Thursday, August 20, 2015

Avoiding Isolation: Step One, Stay Connected.

For a solopreneur, remote communication is key.

OK, so first off, clearly I missed my intention to post last week.  Please accept my apologies – I was busy and got focused on other tasks, and did not treat this one with the dedication I had hoped for.  I also got a little overwhelmed by my own topic, and realized I will have to break down tools into a few posts, probably more spread out over time. 

One task that I have been working on is getting my new website formatted and set up.  It is taking a lot longer than I hoped, and I am looking forward to getting it all done.   

One big reason for that?  Well, it is how I communicate what I do to the outside world when I cannot talk face to face with someone.  And frankly, what I have left up on the web the past year is (at best) not doing me any favors, or (at worst) hurting me.

Which brings me to this week’s topic – communication and staying connected.  Now, a few folks have written a lot more than I on what apps or software they use, and why.  And I have tried a bunch.  And I will likely update this as time goes on, because what was great a few years ago is sadly out of date today.  I want to give you my take on what is necessary, and what I like or don’t like.

So, to start, of course, we need all the basics: a phone, email, a chat program, and preferably a web preference.  To me, as a business person, those are essential for just getting through the day. It doesn’t matter what brand, version, etc.  What matters is that it works, it is compatible with your other systems (and hopefully customers’ systems), and that you are familiar and comfortable with it.  Especially if you are starting out, or trying to keep expenses low, there is no need to spend money on things that you do not need.

So, phone.  Pretty basic, yes.  

Maybe (probably) you start with a smart phone these days.  Maybe, though, you don’t want to share that number with everyone.  So you look for alternates.  There are a few good options to consider: Google Voice is one I have used, and it is pretty good, as long as you have wi-fi.  The transcriptions that they send (which is a huge bonus), are getting better, but are still laughable.  Don’t trust the text, listen to the message!  Other services include Grasshopper, which I tested, and they have several pricing options.  I like it, but it is not for me yet.  Or, you can add a second number to your phone, which is a great option (such as the Line2 app).

What about the ‘water cooler chats’ – that informal stopping by someone’s desk that makes you feel connected, and that you have colleagues?  

That is the part, as I said in the last post, that is hard to do without.  For my taste, this is a chat program of some sort.  Twitter works well, but I find that I get distracted by it, so it is not my prime choice.  I tend to use Google Hangouts (used to be Chat, and some others).  It is easy, it can be used on the computer or your phone, its free, you can save or email a transcript.  Love it all.  If you are a mac user, iMessage has you covered already.  I know some people have ramped up to using Slack, which looks intriguing, but again is more that I need right now.

For actual meetings or conference calls: the big ones have been GoTo Meeting, Cisco’s Webex, Google Hangouts, and Skype.  Now, other than Google, these all have free options and paid or pro options.  The knock I have against Webex or GoTo Meeting is that they seem to take a large amount of bandwidth and memory when they run – mostly (I think) because they can be very robust and have services that the typical meeting does not tap into.  And you are remoting into a server.

For my money, if it is a team conference call, I am using Google Hangouts – it is free, easy, and understandable.  If it is a little more formal, though, I am heading straight to Skype for Business (formerly Lync).  Here’s why – I used Lync when I was in a larger company, and Microsoft rolled it out.  It integrates with outlook, you could video chat or type chat, and you could remotely control someone’s desktop!  Now that it has become Skype for Business, there are some different pricing plans.  If you are a business owner with Office 365, it is probably included.  Anyway, the mid-tier plan brings in the ability to remotely control someone else’s desktop, you have chat, audio and video conferencing, and file sharing directly in the chat.  You also have ‘the whiteboard’.  You can look up more here: .  I am not being compensated, by the way, just a happy user.  I’ll return to this, and share how I have used this to share redlines, show someone remotely how to do something, and create and save/distribute notes on the whiteboard in a future post.

So, for now, that is it: phone, chat, and meeting hosting.  With those tools, you can have pretty effective meetings, redlines, chats, and conversations – even face to face.

All my best

all photos from adobe stock, and are licensed 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Isolation - a pitfall of the Sole Practitioner

What is the Hardest Part about working on your own?

I get asked that question a lot.  I don't like to face it, but it is a valid question.

Well, for me there are several, but they all seem to revolve around 2 things.  Face to face communication, and does time get spent.  Humans are social mammals.  We thrive when we have people around us, we shrink if we are isolated.  Personally, I think that ideas grow and get better when they are shared, instead of being developed by 1 person.  If you work by yourself, though, most of your interactions that are not spent getting work or doing work have to be carefully measured.  Otherwise, you find yourself working late, or not working enough.

So, whether I am working at home in the ‘Office’ or at the office in ‘The Dark Internal Room with No Windows’, as a sole practitioner, I find myself at loose ends a lot during the design phase.  I mean, it helps a great deal to pin something up, or spin around in a chair and ask someone for their opinion, and then continue to sketch away, or trade pens, or have someone scan your monitor.  I find that when I am in design mode, it feels like I either set an arbitrary limit of time on design, or just decide, this is the best I have.  There is no one to bounce that decision off.  As a sole practitioner, what is a person to do?

image via unsplash, by Green Chameleon

Well, here is what I have tried (and some of the perils associated with each).

First, where I have my dark office, there are other designers and architects also renting.  So I CAN go ask them.  But they are not working on the same thing, and it takes some time to get them up to speed, and then you spend a bunch of time talking about stuff that is not applicable.  (AND, just to be totally transparent, sometimes you see the awesome commission that they just got, and the 3D model that they have, and you spend the rest of the afternoon wondering why YOU didn’t get that commission…..).  On the good side, they get your situation, and often give you feedback.  Unfortunately, sometimes the feedback is what THEY would design, and why you shouldn’t do what you are doing.  Positives: Intelligent (?) responses, commiseration over situation, another opinion; Negatives: potential to spend too much time getting a response that is not really helpful.

Second, you can ask a good friend to take a look.  Now, said friend is NOT an architect, so the typical response is (in my experience) either: ‘What am I looking at?’, or ‘That looks awesome.  I wish I could draw like that!’  The response to the latter is, ‘Yes, but what do you think of the design?’; ‘Um, I don’t know? It looks….nice? What am I looking at again?”  So, positive reinforcement: you have a cool skill; negative: time spent, no actual help.

Third, you can ask your daughter’s stuffed animals.  Yeah, you heard me.  Positives: They don’t talk; Negatives: They don’t talk, and you [hopefully] realize you are talking to stuffed animals.

Fourth, Your spouse (this may not apply to everyone).  Now, in my case, my wife is also an architect.  And a professor.  So, I get helpful critique and feedback, although I sometimes have to frame the TYPE of response I would like. (ie, please tell me the elevations look nice, and then let’s talk about the shape of the dormers…..).  Positives: Warm, supportive, intelligent (!) feedback; Negatives: NONE (you know she reads this blog).

Fifth: Online/Virtual sharing.  I think that there is TRUE potential here, but I have not yet found it to be the best solution right now.  Things get better every time a company updates their app or program, though, so even over the last 18 months, things have really improved.  I am not talking about just the typical file sharing programs or sites, though.  Those work well for keeping documents, sharing documents, and allowing collaboration.  I am MORE interested in what might allow that quick feedback interaction that is taken for granted in an office.  That “Stop by my desk when you have a minute, would you?  I’d like to bounce a few ideas off of you” type of interaction.

IS there an equivalent?

I hope that you’ll come back next week and find out what I’ve tried, and what reactions I have had to them.

Until then,