Talent Development Centre

Tag Archives: workplace

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

Quick Poll Results: Where would you prefer to be doing most of your work?

Working from home is now standard practice for office-workers around the world and there are so many obvious benefits — less of a commute, more opportunity for work/life balance, and increased comfort… just to name a few. While critics of WFH have typically been opposed because they feel it would reduce productivity or break-up teams, it’s safe to say that the world has adapted in a positive way.

Now that we’ve had a taste of the work-from-home convenience, few people want to go back. In last month’s Contractor Quick Poll, we asked where you’d prefer doing most of your work and, while there’s a fairly even split among those who’d prefer all at home or a 50/50 split, it’s clear that few independent contractors are interested in returning to a routine where they go to the client’s site all the time.

Quick Poll Results: Where would you prefer to be doing most of your work?

Building Self-Awareness Will Drastically Improve Your IT Career

Building Self-Awareness Will Drastically Improve Your IT Career

We published a post last October explaining how strengthening your emotional intelligence can make you a better IT contractor. Hand-in-hand with emotional intelligence is self-awareness. According to Harvard Business Review (HBR), there are two categories of self-awareness: internal self-awareness is how we see ourselves, and external self-awareness which refers to our understanding of how other people see us. Building both of them will have extreme benefits for an IT contractor in your job search, during job interviews, while working on contracts, as well as throughout life in general.

Self-Awareness in Your Job Search

Being self-aware means that you genuinely understand your strengths and weaknesses, what you excel at and when you tend to drag your feet. When we search for jobs, it’s tempting to apply for opportunities that will have the most pay, the most prestige and the most convenience. Self-awareness lets you take a step back to evaluate the job description and know if you truly are qualified for the job. From there, you can create a plan to develop the skills that will let you achieve your career goals. When you recognize shortfalls but still want to apply to an IT contract, a good sense of self-awareness will give you the confidence to clearly explain the areas where you lack experience, your plan to develop those skills, as well as what you bring to the table to make up for the shortfall.

Self-Awareness in a Job Interview

More and more, recruiters and hiring managers are structuring an interview to look beyond technical skills, including to understand an applicant’s self-awareness. Demonstrate your self-awareness in how you answer questions and speak genuinely about yourself. Explain your decision-making process, how your emotions have influenced decisions, and how you overcome biases that you identified. When providing examples of past work, recognize the challenges you’ve run into, provide honest details on how other people perceived you, and be accountable for your actions and outcomes. Most interviewers will assume that the IT contractor who is the hero of every project and who does no wrong is really just lacking self-awareness.

Self-Awareness on the Job

Why do clients want to work with technologists with high self-awareness? Because self-awareness has been proven time and again to improve performance, especially if you’re going to be leading a team. In fact, a 2010 study by Green Peak Partners and Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations discovered that high self-awareness often correlates with leadership success.

Knowing how others see you and how your emotions affect them helps you develop relationships with all levels of colleagues. Furthermore, when you know your weaknesses, you have an easier time delegating work to those who can do better. Finally, being known as someone with high self-awareness at work will help you with future opportunities. As noted earlier, clients and recruiters are looking for this trait more frequently, so when they call past clients for references, it will serve you well if they can speak to your self-awareness.

Self-Awareness to Improve Your Life

Those with high self-awareness are known to have increased soft skills that can benefit your job search, interviews, on-the-job performance, and life in general. For example, it can be argued that poor time management is the result of not being aware of how you spend your time in the first place. Taking a step back to breakdown your day helps you realize where you could have fit-in more productive behaviours. As well, self-awareness provides clarity in what you can and can’t control, and accept when it’s time to move forward rather than waste time on uncontrollable challenges.

Developing Self-Awareness

People spend years building self-awareness and along this journey there is always the opportunity to continually improve. There are a number of books available to help you, but a few quick tips include:

  • Ask for Feedback: It’s a difficult task, but getting feedback from people you trust and asking them to describe how they see you is a good exercise in getting to know yourself. Remember to ask people in all areas of your life and try not to take the feedback personally.
  • Journal: Reflect on your day, what went well and what you could have handled differently. This conversation with your thoughts will help you understand what strategies do and don’t work and will teach you to become more present.
  • Try a Personality Test: There are a plethora out there for you to try, but take them for what they are. A Facebook quiz or magazine article isn’t going to be scientifically accurate. Humans are also known for subconsciously skewing the results of these tests so they come out how we want them to.
  • Meditation: This in-depth exercise is a helpful way to build mindfulness. If you’re unsure where to start, search for guided meditation courses in your area. Eventually, you’ll learn to build your own routines that you can do at home.

