Talent Development Centre

Tag Archives: health

All Talent Development Centre posts for Canadian technology contractors relating to health.

So, Now What??!

So, Now What??!

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions, Western Canada at Eagle

I’d like to begin by stating that this is purely an opinion piece. I’ve no better access to information than most other people (the information I’ve reviewed comes from internet sources and my own discussions with contractors, consultants and clients) but, I think, that this may be the point. I don’t know what’s coming next, no one does. Many say they do… but they don’t. So in this COVID-obsessed and stressed out world, what is one to do?

There are very few people in this world who truly love and embrace change. (And no, I am not one of them!) Sure, many of us can appreciate the concept of change being needed for progress to occur, we may even agree that it could be a good thing. But it rarely “feels good” when we are in the middle of it. And, boy! Are we in the middle of it now!! Everybody has everything in their lives turned on its head right now. Sure, we’ve made accommodations and are in the process of defining our own “new normal”, but the truth is that the way things are today aren’t the way they are going to be in 6 months from now, nor will they ever be the same way they were before! It’s a scary thought for most people — the “future normal” is unknown.

Wait a minute… the future has never been known… how is this “new” in any way? What is different now, is the scope of the changes that we are facing. Too much of our lives have been changing too drastically too quickly and it will continue to do so for some time to come, for the foreseeable future, actually. I guess hyper-change IS the new normal. Or, to put it oxymoronically, un-normal is normal. And we would do well to get used to that idea.

So, back to the original question: what do we do now, today, to set ourselves up for success in this “oxymoronical” (not a real word) time. I don’t know (for sure). But here are a number of ideas that have shown to be useful when living in times of great change:

  • Accept that you cannot stop change. Your plans, whatever they were, may no longer be possible to accomplish — at least in the way or time frame which you’d intended. If your situation has created an insurmountable obstacle to your plans, stop trying to fight it. Your time and energy would be better spent focusing on something else, something that will lead to positive results for you.
  • Be flexible. Look for ways to adapt your plans so that your goals might still be met. Look for a “Plan B”. Expect that you might need to look for a Plan C, D, E…
  • Be engaged. As much as you might want to hunker down, withdraw and ride it out, these massive changes will continue. Unless you are retired, with everything paid off and have a sizeable, well-hedged nest egg, you are not going to be able to “sit this one out”. “Group Think” is real and it is a powerful tool for you to use to keep current. Working your network of family, friends, colleagues, etc. will help to keep you abreast of the changes as they happen and provide ideas for making the accommodations necessary to limit the downside and maximize the opportunities.
  • Limit the downside and maximize the opportunities. As we all know, change does not need to be a negative thing. Although it can be uncomfortable, there will be both opportunities to take advantage of and pitfalls which we’d like to avoid. Being “opportunistic” might not always have a good connotation; however, in times of great change, it is an approach one should embrace.
  • Give back. As bad as we might have it, others have it far worse. Helping others in need is a great way to do good while attaining perspective, lifting your spirit, and generally feeling better about yourself (and your own situation).
  • On the career side, if you find that you have unwanted-but-extra time on your hands, investing in your knowledge/skills through training, reading, networking, etc. often pays a good return. If you don’t have the time or wherewithal for a formalized course/certification, there are many free sources of information and training available. As well, there are user groups (albeit virtual these days) that you can join. Not only are these a great networking opportunity, they are also great places to learn!
  • Try something new. If you’ve ever thought to yourself “I always wanted to… ??, but never had the time“. Or, “Someday, when the time is right, I’ll try to… ??“. Maybe now is the time. You may find a hidden talent or something new that you love to do and the rest of your life may be richer for it. Learn a new language! The direction of macro-changes suggests that globalization will continue unabated and being bilingual or multi-lingual can be a real advantage.
  • Do some soul-searching. Most of us have been “running hot” for a long time. We’ve had our heads down, and pushing forward with our careers/lives/relationships/etc. When evaluating your opportunities, it is a good practice to challenge your own goals, philosophies, and ideals. Is what was important to you 10 years ago still important to you today? If you take time to peel back that “onion”, you might be surprised to find that your priorities are due for a change. What Color Is Your Parachute? is an old, tried-and-true, self-help book meant to guide people through a career change; but it contains excellent exercises that helps one to identify what is most important to them and set goals and priorities and make new, better-fit life plans. Resources such as this book (and countless internet sites) are valuable as guides to your self-awareness journey.
  • Exercise and take care of your health. The benefits of this go without saying… so, I’ll only say this: Regardless of the amount of change facing you over the coming months and years, attending to your physical and mental health will never be a wasted effort.
  • Take time to read — news sources, industry articles, biographies, editorials, training literature and whitepapers. Listen to podcasts on subjects of interest to you. It doesn’t even have to be career-related; it can be of general interest to you or hobby-related. Try to choose things that engage you and stimulate your mind… and minimize your time watching mindless TV shows, the black hole that can be YouTube, etc. because, in these, you lose hours of your life and come out no better for it.

