, and other successes helps all employees feel noticed, which is especially important for remote workers to have a tendency to feel invisible, or ignored due to their physical distance from the office.

4. Adapt coaching strategies to managing remote workers

Getting in the same room with the people that you manage is still important. As I noted from my own personal example, natural opportunities to get teams together should be taken advantage of for team building, and learning sessions. However, regularly scheduled visits with each team member should also be on the agenda.

There isn’t a whole lot of research in the arena of how often in-person visits should occur. Predictability is more important than frequency in this regard, and obviously travel budgets will play a role in dictating what is possible. If your remote worker knows you will be there to visit, observe, and assist every three months, or six months, it does build consistency, rapport, and trust. Just as important, the manager must put a genuine effort into understanding each worker’s unique environment, and workflow. Join in on sales-calls, conference calls, or project updates so you can see their position as a remote worker from their perspective.

Since managing remote workers means you don’t have frequent, direct access to observe their performance, this is another area where technology can help. Regular “touch-base” review calls should be scheduled to look at performance metrics, and daily activities. Such deliverables that can be reviewed by indirect observation are any required documents, or reports, their completion status, and if they’re delivered on time. Email communications between team members, and clients, contributions by team members on conference calls, or in group discussions, and any team goal metrics such as sales quotas, sales activity, or customer satisfaction feedback gives the manager valuable insight into the performance of remote workers.

5. Build a trust-based working environment

In the above sections, I’ve noted items such as communication, collaboration, clarity, and consistency. Each of these concepts goes toward creating trust, and is effective in doing so, but they are not the whole picture.

Within managing remote workers, or any team of people, it is important that the team members get to know each other. Personal knowledge between team members: their strengths, the areas where they’re not as strong, their backgrounds, and their experiences. Consider creating a team page using a cloud based collaboration service, or your company’s CRM platform, complete with team member biographies to allow local, and virtual employees to learn more about each other. Set policies that encourage team members to treat each other just as if they were working face-to-face. Policies such as making every effort to be on time for conference calls, and web meetings, and communicating in advance anything that might cause them to miss important meetings or deadlines. Shared calendars within unified communications helps improve transparency, as does consistency, following through on commitments, and meeting your own expectations as a manager.

In conclusion, managing remote workers doesn’t have to involve the reinvention of already established management, and coaching policies. Awareness to the unique challenges that come with virtual teams, and adherence to established management policies, and expectations can keep your remote workers feeling like part of the team, while raising everyone’s level of accountability, and productivity. There is much to be gained by implementing remote work policies. Follow the above advice, and your organization can reap the benefits!

Al Fine

The sky darkens around the edges
And the orange glow of the sunset
Blinds the horizon
Clouds cast in red and gray
Obscure the sky
And hide the stars
From lighting the way

The antagonist of my day
The dark night tempts
And mocks
Calling out
Begging for life
And making promises
That it never keeps

Glowing street lights
On empty streets
The distant flashing lights
And cars pass by
Never stopping
No one will take notice
And the lonely night
Will be the same
Like rewinding the tape
This part is played over
And over again

Fixated on what is not
Unable to find the change

The night passes by
And the cars never stop

As through a window
Looking into life
The observer ignores the glass
For what it is
The glares
Are not for want
Nor for pity
For a window when closed
Is only to keep out the bad
While the beauty of the world beyond it
Remains clearly visible

Yet the glass is easily broken
Or dirtied by the sands of time
Only then will the glass be noticed
Broken
Dirty
Failing to provide
A perfect view of the world
While sheltering those behind it
From all that is bad

And in the night
The dark and cold night
The shades are drawn
People turn away
For the glass can expose them

While the night passes by
And the cars never stop

Originally written June, 2008