How to Unplug on Your Summer Vacation

It’s a yearly tradition in our family. We pack up our camping gear and make one last frantic run through the local grocery store before we head into High Sierra Music Festival. Bring your sleeping bag and join our family to disconnect from your 9-5 responsibilities. Oh, and don’t worry about bringing your phone; you won’t need it out here.

I treasure this annual chance to disconnect, but I also understand the hesitation to do so. The business world is more connected than ever before. I know the feeling of not wanting to miss a thing, especially with how face-paced today’s work world can be – “What if I miss a cool marketing opportunity with my team?” It’s like work FOMO.

But the technology that tempts us to constantly connect also gives us the freedom to take a break:

  • Collaboration tools mean that I can trust my team to jump on any time-sensitive opportunities without missing a beat.
  • With the right tools, everything will be waiting for you when you return. Your teams can record meetings with WebEx so you can jump in without missing a beat.
  • With Cisco Spark, everything you need to catch up is in one place. Find where you left off and scroll down – it’s that easy to get up to speed.

It might seem like even if you can step away from work, your mind will always be at the office. Check out these tips to overcome the temptation to take the worries of work with you.

Before you go:

  • Communicate with your team. Let them know when you’ll be heading out and getting back.
  • Recap and fill your teams in on the status of your projects.
  • Leave contact information to connect people who may need to find the right resource.
  • Make a note about your trip in the Spark room associated with those campaigns. It’ll be easy to pick up where you left off.
  • Set your ‘out of office’ in email and in Cisco Spark. Be sure to include when you’ll return and a contact to answer any immediate questions.

When you get back:

  • Block off an hour of time to get caught up. Reserve time on your own calendar to read emails, scroll through Spark, and watch any recorded WebEx meetings.
  • Connect with your teams for any high priority messages.
  • Let your Spark rooms know you’re back and catching up. Use this time to ease back into work.
  • Keep your vacation photos handy! Take breaks during the day to remember the great times with your family.

Being able to relax, recharge and get a new perspective is going to help you a lot more than chiming in on small things during your time off. Be brave and don’t check email; maybe even turn off your phone!

Enjoy the show, enjoy the music. You literally earned it.

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Faster Collaboration for Global Teams

When an opportunity presents itself, great teams know that collaboration is essential to bringing the best work to life. But when your team is located across the globe, staying on the same page can feel like an uphill battle.

Nate Franklin, a product marketing manager, works with an integrated global team on cutting-edge, fast-paced projects. In his Two Minute Take, Nate talks about how the right technology tools keep work-streams moving quickly, and his team’s unique culture alive.

Learn how to bring teams closer together with real-time connections through Cisco Spark and WebEx, so you can work seamlessly with people across the world.

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Small Changes, Big Productivity

If your team needs a big boost in productivity, you don’t have to overhaul all your tools to get results. Finding small changes in the way you collaborate and communicate can make a big impact.

In her Two Minute Take, technical adviser Mackenzie Guy shares simple advice on combining your collaboration apps to keep everything in one place. Instead of spending time learning new skills or replacing entire systems, your team can focus on work and let the app do the heavy-lifting.

A few simple tweaks can go a long way when it comes to productivity. Cisco Spark lets you keep what works, and unify your collaboration experience.

 

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Why We Love Video Conferencing and You Should Too

 Years ago, there was a TV game show that tapped into its contestants’ deepest fears – snakes, bugs, heights, you name it – and placed them in situations where they had to come face-to-face with them. In the end, they walked away with a bit of cash, making it worth their while. And while most aren’t forced to confront their greatest fears during the work day, there is a one part of it that seems to strike a chord of fear.

Video conferencing. (cue dramatic music)

From worrying about how they look on video to public speaking anxiety, people seem to want to “call it in” more often than they wish to hop on a video conference. But in a 2016 study, Wainhouse Research found that approximately 90% of all respondents had used video conferencing at least once in the prior month. So it’s safe to say it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Though I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t always a video conferencing fan, I’m now proud to say I’m now a full-fledged advocate. But if you find yourself still a bit shy of declaring your love for this platform, then read on to see the top three reasons our team loves video conferencing and you should too.