We can all think of people we’ve worked with in the past who had absolutely no self-awareness and a few special people who excelled at it. What are you doing to improve yours?

Silver Linings: How the COVID-19 Pandemic Can Strengthen How We Work

Brianne Risley By Brianne Risley,
Director, Delivery Strategy & Development at Eagle

When faced with sweeping changes affecting how we live and work, I like to reflect on some of the positive outcomes I can see for our companies and teams when restrictions are finally lifted. We have gone through something together — let’s look at some ways we are strengthened by this experience.

  • Tighter Bonds: “Work-Friends” are now “Work-Family”. We’ve shared an unprecedented experience together over the past 4 weeks. “Work-friends” have deepened into something a bit more personal as we share stories, fears, and find ways to offer support to teammates that needed that extra bit of connection. We’ve met co-workers’ kids, we know their dogs, we’ve seen them with beards and have no make-up. It used to be I could only say that about close friends. I believe the personal nature of this openness will lead to long-term connections with the people we worked with through this crisis, which is far different than the transient nature of most work relationships.
  • Remote Work… Works!: Every company that has ever stubbornly held fast to a “must-be-on-site”, “bum-in-seat” policy for their project teams has been awakened to remote work possibilities. This opens the opportunity of using remote workers with specialized skills from across the country (and beyond) to support that ‘hard-to-fill’ project in Atlantic Canada or the Prairie provinces. It also presents a path forward for workers in Alberta who find themselves under-employed by the ‘double whammy’ of low oil prices and the pandemic to find work on projects across North America. Before this all started, there was already a strong undercurrent of Canadians working remotely for US companies on tech projects. I expect this to grow significantly in the time ahead.
  • IT Jobs for the Foreseeable Future: All this connectedness is driven by Technology projects and IT workers. Jobs and wages will continue to be strong in this sector which is good for me, as an IT Recruiter, and for my candidate base!
  • ‘Show and Tell’ Culture for Companies and Workers: How will a company introduce a remote worker to their corporate culture? Likewise, how do you, as a remote worker, show that you can be a key contributor to a team-oriented company? Companies will expand on using visual techniques like team pictures, project videos, and 360 video tours of their offices to publicly showcase their work environments. An example of this is here. For workers, we’ll go beyond the basics like optimizing a LinkedIn profile, or crafting a solid personal brand to showcase who we are. To stand out, we will do something bold like sharing a video-tour of our home office to show our preparedness for remote work, or come to interviews with a family photo along-side our diplomas. If you’re joining a ‘work-family’, be prepared to share a bit more about who you are on both a personal and professional-level.

All change comes with a silver lining. There are intrinsic benefits to our work culture that will come from this experience. It’s up to each of us to be mindful, and to capitalize on them.

Quick Poll Results: Do you swear at work?

Workplaces are trending to be more casual environments. Employers are more lean on dresscodes, lounges are popping up in offices, and a number of other progressive perks are bringing a more laid-back feeling to workplaces across all industries. With that mind, we set-out last month to learn if a more casual language is also working its way into the office.

The January Contractor Quick Poll asked our readers, comprised mostly of IT contractors, if they swear in the workplace. The results are clear that the  majority remain professional and are not bringing foul language into work.

Contractor Quick Poll Results: Do you swear at work?

Contractor Quick Poll: Do you swear at work?

Do you have the mouth of a trucker at work? Do you curse like a sailor? Do you drop f-bombs like they’re going out of style? You’re not alone! And, in fact, some scientific studies show that swearing at work is not only acceptable, but encouraged!

We shared some articles last Summer about swearing in the workplace and the implications it can have on your career. Now, in this month’s contractor quick poll, we want to know how often you curse in a professional setting. Obviously, we’re not referring to formal situations like job interviews or client meetings, but in your everyday dealings with projects and colleagues, how frequently do you use foul language?

Swearing at Work? What’s the Big @#$%* Deal?

Swearing at Work? What's the Big @#$%* Deal?

Do you curse? Do you swear when you’re mad, use profanity when chatting with friends or drop the odd f-bomb just because? Most people blurt out some sort of foul language occasionally and that’s ok… most of the time. There’s nothing wrong with swearing in a private setting or in a social atmosphere with the right friends, but where do you draw the line?

