Goodbye Mouse. Hello Touchpad.

I love technology. Not so much that I crave every new shiny object. But I do love to get new things that make my life easier or extend my reach.

While I love learning and mastering new things, I know that not everybody is like me. As a business owner, I have to be pragmatic in what technologies I introduce into our workplace. I have to respect those people who would rather keep working with something that does the job just fine than spend time learning a new way of working for what might turn out to be a marginal improvement in productivity or capability.

And that brings me to Windows 8. On one hand, I see the promise of the first major upgrade in the  personal computer interface since Windows 95. On the other hand, I am concerned that the effort to learn a new user interface will far outweigh its potential benefits. So I’m going to make myself the test dummy for Windows 8 at Thornley Fallis and 76design.

I’ve ordered an initial Windows 8 notebook computer to test Microsoft’s new operating system. It’s a Dell XPS 13, a truly sweet Ultra book. I’ve been using one of these systems with Windows 7 since last spring and it’s the best notebook I’ve ever owned. Thin. Light. Capable. So it’s a natural platform for my first test of Windows 8.

From what I’ve read, Windows 8 is a much different experience. It’s built so that I can navigate using gestures on a touchscreen. That works when I have the notebook sitting on my lap. But when I’m at my desk, that just doesn’t work for me. My notebook is hooked up to a larger second screen and it sits behind a wireless keyboard. A surefire recipe for back trouble if I’m constantly reaching across the keyboard to touch the screen.

I want to replicate the touchscreen gestures on my desktop, without the need to lean forward to reach my computer screen.

So, it’s goodbye traditional mouse. Hello touchpad.

In anticipation of the launch of Windows 8, I ordered one of Logitech’s brand-new T650 Touchpads. This touchpad promises to let me use all of the gestures I would use on the screen itself, but on a glass trackpad sitting on my desk beside my keyboard where the mouse traditionally would be.

It arrived this morning.  And within only a few hours of use, I realized that I will never go back to a traditional mouse. Even on my current system operating Windows 7 it makes everything on the computer easier. Scrolling. Selecting text. Switching between programs. It’s all just so much more fluid using the touchpad. Even if I ultimately don’t move over the Windows 8, Microsoft has done me (and Logitech) a huge favour by prompting me to look for a modern alternative to the mouse.

What about you? Do you still use a mouse? Have you tried a touchpad? What do you think of each?

The 23 Browser Tabs I Open to Start Every Workday

Five years ago, my workday routine was much the same as it had been for the better part of a decade. Arrive at the office. Open Outlook. Open Word. Open Excel. Prepare and revise documents that would be saved on my PC or my office LAN and then would be distributed via email.

Those days are long gone. Today, I find myself working more and more in my browser and Web-based apps and less and less in Microsoft Office programs.

Yes, I still open Outlook when I arrive at the office (though I have already cleared most of my email from my BlackBerry). The traditional flow of calendar requests, email, task assignments and notes are there. And it works extremely well.

But from that point forward, everything is different. I don’t open Word. I don’t open Excel. Instead, I go straight to my browser. And I’ll spend a significant proportion of my day in my browser. And to make the start up process easier, I save a set of tabs that I open as the start of every day.

So, what browser tabs do I start my day with?

Tabs 1 – 7: Publishing

WordPress admin consoles for the blogs I publish or contribute to: ProPR.ca, Social Mediators, Inside PR, Corum App, and the CCPRF. I’ll moderate comments and try to write early in the morning – ideally before I answer email and begin to be dragged into the routine of the day.

The Aggregator Admin consoles for the Thornley Fallis and 76design Websites. Our Websites feature content drawn in from a variety of blogs written by our employees. I use the Aggregator Admin console to curate the content that appears on our Websites.

CoTweet: I use CoTweet to check and manage the @thornleyfallis and @76design identities on Twitter.

Tabs 8 – 11: Collaboration

Present.ly: We use Present.ly as our “behind-the-firewall” micro-publishing app. I keep this tab open to follow conversations among the TF/76team members.