Reason 1: Face-to-Face Connections Matter

 I work from home at least three days a week and if a meeting falls on one of those days, sure – I could easily call in. But, there’s something a bit disconnected about collaborating with essential team members over the phone. Facial expressions and body language go a long way in communicating, and an audio-only experience means you miss out on big cues from your team.

The face-to-face connections I’m able to establish with my teams when we use WebEx for example, are critical for establishing strong team rapport. Video conferencing encourages engagement and also foster a community of togetherness.

Reason 2: Finding Focus is Easier

Raise your hand if you’ve ever stolen a moment to daydream or multi-task on a conference call! Yes – my hand is up too. But as I’ve embraced video conferencing, I’ve become more focused in my meetings, because I can see my teams and they can see me.

While some people shy away from video conferencing for this exact reason, it’s more of a selling point to me because it encourages everyone to be as focused as possible to accomplish meeting goals.

Reason 3: Because Real-Time Should Be An Option for Everything

At any given point during the day, I can use a variety of apps to change my home thermostat setting, order household essentials or even send flowers to my wife – all in real-time. And when you’re working with others, ideas can fly fast and furious. So why not share those ideas and follow-up details, in real-time too?

With video conferencing, you can.

Instead of a dreaded flurry of emails, presentations and updates in my inbox after a conference call, I take full advantage of Cisco Spark’s real time sharing options. In my team’s own private Spark room, we use real-time messaging to always stay in the loop with each other. And the Cisco Spark Board feature lets us literally sketch out all of our creative ideas – even a stick-figure Picasso like myself – all in real-time.

As I said – I’m a full-fledged video conference meeting fan. And I know I have some fellow ones out there. Leave me a comment and share why you love video conference too.

 

 

 

 

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A DON’T-MISS WEBINAR: Using Data Visualization to Tell Your Story

We had a wonderful game plan this month to offer a free webinar, crammed with useful data visualization techniques. Unfortunately, it’s not to be…just yet.

Life had other plans for presentation expert Janine Kurnoff. Her future data wizard (Liam) decided to make an early appearance in the world. At the moment, the only data she is visualizing is pink skin and the sweet smell of her newborn.

In September, when Janine is tired of changing diapers, she will teach some of the incredible techniques for storytelling and data visualization that she uses to train the world’s top brands such as Facebook, HP, Instagram, Nike, and Oracle. These include:

  • How to tell a story with data that can be understood in a glance
  • Clever visual tricks to think “outside the chart” using photography, icons, eye-catching text, and more
  • How to dodge the most common pitfalls with charts and graphs

So until then, we want to leave you with four particularly good nuggets about telling a story with data…

Step 1: Determine Your Story First

There is no understating how important it is to craft your story first. When we are sitting on mounds of data, our inclination is to immediately get charting. After all, doesn’t our data contain all the evidence we need? Doesn’t our data speak for itself? No, it doesn’t. And if you do present your data upfront, without critical analysis and an idea of the story you want to tell, it’s value will evaporate.

Step 2: Write Headlines that Report the News

Insights that you glean from data amount to more than just facts. It helps to see the charts, tables, or graphics you put on each slide as a news story. And doesn’t every news story need a headline? Writing headlines forces you to clearly display your most important data insights. You’ve already determined your story (step 1), so this is kind of like coming up with the chapter headings. And each of these headings must move along the story.

Step 2: Write Headlines that Report the News

Insights that you glean from data amount to more than just facts. It helps to see the charts, tables, or graphics you put on each slide as a news story. And doesn’t every news story need a headline? Writing headlines forces you to clearly display your most important data insights. You’ve already determined your story (step 1), so this is kind of like coming up with the chapter headings. And each of these headings must move along the story.

Generic heading
Heading that reports the news

Step 3: Use callouts to highlight important data insights

Now that you’ve determined your story and created bold news headlines, it’s time to get down to the details of data visualization. We love callouts because they are one of the easiest ways to draw attention to your most important data. During the webinar, we’ll dive into the details about how using color, shapes, and sizes will give your data impact.

No callouts
Callouts identify critical information

Step 4: Get rid of the noise!

Visually, you are doing your audience a huge favor if you minimize or delete any clutter on your slide. Start with any chart labels. Only include labels that are concise, necessary, and informative. Do they make your data easy to read? Are axis labels easy to understand? Do they make sense with the story you are trying to tell?       

