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Taking the gloom out of Zoom

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Feeling some Zoom-related dread? Here are 5 tips to make the most of your next Zoom meeting.

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Two women in a Zoom meeting.

Zoom meetings: The perfect way to bring the boredom of an office meeting into the living room you haven’t left for six months. Don’t get me wrong, those of us who can work remotely are certainly very lucky to be able to do so… but that doesn’t change the fact that nearly every “Zoom meeting” seems to combine the worst parts of work and video chat.

Seriously, Zoom fatigue is real, y’all.

Unfortunately, Zoom meetings aren’t going away any time soon. In fact, the impromptu experiment in remote work caused by COVID-19 might actually be pushing many businesses towards a more permanent remote model, even after the health risks abate. This is why we’re sharing 5 tips for making Zoom meetings more bearable:

1. Cut back on video

Part of what can be exhausting about Zoom calls is the pressure to perform. In person, there are plenty of focus points, but when a close-up of your face is plastered on a screen for everyone to see, it’s only natural to try to keep up appearances. Not to mention, when you present at an in-person meeting, you don’t have to watch a reflection of yourself the entire time.

And to make matters worse, it looks like the number of meetings has actually increased since remote work began in March.

With that in mind, it’s worth considering where to cut back. Can your Zoom meeting agenda be communicated through an email? Perfect. If not, can it be done over voice chat instead of video? Voice chat meetings are especially useful when there’s a presentation – not only do people already have something to focus on, they don’t have to be distracted by their co-workers (or themselves.)

2. Help yourself get comfortable on camera

No, I don’t mean wear pajamas (though really, I’ve been loving the new “sweatpants at work” development). Instead, there are things you can do to help make being on camera more enjoyable. Or, at the very least, less of a struggle.

If you feel self-conscious about how you look on camera, try dressing up! You can actually feel better on and off camera by making it a routine to dress nicely. Or take it further with these tips for looking good on Zoom meetings. Feeling confident about your appearance on camera will help make Zoom calls more bearable.

3. Make notes

One perk of Zoom meetings is that you can set up notes to make presenting and interacting easier than ever! For example, take advantage of the Sticky Notes app to prep talking points before the meeting and pull them up when it’s your turn to speak. It can help draw your attention away from watching yourself talk (which still feels weird, six months later), and help you if you’re distracted from the dozen or so faces on screen at any given moment.

Plus, not only does taking notes during the meeting give you something to do instead of worrying about potentially performing for the camera, you also have helpful meeting notes at the end of it!

4. Don’t sweat the pets

Our furry friends have quickly become our new co-workers and in the wake of this new normal, so we should embrace this! Showing off pets can be a great way to bond with co-workers or clients. Sure, your cat probably shouldn’t be camped out on your keyboard, but nothing livens up a tired afternoon meeting quite like a cameo from your fluffiest coworker.

5. Have some fun

Working remotely might mean we lost the commute, but we also lost precious in-person interactions like water-cooler chats and lunch time hangouts. Breaks like these don’t just build connections between coworkers, but can also increase creativity, productivity, and mental health.

So make some time for fun! Play games, enjoy zany activities (like this virtual zoo!), invite guest speakers, or even just chat about your weekend. Human connection is more important than ever.

Zoom meetings don’t have to be the worst part of your day. Let us know how you’ve been making meetings better!

Brittany is a Staff Writer for The American Genius with a Master's in Media Studies under her belt. When she's not writing or analyzing the educational potential of video games, she's probably baking.

Business Entrepreneur

Employers, rules to keep safe from COVID changed again

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) COVID-19 “close contact” definition has changed, and it affects employers and employees. Here’s what we know (for now).

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Masked people in meeting, but employers may find it hard to keep safe

If you are an employer, this information is a must know! Recently, the Centers for Disease Control has redefined the term of being in “close contact” with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. This new definition is one that will affect all group settings. The workplace is one of them.

Previously, a “close contact” individual was someone who was within six-feet during a 15-minute period of a person who tested positive for the virus. Now, “close contact” still requires the “within six-feet distance” scenario but broadens the 15 minute window criteria.

The new definition states that someone doesn’t need to have 15 consecutive minutes of interaction with a person who is confirmed to have COVID-19. A cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period can also consider someone as in “close contact”. And, everyone who is in close contact will still need to be tested for the virus and quarantine themselves.

This change goes hand in hand with a recent study published by the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The study details that a facility employee at a male correctional facility in Vermont tested positive for COVID-19. The confirmed case was reported to the Vermont Department of Health (VDH) on August 11, 2020.

The correctional officer came in contact with 6 inmates who had arrived from an out-of-state correctional facility on July 28. All the inmates were kept in a quarantine unit and tested for SARS-CoV-2 on that day. On July 29, all their tests came back positive. As a result, the Vermont Department of Corrections (VDOC) and VDH conducted a contact tracing investigation.

During the correctional officer’s eight-hour shift, video surveillance footage showed he only had brief encounters with the inmates. Although they weren’t consecutive, the officer interacted with the inmates for about 17 minutes total. During all encounters, the officer wore a microfiber cloth mask, gown, and goggles. The inmates didn’t always wear a mask. Also, the officer didn’t have any other exposure to people with COVID-19 out of work and hadn’t traveled.

On August 4, the officer started showing COVID-19 symptoms. On August 5, he got tested, and a positive result returned on August 11. Data shows that one of the inmates transmitted the virus to the officer.

So, what does this all mean? The previous and current definition isn’t quite yet set in stone. There is so much more to learn about the virus.