There are often questions about whether or not profanity is appropriate in professional settings, specifically the workplace. Given those questions, it’s no surprise that there have been a number of studies researching the effects of cursing, and the results differ:

  • A 2012 CareerBuilder study found that 64% of employers think less of an employee who regularly uses curse words and 57% would be less likely to promote that person. On the other side of the coin, 51% of employees said they swear in the office and half of them do so in front of their boss.
  • Another study by researchers at the University of East Anglia in Great Britain revealed that swearing at work can be beneficial because it enables the development of personal relationships within a team. It also acts as a stress relief which has direct effects on health.
  • Wrike also took a look at the perceptions of swearing at work. In 2016, their research discovered that while more than half of respondents swear, 41% found it was too casual and unprofessional, yet 33% would not consider working in an organization where swearing is strictly banned.

It’s clear that there are risks to spicing up your vocabulary in a professional setting but the choice is ultimately yours. Before you get too wild, though, there are some considerations if you want to land an IT contract and keep it:

  • The organization’s culture. As an independent contractor you are your own boss, but it is still mandatory to respect the policies and culture of your clients while on site and interacting with their employees. If the environment is not one that accepts swearing, then you should also choose to set it aside.
  • The context. Swearing can be linked to insults and bullying which must be eliminated from the behaviour of any ethical IT consultant. However, depending on the context of how words are used, it can enhance a message, be encouraging, or lighten the mood. Your job is to consider the context before opening your mouth.
  • The situation. Swearing should be reserved for casual settings around people with whom you have a good relationship. A job interview with a recruiter you just met or a serious client meeting with senior executives you don’t know are not the place to throw in your fancy adjectives.
  • The audience. As noted in the previous point, it’s important to get to know the people around you before becoming too liberal with your potty mouth. But just because you know them does not give you carte blanche. Respect those who prefer a clean conversation. If you’re uncertain of their style, err on the side of caution.
  • The medium. A good rule of thumb is to never write anything that can be taken out of context and used against you. Inappropriate language tops that list. Social media, email and even instant messaging can all come back to bite you in the… , so it’s encouraged not to type any curse words at all.

While we don’t need to provide examples, there is a scale where some words are more accepted than others, while other words should never be muttered. Similarly, because everybody has different cultures, backgrounds and experiences, some words are perceived to be worse by some than they are to others. It is up to you to distinguish and judge what you can say. If you are ever unsure, then its best you find other ways to spice up that conversation and leave the swearing for when you get home.

Push the Boundaries to Go the Extra Mile

A little effort makes a big difference! When somebody asks a question and you go the extra mile to exceed expectations and deliver a truly great response, they notice. Alternatively, when you shrug them off or make up a bogus answer, they also notice.

Which method you use to deal with client and colleague questions is up to you, but we’re pretty certain the lazy-made-up-answer route isn’t going to improve any relationships or win you any contracts in the future.

To find out what kind of person you are and for tips on the best way to deal with questions or push the boundaries, have a look at the joint infographic below by The Muse and eTrade. To continue being lazy and unhelpful, ignore the below and just check out this long list of dogs on Wikipedia.

Push the Boundaries to Go the Extra Mile

Listening to Music While You Work

Listening to Music While You WorkIf Snow White & the 7 Dwarves taught us anything, it’s the benefit of whistling while you work or, at the very least, having some background music. When in an office around other IT contractors or client employees, other people’s conversations can be loud, distracting and, frankly, annoying. Music is a helpful way to shut them out. More importantly, the right tunes for you can be motivating and uplifting, and is scientifically proven to improve productivity.

That said, this article by no means recommends you blast your favourite Pantera album in the office and expect that your development team to suddenly work double-time. In fact, music with lyrics and a complex structure can have the opposite effects. That’s because it causes the brain to focus on too many items and becomes the equivalent of multi-tasking. An article from Medium suggests these are the best genres of music to listen to while working if you want to increase your productivity:

  • Classical
  • Nature
  • Epic
  • Video Game Music
  • Ambient Soundtracks

And, if you’re looking at this list concerned that Bieber is no longer an option for your workday, have no fear. The Telegraph published a similar article a couple years ago saying that, although Pop music is not always the ideal choice, studies have proven that it helps for repetitive tasks such as data entry or proof reading and is good when working to deadlines.

We can conclude that listening to music can be great… unless you’re trying to make friends with your colleagues and those around you, then it can be a hinderance. Here are five etiquette tips for listening to music at work.

