Did you miss the “Working From Home Securely: Best Practices for Communications” webinar featuring BeBop’s John Conroy (VP Communications & Market Development)? Here’s another opportunity to catch this webinar, we’ve uploaded a copy of the video here for you!
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I’m John Conroy. I am BeBop’s VP of Communications and Market Development. A bit of background on me, I’ve worked in communications in a variety of different ways for about 20 years. I have worked at small companies, large companies. I’ve run marketing, PR, business development groups. I was at a PR agency for quite a while where I did everything from representing companies like Napster and Microsoft to running red carpets for the Grammy Awards.
I was at The LA Times for about eight and a half years, which was interesting, to say the least, because the news industry is very fast-moving and very rapidly changing. Plus, I was on both sides: editorial and corporate. I’ve been at BeBop since before the company started. BeBop has really given me an opportunity to lean into my experience with digital media, with entertainment, with technology. On top of that, I’m also an actor and I teach acting. I teach comedy.
All in, communication is my jam.
It is something that I love and it’s something that I’ve devoted my entire career to. Part of that job, or a really important part of that job, is having a sense of: What is the zeitgeist? What is in the air right now? What are people thinking about? What are they talking about? What are people worried about? That, I think, is especially important right now at the time that we’re in.
As you may know, we’ve been at BeBop doing these webinars every day for a week and we’re going to continue to do them every day for the foreseeable future. Every day, we have very specific angles that are all related to working from home, whether it’s best practices and solutions for the media and entertainment industry or whether they are specific to certain workflows or whether they’re specific to individual creatives and how they can best work from home if they’re an editor or a visual effects artist or an animator.
I’ve decided that today what I’m going to talk about is I’m going to take that up a level and I’m going to talk about ways that we can better communicate, both in general and then also when we’re working from home. I think it’s especially important now and I feel like it’s part of what everyone’s thinking about largely because we’re all managing an enormous amount of stress and uncertainty right now.
I think if one thing has become clear is that the longterm reality that we’re facing, not just in the United States, but in Canada and Western Europe and throughout the world is making people realize they’re going to need to change the way that they work and they’re going to need to do that for quite some time.
There are ways to do that better. That includes ways that we communicate better. The ways that we communicate better are also really good at helping us manage stress and set expectations and be more productive. While I have expertise in this, I also sometimes need to listen to my own advice. I’m not infallible. I’ll even acknowledge in here some of the things that I recommend doing that I myself need to remind myself that I have to do.
Those are the topics and we’re going to cover today because I feel like that’s in the air right now and I really just want to start with an anecdote of what day is it? I’m not kidding you. For the past several days, I’ve had trouble every morning keeping track of what day it is. I’ve forgotten. That was making me feel a little weirded out and like somehow I was overdoing it or overtaxing myself, until I realized Monday that everybody is having that problem. Everybody that I was talking to at BeBop, all of our customers that I was talking to, our partners, everybody was relating to the same idea of how in the world is it only lunchtime on Monday.
We’re living in really strange times and stress levels are really high and anxiety is all present and we’re having to get used to working in ways that we never have before. There’s a lot of uncertainty and uncertainty breeds stress. It can make the most sturdy rock-solid person feel wobbly and unstable.
This is normal.
Everybody’s going through the same thing, but everybody’s dealing with it in different ways and at different times, so it’s really important to give yourself and your team a wide berth to deal with these feelings because if you don’t deal with them, if you just suppress them entirely, well, that isn’t going to work. Something’s going to break and that’s something is probably you or somebody that works for you, so it’s important to keep channels of communication open across the board to give people the opportunity and the outlet and the patience and understanding that we’re all doing the best that we can under the circumstances.
What isn’t normal right now, just a little note on social distancing, that isn’t normal, that is not something that anybody’s used to. It’s been done before in certain tests, probably for Mars landers or it’s been done where there have been outbreaks at other times or if somebody has a family member that was going to be undergoing major surgery, some level of social distancing and isolation was probably necessary to make sure that they didn’t catch anything that was going to make it impossible for them to have surgery. What we’re not used to is entire nations, entire societies having to do social distancing for long periods of time. That’s a bit odd.
The biggest thing to keep in mind with that is that social distancing and isolation, they make you feel like you’re on a boat, but the anchor has been pulled up and you’re drifting and that’s really uncomfortable.
But it’s also totally normal.
There are ways around it, so I’m going to talk a little bit about those ways and some tips and tricks and then specifically how we can better communicate so that working from home does not need to be a source of stress.