Here are some links to websites that share ideas on how to cope with change. They are good “reads” and can augment my own list here:

That’s my list for coping, Mid-COVID – August 2020. As I said at the beginning of this blog post: this is an Opinion Piece and I am the world’s leading authority on my own opinion. I’m sure you have your own advice to add to this list… and maybe even counter points to argue! I’d be pleased to see you share your own ideas with our readership by leaving a comment below! In the words of the great and wise Red Green: “Remember, I’m pulling for you. Were all in this together!”

Take care, stay well, be strong… and thrive!

Staying Healthy at Home During Physical Distancing

Staying Healthy at Home During Physical Distancing

You and your family are at home, being responsible with physical distancing. Great! Thank you for helping to flatten the curve. Now, how can you ensure you stay healthy? We recently posted about the importance of your mental health and how to take care of that through the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s also important to take care of your physical health. Here are a few tips:

Keep Your House as Clean as Possible

Just because you’re locked in your house is no reason to believe you can no longer contract the Corona virus. Others in your house may already have it, food or other items that you bring home might contain the virus on its surface or you might pick it up while out and about grabbing some essentials.

First, monitor everyone in your house and be aware if they’re showing signs of COVID-19. The Government of Canada published this self-assessment tool to help you assess if somebody is sick. If somebody does show signs, do what you can to quarantine them within the house and pay extra attention to disinfecting any surfaces they may come into contact with. Use gloves around areas they touch, including when cleaning their laundry.

The CDC offers tips for cleaning and disinfecting your house here. They recommend you clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces daily, such as tables, doorknobs, light switches and toilets. It’s worth noting that cleaning removes germs but doesn’t kill them, it just lowers their numbers. You need to disinfect with chemical to kill germs on surfaces, after you’ve cleaned them. To disinfect, diluted household bleach solutions or alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol are best. You can create your own solution by mixing 5 tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water.

This post from ITWorld Canada also provides tips for cleaning cellphones and other devices, including your cell phone, keyboards and mice.

Exercising

It’s the little things that count. Even if you never had a regular workout routine, walking to the office and back from your car, going out for lunch, and taking a few sets of stairs are all forms of exercise we’re no longer getting. You must keep physically fit to stay healthy through these times, but it’s difficult when we barely leave the home and the couch is so tempting.

First, always remember that a walk outside is alright and encouraged by health professionals, as long as you maintain your distance from other people. If you’re looking for something a bit more structured, this CBC article is packed with free, no-equipment online fitness classes. It lists a variety of free apps and channels (ex. Nike Training Club or Fitness Blender), studios offering online workouts (ex. Fit Squad Training, Body Barre Fitness & Training Studio), and other opportunities to get some good family workouts at home. Those with kids can also check out some YouTube channels like Cosmic Kids Yoga and Barre Alley.

Food Safety

There are many questions regarding food, and how to ensure it’s safe, either when it comes home from the grocery store or a takeout restaurant. In a CTV News interview, infectious disease specialist Isaac Bogoch called the risk of contracting the virus that way “so extraordinary small”. He said the virus doesn’t appear to thrive on surfaces like food or paper, but it can survive for hours or days on others.