Axis labels are unabbreviaited; chart uses heavy gridlines and vertical axis
Axis labels are abbreviated; amount of gridlines has been reduced

Missed any of the previous webinars hosted by Cisco WebEx and The Presentation Company?

WATCH NOW:

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Productivity Can Be Simpler Than You Think

“Be more productive.” While this is a simple thing to say, between busy home lives and just the day-to-day office routine of meetings, conference calls and client catch-ups (and some social media scrolling if we’re all honest), maintaining a certain level of productivity can be a challenge.

  • On a daily basis, Care@Work notes the average worker is interrupted every three minutes, taking another 23 minutes to get back on task.
  • Harvard research also shows that people spend almost 47 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing.

All of these distractions not only cause employees to be less productive, but also costs companies some pretty big money in lost revenue. In fact, the total soars into the billions when employees aren’t engaged with their jobs, according to a Gallup poll.

Obviously, there are many ways to go down an unproductive path during the workday. But all hope is not lost! More research shows that people who live busy lives tend to do better on tasks of memory and tasks of reasoning.  So it’s good to be busy! The key is learning how to stay busy and engaged, without tipping into the territory of stress.

As a team lead, I’m all for helping others be more productive at work. In that spirit, I’m sharing a few things that have worked for me and that my team members have said work for them.

Clock Work

It’s an oldie, but a goodie. Set your clock 10 minutes ahead of schedule first thing in the morning so you have an extra 10 minute to get organized before you dive into whatever is on your calendar for the day.

Zero Inbox

No, I’m not saying you can just delete everything that arrives in your inbox each day. But, taking immediate action on the emails you receive can save you a lot of time.

When you receive a new email, reply to it, forward it or set a meeting to follow-up on the subject matter. Adding a task to your to-do-list (or best of all deleting it) is ok too.

Check It Off 

Making a list of all of the things you want to accomplish not only helps prioritize your day, but if you’re like me, you’ll find literally checking an item off of a to-do-list extremely satisfying.

When making a list, develop a system that works for you. It could be a color-coded one or maybe using icons helps you better. And if you find the list is getting too long, scale it back to what you can take on for the day.

Find Your Work Happy Place

Gallup found that 58 percent of Americans, believe workers who work remotely are just as productive as those who work in a business office.

Thankfully, technology has made it possible to pretty much take your office on-the-go. Apps and programs like Cisco Spark and Cisco WebEx make it possible to work and meet in real-time, share updates and documents, set up individual meeting rooms and more so everyone can review updates on their own and remain on the same page.

Throw Yourself a Party

Look, everyone deserves to treat themselves a bit when they accomplish their goals and get more done during the day. So celebrate your productivity throughout the day.

For starters, take five minutes to relax after completing a task. Go grab a snack, listen to a few songs, call your mom or best friend for a quick catch-up – whatever helps you recharge and refocus on your next task, do it!

 The great thing is, what helps with stay productive is not set in stone. Discover what works for you and run with it. Do you have any tips and tricks for getting things done? Tells us your favorites in the comments below.

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Caregivers Find Balance Using Technology

Has anyone ever asked you what your typical day looks like? As an art director, I rarely have one. And with the added responsibility of being a working caregiver to an ailing parent, typical doesn’t quite describe any of my days.

My time is typically accounted for during the week. If my life was an accountant’s ledger, then work and caring for my mother are the debits and credits. This is not a complaint; it’s just how the books have been reconciled for me.

Shortly after my father passed away in 2010, my mother and I began to realize how heavily she depended on him. She would get easily confused and often break into her native tongue, French, which pointed to signs of dementia/Alzheimer’s disease. As her dementia increased rapidly my immediate reaction was to grieve. But, I had to quickly gather my feelings and develop a plan to stay engaged professionally while taking on the new role as caregiver of an aging parent.

The truth is, there’s no handbook — this and every situation is unique. But I’ve found a few ways to stay balanced during the process and I hope these simple tips help others on the same journey.

Find Your New Work-Life Balance

For most people, caring for an aging parent means finding more flexibility in your work schedule. For me, having the capability to be mobile and work a non-traditional schedule has been a life-saver.

