Moving to a New Office After Lockdown

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a horrific year for everyone on the planet. Coronavirus has come out of the blue and turned everyone’s plans, and for a lot of people their health, upside down. For me personally, at the end of 2019 things were going great. My business was very stable, and home life was great. As we entered into 2020, in January, I ran a successful workshop at NDC Security in Norway and then presented at NDC London. In February I also did a great talk a DDD North, a free community-run conference. That was the last time I was in a room with a lot of people doing what I love doing, public speaking and teaching.

As we entered into March, it was clear that Coronavirus and Covid-19 were not going to go away anytime soon. Countries around the world started entering into lockdown, and it was only a matter of time before the UK did. On Monday 23rd March 2020, after a televised address to the nation from our prime minister Boris Johnson, we entered into full lockdown. All social interactions had to stop, the schools were closed, and everyone had to work at home if they could. You could only leave your house to buy food, get some exercise or for medical reasons. No one had any idea how long the lockdown would last.

My old office in Cromford, Derbyshire.
My old office in Cromford, Derbyshire.

Like a lot of people, me and my wife had to juggle work along with home-schooling two children, which I can honestly say is one of the hardest things we have ever had to do. My son has recently been diagnosed with ADHD. Shortly afterwards with autism; so learning how to teach him was challenging as well as teaching my daughter and fitting in our own work. As lockdown and the virus took its grip on the UK, I had to stop going to my office, which was a short train journey away (I don’t drive). I didn’t go there for six weeks, which means I didn’t have access to my recording setup for courses. I had just signed a new contract to make a new Pluralsight course just before lockdown, so I spent my time scripting the course and building slides. After six weeks of lockdown, I started going back to my office only once a week on a Wednesday to record sections of my course that I had prepared.

My new office in Belper.
My new office in Belper.

From then on I had only been visiting the office once per week while the kids are still off school as it wouldn’t have been fair to go there and leave the kids at home with my wife, who was also trying to work. This got me thinking about whether it would be a good idea to relocate my office from where it was (in a place called Cromford) to the town I live in called Belper in Derbyshire, which is about 10 miles. By relocating the office to be walking distance from the house, I would be able to go more in the event of another lockdown. Another lockdown is something we can’t rule out over the winter period. After lots of searching and viewing offices, I finally found the perfect office space that had just come available. After lots of paperwork, I signed the contract and on the week commencing 24th August, I got the keys, painted the office, hired a removal company and moved in.

I absolutely loved my old office space in Cromford. In the two years I was there, I achieved a lot and grew my business. I was quite sad to let the place go. Still, I also really love this new office space, so while it is a bitter-sweet experience, I think I have made the right decision going forward. Being able to walk to the office is also very handy for the school routine as I can drop my son off at school and then just walk to work. Personally, I think 2021 is going to be severely restricted with travel for conferences etc., so at the moment, relocating my office to be more local feels like a good move. I have already had people ask, ‘Why don’t you just work from home?’ This is a good question; the answer is that I hate working from home. I like the routine of going out to work. Home is for living, the office is for working, and I like that distinction. This week the kids return to school, so I can return to a normal working routine, but if things get difficult again in the winter I feel better that everything I need is a short walking distance away. A good thing with this office is I can walk here, access the building and stay in my office all day and not see another living soul, which is great for social distancing. I can see myself being in this office for many years to come.

How to Give Constructive Criticism

Nearly 16,000 managers were surveyed in two separate studies by leadership development consultancies, one by Zenger and the other by Folkman. It might come as a shock to you that 44% of the managers responded that they find the act of giving feedback stressful, especially when it is negative. One-fifth of the managers avoid it entirely, which raises the question if our employees aren’t giving 100% to their work, can we, as managers, be at fault? Imagine dealing with an unproductive, unpunctual and irresponsible employee on your team who hasn’t been told about these traits yet. Picture him/her coming up to you and asking you for a raise? Shocking as it may seem, it is you who is at fault for not ever pointing out the worst.

Criticism, like evaluations, is an important aspect of being a manager. As managers, it is imperative that we understand the importance of giving and receiving feedback. Feedback, especially constructive feedback, is a respectful way of helping employees better themselves. It is a means of guiding them with honesty, directness, and dignity while not damaging their feelings and ego. When delivered in the right manner, it doesn’t create uneasy spaces within the four walls of the office but rather strengthens interpersonal bonds, which ultimately boosts the productivity and efficiency of employees.

The majority of managers find it hard to offer constructive criticism when it comes to pointing out areas of improvement. They struggle with finding the right balance between advising and criticizing, they fear their words might hurt the feelings of their employees, they worry if it will negatively impact their productivity by demoralizing them, etc.

