Categories
Honesty Work

Six things I’ve learned (so far) about working from home

Working from home used to feel like a luxury but when you have to do it full-time it becomes a slightly different proposition than a way to grab some cheeky time to yourself, or a chance to walk the children to and from school.  Having worked from home for 10 years, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned so far:

1. Inanimate objects have the power of telepathy

The washing up, the pile of post, the Lego that your children have distributed across the carpet. All of them sending out messages to attend to them. You will miss the days when you used to shut the door on it all and head to an office where the carpets are Lego-free.

a picture of the washing up

2. You will get through certain items at an alarming rate

Coffee, milk, bread, toilet roll. When you work in an office there are fairies that come and replenish these items. If you have the fortune to work for a corporate they may even top up your fruit bowl and have themed restaurant days where a chef will cook Chinese food for you at a vastly subsidised rate. This does not happen when you work from home and all that’s in your cupboard is a packet of Super Noodles.

3. Walking from one room to the other becomes a walk too far

What? You mean I have to walk from the spare room to the kitchen just to get a drink?! I’m not sure if it’s because you have to navigate the washing up / post / Lego to get to your destination but when I worked in a ‘proper’ office you would have thought my chair was on fire the amount of times I got up. That’s why…….

4. Sometimes doing the laundry is ok

With a chair that’s not on fire, and a feeling you can’t be bothered to cross the threshold from one room to another, let alone walk to the shops to replenish your coffee, milk and toilet roll, you’re in real danger of your bottom pooling until it cannot be freed from your chair without industrial cutters. Get up, stretch your legs, take five minutes out.

5. Mirrors and video calls are useful

Working on your own at home comes with a real risk of developing disgusting eating habits and unforgivable clothing combinations. Nobody wants to Zoom you to find you’re sitting in your pyjamas or that you have a big string of cheese hanging off your chin as you eat hunched over your laptop. Get dressed for calls or perhaps hang a mirror near your desk – just beware that you don’t turn into a budgie and start talking to your reflection….

6. Less time meeting, more time doing!

One of the trade-offs of working in an office is that you must regularly participate in the spirit-crushing activity that is Being In A Meeting. Usually someone will be late because they’ve stopped to buy a latte, or are in another meeting which is running over because everyone wanted a coffee. Sometimes you will get to the end of the meeting and nothing has been decided except flat whites are the new lattes. While there’s a distinct downside to not meeting your colleagues in person, now is definitely the time to embrace your opportunity to do!


Like this?  You’ll find more ‘top tips’ on working from home and tales of family life as if really is in Reasons to be Cheerful Part II – available for download for just £1.99 during lock down and £5.99 in print.

Categories
Compering Honesty Storytelling Technology Work

The Value of Vulnerability

Vulnerability in the tech industry is dirty word. Firewalls must be robust, infrastructure must be secure, and if you’ve not got a handle on your data, you might as well write your own headline for The Register. In the past eight years I have written enough whitepapers and thought leadership pieces for vendors, developers and solution providers to paper a datacentre, so the spectre of what happens in a cyber attack is never far from my mind.

But there is a place in tech where vulnerability is valuable – in leadership. At the same time as putting the fear of God into enterprises, I have worked closely with founders, CMOs and CTOs to help them bring to the fore what they’re all about. And it isn’t about being a bullet-proof, bombastic uber-director who can crush a competitor with their bare hands. It’s about putting themselves in a position of vulnerability.

A distinctly non-corporate approach

So what does vulnerability look like? For the people I work with, it’s about taking a distinctly non-corporate approach – but one that recognises and respects the business. This means:

  • Sharing a little about themselves
  • Acknowledging fears and going for it anyway
  • Challenging misconceptions
  • Having fun

Hello all you risk-takers

A common trait that I have found amongst the people I work with is that they are used to taking risks in their professional and personal lives but they haven’t found a way to comfortably combine the two. They worry about getting it wrong, making themselves look stupid or undermining the credibility that they’ve already built. In an era when we are told to ‘bring your whole self to work’ it is very hard to strike that balance when you are carrying the number or responsible for a team of seasoned solution architects.

