Five Virtual Meeting Closing Tips – Article 3 of 3

Engaging Employees Series – Five Virtual Meeting Closing Tips

By: Marcy Fortnow – Founder of Engaging Play


Date: Originally Published – May 2020


We all know that meeting management is critical, but now that we are virtual, it is even more so. If you are a leader, a meeting facilitator, or someone who influences team communication, improving your meeting skills is of paramount importance in today’s virtually connecting world. Gathering in virtual meeting rooms or on conference calls are opportunities for your team to communicate, connect, engage, share information, collaborate, and be productive together.

I am convinced that poorly managed meetings are why meetings in general have such a bad reputation. Well conducted meetings can lead to enhanced communication and greater buy-in and consensus. Many meetings fail to achieve objectives because the person running the meeting doesn’t plan the end properly. The way you close a meeting is the missing link between meetings that go nowhere and meetings with impact. Without a well-planned ending, things can be left unsaid, unchallenged, lack clarity, and remain uncommitted.

I have discussed the importance of meeting openers, so now I must share 5 tips for closing your meeting well. Closing your meeting properly will help your communication be clear, your projects move forward, and your meeting time be worthwhile. A good closing in this critical time will help your people to feel connected, positive, and accomplished. Failure to close a meeting properly can leave things left unsaid, action items not taken, and result in low commitment, low accountability, and poor results.

The way you close a meeting is the missing link between meetings that go nowhere and meetings with impact. Try these 5 closing tips to bring better structure to your virtual meetings:

  1. Have your meeting end process and time listed on the agenda. If your meeting just ends at the last discussion item, there is no expectation and opportunity to wrap up the topic. Putting the end on the agenda allows any last comments to be made and voices to be heard.
  2. Review and note next steps and agreements. This review process can be done after each topic and should also be done at the completion of the whole meeting. Robert C. Pozen, author of Extreme Productivity, suggests meeting leaders ask participants three questions:
    1. What do we see as the next steps?
    2. Who should take responsibility for them?
    3. What should the time frame be?
  3. Implement a “closing round” which allows participants 30 seconds to say any insights or issues they have from the meeting. A closing round gives everyone the opportunity to have a last word so that nothing festers or is not acknowledged. A closing round allows everyone to get anything unsaid off their chest. This is the best way to eliminate the meeting after the meeting that creates dissension.
  4. Acknowledge participants and contributions. People who participate and contribute are more engaged, so let them know that their opinions and involvement are valued. Praise people who have contributed in the meeting, to the project, and to the organization. Be sure to include any celebrations and accomplishments.
  5. End on time! One of the worst practices in meetings is not respecting the announced ending time. Frequently, this is due to the meeting starting late, or the meeting chair letting some team members ramble on or go off topic. Ending on time shows respect for the agenda, the meeting members, and their time.

Any meeting can be considered incomplete unless it is wrapped up in a thoughtful, deliberate way. Try these 5 tips for ending your next meeting and let me know in the how it goes. If you have additional tips to contribute around ending virtual meetings, please share in the comments below.

If you would like to see me discuss this in a video, look here.

For more facilitation support, contact me, Marcy Fortnow, at

Five Ways to Build Community – Article 2 of 3

Engaging Employees Series – Five Actions to Build Community

By: Marcy Fortnow – Founder of Engaging Play


Date: Originally Published – April 2020


It is hard to believe, many of us are still working virtually! Some of us, certainly the people I am connecting with, my friends, colleagues, and clients, are feeling lost and disconnected. Some are struggling with low motivation and low energy. All of us are missing that sense of community that our work place world provided, and it can be lonely.

Creating community is so important now. It is not “too much” and your efforts will be appreciated. As Helen Keller said, “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much”. Great Leaders create community for others.

To see this discussion in video, check here.

Here are five ideas that create community in your organization.

  1. Virtual lunch breaks or happy hour – Lots of organizations are implementing these and I am hearing participants are having fun! People need a replacement for gathering spots like the lunch room or the coffee station. Create this opportunity for your team to gather together remotely.
  2. Asynchronous socializing – There is still a need for friendly non-work related conversation and connection. Consider using messaging tools, Slack, or even text and email for personal connection. Encourage individuals, small groups, and departments to meet up in this way.
  3. Virtual Clubs – Foster community and build stronger relationships by creating clubs that speak to people’s interests. Form book clubs, movie discussion groups, or music channels for people to develop deeper connections.
  4. Stay Active together – Look for ways to keep your community active and supportive at the same time. Create a step challenge or find a low cost subscription for your team to a yoga or exercise studio for classes. Have participants register their progress on your company’s google drive so they can share their successes.
  5. Make time for Celebrations – Recognition and celebrations are more important than ever. Celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and work accomplishments as a team. Successes, milestones, and celebrations should be called out and applauded in your community!