But here’s a fact—you are going to have to get comfortable delivering constructive criticism. Really, really, really comfortable! Although it is hard enough to deliver it to anyone, it is the hardest when giving it to someone who always gets on your nerves or to an underperforming employee. To say the least, such situations require mastering the art of giving constructive criticism.

Therefore, in this article, together we shall learn how to give constructive criticism in a way that doesn’t hurt the receiver’s feelings as well as learn the differences between constructive and non-constructive criticism and how to use empathy to improve the impact of the criticism.

Dealing with Criticism

For many people, offering up criticism isn’t always pleasurable or appreciated, no matter if it’s from a family member, good friends or a work colleague. Whether it’s taken as constructive or it causes personal turmoil, criticism can be quite difficult to receive and process. The result can often be helpful if that was the intention, or it can be one of those difficult things to accept and forget.

Dealing with Criticism, written by Stephen Haunts

Being criticized at work has been known to have a significant positive or negative impact on employee morale and, in turn, productivity. Whether it’s handed out verbally, in an email, direct messaging systems or even a social media platform, more often than not, the one given the task of providing feedback, often fails to consider how it might be received, especially when it’s unfavorable. 

The goal is usually to improve results at work, without considering the connection between morale and productivity.

Some research has shown that criticism of any kind actually closes down the same brain centers that are otherwise activated when talking about positive things. So, it’s simple to understand how being criticized by a manager or colleague might evoke negative thoughts, embarrassment and humiliation. When a group of employees are put on the defensive and feeling dejected from negative performance reviews, it can be devastating to a company’s bottom line.

Receiving criticism at work, whether it’s called “feedback”, “performance reviews” or “advice”, likely won’t go away. As a cornerstone of corporate culture, more often than not, its how companies get things done. So, if your chances of avoiding criticism at work are slim, it’s in your best interest, as both giver and receiver, to understand what it is and how best to harness its capacity for productive output and positive people.

Some Thoughts on the New Apple AirPods Pro

I have been using the original AirPods for a few years and liked them. They did have a few flaws like bad passive noise isolation and a slightly loose fit, but the ease of use and convenience outway the problems. I also thought these sounded reasonably good for listening to podcasts and occasional music. Apple has responded to the criticisms with AirPods Pro, and to cut a long story short, they are fantastic.

Apple AirPods Pro are an excellent addition to the AirPods line with added comfort, active noise canceling and a natural sounding transparency mode.

The main differences are they have a rubber ear tip to help with the fit in your ears. They now provide an excellent reliable seal with no danger of slipping out. They have also introduced active noise canceling that works very well. Granted, they won’t be as good as a larger set of over the ear headphones, but they are not far off. I have used these on a 4-hour flight, and they did a fantastic job of cutting out the engine noise and making my music sound great. They were also very comfortable for the duration of that flight. If I were doing a long haul flight to the US, then I would use over-ear headphones as the AirPods Pro only give 4.5 hours battery on a single charge, but for short-haul, these are perfect.

Creativity Through Limiting Choice and Embracing​ Constraints

Have you ever wondered how Picasso or van Gogh painted masterpieces on such a small canvas? How could they be so creative within such limited space?

Technology has come so far so fast that there’s little incentive to be creative with so many resources available. Sometimes those resources are so plentiful that they can be overwhelming. 

Think about something as simple as taking a picture of a child playing with a ball. Before the age of photo imaging, pictures were innocent, and with that innocence came creativity. The shot was snapped, and candid memories were treasured. Today, it’s hard to see a photo that hasn’t been altered in some way. There’s no need to worry about how the picture will come out because whatever is needed will happen with a computer and a photo editing program. 

Imagine taking a step back in time to when simplicity bred creativity. It can happen for you, and we’ll explain how.

Embrace Constraints 

Have you ever watched a toddler open a present on Christmas morning? So often, the contents, which are often toys, are tossed aside, and the child will stay occupied for hours playing with the box. My seven-year-old son still does this as he likes turning boxes into robots. There can be many shiny, new toys surrounding the child that remain untouched as the box is center-focus.

If all of the toys were removed, and all that was left was a large box, what would the child do? Most likely, they will climb inside and pretend it’s a truck, a spaceship, or even a robot. With or without many options, a child will limit his or her choice by choosing the most imaginative. 

Practical Techniques to Improve Your Self-Motivation

Lack of motivation is something most everyone has experienced at some time in their lives. We can often jump into action if we are prompted by someone else, but when it comes to self-motivation, we must be both the motivator and the motivatee. 

Practical techniques to improve your self-motivation by Stephen Haunts

This isn’t always easy, as we can be prone to procrastination and, let’s face it, laziness. True, we can be too lazy to do something we need to do. It’s so much easier to ask someone else or convince ourselves that it’s not worth the effort to perform a specific task or go to a particular place. 