The same CTV News article provided a few suggestions for keeping safe with takeout. For example, use rubbing alcohol to wipe down the box (but not the food) and thoroughly wash your hands after exchanging packages or cash.

As far as groceries are concerned, experts say this comes down to good hygiene. That should come as no surprise to anybody today. Sanitize before and after entering the grocery store and sanitize your grocery cart before taking it. You can wear gloves during your shopping trip and remove them once you leave the store; however, don’t let them give you a false sense of security. Germs can still spread on surfaces of gloves.

For more details, here’s a video by Jeffrey VanWingen with some detailed tips on how to sanitize your groceries and takeout when you bring them home:

How are you ensuring you stay healthier (or get healthier) while social distancing? Please share your ideas and suggestions with our community in the comments below.

Practical Ways for IT Contractors to Use Free Time

Practical Ways for IT Contractors to Use Free Time

The COVID-19 outbreak is locking the world down inside their homes and many of us are already going stir-crazy. Evening extra-curricular activities have been cancelled, live sports are taking a hiatus, and we’re discouraged from going out unless it’s absolutely necessary. Even telecommuting, as convenient as it is, gives you an hour or two more at home… inside the house… bored.

As we noted in last week’s post, it becomes easy to create an unhealthy routine of rolling out of bed, doing your work, then watching Netflix, all while eating junk food throughout the day. That behaviour is acceptable over the Christmas holidays, but is not ideal. Instead, use your extra time to better yourself and plan some of these tasks into your daily routines:

Professional Development

How many times in the past couple years have you missed out on a gig or higher rate because you were lacking some specific training or certification. Did you tell yourself you’re going to get on it but life is too busy? Now is the time! There are plenty of ways you can expand your skills and learn right from your home. We recently updated this post that contains over 50 different online resources for building skills and earning certifications. Included in that list is ICTC’s newly launched ICTC Ditital Pulse Channel. It will include live virtual events via video conference and available on their Vimeo page.

Perhaps you just need to use some existing skills and develop tangible experience. In that case, try creating  a few made-up projects, similar to this video of Python projects that look good on a resume. Or, you can offer to help a friend or past client with a project at no charge, with the understanding that you are learning a new skill.

Update Your Resume

We see thousands of resumes. Few of them are perfect. Can yours use some polishing? Here’s a checklist of things worth reviewing:

  1. Experience: Review it and ensure you list all technologies and skills you used, in each project description. If you know you will be responding to public sector bids in the future, check out this past post about building a resume for a government matrix. Remember, when you’re in a crunch to get a resume to a recruiter, it will be easier to cut information out of a detailed resume than to write new information to put into it.
  2. Wording: You have the meat, now make sure you’re selling yourself! Check out this post that helps you write the perfect profile summary. It will hook a recruiter into wanting to read more of your resume, then you can sell them on your experience. This infographic contains powerful action verbs to incorporate into project descriptions.
  3. Formatting: It’s amazing how many great resumes are destroyed because the formatting is awful. The biggest letdown is when a candidate gets too fancy and designs a beautiful resume that staffing agencies’ Applicant Tracking Systems can’t read. Then all that work becomes pointless. Even when it gets through the system, some IT contractors still fail to catch a recruiter’s attention. A few years ago, we asked recruiters what IT contractors can do better when formatting their resume, here’s their responses. Does your resume have any of these mishaps? If you’re spicing up your resume, also check out the video series we did a few years ago that gives tips for formatting your resume in MS Word.
  4. Match it to LinkedIn: It is no secret that all recruiters leverage LinkedIn to build their network. You need to have an updated profile to be found by the industry’s top recruiters. You also need to confirm it matches your resume which is one of the top things recruiters look for in a great LinkedIn profile. Use your downtime to update your LinkedIn profile, complete with a great profile photo.

Organize Your Business

Keeping your business running smoothly requires extra time to organize, and frankly, few IT contractors have time for that… until now! Here are a few past posts that will help:

Take Care of Yourself

If all else fails and you don’t want to think about work, use your time to take care of yourself.