One of the things that I’ve been thinking about is shifting my thinking where… I’m not really crazy about picturing myself on an anchorless boat that’s drifting out to sea, so my imagination has been taking me to imagining that I am on a space station. The imagination can be a really great thing. It doesn’t just have to be there for irrational fears. I realize in retrospect that I think part of the reason why I hate the idea of being adrift at sea is because I’ve always been terrified of the ocean and once was convinced that I saw a shark in the Hudson River. You can guess what movie I had just seen.
The point is, putting yourself in a different mindset can be really helpful, so I’ve shifted myself to thinking what would this be like if I was in a space station? I mean that from the standpoint of time. Time of day is impossible to gauge and it’s really important to have routines. Routines are really necessary when you’re working from home. It’s necessary in order to stay productive, it’s necessary to be healthy, and it’s necessary to be seen.
One of the things that I think is probably a good idea to just, as I would describe it, “escort the elephant out of the room,” is that there is a stigma, a longstanding stigma with regards to working from home and that idea is that, “Oh, you’re not really working, you’re just goofing off.” Anybody who’s worked from home, and I have primarily for quite some time, anyone who’s actually worked from home for any stretch of time with describe that stigma with one word, which would be “bullshit.”
Honestly, the biggest risk of working from home is not that you’re going to goof off, it’s that you’re never going to feel like you’re off the clock. It’s important to remember that you’re going to feel this way and that everybody that works for you feels this way and everybody that you work for feels this way. It’s a key source of stress. It doesn’t have to be because there are things that we can do in creating a work-life balance that can make that easier.
The first thing to consider is that you want to establish a schedule and you need to stick to it. Those schedules include hours for work, they also include hours for not work. Don’t overdo it. One of the first things that I started to do when I began working from home or whenever I’ve had a stretch of time where I’d be working from home, is that I would wind up scheduling eight hours of nonstop meetings.
Really, what it comes down to is if you’re doing something at working from home that you wouldn’t be doing if you were in the office, then stop doing it. I would never schedule eight hours of nonstop meetings for myself in the office. I wouldn’t be able to get any work done. That’s going to be what happens if you over-commit to those things and if you don’t build in blocks of time for yourself to actually get work done. Put those blocks of time on your calendar, because that’s going to help you keep track of things and it’s also going to help you prevent getting interrupted because people, if they try to put a meeting on your calendar will see that that time is blocked.
This isn’t rocket science. It’s not a crazy thought. Really, what I’m describing is akin to closing the door of your office. That’s the universal sign that says, “Don’t bother me.” That’s what we’re doing, except we’re putting it on our calendar. We also have to trust and commit that to ourselves that we’re not going to interrupt that process.
Similarly, we’re in a situation now where scheduling family time and time to check in with friends and loved ones is incredibly important. If you live with people, especially if you’re in a situation where you have kids who are also now at home, just like you are, establish some rules, some timeframes where chunks of hours where you aren’t to be disturbed and you’re at work and they know to do other things and focus on the schoolwork or whatever it is that they’re working on, but also schedule time when you’re free when you can all engage together and when you can decompress from whatever’s happening at work and be able to get your thoughts together as far as the best way to handle those things.
It’s also critical to socialize with our colleagues and to do check-ins. If you don’t already do them, set up one-on-ones with everybody that reports to you and everybody that you report to as well as the folks that you work with every day. They don’t have to be long. They can be 15 minutes, but a check-in, even if it’s just once a week, ideally maybe more than once a week, it gives you the opportunity, not just to stay on track and make sure that everybody’s aware of everything that’s happening and that priorities are being kept in check, but it also gives you the opportunity to find out how they’re doing and for them to find out how you’re doing. It provides us with some social interaction that people are going to be sorely lacking for for the next couple of weeks, if not months.
It’s really important to schedule breaks. It sounds crazy to be like, “Why should I have to schedule a 15-minute break for myself in the morning?” Because if you don’t, you’re going to lose your mind. Put those schedules on your calendar and take those breaks. If you’re going to do an hour for lunch, put the phone down, turn the computer off, eat lunch, make lunch, talk to your mom, talk to your daughter, talk to your wife or your husband or just don’t talk to anybody and eat in silence, that’s perfectly fine, too.
The key to it is that you need to commit to it. Otherwise, you’re not going to be giving your mind or your stress levels a break. Everything, from exercise to when you’re going to walk your dog to when you’re going to have family time, mark that on your calendar so that way you are keeping track of it and you’re making sure that you’re taking care of yourself as well as taking care of work.
