Talent Development Centre

Tag Archives: workplace

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

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?

Check Out This Infographic Before You Lose Your Patience

People suck! Ok, not all people you work with are annoying, grumpy, Negative Nellies who make you want to explode, but they sure do seem to pop-up when you have the least patience. Unfortunately, it’s bad for business and your reputation to yell at people uncontrollably when they’re difficult, so you should have a few different strategies up your sleeve.

If you’ve been close to smashing your computer out of frustration, NetCredit has come to your rescue with this infographic for dealing with difficult people. It provides 9 helpful tips that will help you get through meetings, your workday, and even interviews with terrible recruiters. Do you have any creative tips you could add?

How to Control Your Anger at Work

It doesn’t matter how great your team is, how understanding your client is, or how simple your project is — there are going to be days when you get angry. Getting angry and frustrated is natural and acceptable, so long as you deal with it appropriately. Being great at this skill tends to go unnoticed; however, if you’re horrible at controlling your anger, your professional reputation will quickly go downhill.

Keeping a level head at work does not come naturally to everyone and is even more challenging when you’re under pressure. If this is an area where you have room to improve, here’s a summary from an article on the topic that Forbes published back in May:

  1. Deal with your body/mind equilibrium by taking a deep breath, drinking a glass of water or changing the physical scene.
  2. Contrary to current trends, sometimes you do need to repress your feelings, especially when planning your actions.
  3. Think long and hard before confronting a person with whom you’re angry.
  4. Is the situation making you angry or are there external factors enhancing the anger? (ex. something at home, reminder of a past situation)
  5. Take responsibility and consider where you went wrong and what you could have done differently to prevent this current situation.
  6. Wait 24 hours before writing an email about the situation.
  7. Avoid complaining to others at the client site.
  8. Reflect on the entire situation, going as far back in time as possible, and then imaging how it plays out into the future.
  9. Do some other work, absolutely anything, to get your mind off of the situation and bring yourself back to a positive headspace.
  10. When warranted, get even with the best scenario – to right to wrong – but remember the words of George Herbert, “Living well is the best revenge.”

The way you communicate in situations of anger are equally as important or you risk making things much worse. Inc compiled 31 pieces of advice from managers for communicating with their team, and many can be applied to situations of anger. Here are some of our favourites:

  • I use email or WhatsApp for simple topics, but phone or face to face for dealing with more complicated issues.
  • I always ask if I can improve on how I communicate.
  • I always prefer a face-to-face meeting or a call, followed by an email that answers, “This is what I think we discussed; did I get this right?”
  • It’s important to understand the other person’s emotional state and how he/she responds.
  • A mentor taught me about managing the “monkeys on your back”. The idea is that everyone is trying to shift tasks (monkeys) to someone else. As a manager, your job is to delegate a monkey, but your team member may try to hand it back. My mentor suggested replying with “How do you think X should be handled?” If the team member doesn’t have an answer, he/she gets sent back out to find a few solutions. Now my team members know that they should come up with a solution before bringing me the problem.

Have you ever been an office when a co-worker (or yourself) lost control of their anger and had an embarrassing outburst? How did it turn out for them? Probably not well. The slightest slip up in these scenarios can have devastating results on your career with lasting effects.

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 to Stay Loose and Healthy When Working in an Office Setting

Guest Post by Ryan Tollefsen, founder and team leader of Unity Home Group

Exhaustion at the end of each workday is a familiar feeling to many who work in an office. Most are quick to blame the stress from difficult clients, a too-tall workload, or a draining commute. One culprit typically overlooked is the sedentary nature of office work.

The Telltale Signs

Feeling physically and mentally drained could link to a lack of physical activity while on the job. This translates into tension and a lack of initiative to make evening or even weekend plans. Nighttime activities might include eating, maybe some TV, and falling into bed.

