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Opinion Editorials

Should you host a virtual office holiday party this year?

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) A holiday party sounds like a good idea after the trash year we’ve had, but a Zoom company party could probably be skipped.

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Online holiday parties can be a solitary experience.

Everyone else already got to make a lot of fantastic jokes and hyperbolic metaphors and such when it came to describing the dumpster fire of a year that’s lasted six decades, and it’s high time I had the same chance. This year has been like mustard on tacos. There’s not a single person in the entire world that eats mustard on tacos, and for some reason, that’s ALL we’ve had to eat. Colonel Mustard’s Last Taco Stand.

Look, it was either mustard on tacos or a long drawn out description of ever-moist socks. Be happy with what I gave you instead of discussing a mildewy dampness your feet are forever encased in, and eeeeeeveryone on Facebook is like-ing it, and you’re a glutton for punishment and any semblance of humanity in this now tired always on-fire year, so you continue to wear them even as the smell never goes away.

Ok, I’m done. Deep breath. Really, please continue to read on.

So we need some cheer. Like, a whole lotta cheer. Cheer all ova the place. Japan literally bombed a comet to bring back alien goodies, AND WE DON’T EVEN HAVE THE ENERGY TO BE HAPPY ABOUT HOW METAL THAT IS. So maybe they can hook us up with a comet made out of nothing but sugar and vodka and Parks and Recreation.

Now, it is the holiday season (pick your flavor, I’m running a soda fountain and ALL the flavors are going in the cup because it’s party time the world around), and that usually means festivities to remind people that their drudgery can at least be temporarily forgotten through the use of distraction. I can’t say drugs, so we’ll go with distraction. Yeah, that’s the safest word starting with that letter that I can write here.

Companies know this, and given that there’s been a proliferation of virtual meetings now that all air is poison, it’s likely that this will extend into the annual end-of-year holiday party. Scores of people will be encouraged to put on a fun sweater, jaunty hat, maybe even some jingly music, a drink, and then – and then – sit in front of their computer for 45 minutes. Joy.

I haven’t seen Office Christmas Party yet, but replace all those actors with people you know and are subject to rules and laws and monetary constraints and physics and pain, and then assume that you’re being coerced into ‘fundatory’ duties. Because that’s what it’s gonna be – the most anemic, sterile celebration you could have in this moment, with a bunch of disparate, isolated persons all just wanting to end the call as soon as possible.

Forced fun never works; I think a war was started about that once in my elementary school (but not by me). So why delay the inevitable at this point? We all just want to go sit on the couch and have cookies and pizza and bad traditional movies in various states of undress. AND WITH OUR DOGS AND CATS.

Now, I have to be fair – maybe some of you like your coworkers. I happen to adore mine. So the efficacy of a Zoom holiday party is heavily influenced by that level of friendship, and I’ve found that even staring at people on a screen is a fantastic option to dive into a cozy warm bubbly sleeping bag of delight, coworker or friend or family. It’s like when your stomach hurts because you didn’t eat something, and you can’t imagine eating something, but then you do and you find it fixes the pain.

So I can’t say to not do this, or that companies should not do this. But I do think a virtual holiday party requires tapping into the general mindset pervading your average employee – please read the room, please don’t be tone deaf, please don’t think everyone wants to put on Rudolph antlers and watch people in giant houses tell us how “this year wasn’t so bad.” Failing this for even a second is going to send everyone into full on Grinch mode, and justifiably so.

There’s a lot of factors to consider – if you’re going to be part of a meeting with people you literally never talk to (other departments, executives, C-suite level personnel, and all the plus-ones no one knows), then it’s probably not going to work. If someone shows off their lavishness and synthetic ebullience against a candy colored backdrop of lights and excess, then it’s probably not going to work. If a lot of downsizing happened or there’s a general air of hostility, then it’s not going to work.

I can’t objectively measure this in any way, but I’m going to guess the majority of virtual parties won’t be received well. If you/your company is the exception, then that is amazing (seriously! not-joking-emoji-face!), and no one should begrudge that, and by all means, please party. But chances are probably low, and if that’s the case, we should discuss alternatives.

The obvious one is to take the budget and send it right on back to employees – preferably as a bonus, at the least as a gift card of sorts (in the form of a store-agnostic credit card), or a gift with an attached receipt. Another option would be to give attendees a way to purchase their own food and drink, and if that means Doritos and Gin, then that is what it means, judgements out the window and into the biohazard atmosphere. Or hold the money until an in-office soiree can be held.