Intentionally creating and maintaining a healthy community will help keep your employees connected, engaged, and more motivated. You can implement any or all of these ideas with your distributed team and build a more positive culture.

If you would like more support around building better connected engaged teams, scroll down and fill in the contact form below and I will be in touch! Looking forward to supporting you!

Five Actions to Build Trust – Article 1 of 3

Engaging Employees Series – Five Actions to Build Trust

By: Marcy Fortnow – Founder of Engaging Play


Date: Originally Published – June 2020

Trust is on the decline in every part of our society. Even before the Novel Corona Virus came along, trust in government, trust in organizational leadership, and trust in the media, were dropping. In a research study done in 2018 by the Grossman Group, trust in our society had fallen by 43%. With recent developments such as Covid-19, illuminated racial justice inequities, false information from government agencies and political leaders, and economic disruption, I imagine trust has fallen even further.

As a leader in your organization, it is imperative that your employees trust you. Trust is a fundamental element, especially in times of change. Lack of trust in a manager results in employee dissatisfaction, low motivation and morale, and reduced productivity. If you would like to view the video on this, click here.

I have a colleague who, as the business owner, had to lay off a member of her team. The firing understandably upset the entire staff. In another instance, a client who was implementing a reorganization in her firm, was rightly concerned that everyone involved was feeling unsettled and unsure of their future. In both cases, failure to build and maintain trust in their leadership affects their employee’s loyalty, morale, and the quality and productivity of work. Low trust will also impact staff member’s engagement, team collaboration, and inhibit future innovation.

Here are 5 things leaders can do to build trust with their employees:

  1. Be ready to intentionally work on building trust because it takes effort. Trust is not something that happens quickly or in one shot. Trust is built over repeated consistent behavior. A commitment to building trust is one of the best commitments a leader can make. Trust is the foundation of all positive interpersonal traits.
  2. Be honest, open, and transparent. Always tell the truth even when the truth isn’t pretty. Be conscious to communicate what is real and true, whether people want to hear it or not. Communication needs to be timely, relevant, and focused on what the employee needs to know and why. Honesty and transparency can sometimes be challenging, but in the end, it will build trust.
  3. Listen. A good listener is more trustworthy because they have taken the time to understand another’s perspective. Be supportive and giving and recognize that leadership is about others, it’s not about you.
  4. Be consistent with your actions and your communication. Set a consistent schedule for team and 1 on 1 meetings and keep them. There is nothing more troubling to an employee than when their manager cancels a meeting with them. Lots of leaders fell off the consistency wagon when the virus hit, but that is exactly when they needed to be communicating and exhibiting consistency even more. Consistent behavior builds trust.
  5. Reinforce the culture of your organization. Especially now, make every effort to demonstrate the traits you want to see in your people. If you expect your team to hit their deadlines, then you need to hit yours. If collaboration is a wanted part of your culture, then build opportunities for people to collaborate and positively reinforce cooperative efforts. This is not the time to let your culture go unchecked, so take an active role in making positive culture happen. Help to build relationships and community among your team members. Reinforce respect and accountability within the group.

Building trust as a leader takes focus and effort, but the rewards are great. Trust forms the basis of all relationships and so improving trust can positively impact morale, productivity, decision making, and teamwork. Trust in leadership will allow an employee’s value to shine through to the organization. Each environment is unique, so if you would like to learn more about building trust and encouraging trust in your team, contact me, Marcy Fortnow at for a consultation.

Hybridge – Article 6 of 6

Tools of the Trade (TotT) Series – Bridge your team’s IT gap with Hybridge

By: Zach Detweiler, Ph. D.Top of Form

Date: February 11, 2021

Tags: Information technology, IT, cloud, support, outsource



When your laptop is down in today’s business world you may as well go to lunch.  If your office internet is out, everyone’s productivity grinds to a halt.  If your servers go down, you can permanently lose information and/or customers as a result.  In 2021 small businesses cannot forego IT support.


Less dire, but equally valuable IT issues exist as well.  New software apps and features are in constant development and their integration into existing business structures is the major IT related issue experienced today.1  This is followed by concerns relating to backup and recovery challenges, and security risks.