  1. Wear headphones. Keep the enjoyment of your music private by using headphones so only you can hear it. And by “only you” that means keep the volume low so neighbours don’t hear that irritating white noise. Low headphone volume also ensures you won’t accidentally miss phone calls or ignore co-workers trying to get your attention and will save your hearing in the long run.
  2. Don’t sing. Or whistle. Or dance. Or anything else that’s distracting (and weird) for your colleagues to have to endure. Regardless of how talented (you think) you are, there’s a time and a place for everything.
  3. If using speakers, ask those around you first. This is common courtesy. If you have no headphones and want to turn your speakers on low, ask anybody sitting around you if they mind. They may even have a suggestion for music where you have a mutual interest and you can all be happy!
  4. Keep the music appropriate. If you have a more private workspace and have ignored rules 1-3, it’s time to start paying attention. People may pop by unexpectedly and, when they do, they don’t want to hear offensive lyrics and swear words. Keep it PG.
  5. Remember to turn it off for phone calls. And, if the first four points do not apply to you because you work from home, you at least need to remember this. When you pick-up the phone or host a face-to-face meeting, ensure that music is gone. Otherwise, it becomes a distraction and if you skipped over rule #4, things can get even worse.

Do you listen to music at work or do you dread those around you who do? Do you have a preferred genre that you find works best, or do you mix it up? As usual, we love hearing your thoughts in the comments below.

2018 in Review: Business and the Workplace

Independent contracting is no regular type of employment. On top of ongoing skills development and job searching, you have to worry about the rest of your business – accounting, taxes, marketing, networking, navigating relationships with recruiters, building your reputation… the list goes on!

If you’re drinking your coffee today and stressing over some of these areas (actually, even if that doesn’t sound like you at all right now), have a look through the list of posts below. Today, we compiled the top posts of 2018 that are related to running a business, navigating the workplace, and keeping an overall professional image.

Enjoy!

Working with Staffing Agencies

Life as a Contractor

Workplace Tips

Artificial Intelligence: The Opportunities and Threats are Up to You

For years, we’ve been hearing that advancements in technology will steal our jobs. Innovations like robots, automation and artificial intelligence will all apparently be equipped to perform the tasks of humans and we’ll all find ourselves on the side of the road with no money.

This discussion frequently divides people into two schools of thought. The first states that continued technology and innovation will only create more opportunities as people will have to teach the robots and a more efficient economy will lead to more jobs. Vice-versa, some experts will tell you that while that may have been true 100 years ago, our current generation’s technology revolution is a different story that will hurt workers. Since reality is yet to be proven, like many other debates, it comes down to how you choose to perceive the situation.

Just One Opportunity from AI and Automation

There is no shortage of articles and case studies showing how artificial intelligence has changed the way we do nearly everything. As far as technology roles go, many can be complemented. Simple Programmer provides a fantastic example of how software testers and quality assurance professionals can benefit from AI’s influence in a number of ways:

  • Faster and More Stable UI Tests
  • Reducing Maintenance and Eliminating Flaky Tests
  • Continuous Learning from Production Data
  • Removing Dependencies
  • Ease of Authoring and Executing Tests
  • Releasing at the Speed of Development

Tech Jobs at Risk Due to Automation and AI

Last month, Dice published an article about the 4 tech jobs most at risk from automation and artificial intelligence. They say that while automation might help tech pros, it won’t be great for everyone, with these for jobs being most at risk:

  • Data Centre Administrators – “Backups, provisioning virtual machines, and security are just three core processes that companies can leave largely up to software.”
  • Help Desk Staff – “Talk of “responsibility” aside, it stands to reason that if Google (or any other tech firm, such as IBM) can create an automated assistant with human-like speech, companies will use that to eliminate call-center staff.”
  • Programmers – “The rise of no- and low-code application builders is just one facet of this evolution; in theory, future software platforms will be able to assemble relatively simple programs with just a few mouse-clicks.”
  • Data Analysts – “Instead of having a dedicated person to analyze in-house data, businesses could rely on this software in conjunction with employees who receive some training in data analysis.”

To be fair, this article referenced from Dice did explain which predictions were a stretch and provides advice to IT professionals on how they can remain competitive; however, the base embraces the negative side of AI.

The way you interpret unknown situations and debates is your choice. You can choose to focus on the positive or get stuck on the negativity and fear. What do you think AI and automation will do to the future of your job? Will it complement your profession like the example given by Simple Programmer, or is your job at risk and you’ll have to strategize how to keep it as described by Dice?