TF Wiki and Agent76: We use a Wiki as our Intranet. It’s also a gateway to agent76, our time tracking and activity diary app.

Another WordPress admin console for my internal company blog, “Joe Behind the Firewall.”

Tabs 12 – 17: Social Networks & News

Google: I use Google.ca to get search results tailored to my interests as a Canadian. And my iGoogle homepage includes: Google Reader, GMail, Google Map Search, YouTube Search and Google Trends. I use this tab constantly throughout the day.

Google News: I open this every day. But I have to confess I rarely use it. Virtually all the news I want comes into Google Reader through my subscriptions to online news sites RSS feeds.

Meetup: I use Meetup to coordinate the Third Tuesday Toronto and Third Tuesday Ottawa social media meetups. I keep the app open all day when a Third Tuesday is approaching. When Third Tuesday is inactive, I’ll close this after a quick check.

LinkedIn: This social network is on the upswing in utility. I don’t spend much time in discussions here. I’d rather participate in the open discussions on blogs and Twitter. However, LinkedIn has proved to be a highly useful place to recruit new employees for our firm. So, I see myself investing more time in this network in the future.

TripIt: TripIt is an outstanding service that I use for trip planning and to find friends who are travelling to the same locations as me. It helps to cut down on the room service meals.

Facebook: With 500 million users, I can’t ignore it. But Facebook can be the greatest time suck. And I rarely open it during workdays. Much activity of little consequence.

Tabs 18 – 23: Measurement

Radian6: We’ve standardized on Radian6 as our preferred social media monitoring, management and measurement suite. I track everything relating to our companies. Clients too.

PostRank: PostRank gives me unique insight into the engagement of my community with the content I publish. What’s getting their attention? What’s not. An indispensable tool that just keeps getting better.

Google Analytics: another view of what’s really going on with my blog? With our Websites? A free analytics tool I couldn’t live without.

Feedburner: Although Feedburner has suffered from inattention and hasn’t really been developed since Google acquired it, it’s still a must-have to spot trends of use with my RSS feeds.

Google Insights for Search: I start here when I’m trying to understand which search terms people are using for concepts that I’m interested in …

Google Search-based keyword tool: … and then I use the search-based keyword tool for ideas on other search terms I should consider.

How about you?

How much has the programs and apps you use in your workday changed in the past few years? Are you still using traditional wordprocessors and spreadsheets or are you relying more and more on Web-based apps?

Thornley Fallis' new Online Communications Policy

Simple works

For the past four years, Thornley Fallis has had a simple, two sentence online communications policy: “Be smart. Cause no harm to any person.”

This simple policy has served us well. We had only a few bumps – and we learned from each one.

This policy worked because we have many people who are active in social media and they are steeped in the blogging culture. They understand the importance of transparency, authenticity and generosity. They also understand the power of search and the permanence of what we put on the Web.

New people. New needs

A few months ago, we updated the Thornley Fallis and 76design Websites. In doing this, we introduced new Twitter feeds for both Thornley Fallis and 76design. We also created a page on our corporate Website that displays the current conversations our employees are having in social media. Each employee has their own page on which they can display whatever social media and information they want to share. They can add their personal blog feeds, links to their Facebook pages, Twitter streams, LinkedIn profiles – whatever social media they wanted.

I soon realized that our employees are generating much more social media traffic than I had been aware of. I also realized that not everyone spends as much time thinking about social media best practices as Dave Fleet or Terry Fallis might.

So, it’s time to take a second look at our online communications policy to be sure that it provides basic guidance for new employees and others new to social media and our perspective on its culture.

Under the hood

In refining our policy, I wanted it to be written in plain language. I also didn’t want to be so prescriptive that people would feel the need to refer to it constantly. And, bottom line, I respect the intelligence of the people I work with and trust their judgment. So, how to draft a policy that provides essential guidance but still puts the onus on people to exercise good judgment?