The new “close contact” definition is much broader so people who didn’t fall in this category before, probably do now. If employees are in the office, it is inevitable that they will have some sort of interaction. And, even if coworkers only have a 5-minute long meeting, three 5-minute meetings will still count if there is a case of COVID-19 exposure.

Employees should be informed of these changes to better trace any unfortunate virus cases. And, employers with less than 500 employees who fall under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or Act) will need to “provide their employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19”.

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Business Entrepreneur

Streamline your collaboration and lighten your workload with Lyght

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Ventive is releasing a new collaboration tool that basically combines all your collaboration tools into one.

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Text "A vision brought to Lyght" on a bright background with lightbulb and people in collaboration.

Ventive is a custom software development agency based in Boise, Idaho. Launched in 2014, the startup combines design and engineering to build digital products that will help businesses grow. The company has worked with big names like Aston Martin, Cisco (Broadsoft), HP, Simplot, and Coleman Homes. It has even made the Inc. 5000 List for 3 years in a row. And, as with any business, it faces the same hurdles all small and big companies face: Finding the right tool to help take an idea and turn it into a reality.

In a blog post, Ventive Product Manager Jeff Wheadon wrote that the company has used a variety of tools like JIRA, Toggl, Trello, and Slack to streamline and collaborate on projects. Soon they realized there was not a single tool solution that could help them “go above and beyond for their clients”. So, Ventive decided it was “time to shine a new Lyght on team collaboration” by creating their own tool.

Lyght is an all-inclusive team collaboration tool that removes wasted time used to switch between different communication and management applications. It is designed to Make Work Simple. Make Work Flow.

In the tool, you can create a story for any project you want to build. These stories are designed for a smooth workflow, and you can collaborate with your team in each one. Conversation threads are visible in every story in real-time so everything is organized together. Tasks can be assigned by due dates and time budgets. You can even allocate a certain number of hours to a specific project so you can “determine bottlenecks in your team”.

You can also review the team’s time logs to gain insights on performance. A personalized dashboard lets you see recent activity and time spent across projects. Boards easily display the current state of each assignment. And, Backlogs let you organize and prioritize stories from your custom workflow.

Although Lyght started as an internal management tool for Ventive, the company isn’t just keeping the software for itself.

“After doing some additional market research, we found that there are many other companies across different industries looking for a similar tool that is lightweight and easy to use, yet robust enough to work with their own business processes,” wrote Jeff.

Since its creation, Lyght has gone through 3 iterations. Currently, the company is offering a private beta to entrepreneurs and teams. It plans on implementing the feedback it receives so the tool can “change and flow with the needs of the industry.” According to a Facebook post, Ventive is preparing for a public release of the software later this year.

Lyght brings together task management, collaboration, chat, and time tracking into a single solution. And, if you’d like to give it a try, you can schedule a demo on the company’s website.

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Business Entrepreneur

How to effectively share negative thoughts with your business partner

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) You and your business partner(s) are in a close relationship, and just like a marriage, negative emotions may play a role in the relationship.

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You and your business partner are in a relationship. Your business was born when you shared a common vision of the future and became giddy from the prospect of all you could do together that you couldn’t do alone. Now, you spend much of the day doing things together in collaboration. The stakes are high; there are obstacles to overcome, decisions to make together, deadlines to meet, and all the stresses of running a business.

It’s no wonder a business partnership can often be just as complicated and emotional as a romantic relationship. If you are struggling with your business partner, you might find helpful advice in resources originally targeted towards troubled couples.

Relationship expert Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein has explored how to share “toxic thoughts” with your partner. In a linked article, Bernstein describes toxic thoughts as distortions of the truth that cause us to overemphasize the negative attributes of our partner.

Some examples of toxic thoughts include blaming your partner for larger problems that aren’t really their fault, inaccurately assuming your partners intentions, or resenting your partner for not intuiting your needs, even if you haven’t expressed them. The defining characteristic of these toxic thoughts is that, although they may be based in the truth, they are generally exaggerations of reality, reflecting our own stresses and insecurities.

Just as much as in a love relationship, these toxic thoughts could easily strain a business partnership. If you find yourself having toxic thoughts about your business partner, you will need to decide whether to hold your tongue, or have a potentially difficult conversation. Even when we remain quiet about our frustrations, they are easily felt in the awkward atmosphere of interpersonal tension and passive aggressive slights that results.

Dr. Bernstein points out that being honest about your toxic thoughts with your partner can help increase understanding and intimacy. It also gives your partner a chance to share their toxic thoughts with you, so you’d better be ready to take what you dish out. It might be hard to talk about our frustrations with each other so candidly, but it might also be the most straightforward way to resolve them.

Then again, Bernstein points out, some people prefer to work through their toxic thoughts alone. By his own definition, toxic thoughts are unfair exaggerations of and assumptions about our partner’s behavior. If you find yourself jumping to conclusions, assuming the worst, or blaming your partner for imagined catastrophes, perhaps you’d better take a few minutes to calm down and consider whether or not it’s worth picking a fight about. Then again, if you’re self-aware enough to realize that you are exaggerating the truth, you can probably also tease out the real roots of any tension you’ve been experiencing with your business partner.

If you are going to get personal, shoulder your own emotional baggage and try to approach your partner with equal parts honesty and diplomacy. Avoid insults, stay optimistic, and focus on solutions. State your own feelings and ask questions, rather than airing your assumptions about their intentions or behaviors. Keep your toxic thoughts to yourself, and work towards adjusting the behaviors that are making you feel negatively towards each other. Your business might depend on it.

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