Creating a connection

The place in which demonstrating vulunerability is particularly effective is at company events where, let’s be honest, even the most dedicated of us will flag at the twenty-fifth mention of the conference tag-line or call to action. They provide a rare opportunity for employees to connect with their leadership in person – and a perfect setting to deliver something memorable. I mean, you’ve got great lighting, proper AV, an autocue and a captive (and possibly hung-over) audience – don’t waste that on another set of BORING SLIDES!

Here’s an idea

If you’re starting from a blank page, it’s hard to know what will work. And if you’re only working with people within your organisation, it can feel difficult to come up with a truly fresh idea. So here’s an example of something really works well.

Using poetry and rap

I’ve written raps about annual reports and poems on the focus for the next fiscal. And, because it’s always using words related to that business (and often name-checking people on the team), it brings the right balance of corporate and comedic. It also provides a chance for a leader to express vulnerability without feeling like they have to share something overly personal. Most people recoil in horror at the thought of having to recite a poem or rap on stage but most leaders are already comfortable speaking in front of a large audience. Using poetry or rap provides a great stretch for the presenter and something memorable for the audience.

That was so brave

The feedback from the audiences who have witnessed their leaders truly embrace this has been phenomenal. “I could never do that”, “That was so brave”, “It was amazing!”. In one particular instance, I worked with the incredible Leanne Brown to create a piece that she completely and utterly owned – going so far as to create a video with a soundtrack. As a marketing leader she was epitomising creativity and effective messaging. She also created an asset that could be re-used (another marketing gold star). To find out more about what Leanne did, and why it was important to her, check out her post.

Make it easy on yourself

What Leanne did so brilliantly was find a way to make the rap we worked on together work for her. Learning lyrics off-pat is fine if you’re Stormzy but then I wonder how he is with running a partner summit…..

With another client we changed the words to a massive hip-hop track. This meant that the audience were already with her as the opening bars rang out and when it got to the chorus they were joining in. Putting a spin on something that was familiar got people to up their energy levels and engage. There was even a mini-stage invasion.

Finally, for one VP of Sales, we decided on a poem but he didn’t want to deliver it from a lectern. Instead, we put his poem in a book and set it up like a cosy fireside chat – giving him the opportunity to draw the audience in so they would listen closely before surprising them with his lyrical dexterity.

In each of these instances, the leaders involved showed their willingness to be vulnerable by opening themselves up to a new challenge. The conference attendees got to see people who are at the top of their game professionally doing something a little bit risky. It demonstrated that the organisations they work for are open to doing things differently – and that they see value in vulnerability.

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As I writer I help tech leaders express themselves honestly and bring a human touch to corporate communications.

As a speaker and stand-up, I tell it like it is.

Categories
Honesty Storytelling Work

Why it’s Time to Celebrate the Real Influencers

In visiting a client’s LinkedIn profile today as a means to help accurately capture her voice, I’m told that she hasn’t yet written any articles. But it’s ok because LinkedIn has suggested that in the absence of her writing, I might like to read what some ‘Influencers’ have to say.

I wonder which influencers I might be offered and, naturally, I get the ‘most followed’ on LinkedIn. Tony Robbins – eeew -, James Caan – meh – and don’t even get me started on Richard Bloody Branson. The list continues with more of the same old same old. The same old men with the same old yachts and the same old dentist.

It prompted me to think about the people who are true influencers for me and how they differ from LinkedIn’s list.

  1. They have directly inspired me to take action
  2. They do things that make a positive difference to other people’s lives
  3. I can go to them for advice without fear of judgement
  4. We have shared experience and/or shared values
  5. There’s no BS

It can be easy to think that only those people with the greatest number of followers have something worthwhile to say, but I’ve found my influence and inspiration a little closer to home.

So, in the spirit of celebrating the real influencers, I’d like to say thanks to #smartworksreading #sistersisternetwork #athenanetwork, and all of the smart, funny, inspiring people that I work with and know. They influence and inspire me way more than LinkedIn will ever know.

Who influences you?

NB: This post was originally written by me on LinkedIn. Want to connect? Head on over to my profile.