Prioritization. This is really critical. It’s critical and I think we all know it, but I don’t know that people tend to approach priority with the level of objectivity I think that they need to. Be objective, be critical with yourself when you’re putting everything on a to-do list. This applies to both work and home and life. Think about, “Is this something that I have to do or is this something that would be nice to do? Not meaning a favor for someone, but is this mission-critical? Is this something that is absolutely necessary or is this something that I would like to have or like to have had done?”
If it is something that is a half to do versus nice to do, does it have to be done today? Ask yourself those questions and really be objective about it and be reasonable with yourself as far as how you’re putting your day together because if you overload yourself with meetings and not giving yourself enough time, if you overload your to-do list with things that are not priorities, all you’re going to do is feel increasingly defeated and like you’re not actually getting anything done. That’s not being fair to yourself and it’s distracting you from actually putting work out that is the best that you can do.
If I was just going to really boil it down to it, the thing about to-do lists is that there’s always stuff on them. There is no to-do list in the world that ends with “delete to-do list.” Be okay with that. Prioritize, be objective, don’t make things harder on yourself than you need to.
Similarly, in that vein, cut yourself some slack. Are you feeling guilty because you’re watching this webinar or listening to this webinar while you have a tab open that has cat videos on it? Well, ask yourself this, “Do you ever watch cat videos while you’re at work if you’re in the office? Are you still able to get the job done?” If so, then knock it off. You’re being too hard on yourself. We need things that relax us. We need things to take our mind off things. Otherwise, it makes it very difficult for us to be productive and it makes it very difficult for us to be decisive when decisions need to be made.
Now, to take it into communication and just some tips and tricks that I’ve picked up over the years that I think are especially important when we’re in work from home environments and so are most of the people that you’re working with.
The first is: Stay positive as best as you can. I know it sounds easy for me to say, but it’s really hard to communicate with people when you’re pissed off or you’re freaking out and inevitably, that’s going to backfire because it’s going to result in the valuable information that you may have to communicate getting lost in negativity and emotion. You’re not doing yourself any favors and you’re not going to get the job done any faster unless you stay positive.
Over-communicate. This is a tricky word because usually when I say that people think that what I mean is that you should pepper people with email and text messages every 60 minutes that say the same thing over and over again. No, of course I’m not suggesting that. That would be obnoxious and nobody wants that. That’s not really what I mean by “over-communicate.” What I mean by it is that I’m the one who keeps track of what I have to do top of mind. You’re the one who keeps track of what you have to do top of mind. Everybody else that we work with, everybody else that we work for is doing the exact same thing. This is the way that our brains work.
Don’t expect people to remember where you are at all times or when you have something else going on. They may forget, so don’t get mad at them for forgetting because you told them once or reminded them once over the course of two weeks. Just remind them and move on. That’s all it takes. It’ll trigger some sort of memory like, “Ah, yes, that’s right.”
In terms of ways that we communicate, be prepared to adapt mediums. Pay attention to what people’s personal preferences are. Some people prefer phone calls, others might prefer FaceTime, especially when we’re doing a lot of things, like even this webinar. I am someone who hates being on webcam. I’m hating it at the moment, but I’m getting better with it as the minutes go by, but I don’t like being on camera, largely because I don’t want to have to fix my hair or worry about what’s in the background or whether or not my dog made me slip in the mud and I look like it. We’re all in the same boat.
I think it’s a great idea to always show your face at the beginning of a call, even if it means that you shortly were going to switch into an Excel or a PowerPoint or whatever it is. Show your face for a minute. It enables people to have a personal connection in a way that we’re used to having face-to-face and work-from-home environments, we often don’t, certainly not in the one that we’re in now.
Pay attention to what kind of mediums people tend to gravitate towards and what they feel most comfortable with and engage with them using those mediums, whether it’s a phone call or a FaceTime or WhatsApp, text message, Facebook Messenger, whatever it is, think about adapting your style to suit the person that you’re trying to communicate with. Chances are they’re going to be doing the same thing.
At the end of the day, what’s going to happen is that you’ll get into a routine that everybody is cool and comfortable with and you won’t even think twice about picking up the phone and using WhatsApp for the one person, the one customer that you need to speak with or the one producer you need to speak with who prefers to use it.
There is a running joke when it comes to check-ins and meetings and so forth. There was a running joke that I think started a few weeks ago which was along the lines of, “I guess we’re about to find out what could have been an email, after all.” There’s a lot of truth in that, though, and that’s, I think, one of the valuable communication lessons that is getting learned very quickly.