Maybe charity is a better avenue to travel down here, and the money could be allocated to helping out an agonized world. Perhaps employees could use the money to donate to their own cause of choice. Either of these take away the commercial rewards and indulgence and instead redirects it to needy souls whose gratefulness is oceans deep against a backdrop of despair. None of the usual fun stuff will happen anyway.

I can’t make the rules or calls; I can only supply some considerations. I think this year – taken overall – has been bad, where as a case-by-case audit will yield a spectrum of values from the very happy to the incredibly sad. So there’s not a single solution to apply to everyone for your holiday party, and I won’t pretend to have one that is one-size-fits-all.

What I can say is that everyone should take this moment to be quiet and reflect, and especially those in positions of power, whose invisible hand has perhaps held more lives and livelihoods in its judgement and grasp than potentially ever before. With that level of power and responsibility, it should not be taboo to ask for a sincerity that befits this hallowed, holiday time. That’s really all I’m asking for – insight, wisdom, empathy, and the best means to deploy it to brighten up everyone in the best, farthest-reaching way possible.

That’s what it’s all about, Charlie Brown.

Robert Snodgrass has an English degree from Texas A&M University, and wants you to know that yes, that is actually a thing. And now he's doing something with it! Let us all join in on the experiment together. When he's not web developing at Docusign, he runs distances that routinely harm people and is the kind of giant nerd that says "you know, there's a King of the Hill episode that addresses this exact topic".

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Opinion Editorials

How to sound more confident in your next interview or office email

(OPINION/EDITORIAL) After COVID, collectively, our social skills need a little TLC. What words and phrases can you use to sound more confident at work?

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Interview with woman and a man opposite as they each sound more confident/

In-person work communications are on the rise, and it’s no surprise that, collectively, our social skills need a little bit of work. CNBC shares some examples of common phrases people tend to use when uncomfortable – and what you should use to replace them to sound more confident in your next interview or office email.

After explaining a personal philosophy or situation, it’s all too common to say, “Does that make sense?” Aside from occasionally sounding patronizing, this question more or less implies that you believe your worldview or lived experiences to require validation. CNBC suggests saying “I’d like to hear your input” or – if you’re in an inquisitive mood – asking “What are your thoughts?” instead.

This invites the interviewer to give feedback or continue the conversation without devaluing your own perspective.

CNBC also recommends getting rid of weak introductions, listing examples like “For what it’s worth” and “In my opinion” in order to sound more confident. Certainly, most of us have used these phrases to recuse ourselves from perceived criticism in meetings or emails; the problem is that they become an indicator of lacking self-confidence, at least for employers.

Simply jumping straight into whatever it is you have to say without the soft-paws introduction is sure to be appreciated by higher-ups and colleagues alike.

Passive voice is another thing you should remove from your communication when trying to sound more confident. For example, saying “I performed this action because…” instead of “This action was performed because…” shows ownership; whether you’re taking credit for an innovative decision or copping to a mistake, taking responsibility with the language you use is always better than removing yourself from the narrative.

“I’m not positive, but…” is yet another common phrase that CNBC eschews, opting instead to start with whatever comes after the “but”. It’s always good to maintain a certain amount of humility, but that’s not what this phrase is doing – it’s getting out in front of your own process and undermining it before anyone else has a chance to evaluate it. Regardless of your position or responsibilities, you should always give your thoughts the credit they deserve.

Finally, CNBC suggests removing perhaps the most undervalued phrase on this list: “I’m sorry.” There is absolutely a time and place to apologize, but “sorry” gets thrown around the office when a simple “excuse me” would suffice. Apologizing in these situations belies confidence, and it makes actual apologies – when they’re necessary – seem hollow.

The language people use is powerful, and as arbitrarily contrite as the workplace may inspire many to feel, humility can absolutely coexist with confidence.

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Opinion Editorials

10 tips for anyone looking to up their professional work game

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It’s easy to get bogged down by the details, procrastinate, and feel unproductive. Here are a few tips to help you crush your work goals.

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work productivity

Self-reflection is critical to a growth mindset, which you must have if you want to grow and improve. If you are ready to take your professional game to the next level, here are some stories and tips to help you remain focused on killing your work goals.

1. Don’t compare yourself to others. Comparison is the thief of joy, as the quote goes. And, in the workplace it’s bound to make you second guess yourself and your abilities. This story explains when comparison can be useful, when to avoid it, and how to change your focus if it’s sucking the life out of you.