Those organizations that are ahead of the curve on information communication and technology (ICT) are positioned for better outcomes than those who are not employing modern business technology.  Employing methods such as video conference services, smartphone apps, big data, cloud computing, and CRM systems, businesses expect to see revenue increase, maintain business health, and secure comfortable cash flow at rates of 10-15% greater than those who do not utilize these tools.2


Dealing with these issues and deploying and maintaining new software and cloud tools is the purview of information technology expertise.  Although 6.9% of small business revenue goes towards IT,3 as much as 27% of businesses have no IT support whatsoever.4


Often times IT expertise is garnered from full-time employees, which provide a point source for dealing with issues within the organization.  It also provides the expertise on staff necessary to address the specific needs of certain businesses.  However, expecting a single person or even a team of a few employees to manage the entire modern IT/ICT landscape is a tall order.  Fortunately, these broad expertise are now available in the form of managed service providers.


One such service provider that I have experience with is Hybridge.  Hybridge provides IT support through the cloud, allowing remote services and troubleshooting.  They were instrumental to establishing our internal software infrastructure, both consulting on software programs, and seamlessly integrating these for daily use.  I personally enjoyed the ability to reach out to Hybridge with issues and find that they were addressed with minimal input and zero follow up necessary.  Whether that problem was a calendar sync issue, setting up a VPN, or dealing with outdated hardware, the team always provided timely and expert solutions.


I particularly appreciated their aid in onboarding new employees.  Integrating new employees to the team was effortless: Hybridge prompts you with the necessary items they need (computer details, contact information, etc.), establishes email and other business account information for the new employee, and sets up a workstation such that the new employee can hit the ground running on day one.  All remotely.


At a cost of $100/month/employee, this equates to $24,000 per year for twenty employees.  While not a trivial expenditure, it is well below the cost a full-time employee runs ($44k to $110k per year)!


If your business needs dedicated IT/ICT individuals to support your core business, I would not suggest waiving this requirement for a managed service provider.  Conversely, even with staffed IT support, it does not seem cost efficient to go without complimentary services more efficiently provided by an organization such as Hybridge.


Perhaps the only drawback of an organization such as Hybridge is the remote aspect of their services for those organizations outside of the San Francisco Bay Area.  I found this to be a minimal drawback, but if you are looking for a more personal touch, or the ability for your provider to come onsite with little activation energy, I would certainly recommend finding similar local providers where they may exist.


At the end of the day, the expertise and experience available from Hybridge was not only exceptional, but it was also comforting.  It filled an important gap in our organizational expertise and allowed our team to focus on the core of the business.




(1)        Casey, C. 7 Most Common Technology Problems for Small Businesses (accessed Feb 10, 2021).

(2)        Sun, M. H.-N., Kwadwo Frimpong, and Hao. Trends in the Information Technology Sector. Brookings, 2019.

(3)        6 Managed Services Stats Every Business Owner Should Know. Hill Country Tech Guys, 2017.

(4)        10 I.T Statistics on Small Businesses and Their Technology (accessed Feb 11, 2021).


Focus, Flow State and Distraction (Monkey Mind)

Focus, Flow State and Distraction (Monkey Mind)

Leadership/ Management Series

Date: February 06, 2021

Author: Jared Warrick


Tags: Focus, Flow State, Distraction, Disruption, Rian Doris, Flow Research Collective, Batch, Tech, Monkey Mind, Bineural Beats, Horo Timer


We all want to be more productive, yet it seems that there are more and more distractions being thrown at us every day – family, business, technology – tech is actually designed to capture and hold our attention for the maximum amount of time to benefit 3rd parties (advertisers, social media outlets, news outlets, influencers, etc.). In today’s world of ubiquitous wifi, cybercafes, and remote work due to COVID, this is “the water we swim in”1. We are in a constant distraction mode aka Monkey Mind. As a competitive person this frustrates me personally as I need the tangible result, the completion of things to check it off the list. Not doing so leaves me feeling anxious and soon the action item list grows longer and longer, and prioritizing becomes more complex. There are tools to deal with this – like Meditation and Breathwork, but I want to share something more direct and to the point.

When the opportunity to sign up for The Flow Research Collectives (FRC) Distraction Disruptor2 came through, I jumped on it and signed up. Dorian Rias (cofounder of FRC) walks us through (7) 30-minute discussions about distraction, and how it impacts performance AND coaches a cohort through using tools to regain focus and eliminate distraction. Now, Dorian’s methods are pretty “Scorched Earth” many would say, but customizing even a few of these brings hours and hours of productivity back over the course of the week. Trying this for 1 week has noticeably increased my output and quality of output.