Want to find out more about my work as a speaker, compere, writer or stand up? Hit the links 🙂

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Honesty Microsoft Channel Storytelling Technology Work

In Praise of Microsoft Partners

It’s Microsoft Inspire awards season and I’m delighted to see UK Microsoft partners well and truly represented amongst the winners. Seeing the celebratory posts prompted me to think about the partners I worked with during my 10 years at Microsoft – many of which were spent as a Partner Account Manager.

I’ve written and spoken about my time working at ‘The Mothership’ but haven’t said much about the partner community. Something I now intend to fix because it’s thanks to them that I:

A: Learned what’s really involved in running a business – something that stood me in great stead for setting up on my own.

B: Made sure that I didn’t get too corporate to be employable anywhere else.

C: Made enough money that when I decided it was time to leave, I was financially secure enough to do so. My very best years were spent as a PAM for the LAR community – all hail EA agreements!.

So, in no particular order, here’s some Microsoft partners I’d like to thank:

Bytes Software Services

Do you know how much I loved you? If the Venga Bus was designed solely to transport one Microsoft partner around, it was you. Nobody partied like you did, nobody made me laugh as much as you. On more than one occasion, nobody booked more revenue than you. You probably paid for my kitchen. You definitely paid my kids’ nursery fees.

Teksys

My very first partner and no longer in existence (these two things are NOT related) so instead I will say enormous thanks to Shaun Frohlich for his guidance, encouragement, wise words and referrals.

SCC

Now I think you know that I loved you. Still do. People didn’t want to be your PAM, they said it was “too hard” but that was because they didn’t know what to do with a privately owned organisation chock full of personalities who saw no reason to do what a 25 year old in a nice suit told them that the corporate scorecard said they should do. We got along famously. You did a Google deal that led to a meeting with the UK GM of Microsoft that I will never forget. It kind of went along the lines of “HOW THE **** DID THIS HAPPEN?! WHO LET THIS HAPPEN?!” You invited me to present to your board, you gave me amazing opportunities and one person in particular helped me challenge some misconceptions I had about what it takes to be successful in the business world. Cheers John 🙂

Computacenter

Who’s bright idea was it to give me both SCC and Computacenter to manage at the same time? It took a while to build trust and I was never going to fit with your enterprise sales team but working with the SBU was a fantastic experience as was getting involved in exec briefings between our two organisations – I became fantastically adept at getting to know the executive assistants and writing 8 page briefing documents. We went through the launch of Windows 7 together and the horror of trying to explain to sales people who were used to winning huge deals that, really, what they wanted to be selling was BPOS.

Softcat

I never got to be your PAM…but I wanted to (we all did). Not least when there was an emphasis on booking mid-market revenue 😀

One of the best things about building a career outside of Microsoft is that I have worked with, and still get to work with, with some excellent Microsoft partners and associated businesses. These include Sol-Tec, LeadaMarket, Tech Data, Incredible Results, Coeo, Mimecast, ResourceiT and NAK Consulting. Working with them outside of the corporate walls, but with the benefit of years of tech industry knowledge, has been a new, rewarding experience in itself.

So if you’re going to Microsoft Inspire this year, enjoy the keynotes – sorry, “corenotes”…whose terrible idea was that? Enjoy the networking, the 101’s, the deep dives, the entertainment, the whole spectacle of being in an enormous venue with tens of thousands of people.

Enjoy the competitiveness of the country lounges and trying to out-do the Netherlands when it comes to team spirit (you won’t, they’ll send three thousand people in orange t-shirts who will all sit together at every given opportunity, wins every time). Enjoy the soul-crushing, head-swimming hangovers that are not fixed by free coffee and bran muffins. Enjoy shopping on a work trip. Enjoy getting to know the Microsoft team and the chance to have a beer with someone who ordinarily you’d superglue into their car to stop them getting to a customer before you. Enjoy the knowledge that outside of some of the things you’ll hear that make you want to be a little bit sick in your mouth, you are a community that is really, truly valued by an enormous number of people. Me included.