The answer, in my mind, is to ground the policy and guidelines in a clear statement of our objectives – why we are active in social media. Having stated this, I’m comfortable encouraging people to post freely if they know that their actions contribute to the achievement of our objectives. If they aren’t sure or feel that their posts/actions may actually detract from those objectives, then I suggest that they don’t post it. It in doubt, I ask people to consult a colleague before proceeding. Having spelled out this general framework, I needed only a handful of specific guidelines.

I posted the policy on our Internal Wiki and asked for comments. I received some good feedback from several people, including Jeremy Wright, Dave Fleet and Bradley Moseley-Williams. So, here’s the first draft of our new online communications policy.

What do you think of it? Have we missed something important? Would it work for your organization?

——————

Thornley Fallis Online Communications Policy

This policy is intended to provide us with practical guidelines that we can apply to ensure that our online actions and communications will make a positive contribution to our reputation as individuals and members of the Thornley Fallis & 76design team.

You’re always one of us

Each of us represents the company to the world and the character of the company is defined by our beliefs and actions. We must be mindful of this when participating in social media and any kind of online communications.
You may be active in social media on your own account. That’s good. But please remember that whether you are on your own time or company time, you’re still a member of our team. And the judgment you exercise on your own time reflects on the judgment you exercise at work. There’s only one you – at play and at work.

Our Objectives

First, when participating in social media, please always be mindful of why we are involved in social media. Our company’s objectives are:

  • To educate ourselves.
  • To contribute to our community by sharing our knowledge with others. (We believe in the culture of generosity and recognize that we should contribute more to the community than we take out.)
  • To attract talented people
  • To attract sophisticated clients

As a first step in deciding whether to write or post something online, ask yourself if doing so would contribute to the achievement of these objectives. If so, then publish away. If your post would be at odds with these objectives, please do not post it.

Guidelines

Of course, sometimes, it’s nice to have some simple, plain language guidelines to point the way. So, here are some basic rules for day to day conduct.

  1. Cause no harm to any person.
  2. Be respectful and civil in your tone. (After all, that’s the kind of people we are.)
  3. Respect our clients’ right to decide for themselves what they want to make public. Unless they specifically grant us permission, do not post about client wins or client assignments.
  4. Be transparent. If you are posting about a client or commenting on a client competitor or posting about anything in which we may have a material interest, disclose the relationship or interest.

Still in doubt?

If you’re still in doubt, seek out the counsel of one of you colleagues. Two sets of eyes are better than one.

Help! I'm drowning in a sea of email!

I’m snowed under. I’m awash. I’m overwhelmed. By email. Lots and lots of email.

istock_000002649953xsmallHow bad is it? I’m on a trip to Australia. Away from the office. And today, I logged over 5 and 1/2 hours reading and responding to the emails I received since yesterday. That leaves precious little time to actually do the work that’s important to me.

I’ve put practices in place to try to deal with my emails more efficiently and keep the important ahead of the urgent. I try to touch each email only once, deciding on first reading if I need to respond or if I can delegate any necessary action. I quickly delete emails that have been sent simply to me to “keep me in the loop.”

But what remains takes too much time.

And as I ask myself why, I think I’ve seen a pattern. The emails that take most of the time are those that ask my opinion. In many respects, it’s the emails that are asking “what should we do?” or “what is your opinion?”

Now, if this were a face to face encounter, I would respond by asking the questioner what he or she thinks we should do. The smart, competent people will always supply an answer that I can quickly agree with or that we can refine together.

But I find it tougher to respond to an email in this way. It seems rude. Worse, it also delays a decision and can turn into the dreaded email ping pong exchange. So, I invest my time to think through the question – and then I write a considered response. And that can take a lot of time. Over five hours today alone.

But I simply can’t keep going this way. I have to get my head up above this email tsunami.

But how?

What do you do to keep email at a manageable level? Can you do this and still do your job if as a manager? How can you do it without offending people? Is there no other way than to step back into another century and hire an assistant to divert most of the flow?

Can you throw a guy a lifeline? What can I do to get my head above the email flood?