Some reasons to look into methods like those at the FRC are:

  1. The average productive time in today’s world of employees is a dismal 11 minutes daily.2
  2. Anxiety and depression are on the rise in teens, linked directly to tech – this has been known as far back as 2012.3 The adults in today’s workforce have experienced tech interruption their whole lives.
  3. It takes 23 min 15 sec to return to original task after an interruption.4 So, check [insert favorite social media platform here] for 30 seconds and you are then killing productivity for that time plus 24 minutes.
  4. People have so little focus, they switch tasks/ activities in mere minutes.2,4
  5. People check their email daily an average of 74 times in an 8 hr period.3


So, doing the math, this doesn’t work out if you want to get anything done. That said, Dorian at FRC has a very extreme set of tools to disconnect from the distractions – just get rid of them! Things like, turn off your phone until you are ready to use it purposefully, or check email 2 or 3X per week, etc. I understand where they come from, if you’re on one end of the spectrum, going to the other side helps you find the balance in the middle. This is something I learned while attempting higher level skills in gymnastics. But I wanted to share here 10 things I think are more practical for the small business owner, their teams and entrepreneurs who still need to be accessible to a certain level.



  1. Take 5 deep breaths before starting a task to reset your focus. Have a glass of water, coffee or tea by your desk.
  2. Shut all windows on your computer down EXCEPT for the one you’re working on.
  3. Check email only 2-3X per day based on what works for YOUR schedule. You can add a line in the signature part of the email telling everyone how often you will check it and what to do if it’s an emergency.
  4. Shutoff un-necessary notifications on your cell phone. I was surprised – I had 68 apps on my phone and I only really cared about the phone calls and texts, so I SHUTOFF 66 app notifications that constantly divert attention! Awesome!
  5. Log out of all social media after use. This creates a temporary delay that if you do go on it, it should be purposeful, short and then log out.
  6. Phone – set unique ringtones for important contacts that you must answer. Ignore all others on standard ring tone and turn the ringtone down.
  7. Use noise cancelling headphones to eliminate distraction. I also use Bi-Neural Beats5 (free app) for a white noise background to increase focus (btw – my wife thinks I am psycho for this).
  8. Download a timer app like Horo for Mac (free).6 Set the timer for the amount of time to focus – make it a large stretch – say 1 – 2 hours. The timer will alarm when you’re done. If you finish a task early, move on down your to do list. There are similar apps for Windows/PCs.
  9. Have a nature scene for your background that calms you. Keep the desktop clean and clutter free so the picture is what you see when you log on, close or open an app. A cluttered desktop is majorly distracting.
  10. Have a policy in meetings all phones off OR give all your phones to a person not in the meeting and have them filter critically important calls only. A majority – almost 100% will not be and can wait until the meeting is over.


These may seem like a lot, but trust me, these are very effective and help improve you and your team’s productivity and quality output. Getting rid of distraction is great for mental health as well by reducing anxiety and depression.


This is not a substitute for going through the FRC module, but a few starters to prime you. If you want to learn more techniques and boost your productivity more by eliminating or reducing distraction, I highly advise taking the course and sitting through the modules. It is a worthy investment of anyone’s time who is experiencing digital overload and lack of quality output. If you want to discuss this topic more and have us help you apply what we learned to your organization, please do not hesitate to reach out at




  1. “Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age”, By Maggie Jackson
  4. Multiple Studies: Gloria Mark, University of California Irvine.
  5. Bi-Neural Beats –
  6. Horo Timer –

TriNet – Article 5 of 6

Tools of the Trade (TotT) Series – Give your HR a boost by trying TriNet

By: Zach Detweiler, Ph. D.Top of Form

Date: January 26, 2021

Tags: Trinet, HR, payroll, compliance, software, professional employer organization (PEO)


While often credited as the most valuable asset of any business, employees are often underserved by HR departments that are intended to provide *ahem* resources to these humans.


One of the main reasons for this lack of support can be summed up by the statistic that 70% of small businesses treat HR as an afterthought, using people with other primary roles and responsibilities to manage these functions.1  Often owners fill this role, averaging 25-35% of their time covering HR functions, and 7-25% of their time handling employee paperwork.2


Perhaps one of the things that is underappreciated about the role of HR is the extensive amount of essential paperwork that needs to be performed.  These functions, while less visible than the hiring, onboarding, and problem solving/addressing functions that HR is typically associated with, are indispensable to an organization.  Namely: payroll, employee benefits, compliance management, and employee information access all represent substantial weekly workloads.


The prospect of hiring a full-time employee in an HR management role can be viewed as unnecessary or even frivolous (a viewpoint I would challenge) and finding the right person for the job is one more activity for an owner or executive to undertake.  The good news is that many of these tedious but crucial items can largely be offloaded without hiring more people, but by employing a team of experts in the form of a professional employer organization (PEO) such as TriNet.


TriNet provides a suite of services that include payroll services (including expense management compatible with tools like my personal favorite money app: Expensify), benefit options, and compliance management.  One of the main benefits of employing Trinet is that small businesses can enjoy the benefits afforded a larger institution, such as better insurance rates, transparent tax returns, and resources for employees that are easy to understand.  The service comes with individual employee access to an account that can be viewed to understand company policies, previous paychecks, W-2’s, and more.