Categories
Family Storytelling Work

What Camping and Business Travel Have in Common

Not so long ago I wouldn’t have set foot inside a tent.  The aversion to canvas was in part formed by an early experience with the Brownies where we camped on a rugby pitch in Abergavenny; one of our party had (to put it delicately) a “very upset tummy”, the rest of us were just “very upset”.  It was also informed by a strong desire to avail of as many 5* hotel experiences as possible – which, as it turns out, was a very good plan as once children arrived, the cash with which to do this vanished under an ocean of costs associated with sports clubs and the buying of shoes every six months.

Eventually I acquiesced and our family has now celebrated five years of tent-ownership which began with borrowing a tent, and ended with us owning not just a tent, but an awning, several flash gadgets and a habit for campsites that come with great facilities.  What began as a way to holiday cheaply has resulted in something that is not too far off business travel because….

Small = smart

I once managed a week in Washington with just carry-on luggage (ok, Business Class carry-on but it still counts!).  Miniature toiletries, layering of separates, strategically positioned shoes to maximise space, anything to avoid queuing for hours at a carousel or the magical game that is wondering whether your luggage will reach the same destination as you…. This habit has now transformed into the decanting of shampoo into small bottles, sleeping bags that fold into teeny pockets and collapsible colanders (who knew the joy that little gadget would bring?!).

A little luxury goes a long way

Some people won’t travel without a scented candle for their hotel room (I never once did that, but I get why you would), others insist on a glass of champagne after take-off (I definitely did that).  For camping this transforms into good wine, proper cutlery, farm shop burgers and cheeseboards.  Our friend once brought a glass cloche to protect, display and serve a rather nice cake from.  It was a crazily fragile thing to take into a field full of children and guy ropes but not one of us did not appreciate its beauty over a Tupperware pot.

You will covet other peoples’ stuff

On a business trip it’s all about admiring your neighbour’s shoes / laptop bag / Luis Vuitton toiletry bag.  Back when we had to share rooms with other people at conferences as part of a cost-saving / how to make employees feel deeply uncomfortable exercise, I tried on my roommate’s Manolo Blahniks while she was out.  Upon her return I confessed to my terrible behaviour. And then she let me try them on again – yay!    

Now we remark favourably on our friends’ camping stoves, tent carpets and camping mats, and harbour ambitions to one day own a kitchen stand.  It will be ours…

The day hasn’t started unless coffee has been served

In a business context it’s mega hangovers thanks to dinner with clients and all-nighters. When camping it’s being woken by what sounds like a concrete mixer (when in fact it is deer nibbling at grass) or having to take your child for a wee in the dark several times during the night.  All of these fade away with the first cup of strong, hot coffee.

The feeling when you get home

Whether it’s a five day business trip to the US requiring inordinate amounts of smiling nicely at customers and a cast-iron constitution, or a long weekend of fresh air and outdoor pursuits with your family, both of these things are true:

  1. You will feel like you need a holiday afterwards   
  2. There is nothing like your own bed!
Categories
Honesty Storytelling Work

Owning Up to My Mistakes

A conversation with my sister turned to talk of mistakes and being afraid; she had an upcoming university visit and was worrying about the journey there: what if she missed her bus, got the wrong train, couldn’t find the right room, or missed the start of the tour? What if her childcare arrangements fell through and she couldn’t go at all?

I’m 18 years older than my sister so, by her estimation, I’m a lot more ‘together’ than she is. More confident. Less likely to make a mistake. And right now, I guess that’s true. I don’t fear the fickle nature of public transport or panic about new experiences but I do remember how it feels to be in your early twenties when your skin is altogether a lot thinner and the world feels much bigger. I thought, therefore, the best thing I could do was share with her some of the mistakes I made when I was about her age. At the time, they were embarrassing, stressful and a little bit upsetting. In hindsight, I found them pretty funny and I thought you might do too. So here goes:

The Cup of Tea Mistake

I am 20 years old and I have never made a cup of tea. And now I’m being asked to make one for the visiting Regional Sales Director who is Very Important. I am a coffee drinker and coffee is easy: a teaspoon of granules, some hot water and a bit of milk. Oh yes, and a couple of teaspoons of sugar (this is back when everybody had sugar). Tea is an entirely different proposition. Tea for the Regional Sales Director who is Very Important is terrifying.