Luckily, I’m not alone. According to AARP, 61% of caregivers also work. And the 2015 American Time Use Survey showed that the share of workers doing some or all of their work at home grew from 19 percent in 2003 to 24 percent in 2015. Many companies are beginning to catch on and offer more flexible work arrangements for employees caring for aging parents.

Not sure where to start? Talk to your HR department to educate yourself about your company’s policy and learn about the benefits available to you as a caregiver. Reach out to employee support groups if they’re available to you — sometimes, talking to someone who has walked the same road is the best way to find solutions.

Communicate with Your Team

For me, it was critical to be up-front with my colleagues about my new responsibilities. Letting everyone know what I was grappling with was a huge benefit in the long run when it came to accountability and communication.

I’ve worked with my team and manager to make arrangements for working outside normal hours so I can attend doctors’ appointments or make unexpected trips to the hospital. My transparency with my team has made it easier when things pop up unexpectedly. And it’s had another side effect. I have felt a wonderful outpouring of support from my colleagues, and this has lightened my load emotionally.

Make Technology Work for You

The ability to work remotely helps both businesses and employees and there are almost limitless things you can accomplish from afar using technology.

Collaboration technology has been vital in my process of staying connected to work. While I love working on my laptop for design projects, I’ve found that using the Cisco WebEx and Cisco Spark apps on my smartphone or tablet helps me shift seamlessly between “work mode” and “caregiver mode.” For example, when my mom is seeing her doctor, I can hop into a WebEx meeting or check my Cisco Spark conversations for project updates, all on my iPhone from the waiting room. I don’t need to tote around a heavy bag or rely on Wi-Fi.

Being a caregiver is not easy. But, there are ways to cope if you find yourself in a major life transition like mine. Talk with other people who are experiencing the same things. Rely on your supportive network of family and co-workers. And use technology to your advantage to keep your professional and personal houses in order. Being there in person is always better, but in the end, the ability to contribute and work with your team – allows you to “show up” – wherever you may find yourself.

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Our Favorite Moments in 2016

It’s that time of the year, folks! We’re taking a look back at 2016 to reminisce about our favorite WebEx moments on social media, on our blog, and in the news. From big product announcement to pranks on Twitter, these were definitely some moments to remember.

Gartner names Cisco a Leader in the Magic Quadrant for Web Conferencing

There’s a reason WebEx is trusted to host 20 million meetings each month!

For the 8th time, Cisco WebEx was recognized by Gartner, the world’s leading IT technology and research and advisory company, as a leader in the Web Conferencing Magic Quadrant. Gartner reports that Leaders in this year’s Magic Quadrant have robust, scalable products with a wide range of features, a large installed base, acceptable financial performance and good distribution.

This is a huge honor and we couldn’t be more proud of our team for making WebEx one of the top tools in the industry. View the full report here.

Experts schooled us on productivity

 This year, we launched a webinar series featuring experts from a range of disciplines. We wanted to bring our followers some valuable lessons on staying productive and make the most of collaboration tools. The results were awesome.

Big thanks to all the presenters who shared their expertise during fun, interactive presentations! If you missed the webinars this year, you can catch up on webinars hub and follow along in 2017.

Cisco Spark kept us talking

We love the collaboration WebEx enables, and Cisco Spark lets you do even more.

As the all-inclusive platform for everything teams need to message, collaborate, meet and call, Cisco Spark “sparked” its own news during the year. Taking center-stage as Cisco’s chat platform, Cisco Spark news at Cisco’s Partner Summit revealed new capabilities that had the industry buzzing in 2017.

Look out for more news in January.

You fell for it on April Fool’s Day

Last but not least, our favorite moment on social media this year had us laughing out loud. On April Fool’s Day, we “launched” WebEx, a phony set of filters to help you “enhance your presence” during a video conference.

All jokes aside, we know our followers are online meeting pros who know how to put their best face forward. We just can’t resist a good prank every now and then.

Here’s to another great year in the books! Look out for more collaboration, innovation and fun in 2017.

 *Gartner, Inc., Magic Quadrant for Web Conferencing, Adam Preset, Mike Fasciani, Whit Andrews, November 10, 2016. This graphic was published by Gartner, Inc. as part of a larger research document and should be evaluated in the context of the entire document. The Gartner document is available from Cisco here

 Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose

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