Managing through the recession – One Win at a Time

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about my thoughts on what Thornley Fallis and 76design and companies like us should be doing to survive the recession. In that post, I pointed out that retaining existing clients is a critical first step to keeping your business healthy. Now more than ever.

Well, this past weekend, I received some great news. One of our senior account managers had just succeeded in renewing two client relationships. Not only did he renew them. But  he expanded the scope of each one with a modest budget increase.

That’s great news to be receiving. It reflects hard work on the part of the account manager and our team. And it provides evidence that we may be on the right track to not only survive the recession, but to emerge stronger.

Here’s the email that I wrote to the manager. I also copied it to the other managers in the firm.

One win at a time … that’s how we’ll not only survive but thrive in the recession.

I’ve just learned that you are on the verge of getting an additional assignment from [an existing client].

Last month, you won us a renewal and budget increase from [another existing] client.

One win at a time.

It’s also about picking and choosing. Retaining and growing the clients we have is SO much more efficient and effective than the competitive pitch. And if we hang on to all our existing clients, then we can be choosy in the new pitches we do, picking the ones that are blue chip (they will actually pay their bills) and want us because they’ve come to us.

One win at a time.

Keep going in this direction please.

Why am I writing this series of “Managing through the recession” posts? Not to boast about how well we are doing. It’s way to early to be that smug. I hope with these posts to share the lessons I’ve learned through my experience in the last downturn. Hopefully, that will help you and managers in other companies. Of course, I also hope that the people in my own companies will read and consider what I am suggesting.

So far so good.

Dell and Me

100 computers later

I’ve just received my 100th Dell computer. That’s 100 Dell computers that I’ve ordered for Thornley Fallis and 76design since 1997.

And what a difference there is between the first computer I ordered and the most recent one.

Dell's Website in 1996The first Dell that I ordered on April 1, 1997 was a Dimension XPS Pro 200n. It had a 200 MHz Pentium Pro processor, a 4.3GB hard drive, a 15″ CRT monitor and cost $5,525.

I thought it was blazing fast.

The most recent Dell I received is a Precision T5400 workstation. It’s powered by two 3GHz Xeon processors, has twin 750GB hard drives configured in RAID 0, a 30″ LCD monitor and cost $5,249.

A lot more machine for the same money.

Why Dell?

100 computers ordered from the same supplier over 11 years. Why have I been so loyal to Dell?

Dell wasn’t the first computer I purchased when I set up Thornley Fallis. In fact, I bought another brand name notebook computer from my local CompuSmart computer superstore. And it was a nice machine – until it stopped working. That was the point at which I found myself lined up at the door of CompuSmart at opening time on a Friday morning in the hope that the repair department could fix my machine in time for me to deliver on an end of day commitment to a client. I sat in the service department for virtually the entire day until the tech told me that he was going off shift and I would have to return on Saturday.

No computer. Disappointed client. Big lesson about the importance of service.

So, I ordered my next computer from Dell. Not only was I able to configure the computer to meet my exact needs, but it also came with 24 hours 7 days a week telephone support. Support from trained support people who would stay on the phone with me until I fixed the problem. And if new hardware was required, next day onsite replacement.

At 2AM in the morning, it really matters that someone will answer the phone and fix your problem.

I was hooked. You might say that Dell had me the second the service tech said, “Hello.”

Dell be true to me. I’ll be true to Dell.

Now, I won’t pretend that the relationship has been without bumps. There are times when I really wish that Dell would ensure that all the device drivers on its machines would work well with Vista. (Darn you, Embassy Security Suite.) And over the years, telephone support has not always been a perfect experience. (In fact, I’ve noticed some backsliding in the Dell’s push to improve its telephone support since it cut some of its North American operations.) (Disclosure: Thornley Fallis provided PR support to Dell’s Ottawa call centre until it was closed.) And sometimes, hardware breaks. (nVidia video chips anyone?)

But overall, the bumps have been exceptions in our relationship. Dell has delivered a good experience with machines that met my needs and support that keeps us running. And as long as Dell continues to deliver this, I’ll stick with Dell.

So, thanks Dell.

