"Replacing" the Face-to-Face Planning Session

A lot of what I do is planning, problem-solving, and getting information out of people’s heads to craft it into a masterpiece of a plan, proposal, or solution.

I’m now facing the need to do current-state, future-state, and gap workshops virtually!

I will never be able to replace the in-person session – the energy, body language, and idea flow that happens when I lock people in a conference room – hence “replacing” in quotation marks. However, I still need to complete my projects.

My planning sessions typically include storyboards, easels, and note cards or giant and regular sticky notes. Very tactile and visual. And very in-person.

So what am I going to do?

I know I’m going to use a video conferencing app to be able to video chat and share my screen. This way, I do get to see people’s faces, and they get to see what I’m creating as I’m creating it – as they would as stickies or cards go up.

Where I fall short is how to create the online visual of the sticky notes/cards. I’ve done a bit of research on tools that are out there. There are a lot of options, but I’ve boiled it down, and I think I’ve made a decision, but first – here’s what I found. (None of these are paid reviews by the way, just what I found in my afternoon search!)

Good to note here that all of the options have a sharing feature so I can share the workspace with a team.

 Visio

“Microsoft Visio is a diagramming and vector graphics application and is part of the Microsoft Office family” (thanks Wikipedia!). 

My Experience: I’ve tried using Visio for online sessions before, it’s clunky and slow. It does save time in the documentation phase, but watching someone create a Visio is worse than watching paint dry. It’s hard to keep the team engaged and ideas flowing when you are dealing with the intricacies of Visio itself.

LucidChart

“Lucidchart is a web-based proprietary platform used to allow users to collaborate on drawing, revising, and sharing charts and diagrams. “

 My Experience: Do you Visio? That’s what this looks and feels like to me. There’s lots of ability to chart and diagram. That said, Lucidchart does have better visualization templates to choose from that may look better in the end, then again, so does Visio. What am I missing here that I can’t get in Visio? I guess it is a cheaper option!

Cardsmith

“Sticky notes on a virtual whiteboard. Brainstorming online, collaborate in real-time, project management – all in one. Perfect for agile & lean teams.”

My Experience: This is a basic sticky note online app. It was quirky in chrome today, not sure if that’s normal. It did work in Edge, but I’m not a fan of the browser. That said, they do have Business Analysts and Project Planners and Managers in mind and have some pretty nifty templates.

The interface is simple. The cards (stickies) are easy to use and move around. You can create a default card so that each card you create has the same look/information. There are also built-in card managers to let you have the cards in freeform or in a tile view (all the cards are lined up perfectly for all of you OCD-er’s), and there’s also a grid function that you can use to sort the cards. I like this last one if I’m going to attempt Compression Planning remotely here soon.

With cardsmith, the cards can have images, links, to-do lists, and links as well as text.

 Pinup & Note.ly

I group these two as they are the ultra-simplified versions of sticky notes.

My Experience: You create sticky notes and can move them around, change color, etc. They look like they could be the same developers! Too basic for what I need, but could be a straightforward option for a bulletin-board replacement.

 Stormboard

“Digital sticky notes, whiteboards, and workspace for business processes”

My Experience: You know how when you go car shopping, and you find the car that has almost all the features you need, you just wish it was in a different color? That’s kind of how I feel with this Stormboard. It is very close to having all that I would want.

Integrations with other apps/software make this one the high-end model. You can add documents, images, and videos. Stickies can be combined to create Index cards. And, there’s a whiteboard function if you need to draw something out.

I didn’t try it, but they do say that it works on phones, tablets, computers, and Surface Hubs.

The kicker for me? You can assign tasks from the stickies, and you can send reports instantly. These features are definitely on my “want” list!

I tested this one with a team member, and if you share the stormboard, others can add to the board live while others are also working on it. This is a great feature for Pair & Shares or Group Breakouts.

Decision?

I’m looking at cardsmith and Stormboard, leaning more towards Stormboard, but I’m going to take some time in the next few days to keep using the free trials before I make a decision on which to use live.

I’ll let you know how it turns out!

If you’ve done a virtual planning session I’d love to hear what you used an how it turned out.

Wishing you all the best as we navigate new waters,

A few coronavirus survival tips from a long-time Working-From-Home consultant and mom

As the world faces the pandemic of an era, all of us are facing new ways of living. Whether it’s just that you can’t go to your favorite restaurant or bar on St. Patrick’s Day or that you are now a work-from-home professional or you might have the trifecta: working-from-home-while-home-schooling-and-you-don’t-even-get-to-go-to-the-bar!

I’m now in that last category! My saving grace? I’ve done this before (well, before I got to go to the bar!). I’ve had my school-ager home for breaks before while I worked, just not this unplanned and without anything outside the house to go do.

I thought I’d share a few tricks I’ve used while working and momming. I’m not saying that these will all work for you, but we can all use a little camaraderie. So know that you’re not alone, even if you think these tricks are useless.

Keep in mind that as I write this, daycare is still open. If my 4-year-old comes home, there may be a different post – and I can’t promise that my language will be as civil!

