A 3-mile climb with an average grade of 7.5%, half of which is 11%, is formidable to say the least. Screaming quads aside, while ascending the unrelenting backside of Evans Notch not long ago, I pondered how far I’ve come as a cyclist. In almost 4,000 miles of pedaling this season, I have scaled over 112,000 feet averaging 55 miles a ride. These outings have included steady 5-mile 4% climbs, short bursts of 13% grades, and the recent grueling 1.5 miles at 11%. Although, I am a mountain-climbing road cyclist today, it wasn’t always that way. Five short years ago, I still had a 1980s, steel-frame 30+ pound Univega (which was coined at the time as ‘lightweight’.) Propelling myself up a punishing 11% grade notch back then was out of the question. 30 miles of minor hills were enough of a feat in those early days. From then until now, I studied, practiced, did endless squats and prepared for the rides to come. First, I upgraded the wheels underneath me. I test rode at least ten different contemporary road bikes before selecting a carbon fiber, compact-geared, 11-pound Trek. I bought and absorbed the book Climb! by Selene Yeager and the Editors of Bicycling. And, I built quad and core strength starting with rolling hills and lower-grade notches. Similar to professionals in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry, with disciplined intention, I qualified for the challenges of the future.
AEC professionals go to school for at least 4 years, sit for licensure exams, take continuing education courses and have career-long on-the-job coaching. When the abrupt Covid shutdown happened, however, these experts were immediately sent home and told to Zoom or use Teams or some other software to communicate. Do what? With an average age of 45 in the AEC industry, many had never operated remotely. Some, may even have had limited exposure to any computer programs. And, countless younger workers, who were accustomed to being told what to do almost every second of the day, found it extremely difficult to function from home with no supervision. Zoom? Unfathomable. Marketing and HR departments scrambled to add programs to laptops and gave minimal instruction. For an industry that’s obsessed with degrees and experience, why did we provide inadequate training on how to use these tools? Why was no rulebook or expectations of behavioral standards stipulated? Was the AEC industry so terrified of the unknown, that we couldn’t get staff out of the office fast enough? Possibly.
At first, the AEC industry rejoiced. Work from home used to be the epitome of a perfect world: idyllic days where you could do laundry while finishing a plan or writing a blog; run errands at lunch; and, be on time for your kid’s soccer match. In the last five months, however, there has been little in-person shopping because your favorite store is closed, and there are no team sports, soccer or others. Video conferencing became the norm. Perfect, we thought way back in our naiveté. I put on a nice shirt with my PJ bottoms and slippers or go barefoot. Who will know? Who will care? I’ll drink my coffee or other beverage of choice while I ‘participate’ in a project meeting. Who will suspect? Yet, the horror stories of Zoom mishaps in the AEC industry and others abound.
Here are Just a Few Remote Meeting Gone Wrong Stories:
- A marketing director of a small architecture firm appeared to have forgotten to wash her hair, let alone brush it for days if not longer.
- The family cat leaping onto an architect’s lap during a project meeting, revealing to all her pink hot pants as she jumped up.
- An engineer eating and drinking during a client meeting made so much extra noise his story was garbled at best – not to mention grossing out the other participants.
- A client meeting where the lighting was so poor and the microphones so weak, the presentation was a disaster.
- The special education director of a mid-sized Massachusetts town, while meeting with the superintendent of schools and the facilities director to discuss the re-entry plan for student in-person learning, conducted the meeting from her bed attired in pajamas, with her laptop atop the messy sheets and visible remnants of breakfast amidst the disarray.
- A high school guidance counselor during a college boot camp session moved around so much, her message was mostly unintelligible. The audience got so distracted by her movements, not only couldn’t they hear her words, they stopped focusing on the point.
Stories of working from home debacles are omnipresent. Why wouldn’t they be when no training or rules were provided to the 1,000s of now remote personnel? We did our AEC colleagues a huge disservice by not telling them what was expected. Did we just think that we’d all be back in the office sooner rather than later? So, it didn’t matter? If we’ve learned anything from the shutdown, it’s that we need to be more equipped for the unexpected. We need to provide leadership and direction to our employees so they can communicate, contribute, and collaborate as highly-trained professionals.
Here are 5 Tips to Improve Zoom Meetings:
- Get dressed! And groomed. Remember the adage ‘dress for the job you want’? It’s not dead. Respect yourself and your colleagues and put on clothes, including shoes. Dress appropriately for the conversation at hand and the attendees of the meeting. Does this mean a suit? Not necessarily. But, it never means pajamas or yoga pants.
- Sit at a desk or table and be still. Don’t wander around the room or constantly wiggle or sway back and forth in your seat. Sit upright and speak loudly and clearly into the microphone.
- Check your lighting – natural and artificial – and sound. Practice with a friend or coworker ahead of your discussion and especially before an interview. Make sure the background is appropriate, the light isn’t too dark or too light, and ensure that your microphone and any auxiliary speakers are working properly. Don’t expect to jump into remote meetings, or an 11% hill climb, as the expert. Get help and practice.
- Do not eat during a Zoom meeting and limit drinking as much as possible. Not only are these actions distracting, they interfere with sound quality and generally make you appear that your next snack is more important than the topic at hand.
- Stop calling it work from home. It’s either working remotely or just work.
These are unprecedented times. We all have new things to learn and can continuously improve. Still unsure? Get a coach. Make the best of a challenging situation. And, by all means, don’t give up on yourself or your teammates.
Next musing: Did the Pandemic Kill Kindness? And, stay tuned for future Musings: Stop the Platitudes! And, Covid Didn’t Empower Poor Grammar.