A major benefit of engaging TriNet as a business owner or executive is the peace of mind that is afforded through TriNet’s compliance management expertise.  This ensures that your payroll practices, benefits, and liabilities are legally de-risked for possibilities such as injury, discrimination, wrongful termination and more.  Hiscox points out that 10% of small to midsize businesses face discrimination charges, which settle for $160,000 on average.3


The cost structure for TriNet is quoted on a case-by-case basis, but for a 15-employee company the rates have been quoted between $180-$250 per employee, per month, equating to $32,400-$45,000 per year.4  This number may be highly variable depending on the services engaged and the size of the company.  At this cost, the service may seem steep, but if compared to the work of a full-time employee, TriNet provides a reasonable price-point for a comprehensive PEO platform.


If you believe that your people are the most valuable asset, in addition to taking work off your plate, you should consider joining the 65% of small businesses that employ some form of HR software.  I would tell you to go one step further and seriously consider the implications of engaging a PEO.  Personally, the transparent access to financial and personal information that TriNet provided felt empowering as an employee.  Having access to these services not only streamlines HR operations, but has the added benefit of providing a sense of professionalism that would otherwise be difficult to recreate.


Considering the cost of losing an employee is roughly equivalent to their yearly salary, keeping your people happy should not be overlooked, and TriNet goes a long way to ensuring that your humans are given adequate resources to be happy and effective.



(1)        Study Finds 1.5 Million Small Businesses Spend Billions to Manage HR (accessed Jan 26, 2021).

(2)        Work With Me, People! Statistics on Small Business Human Resource Trends | SCORE (accessed Jan 19, 2021).

(3)        TriNet. Risk Mitigation | Risk Management Solutions | HR Compliance (accessed Jan 19, 2021).

(4)         TriNet Review 2021 | Pricing, Ratings, Complaints. Merchant Maverick.

Box – Article 4 of 6

Tools of the Trade (TotT) Series –Put your data and documents in one Box (A place for everything and everything in its place)
By: Zach Detweiler, Ph. D.
Date: January 21, 2020
Tags: Box, cloud storage, data, security, software, apps
Have you lost sleep wondering whether your organizational data was secure? Is the information that makes your organization valuable one dropped laptop or errant key stroke away from popping out of existence? Is data stored on individual employees’ computers and not localized? What happens if you or an employee is out of commission unexpectedly?
IDG estimated that small businesses managed 48 terabytes of data in 2015 (estimated to double by 2016, so assume that number is much larger by now).1 Unless you have spent thousands of dollars on a local server to store all of your data, bets are you are either already using a cloud storage service, or allowing your organizational data to exist haphazardly across several computers and platforms.
Given the data-centric demands of business today, it is difficult for me to imagine not employing a cloud service to centralize data, share documents, and mitigate losses of both. It is estimated that small instances of data loss (~100 files) cost businesses an average of tens of thousands of dollars, while larger ones (>100M files) can cost tens of millions!2
Cloud storage platforms exist mainly to provide a location to securely store data without having to own and/or manage the hardware associated with storing bits and bytes. As these storage options become more viable and integral to the function of business as usual, prices continue to drop. The internal efficiency of cloud datacenters is easy to conceptualize given their economies of scale, with WSP estimating a 90% reduction in waste compared to traditional small business datacenter management.3
One of several options in the cloud storage marketplace is Box. Box is a little special in that it is specifically designed for business use and has several features that separate it from the pack. Box provides individual users of an enterprise account with unique access to different folders based on the administrator’s authorization. The data is accessed through the Box web application, or the Box Drive application can be locally installed to computers for a direct link to the account. Viewing the Box account, especially through Box Drive, is effectively identical to viewing folders on your local computer, but if the files are not all stored locally, allowing access to a quantity of data that could not be stored on an individual computer. The folder hierarchy within Box is completely customizable.
The ease of authorization to different folders means Box can be readily organized at a business level if you have sensitive information or need tight document control. Individuals that have not been granted access to folders or files do not even have the ability to see that the file exists in the account, so while it is important to correctly administer files and folders to the right individuals, one can rest easy when hosting sensitive documents. One of the nicest features of Box is that folders can be shared with external email addresses so that data can be exchanged without having to send the data directly. This has been useful for providing large data sets and documents/presentations with outside groups without having to give access to the larger Box account.
Box also provides apps for phones (Android, iOS, Windows Phone and Blackberry), which makes viewing files remotely or on the fly easy. It also provides a very simple way to upload photos directly to relevant folders without having to shuffle files from device to device and folder to folder.
If you’re concerned with security in a cloud storage system, Box is effectively as good as it gets when it comes to encryption (256-AES), and has been recommended to a higher level than products like Google Drive, when considering file sensitivity.4
The pains of using Box are not unique compared to other cloud services. The act of using cloud storage removes data one or more layers further from your RAM, which increases the time required to perform any computation on that data. Box Drive attempts to alleviate this by locally caching recently used documents on your local computer. If you find that you regularly are using data that is not locally stored you can choose to locally store specific files and folders, allowing their use offline while maintaining their up-to-date status when connected. This was helpful when integrating some R scripts with a large number of excel sheets; when stored locally the compute time was cut by three orders of magnitude, taking a process from 10 minutes down to a fraction of a second.
One of the issues with many cloud services is the offline nature of working with many of the documents, then uploading these documents and getting conflicting versions. Box increments versions with the uploader’s user identification information, and always stores old versions so that they can be recovered. It can also be integrated with Microsoft Office Online to work in real time on documents, however, this feature is not in league with the live document features present in Google’s Suite.
Box pricing is tied to number of users, starting at $5/person/month, and going up to an enterprise version at $35/person/month. The four levels of service are delineated by storage quantity, number of users, integration to other enterprise apps, and generally has more data safety and security features at higher tiers. This makes for a strong insurance plan against data loss, which not only costs more (see above), but is effectively all ‘paid’ at once.
I have used Sharesync, Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive. I would certainly recommend Box when you have a need to be secure, and are turned off by the notion of entrusting your data to an information gathering service such as Google. If you have no such aversions, and value collaborative compatibility, you may find Box a little clunky at times. Whether Box is right for you is your choice, but I think there are few organizations that wouldn’t benefit from using cloud storage institutionally.
(1) Data/Analytics, B.; Paper, R. T. | W. 2016 Data & Analytics Research •IDG (accessed Dec 28, 2020).
(2) Rock, T. Do You Understand the Real Cost of Data Loss? Invenio IT.
(3) Environmental Benefits of Cloud Computing | WSP (accessed Dec 28, 2020).
(4) Google Drive vs Box: Which cloud storage is best for you?-IT Support -UMD (accessed Dec 28, 2020).