I should write a book, but I doubt anyone would read it. 

I’d love to become an teacher, but going back to college… no way. 

The boss wants me to represent him at the award ceremony tonight, but I’d probably say or do something stupid.

I’m too tired to go to the gym today. Maybe tomorrow. 

Demotivators are continually looking for an excuse to avoid doing what they need to do to succeed, to reach their goals, or to simply do something or go somewhere. As shown in the above examples, there can be varying reasons for a lack of motivation. Whether it’s a headache or other physical ailment, a lack of self-confidence, or a lack of desire, you’ve probably been guilty of at least one instance of demotivation. 

We all have. And that’s why this article was written. We’ll explore some tips and techniques that will help you to get up and go, do the unthinkable, and conquer the world. 

Okay, so maybe you won’t conquer the world, but you can conquer your world. So, let’s get started!

Understanding Interpersonal Relationships

If you are interested in improving your interpersonal relationships at work but have always found it difficult, then you might like my Pluralsight course, Building Healthy Interpersonal Relationships at Work, where I talk about how to build, and maintain effective relationships, how to manage conflict and how to increase diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Having a great day at work is one of the top ways to boost your mood and self-confidence. When things are going right in the workplace, you feel a sense of security that just cannot be duplicated elsewhere. Most of us need this type of workplace stability to become successful and productive. If you have ever felt that you love your job and you don’t mind the work involved, but there is still something out of place, consider the relationships that you have built with your coworkers. Interpersonal connections are essential in your daily life, and this includes your professional side.

Understanding Interpersonal Relationships by Stephen Haunts

When you work in an environment where you feel that you can be heard and understood, you are more likely to succeed. Those with hostile work environments tend to not only be more stressed out on an average daily basis but also find ways to take this stress out on loved ones or other uninvolved people. Getting along with your coworkers and supervisors can make all the difference between a great day and a terrible one.

Consider the way that you communicate with your peers. Is the interaction healthy? Productive? Do you feel that you lack something? This course is meant to help you dissect your interpersonal relationships at work while striving toward more robust connections. 

Review of the Peak Design Tech Pouch

When I travel to conferences or workshop I have a whole heap of cables, adapters, and tools that I use on my trips and in my everyday working life. When I upgraded my everyday carry bag to the Peak Design Everyday Backpack, I also became aware of the Peak Design Tech Pouch.

In the following video, I do a review and an unpacking of my kit to show you how much space is in this tech pouch.

Available from Amazon.com

Available for Amazon.co.uk

Review of the Peak Design 30L Everyday Backpack

For a few years I have been searching for the idea laptop bag and everyday carry mobile office. I have wanted something strong, stylist, and robust enough to service lots of travelling on trains and planes. I have tried many bags that almost fit the bill, but they all seem to fall short. That is until I discovered the Peak Design 30L Everyday Backpack.

I have recorded a video review that contains all my thoughts on this bag, but essentially I have found my perfect bag. It isn’t a cheap bag by any stretch, but it fits the bill perfectly and feels like it will last for years to come.

Available from Amazon.com

Available from Amazon.co.uk

I am now a Microsoft MVP

A few weeks ago, I was awarded the Microsoft MVP award. The MVP award is recognition for the community work I perform in teaching people about different software development subjects using Microsoft tools, such as .NET and Azure.

To get the award, I had to be nominated by another MVP. Once the nomination happened, I was invited onto a website where I had to detail everything I had done community wise over the past 12 months. My community contributions include user group and conference talks, open-source contributions, free workshops, and co-running a software development user-group.

It is a big honour to receive the award, and I am very grateful to be nominated and to receive it. Recipients of the award get many benefits, including access to all Microsoft software to use for free, credits to use towards our Azure subscriptions, access to training through Linkedin Learning, Xamarin University, and many other benefits. We also get a beautiful glass statue award and a framed certificate to display in our offices. The one advantage I am looking forward to, though, is attending the MVP Summit at the Microsoft Campus in Redmond next March. At the summit, all the MVPs get together, and Microsoft tells us what they are working on. Because of this, we have to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement so that we don’t release any information early. It’s great that we get to see what’s coming and have some feedback into the process by talking directly to the teams building the software.

On my daughter’s request, I made a YouTube unboxing video of the award. According to her, as a 10-year-old YouTube expert, no-one reads blogs, and I need to do an unboxing video. You can see above if you are interested in seeing what comes in the award box.

MVP awards are reassessed every year. To keep getting the award benefits, I have to continue doing what I am doing by helping people in the software development community. I think this should be easy to do as I love teaching people. I feel I have always had a skill for taking complex subjects and making them easy to understand, which is why I do well-produced training for Pluralsight.

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