  • Add Exercise into Your Daily Routine. It can be as simple as a few push-ups and crunches throughout the day, taking a walk around the block during your lunch break, or finding online workouts to follow along with. Many gyms are offering free live sessions to help cope with quarantines, you just need to search for them.
  • Practice Mindfulness. Especially during uncertain times where stress and anxiety are high, this is a good opportunity learn more about mindfulness. Explore and practice meditation in a quiet area to help focus your attention on the present moment and accept it without judgement. Some forms of yoga can have similar results, and also accomplish that exercise goal!
  • Enjoy Time with Others. Enjoy board games and activities with kids and spouses. Then, when fights inevitably break-out, call old friends and relatives who you’ve lost touch with.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a challenging time for the world and it’s a test for all of us. How we react and move forward will determine who will come out on top when this is all over. These are just a few ways you can take advantage of your downtime to better yourself. What else are you doing to keep busy while stuck at home?

Quick Poll Results: How much coffee are IT contractors drinking?

For many, a cup of jo is the perfect solution to wake-up, refuel, relax, socialize, or warm-up. Just the aroma of fresh coffee beans can bring peace to some people. According to CoffeeBI, Canadians drink an average of 3.2 cups of coffee per day, going through about 3.9 million 60kg bags each year! That’s a lot of coffee

In last month’s contractor quick poll, we asked our audience, comprised mostly of IT contractors, how much coffee they drink in an average workday, so we could compare our industry to Canada’s national average. It turns out, on average, our readers are below the national average.

Quick Poll Results: How many cups of coffee do you drink each day?

Eating Lunch at the Office is Complicated — Where and How to Eat When You Bring Your Own Lunch

Eating Lunch at the Office is Complicated -- Where and How to Eat When You Bring Your Own Lunch

 

Eating lunch is an important part of any professional’s day. It is not only necessary to keep healthy but it guarantees you have enough energy to remain productive for the rest of the afternoon. According to a 2017 survey by Tork, it also increases how much a person loves their job, especially among Canadians.

Still, many people, including IT contractors, get sucked into a project and completely lose track of time. Before you know it, it’s almost time to go home and you haven’t eaten anything since breakfast.

One way around skipping lunch is to bring your own mid-day meal. When you do suddenly bring your head-up from your computer and realize it’s time to eat, you aren’t burdened with the time it takes to leave the office, order your food, wait for it to be ready, eat and come back. On top of the time you save, eating lunch at the office is often a healthier diet choice and will also save you money. It seems, nothing is simple today, though, and bringing your own lunch leaves you with more considerations.

Eating Lunch at Your Desk

Whether you work from a home office or a client site, there are multiple options where you might choose to eat it. A lunchroom, a cafeteria, or outside are all stress-free, neutral environments. However, many of us stick with eating at our desk so we can continue to work, ignoring the many studies and experts advising against it for both health and productivity reasons.

Continual sitting is bad for your health, whereas moving around, socializing and getting sunshine are all proven to be good for your mental and physical health. Moreover, productivity experts will tell you that multi-tasking does not increase productivity (but actually reduces it) and taking time to relax does increase your productivity. Even if you’re not “working” while eating at your desk, just being present is a pass for clients and colleagues to interrupt your break and take away from that important relaxation time. Independent contractors have another dilemma when they mix lunch breaks and work — how will you bill? Because you’re eating, your client is not getting 100% of your time and will not appreciate being asked to pay for it.

For more tips on this topic, check out this article about how IT contractors can take better breaks.

Etiquette of Eating in the Office

When you bring your own lunch to the office, should you choose to eat at your desk or somewhere else, there remains etiquette to be followed.  At a minimum, follow the same rules you were taught by your parents — don’t chew loudly, slurp your drinks, or eat food that falls on the floor. There are also some codes of conduct that are unique to office settings:

  • Don’t hog resources. It is inconsiderate to take up excessive amounts of fridge space and if your meal requires 10 minutes to heat up in the microwave, prepare it during off-peak hours.
  • Speaking of off-peak hours, if you do decide to eat at a time when most others are working, be respectful and minimize distractions. Be extra quiet while preparing, eating and cleaning up after yourself.
  • That’s right, you must clean up after yourself. That includes inside the microwave after an explosion or the fridge after a spill, to avoid messes from getting old and smelly.
  • Smells are a controversial debate around many offices. This Monster article advises you stick with plain foods with few spices and avoid the common offenders such as onion, garlic, tuna and sardines. However, in this Kitchn post, etiquette expert Kirsten Schofield says you should eat what you want. Everything smells bad to somebody so don’t fret too much.
  • In that same post from The Kitchn, Schofield also warns against judging or commenting on people’s food choices at any level. “It’s irrelevant, it’s mean, and you can rapidly get into class/religion/ethnicity/gender/medical history stuff and hit a professional third rail,” she says.