Slack – Article 3 of 6

Tools of the Trade (TotT) Series – Slack helps keep communication manageable and tight

By: Zach Detweiler, Ph. D.

Date: January 6, 2021

Tags: Slack, communication, organization, software, apps

Handwritten letters are a lovely gesture to the individual receiving them, but in a business setting, this form of communication was made obsolete by email. Email arrived instantaneously and was disseminated readily, as well as provided a form that was amenable to record keeping.

However, email is not perfect. If you have ever tried to locate a specific, month-old email, then you have likely felt the pain induced by wading through hundreds to thousands of emails, especially with certain services (*looks bitterly at Outlook). Additionally, much like actual mail, anyone who possesses your address has equal opportunity to draw your attention and fill your mailbox. American workers receive an average of 126 emails a day and over 50% of all emails are spam.(1,2)

The advent of text messaging took connectivity even further, allowing constant communication. It also narrowed down channels to those who had your phone number and allowed important information to be supplied omni presently to key stakeholders. However, the use of text messaging as an official method employed by a business has remained unusual due to tracking issues, lack of structure, and the superficial depth of information that is transmitted. Communication among a group in an organization is a challenge. Email and text chains rapidly get convoluted, lose focus, and are difficult to capture and disseminate. This becomes even more difficult if the content is highly technical, as it is often necessary to cite extra-thread content (articles, reports, data, etc.). The normal tools used by businesses do not serve communication needs adequately. Now, software such as that provided by Slack, is trying to bring communication one step further into the modern, computing-information age. Slack provides a platform that allows you to establish communication channels between selected parties on selected topics. The key being intentional “binning” of communication. Slack allows documents to be attached to a channel thread, ensuring that relevant information can be readily viewed.Slack is a freemium product, with up to 10,000 messages and 10 integrations with other tools available for free, and a host of other features available at cost. Standard service equates to $6.67 per month, per person, which allows unlimited messages, unlimited apps, group video, screen sharing, and secure connections with external organizations. Further administrative tools, priority service, and data loss prevention security can be had with the upgraded packages.

Forrester found that Slack provided an ROI of 338% over three years, paying for itself in less than 6 months.(3 )Interestingly, the report finds that roughly two-thirds of the return were due to technical team productivity improvements, and one-third due to improvements in general productivity. There were minimal returns in replacing other tools, speaking to the need for Slack to fill a communication niche. Some of the major attributions for these savings were the reduction in engineers having to switch between applications and interfaces to view relevant information and tasks, as well as supporting both synchronous and asynchronous communication. Return was generated in the form of freeing up engineer time by decreasing the number of emails and the amount of time spent in status meetings. This methodology found similar, though lesser, returns to the general productivity of an organization.