2. Burnout is real and the harder you work, the less productive you are. It’s an inverse relationship. But, there are ways to work smarter and have better life balance. Here are some tips to prioritize your workload and find more ease.

3. Stop procrastinating and start getting sh@t done. The reason we procrastinate may be less about not wanting to do something and more about the emotions underlying the task. Ready to get going and stop hemming and hawing, you got this and here’s the way to push through.

4. Perfection is impossible and if you seek this in your work and life, it’s likely you are very frustrated. Let that desire go and learn to be happy with excellence over perfection.

5. If you think you’re really awesome and seriously deserve more money, more responsibility, more of anything and are ready to drop the knowledge on your supervisor or boss, you may want to check this story out to see if your spinning in the right direction.

6. Technology makes it so easy to get answers so quickly, it’s hard to wait around for things to happen. We like instant gratification. Yet, that is another reason procrastination is a problem for some of us, but every person has a different way/reason for procrastinating. Learn what’s up with that.

7. Making choices can be a challenge for some of us (me included) who worry we are making the wrong choice. If you’ve ever struggled with decision making, you know it can be paralyzing and then you either make no decision or choose the safest option. What we have here is the Ambiguity Effect and it can be a real time suck. Kick ambiguity to the curb.

8. If you are having trouble interacting with colleagues or wondering why you don’t hear back from contacts it could be you are creeping folks out unintentionally (we hope). Here’s how to #belesscreepy.

9. In the social media era building your brand and marketing are critical, yet, if you’re posting to the usual suspects and seeing very little engagement, you’ve got a problem. Wharton Business School even did a study on how to fix the situation and be more shareable.

10. Every time you do a presentation that one co-worker butts in and calls you out. Dang. If you aren’t earning respect on the job, you will be limited in your ability to get to the next level. Respect is critical to any leadership position, as well as to making a difference in any role you may have within an organization, but actions can be misconstrued. There are ways to take what may be negative situations and use them to your advantage, building mutual respect.

You have the tools you need, now get out there, work hard, play hard, and make sh*t happen. Oh, and remember, growth requires continual reflection and action, but you got this.

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Opinion Editorials

The actual reasons people choose to work at startups

(EDITORIAL) Startups have a lot going for them, environment, communication, visible growth. But why else would you work for one?

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leadership Startups meeting led by Black woman.

Startups are perpetually viewed as the quintessential millennial paradise with all of the accompanying perks: Flexible hours, in-house table tennis, and long holidays. With this reputation so massively ingrained in the popular perception of startups, is it foolish to think that their employees actually care about the work that startup companies accomplish?

Well, yes and no.

The average startup has a few benefits that traditional business models can’t touch. These benefits often include things like open communication, a relaxed social hierarchy, and proximity to the startup’s mission. That last one is especially important: While larger businesses keep several degrees of separation between their employees and their end goals, startups put the stakes out in the open, allowing employees to find personal motivation to succeed.

When employees find themselves personally fulfilled by their work, that work reaps many of the benefits in the employee’s dedication, which in turn helps the startup propagate. Many aspiring startup employees know this and are eager to “find themselves” through their work.

Nevertheless, the allure of your average startup doesn’t always come from the opportunity to work on “something that matters.”

Tiffany Philippou touches on this concept by pointing out that “People come to work for you because they need money to live… [s]tartups actually offer pretty decent salaries these days.”

It’s true that many employees in their early to late twenties will likely take any available job, so assuming that your startup’s 25-and-under employee base is as committed to finding new uses for plastic as you are maybe a bit naïve—indeed, this is a notion that holds true for any business, regardless of size or persuasion.

However, startup experience can color a young employee’s perception of their own self-worth. This allows them to pursue more personally tailored employment opportunities down the road—and that’s not a bad legacy to have.

Additionally, startups often offer—and even encourage—a level of personal connection and interactivity that employees simply won’t find in larger, more established workplaces. That isn’t symptomatic of startups being too laid-back or operating under loosely defined parameters. Instead, it’s a clue that work environments that facilitate personalities rather than rote productivity may stand to get more out of their employees.

Finally, your average startup has a limited number of spots, each of which has a clearly defined role and a possibility for massive growth. An employee of a startup doesn’t typically have to question their purpose in the company—it’s laid out for them; who are we to question their dedication to fulfilling it?

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