1.You need an office.

Even if you can’t work in your usual office, you still need an office to work in – that has a door.

We all saw the video of the kid coming into the room during the BBC interview so doors aren’t foolproof, but it does limit background noise. Set up a desk of some kind. It could be a folding table, TV trays (anyone have those anymore? We do!), or the dining room table if you have a separate dining room. If you can’t set up your desk in a place with a door, at least have a plan for where you will go for calls so that you can shut out the noise of a full house when you need to (my daughter recommends the closet!). A dog barking or kid noise will happen, but don’t be the one that we hear your entire life going on in the background while we are having a meeting!

2. You can’t work like you’re in an office.

For better or worse, you’re not in an office. You won’t have the interruptions from your co-workers wanting to stop by and chat when you really need to concentrate. However, you also won’t have the ability to stop by a co-workers desk and ask that really quick question you need to ask.

Solution: For us GenX-ers, go back to the college days and find a chat app. AOL isn’t en vogue anymore, but Microsoft has Teams and Google has Hangouts. There are others, but likely you use one of these broad platforms to get your work done. Get your team or typical go-to coworkers on the app. This will give you the ability to ask a quick question just like you always did, but without the awkward small talk.

You might not have coworkers interrupting you, but if you’re in the quagmire bucket with me and have school-agers under 13, you will have your co-livers interrupting you. There’s food, drink, and dire device needs that need your immediate attention!

Solution: This one is multi-part.

  1. Fill a water bottle or other lidded liquid conveyance container with a drink of choice that should last them an hour.
  2. Set out provisions like grapes, crackers, banana (if they can peel them alone), or other non-perishable-in-an-hour kind of food.
  3. Get 2 pieces of paper. On one, make a red X and on the other a green check mark (or other yes/no symbols of your choosing – we are doing emoji’s this time). Put them on the office door, back of your chair, or even wear it. These are to let your family know if you cannot be interrupted or if you can handle a quick question. You’ll have to explain this – probably many times!
  4. Set a timer for an hour or 90 minutes (depends on how independent your kids are). When the timer goes off, check on the kids. This is meant to be a a quick check-in. We’ll get to the bigger break – lunch!

3. Your schedule won’t be exactly like at the office, especially with kids.

When you work from home, the nice part is that you don’t have to commute and, depending on your meeting schedule, you may not even have to get dressed-except to maybe change into sweats. This is a huge timesaver! The downside in the coronavirus situation is that you also have the kids home with you. This is a huge detour in the schedule. So how do we deal with this?

Solution: First and foremost is that you have to set expectations for yourself and with your employer that this is not business-as-usual, so it cannot be business-as-usual (even for those of us that work from home everyday!). Be clear in your expectations about when you must be available (meetings, client calls or emails, etc.) and when you can be flexible (working on your assignments) as long as deadlines are met. Let me reiterate that you are still on the hook for deadlines (managers and execs, I’ve got your back too!).

Second, establish as a family when you will be working and when you will be available for family. This may mean splitting your day into chunks.

  • You might do an early morning first pass before the kids are up: set your priorities for the day, check your calendar, and respond to any urgent emails that won’t sit until after you get the family moving.
  • Once everyone is as settled as they are going to be for the day, you can get back at it (taking your check-in breaks) until lunch. I’m making mine earn her play WiFi this time, so that’s keeping her busy!
  • When you get everyone fed at lunchtime, this is a good time to answer e-learning questions and make sure everyone is on track for getting school work done. I think this is also a good time for a brain break for everyone. Go for a walk (if you’re allowed by local rules), play a quick card game, or get out the Wii/Switch and “Just Dance.” It will likely be longer than an hour for your “lunch break” doing it this way – but you don’t have your evening commute, so you can make it up.
  • Lastly, if you haven’t finished what needs to be finished for the day, once the kids are playing after dinner or when they are tucked in for the night, you can finish up.

4. Breathe and take breaks

When you’re in an office, I think it’s easier to get up, move around, and take breaks. You have to get up to go to the printer or the conference room and the bathroom is (generally) more than 20 steps away. When you work from home you have to be intentional about getting up, moving, and taking those deep breaths that help to keep us calm. I’m not good at this one – it’s a struggle every day. Remember that timer to check on the kids? It’s also a good timer to remember to breathe (probably both before and after checking on the kids by week 2!) and to stretch.

We’ll get through this

Put on your sweats, get the laptop booted up, and we’ll get through this!

It’s not ideal, but we’re all making it work as best we can. While they are calling it “social isolation,” let’s not socially isolate while we have to physically isolate. Keep in touch with your friends and check in on family. There are lots of services offering free use while we are facing the coronavirus. If you or loved ones don’t normally have virtual connectivity, get hooked up so that we can maintain our social connections. Afterall, life is about more than just work.

With lots of strength and courage,

and for some humor…

Work-at-Home Mom Meme
photo cred: https://flickr.com/photos/shantipoet/7395464526
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