Are we over-thinking something as simple as eating lunch at work… maybe. But you can be certain that if we found this much information on the topic, clients, contractors and employees you work with will also find it relevant. What problems have you run into while eating lunch at the office?

The Dangers of Sitting Disease

Paper pushing, desk jockey office workers who sit all day are in danger! That’s according to this infographic by Alere Wellbeing (now Optum).

As the infographic states, “Sitting disease is a concept created by the scientific community to address the problems associated with sitting all day and living a sedentary lifestyle.” Although not recognized by all medical organizations, it explains how workers who sit for most of their job have higher risks of certain diseases and shorter lifespans. Fortunately, the infographic also offers ideas for employers and IT contractors to beat Sitting Disease and live a better life, all while continuing to do a supreme job at work.

The Dangers of Sitting Disease #infographic

Workplace Health & Safety for Independent Contractors

You’re an IT professional working at a comfortable desk in a cozy office, what could possibly go wrong? Compared to working on a construction site, very little; however, health and safety hazards exist in offices and still require attention. From slips, trips and falls to mental health to ergonomics, there are health and safety considerations for all office professionals. Independent contractors need to understand their responsibilities and those of their client.

Who’s Responsible for an IT Contractor’s Health & Safety

To start, please note that this post is not intended to provide legal advice in any way. Our goal is to ensure you’re starting the right conversations and discussing any concerns with your lawyer.

According to OHS Canada, clients can’t necessarily “delegate safety”. At the highest level, all clients and companies always have a responsibility to provide basic human rights, including a workplace free of discrimination and harassment. However, specific health and safety responsibilities between clients and independent contractors can be a grey area and there are various legal cases demonstrating the complexities. Each province across Canada has its own variations of their health and safety laws, with all industries and situations having a number of differing variables.

To protect themselves and their employees, it is not uncommon for clients to include their health and safety regulations as part of their contract agreement with all independent contractors. Such documentation could include all of your responsibilities in protecting yourself and others while on the client site, as well as an outline any hazards of which you should be aware while working there. Clients may also conduct background checks before hiring, specifically to ensure that you will comply with all regulations and are not a risk to their business.

If something goes wrong and coverage is required, independent contractors should air on the side of caution and assume that they will require their own coverage. As an example, in Alberta, the Worker’s Compensation Board does not require clients to provide coverage to any incorporated contractor, regardless of whether you have an account with them or not. Just as important, if you hire an employee in your contracting business, you take on additional responsibility and are required to ensure coverage for them as well.

You already know that as an independent contractor you’re not entitled to the same rights as regular employees of a client. It’s important to note on the health and safety side of that, according to this article from WorkHoppers, this includes the right to file complaints for free to the Ministry of Labour. Instead, IT contractors may incur some legal costs involved in the same complaint process.

What Can IT Contractors Do to Ensure Health & Safety?

There are simple steps you can take to ensure a safe workplace, as well as reduce your risk as an independent contractor:

  • Ask questions before and after starting a contract about policies and procedures, ensuring you have a clear understanding of all hazards and expectations.
  • Make suggestions to your client if you notice the work environment could be better. Concerns may be directed to your supervisor, your client’s HR department, or to your recruiter who can further investigate.
  • Ensure you have your own coverage through your provincial workers’ compensation board. For example, WSIB in Ontario or WCB in Alberta.
  • Help maintain the health and safety of your client’s employees. You’re required to follow your client’s on-site regulations (and you should generally act like a decent human being), plus it’s good business practice and failure to do so could cost you future work.
  • Consult with a lawyer if you have any concerns.