Now, I wonder what the 200th machine will look like…

Managing through the coming recession

While I was on vacation two weeks ago, the real world kept intruding by way of reports of a plummeting stock market and world leaders in full-out crisis mode. On Friday of last week the Conference Board reported that Canadian consumer confidence is at a 26 year low.

Economic CrushThe warning signs are inescapable. Challenging times lie ahead.

What does this mean for companies like Thornley Fallis and 76design? We have to prepare ourselves to receive telephone calls that start with, “We’ve decided to reduce the budget…” or “We’re holding off proceeding with the next phase…” or “We’ve decided to consolidate our spending with one agency.”

What are we doing about it?

Well, first, I am changing my own thinking from “grow, grow, grow” to “cash is king.”

In the coming recession, there will be surviviors and there will be casualties. I made some mistakes in the 2001-2002 downturn and I’m determined not to make those mistakes again.

This simple change of mindset will drive a whole series of cascading decisions. We won’t stop growing where we can, but we will be more selective in our investments. More cautious. Less open to higher risks.

How does this translate into our day to day reality?

Zero Budget

First, we’re resetting all of our discretionary budgets to zero. This will force each decision-maker to make fresh decisions about how we spend money. What worked yesterday may not work today. So, let’s reexamine what we’re doing to be sure that we put our resources behind those things that work and match up against the new tighter economic realities.

Maximize

Second, I’m asking each manager to maximize the use of our current human resources – the people who are the essence of our company. Instead of recruiting ahead of our need for people, we will wait until people are working flat out before we hire new staff. In tough times, it’s much better to be too busy and working very hard than to be sitting in an office in which you know that there are too many people for the work to be done.

Choose

Third, we will be more selective in the new business opportunities we pursue. The best opportunity is a happy client who says, “Let’s keep working together.” Next to that, we will scrutinize closely the opportunities and make pragmatic decisions based on our assessment of the prospects for success of the potential client, their business strength and why they have come to us. We won’t participate in any competitions for business unless the prospective client tells us that there is a clear reason that they have come to us. If they know our core strengths or one or more of our team and they really want to work with us, then we’ll compete. If they’ve selected us off a list so that they can round out a competitive roster, well, sorry, we’ll pass that one by.

But wait. There will be opportunities to grow

Ironically, at the very time that things are tightening, there will also be opportunities to grow and to plant the seeds for future growth.

There will be companies that look to make more effective use of their marketing budgets. There will be suppliers whose core business comes unstuck and who shed good clients as their ability to service them is diminished.

By paying attention to our business fundamentals through zero budgeting, maximizing and choosing, we will be able to answer the call when those opportunities arise. If we do this, we can emerge from the recession with all our capabilities intact and as a stronger competitor.

What’s your view?

So, that’s our gameplan this week. I say this week because in this time of uncertainty, we are  reexamining our assumptions and assessments as every week goes by. What seems right to us today may not seem quite so right next week. And we will be ready to change our stance as the world changes around us.

How about you? Have you already felt the effects of the downturn? What are you doing at your company to weather the recession?

Melanie Baker talks about the role of Community Manager at AideRSS

More and more companies are adding Community Managers to their executive ranks.

Melanie BakerMelanie Baker, joined AideRSS as Community Manager earlier this year. During my recent visit to AideRSS in Waterloo, Melanie talked with me about the Community Manager role.

Melle sees the community manager providing a bridge between the different functions within a company and its community of users. In doing this, her first objective is to help users develop a sense of community with the company and one another. “Having a users base doesn’t necessarily mean you have a community,” Melanie pointed out. “If you can get a community going, then you know you are on the right track.”

Melanie has been impressed with the AideRSS users she’s met so far, “with the amount of passion they have, what they’re willing to do for you, the lengths they’re willing to go to try to make something work.” She notes that such dedicated users are valuable to a company like AideRSS. “You’d have to have an entire Quality Assurance department for that kind of stuff or massive amounts of developers hours to solve some of those things.”