I know how it starts: bag in cup then pour your boiling water in and leave it for a bit, but for how long? The Regional Sales Director says he’d like it “Builders”. What does that even mean? How do builders like their tea? With cement in?

I stand and stare at the kettle before asking the office manager for help who (and I will be forever grateful to him for this – cheers Spencer) doesn’t rip into me but instead calmly talks me through the process. Before going off to tell the whole of the front office and then standing in the doorway to watch me make my presentation.

Tea made, I proudly walk from the kitchenette into the back office (which is attached to a warehouse and has no natural daylight and yet is where the management team choose to sit), and as I cross the carpeted floor…. I fail to hold the cups level and spill tea all the way from the door right to the regional sales director’s feet. Like Hansel & Gretel and their breadcrumbs, a trail of tea leads me past the laughing office manager and back to the kitchenette where I begin the process again. At least I know how to make it this time.

The Cup of Coffee Mistake

I am 23 years old and going to visit a customer. I have driven there in a company car – a real life company car! I have a very nice leatherette Filofax of which I am inordinately proud, I like to think its says I’m “serious”.

The meeting with the customer is in his office and he has something much nicer than my Filofax – a real leather, padded ‘conference ring binder’ with many pen holders, zipped compartments and slots for business cards. If there were a game of Top Trumps based on stationery accessories, he would definitely win. It lies open on his desk, ready for him to make notes based on all the very interesting things that I will have to say about structured cabling (hahaha!).

Before I can wow him with my knowledge of CAT5 however, he asks me if I would like a drink. I am tempted to request builders tea to see if his secretary knows how to make it but instead stick with what I know – coffee, white with two sugars.

The coffee arrives. It gets placed on the desk and as I reach across to take the handle I knock it everywhere. I watch as a tide of hot brown liquid rapidly makes its way across his desk towards the waiting leather ring binder. Mortified? You bet. Thankfully his reactions are lightening fast and his precious executive accoutrement is saved. However, the coffee does meet with a yellow legal pad which begins the process of mopping up before we can even grab a paper towel.

Like my manager before, the customer did not make fun of me right away, instead he offered tissues and said “It doesn’t matter”. When I returned to my office, I had to relive the whole damn thing again as my sales manager wanted to know how the visit had gone. My penance was to make him a cup of coffee every day for the next week.

The Passport Mistake

We’ll rewind a little bit here – this occurs not long after the ‘Cup of Tea’ incident. I’m 21 years old and it is 4am on a very cold December morning. There is snow on the ground and more on its way but, for now, I’m feeling warm as I am in a minibus with my colleagues from the freight forwarding company I work for. We’re all off on a jolly to Calais to buy continental lager from a hypermarket and maybe some French cheeses – the excitement!

Despite the early hour we’re in good spirits and there is plenty of banter to be had. Talk of the night before and what the rest of the day might bring when someone pipes up “Alright then, who’s forgotten their passport?”.

Passport? What do you mean I need my passport? Somewhere in my mixed up mind I seemed to think that I didn’t need mine….because we are part of the EU. Ah. It is fair to say that my comment of “I have!” quietened even the birds as they began their dawn chorus. My fellow minibus occupants looked at me as if I’d told them that….well, that I thought I didn’t need my passport.

Taking the collective decision that they can’t take me all the way to Dover because that would give me a stupidly long journey home, and they can’t take me home because they’ll miss the ferry, they drop me off in a village. I don’t think it was too far from our starting point but it’s 5am and there isn’t any passing traffic so I’m going to have to walk. Which is what I do until I come across a knight in shining armour – or rather the knight in a battery powered vehicle that is the milkman. He kindly drops me at the train station and when I finally get back home, I am in tears; a mixture of embarrassment, exhaustion and freezing cold. Fortunately my landlady is also a friend – she holds fire on laughing at me until she’s made me a much needed cup of tea.

The next day I discover that my colleagues’ minibus broke down on the way home and they were stuck in it for seven hours. They may have had their passports but they didn’t have any heating……

Sharing these memories with my sister made her feel a bit less worried and gave us both a good laugh – the conversation was far more useful than me offering her advice. It also served as a reminder that at a time when social media leans towards the celebratory, sometimes it can do us good to own up to our mistakes.