Have you come across any health and safety issues or concerns in your IT contracting career? If so, we’d love to learn about them and how they turned out. Sharing your experiences will help other contractors understand and prepare for these dreadful situations.

How Busy IT Contractors Can Eat Healthier

How Busy Contractors Can Eat HealthierAn independent contractor’s day is typically jam-packed. You may be jumping from meeting to meeting, reading documents, getting lost in code or any of the hundreds of items required just to run your business. Between all that, it’s not uncommon to have a small lunch break (if any at all) and in that time, you may not be as eating as healthy as you could be.

We shared a post late last year advocating staying in shape and the benefits it can have on your career. In addition to exercise, eating properly is the best and easiest way to get into shape. When you skip lunch, eat quick unhealthy meals, or indulge in the wrong snacks, you’re immediately falling behind in your quest to be healthy.

Eating healthy at work, even in your busiest days, is often just a matter of planning ahead and being prepared. In other cases, it can be a bit more challenging. Here are few simple tips you can take away that will drastically improve your weekday diet:

  • Bring a Healthy Lunch and Snacks. Bringing your own lunch and snacks gives you complete control over what you are going to eat that day. Having it pre-made also means that you won’t grab something unhealthy in a pinch while you’re in a rush.
  • Prepare Before the Workday. Not having a healthy lunch at work is often the result of the busy lifestyle IT contractors lead. But simple things like extending that healthy supper so there are leftovers and doing the proper grocery shopping will ensure you have the right items to bring when you’re not working from home.
  • Only Eat Because You’re Hungry. Often we grab a snack because something smells good or you’re just bored. Instead, resist the temptations, grab a glass of water or go for a walk.
  • Bring Healthy Snacks. If it is a snack you need, then have one but have a healthy one. Fruits, vegetables, smoothies and nuts can all be great snacks that will fill you up.
  • Beware of Meetings. When clients or recruiters invite you to a meeting, either one-on-one or with a team, they often include lunch and the food can be greasy. If you don’t have a say in what is being served, ask if they mind if you bring your own lunch. Or else, you could eat a smaller portion to tie you over and then eat your bagged lunch after the meeting.
  • Share Your Healthy Ideas with Others. When you bring healthy snacks, share them with other people at your client’s site to encourage the behaviour and demonstrate how easy it is to do. They’ll start sharing their ideas and eventually the entire office culture will change.
  • Treat yourself, but carefully. There’s nothing wrong with indulging in something you love, especially when celebrating with your team. But know before hand how much you’re comfortable having and don’t go over that limit.

Staying in shape is not easy for any busy professional. Finding the time to exercise is extremely difficult and sometimes not even possible. While still challenging and requiring some preparation, eating healthy is more within everybody’s reach and the perfect place to start.

Tired? Check Out These Tricks to Boost Your Energy (without unhealthy energy drinks)

Let’s be honest: The whole concept of relaxing on the weekend and catching up on sleep is not a reality for many of us. Between family gatherings, kids’ sporting events, social events and dreaded housework, by the time Monday roles around, your batteries are not always recharged. As a result, you may not be starting out your work week totally refreshed. Throw in the fact that Monday has been proven to be the saddest day of the week, and energy may be hard to come by today.

If you’re nodding your head right now (either in agreement or because you’re trying to stay awake) then this infographic from GetVoIP is going to be the best thing you’ve looked at so far today. It tells you how to hack your chronotype, boost your energy in the morning, and stay supercharged throughout the day at work.

Tired? Check Out These Tricks to Boost Your Energy (without unhealthy energy drinks)

How to Drink Coffee Correctly, According to Science

With a great amount of us working long hours, drinking coffee is definitely something the average office worker looks forward to every morning. Coffee is a major benefit to many due to its primary active ingredient, caffeine. Countless offices rely on caffeine to fuel their day but did you know that there is a wrong and right way to consume caffeine?

This video from Med School Insiders shows us the various ways in which caffeine impacts our bodies, and what you can do to successfully lower your caffeine intake if your daily “Cup O’ Joe” has turned into a few cups too many. Learn how to prevent abuse, and properly use caffeine!