Helping these supportive users also has a reputational benefit to the company. Says Melanie, “If you listen to them, if you try to help them solve a problem or get them up and running … they become passionate. And as soon as they become passionate, they help evangelize for you. … The word of mouth of your friends is the most powerful influence there is. It’s fantastic.”

How does Melle connect with the community? “I have to be one of those early adopters who jumps on everything.” She writes for the AideRSS blog, maintains an AideRSS Facebook page and two Twitter accounts – AideRSS and Melle. She’s also a big fan of Get Satisfaction, where AideRSS maintains an active support forum.  “It’s really effective for connecting with people, whether they have a question, just want to tell us something, or have a problem.”

And as new social apps appear, Melle believes she needs to “try them out, see if people are migrating there, and see if they want to talk to you there. If that’s where people are going to hang out, then that’s where you need to be.”

On a day to day basis, Melle sees different social apps working together in combination. “Twitter is easy for someone to ask me a quick question or mention a problem. Then … it migrates to a different format. It either goes into Get Satisfaction where it is officially logged. Or someone may have a longer question, so they email me. Or we start up an Instant Messenger chat. … That combination of tools is how things realy end up working. It’s important to be on a variety of platforms. It’s also important to be flexible to move between them to whichever format [of communication] is most comfortable for people.”

Other posts about AideRSS

AideRSS’ Journey from Founders’ Dream to Professional Leadership

Ilya Grigorik explains PostRank

AideRSS’ PostRank Measures Engagement

AideRSS at DemoCampToronto14

Customer service is the new marketing

Freshbooks lives in the open wilds of social media. The officers and employees blog and use twitter. Customers respond in kind. So far, all has been good. But what happens when a disgruntled customer attacks?

Michael McDerment argues that by being transparent and proactively communicating with people, a company like Freshbooks builds up a reservoir of good will that causes most people to hold their fire when the company trips up.

Saul Colt tries to handle the situations in which people are angry. His approach: “First rule, you can never win one of these arguments. So treat people with the utmost class and respect. Never get into a shouting match. Kill these people with kindness. If they have a problem, try to work it out in the most level headed way. Never ignore people. I try to answer any blog post we can find, even if it’s a ‘hey we love you’ post. … We really believe that customer service is the new marketing.”

Saul provides an example of how Freshbooks dealt with an actual disgruntled customer. Watch the video to get the complete story.

Final note. This is the last of the series of posts with videos of Freshbooks’ appearance at Third Tuesday Toronto . I hope that you found them interesting and informative.

Other clips with Freshbooks’ Michael McDerment and Saul Colt :

A Fresh(books) approach to social media by Dave Fleet

Building a Winning Team

Your next great business idea may be staring you in the face

Freshbooks: Don’t talk about the product. Talk about what it means to people

Freshbook Execs listen and respond to customers

Online media deliver results. But traditional media still add legitimacy

There’s no shortcut past setting realistic expectations

You have to trust people

You have to trust people

It should be apparent from the series of posts about Michael McDerment ’s and Saul Colt ’s session at Third Tuesday that Freshbooks is a very social media savvy organization.

Not only does CEO Michael McDerment blog, but at least five other employees also blog. And there will likely be more.

So the obvious question: What will you do if one of your employees messes up and gives out a company secret or does something to hurt the company? Do you try to curb your employees’ blogging?

Michael McDermont: “It comes back to hiring. You’ve got to find people with shared values. And at the end of the day you have to trust people. … That’s the best you can do.”

It strikes me that this is a problem for large organizations which, by their nature, lose the ability to ensure fit between employees and company culture. But having acknowledged that, for organizations that still are of a size where this is practical, McDerment focuses on exactly the right place – management’s hiring decisions and attitudes.

Other clips with Freshbooks’ Michael McDerment and Saul Colt :

A Fresh(books) approach to social media by Dave Fleet

Building a Winning Team

Your next great business idea may be staring you in the face

Freshbooks: Don’t talk about the product. Talk about what it means to people

Freshbook Execs listen and respond to customers

Online media deliver results. But traditional media still add legitimacy

There’s no shortcut past setting realistic expectations