There are some things that are easier done on the phone than they are in email and there are certain things that are easier done in email than they are in a meeting and then there are the times that you need to have a meeting. If you are going to have a meeting, then make sure you have an agenda so that there are some guardrails on the playpen to make sure that the purpose of the meeting is actually being accomplished as best as possible.
Similarly, when you’re scheduling meetings, really be careful about the time that you’re it for. By default, we usually gravitate towards one-hour meetings. Rarely are one-hour meetings needed. When they are needed, then do it for an hour, but when it isn’t, try scheduling it for 30 minutes, try scheduling it for 15. It’s not just a better management of time and keeping your communication focus in the meeting on point, it’s also being more respectful of the fact that everybody is likely going to be calling into it and they’ve got plenty of other meetings on their calendar, so do what we can to reduce that clutter and reduce distractions and allow everybody to feel like they’re contributing in a valuable way and not just hanging out for the sake of hanging out.
On the subject of time is the most important lesson that I can impart about communication: Be concise. Most of our communication is written as it is, but we’re entering a period where it’s going to go up significantly. I learned the importance of being concise over years of pitching stories to the media. Less is more. It’s a cliche, but all cliches are based on some sort of truth, right? It is true that less is more.
Whenever you’re writing anything, whether it is a pitch to a customer or a check-in on implementation or whether it’s getting notes or whether it’s giving an opinion or giving status on things, I always recommend that people shift their thinking away from just getting out what they feel like they have to say and instead putting focus on the person that they’re saying it to and what is the best way for them to hear what you have to say.
There is nothing worse. Nobody likes getting emails that are five dense paragraphs, especially when the email actually simply says “This is done,” or, “This is broken,” or, “This is fixed.” If that’s all you’re trying to communicate, well, those are three-word messages, right? Think about doing it in three words instead of five paragraphs.
Sometimes, really long, detailed emails are necessary. I always recommend that people start shifting towards bullet points whenever possible just to make it easier to look at and digest and read. It seems like a small thing, but it makes a huge difference. Most of us are on mobile phones, right? That’s where we’re getting the bulk of our emails. Thick paragraphs of text look even worse on the phone, so keep that in mind.
Always put your focus on what is the most important information that I have to communicate and then communicate that using as few words as possible. Nobody has the bandwidth, otherwise. The faster that we’re able to get to the point, well, that’s going to be less work for you and it’s going to be easier and faster for the person you’re sending it to. We can eliminate fluff. All it does is put more words around the words that are actually important and that is not going to really help, right?
Similarly, preemptively writing explanations or providing a ton of details on something when that information hasn’t been asked for is usually a backwards way of approaching it. Largely, it’s akin to an old PR adage. Whenever I would do meeting media trading with people, one of my overarching messages would always be, “Don’t answer the question that hasn’t been asked.” We can all imagine how that could go wrong in a live television interview, but the same thing applies when it comes to just communicating.
If somebody simply needs to know that something has been taken care of, then that’s probably sufficient and you can always provide details on the phone or give them backup or whatever it is. Just get the message out there and use as few words as possible because the clearer and the more concise that we can be when we communicate, the more likely we’re going to hold the attention of the person that we’re talking to.
Even more importantly, the information that is really crucial for them to know is going to land better because it’s not being obscured by unnecessary words and you’re less likely to create confusion and misunderstanding and misconceptions and assumptions.
I will say it very bluntly and concisely and let it sink in.
The more words that we use, the less we are understood.
That sounds counterintuitive, but it is absolutely the truth. The less words that we use, the more likely that we will be heard and the information that we need to convey is going to come across.
Keep that in mind, especially during these lengthy work from home periods because what it will do is help everything move faster. People will appreciate it more and you’ll find very often that you’re able to get more done because you’re not spending a lot of time writing words that nobody wants to read.
That is pretty much my spiel on communication, so hopefully this has been helpful. Hopefully, this has provided you with some sense of “How am I going to make this work?” because I feel like that’s the big question that everybody is asking, not just in the media and entertainment industry and not just in technology, but across the board.
Tomorrow, we will be going back to more of our regularly scheduled programming. Dave Benson, our CTO and co-founder and Guy Finley, the president of CDSA are going to be talking about TPN and work-from-home solutions. Then on Friday, BeBop’s Michael Taylor, our VP of customer success and implementation and Matthew Mazerolle, who’s a senior product manager for The Foundry, are going to be talking about visual effects in work-from-home scenarios.
Those are going to be awesome. Those will put you back on track as far as getting a sense of working from home in those specific scenarios. What I wanted to offer today was just something that I feel like everybody could use and hopefully it helps. Thanks.