In my experience, Slack provides a vastly superior platform for communication for several reasons. It is effectively a pre-organized messaging app, integrates documents and data seamlessly into threads, and provides a much-needed balance between the formality and delay of emails with the informality and expediency of text messaging.As with most communication and connectivity tools, there is the risk of allowing work-life to overstep into home-life. In order to ensure buy in on use of such a tool, rules and intended use should be established organizationally, and it is important to avoid policies that force employees to be “on” 24-7. That said, remote work and the flexibility demanded by today’s work force are well supported by the use of Slack.

If you feel like communication could be better at work, or in other settings (Slack is replacing message boards and community sites all over), then I would recommend trying Slack FOR FREE. I am not familiar with other similar platforms such as Telegram and Discord, but these are among the potential alternatives you may be interested in. I think you’ll be surprised by how much simpler communication can be and how effective Slack is at tightening up group communication in a technical setting.


(1) Email Usage Statistics in 2019 (accessed Jan 6, 2021).

(2) 10 Interesting Facts & Statistics About Email (accessed Jan 6, 2021).

(3) Slack. Introducing Forrester’s new study: “The Total Economic Impact of Slack for Technical Teams” (accessed Jan 6, 2021)

Zoho – Article 2 of 6

Projects can definitely be managed with Zoho Projects (but there’s a learning curve)

By: Zach Detweiler, Ph. D.Top of Form

Date: December 16, 2020

Tags: Zoho Projects, project management, tracking, scheduling, software, apps


Project management is so well established as a valuable pursuit in a business setting that even McKinsey takes for granted discussion of “project management science” these days.1


Surprisingly though, while more than 75% of businesses have a project management office (PMO), only 22% of all organizations use PM software, and it is estimated that 77% of high-performing projects use PM software.2


Translation: If you want to progress your organization to “high performing project” status, employing PM software may be your ticket to better outcomes.


Larger organizations are more likely to have a PMO platform to mitigate the higher failure rate associated with the complexity of larger projects and report the highest number of dedicated project managers.3  Meanwhile in small enterprises, dedicated project managers may not be present at all.  Adding process supplemental software to encourage the practices and checkpoints that project managers embody can alleviate the difficulties that arise without a specialist measuring the health of projects.  If you regularly find your organizational costs, timelines, and goals are not transparent to the entire organization, it is likely that picking up a software tool is the right thing to do.


One of those tools that you can find on top ten lists around the world wide web is called Zoho Projects from Zoho Corporation, which offers an entire suite of enterprise solutions.  Zoho projects allows you to create projects, attach users, and plan out the detailed execution of these projects, monitoring costs and status along the way.  We decided to use this platform based on a search through reviews of comparable software, landing on this one due to its potential to integrate into the other Zoho packages.


In my experience Zoho Projects has been extremely useful in many ways, but cumbersome and not so helpful in others.


Positively, Zoho Projects ensures that a project is executable, and that tasks and timelines are clear.  Creating a project, establishing milestones within that project, and outlaying tasks transparently ties the importance of any discrete action to the larger project, and therefore the business.  Tasks can be assigned to individual owners, subtasks can be partitioned further if necessary, and the deliverables can be attached directly to the project so that the entire team has access to important information in the same location.  The timeframe and dependencies of tasks can be set, allowing Gantt charts to be automatically generated, highlighting the impact of moving certain items up, or (Iet’s be honest) back.  It is easy to sort action items by user, team, or date, or more, which makes keeping track of your upcoming and overdue items a breeze.


Personally, one of the most useful aspects of Zoho projects was the template feature.  This allowed a specific project to be replicated, which substantially reduced repetitive project generation.  This was useful in situations such as onboarding new hires, allowing systematic preparation well in advance of an individual’s first day, and providing a more homogeneous approach to ensure quality. Zoho task tracking lists serves as perfect evidence of formal training plan and training completion records during a quality system audit.


On the negative side of things: firstly, there is a reasonable learning curve to being able to effectively use the software.  Secondly, since the software was built to solve generic problems, the intent of the different features may mean different things to different users, causing confusion.  Lastly, the user interface is not always intuitive (it’s been updated and reskinned several times, making it better, but also requiring relearning).  Performing tasks for the first time can be surprisingly time consuming while you learn how to navigate.


All of these problems are manageable, but take some up-front work to establish best practices, and training to ensure users understand the tool and how the organization will use it.


Zoho projects costs $3-6 per person per month.  With 25 people, this translates to $1800/yr for the enterprise version.  This accounts for only 20% of the budget that the Project Management Institute recommends for small projects.4


Zoho Projects does not take the place of good planning when designing projects.  It does help flesh out the details of the project to help understand timing before launching a project.  It increases transparency of status once work is underway.  It captures actual costs compared to forecasts, which helps future projects more realistic and likely to succeed.


If you currently are not using any project management software, instead of developing your own, I would recommend checking out Zoho Projects.  The system is customizable enough to fit the needs of most scenarios, but do not take it as grounds to ignore good project management practices.



(1)The art of project leadership: Delivering the world’s largest projects (accessed Dec 16, 2020).

(2)Cohen, H. Project Management Statistics: 45 Stats You Can’t Ignore (accessed Dec 16, 2020).

(3)Complete Collection of Project Management Statistics 2015 (accessed Dec 16, 2020).

(4)Project Management: How Much Is Enough? – Appropriate Amount (accessed Dec 16, 2020).


Motivation & Quality



  1. The reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.
  2. The general desire or willingness of someone to do something.
    Oxford Dictionary

When talking Quality, there is an intended result and a process to get there. Many processes are people dependent and the more redundant the process or task, the greater the difficulty in keeping an engaged workforce that produces as intended 100% of the time. So, the critical question is, how do you effectively motivate your workforce to improve quality? Afterall, quality is what drives customer satisfaction and helps your business continue to grow.

Learnings below are my take aways from Dan Ariely’s book Payoff – The Hidden Logic (Simon & Schuster 2016).

Repetitive work, day in and day out without other meaning attached to it is grinding, hence the Sisyphus principle – the Greek King Ephyra, who’s punishment was to push a large boulder up a hill, only to have it roll down every time he neared the top. Rinse and repeat for eternity. Suckville. Many people find themselves in this continuous slog without some attached meaning to the work.

Fact #1: People value things they produce themselves; even if it’s not something done exceptionally well, it’s sentimental. Ariely and his colleagues performed an experiment: Origami novices were given directions to follow to produce an animal. Afterwards, they talked an expert through the same process. They read the directions and the expert produced a more aesthetically pleasing verion. When asked which Origami product the novice would pay more for, they placed a higher value on their own work despite it being obviously flawed.

Application Example A: A Quality Engineer or Manager meets opposition when someone is directly accused of doing a poor job or not following procedure. The approach is key to these discussions and avoiding confrontation. Mistakes will happen and that is how we learn. So, approach these conversations carefully and with caution on wording, making sure intent is on figuring out a way to prevent issue in the future versus making accusations of faulty work.

Application Example B: Another way to view this is attain the workforce input while designing and implementing a process so there is buy in – if a person has a hand in making the process from the start, they are more inclined to maintain and improve it.

“IKEA effect” – people value things they have invested time and labor into creating.

Fact #2: People react best to intrinsic motivations versus extrinsic. Ariely’s team reviewed a company that incentivized people with money for increased production and paired that against other methods of rewards: Pizza Vouchers (intrinsic and extrinsic – can provide family something near term and tangible from work they did), Text or verbal praise (intrinsic), Cash Reward (extrinsic), Control Group (no reward). Not surprising, “No Reward” performed the worst of the groups. The result of the other (3) groups is interesting:

Reward Week 1 Week 2 Week 3
Pizza Voucher for employee and their family 6.70% < 1% <1%
Text / Verbal Praise 6.60% < 1% <1%
Cash reward 4.90% -13.20% -6.20%

Figure 1 – Reward system week over week change

Learning: Most companies jump to monetary incentives to motivate personnel, thinking a paycheck bump is the most effective way to coerce the workforce into meeting targets. Profit sharing is one method, and it is effective to an extent, but as you can see above, it’s not sustainable. The Pizza Voucher touches multiple points for motivating someone and a simple text with praise was effective, and also sustainable.

Conclusion: In application, recognition and praise goes a long way. Cash is not a sustainable means for motivating people. At some point, without recognition, the will to produce diminishes. Praise is a powerful tool; my only caution is this: know the person’s personality, as some people do not like public recognition but prefer to be praised one-on-one and others vice-versa. This is where I recommend using premium HR tools like Predictive Index, an application that identifies personality characteristics of your employees and how best to interact with them. In my experience, Predictive Index has been impressively effective in providing this information for managers. Companies have a lot to gain from effectively learning to motivate their teams and keep morale up. Double digit improvement is not unheard of. If you would like to talk more about how to implement metrics and objectives and motivate your team to achieve those goals, feel free to contact us for a free 1-hour consultation.


Payoff – Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations, Dan Ariely 2016

TED Books Simon & Schuster

ISBN 978-1-5011-2004-6

Predictive Index