Common physical symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Throbbing legs
  • Backache
  • Tingling or numbness in fingers
  • Dry, tired eyes
  • Sore feet
  • Tension in the hips, shoulders, neck, and back

Sometimes it’s hard to remain healthy while working in an office, whether you commute to a job or use a home office. Workers who sit most of the day must be proactive to stay healthy and keep their bodies loose.Here are three helpful steps.

Start With Posture

Sitting for extended periods often leads to slouching and other poor posture. The first step to solving problems with posture is becoming aware of your body’s position. Your goal is keeping the ears lined up with the shoulders when seated to avoid leaning too far either backward or forward. Making sure the computer screen isn’t too high or low can help with this issue.

A number of quick exercises can help posture. When you can get up, stand against a wall with legs spread apart, hold arms at a 90-degree angle to the body, and raise and lower them.

While seated, you can shrug your shoulders and prop your feet on some office supplies for comfort. Whenever possible, pull back the shoulder blades to avoid rounding. A lumbar pillow is a helpful spinal support. Also investigate the possibility of using a standup desk.

Avoid the Obvious

Physical activity for staying healthy is a real challenge if you’re too busy to make it to the gym after work or at lunch. Fortunately, there are easy ways to work exercise into your workday without being obvious.

Consider cutting your commuter ride short and walking part of the distance to the office. After arriving, pace while talking on the phone. Substitute a stability ball for a desk chair. Whenever possible, take the long way when walking to a meeting, move during short breaks, and speed walk on errands. Try to get away from your desk and move, even for a five-minute walk, when it’s time for lunch.

Looking at a focal point away from a screen and periodically moving your hands after taking them off the keyboard are helpful actions without being obvious. Other tips include crossing and uncrossing your legs, flexing and tightening your abs for 30 seconds and 10 reps, and periodically moving your shoulders.

Enjoy Those Stretches

Desk stretches are valuable ways to release tension that accumulates while seated. Try sitting sideways on your chair with feet on the floor and hands on the chair’s back. Use your arms to twist and pull your body toward the chair to stretch your neck, chest, and spine. Loosen hamstrings and avoid lower back pain by standing, bending at the hips, and allowing your head to drop loose and arms to dangle.

Pamper shoulders and back while seated by flapping your arms like an eagle and performing neck rolls. Counteract the toll of texting and typing by placing hands on your desk with the palms down while standing. Lean forward to stretch and release tension from wrists and fingers.

It’s possible for those who work in an office to help out their body by taking just a few easy steps to increase physical activity. Best of all, your co-workers will have no idea what you’re up to — unless you decide to share your tips to help them, too.

Ryan Tollefsen is the founder and team leader of Unity Home Group.

Quick Poll Results: Is There a Place for Pets in the Workplace?

In last month’s contractor quick poll, we asked our readers what they thought about pet-friendly offices. Workplace trends are seeing more and more of them today (including at Eagle); however, many other companies prefer to restrict the policy to support animals only.

Typically our Quick Polls get results with an obvious winner and most of our readers agree with each other. It looks like this time we found a topic that has the community divided. After a solid month published on the Talent Development Centre, the results are in and while close to half of the surveyed IT contractors are happy about pet-friendly client sites, an equal amount see no place for them.

Quick Poll Results: Pet-Friendly Workplaces

Is There a Place for Politics at Work?

There’s nothing wrong with being a political junkie and it’s positive to have an interest and opinion in what’s happening around you. Political debates can be healthy, lead to innovation and hold circles of friends together. They are also what can tear groups apart, ruin a party and, most relevant to this blog, harm careers.

The Negative Consequences of Talking Politics at Work

Is There a Place for Politics at Work?

Talking politics in the workplace is a slippery slope. In addition to being counter-productive to your actual job, the wrong topic can drive a wedge between colleagues, cause irreparable damage and possibly cost an employee their job.

For independent contractors, it can have even more severe consequences. IT contractors depend on their reputation to ensure regular gigs are coming through the door. Although talking politics with clients and their employees may seem harmless, you may be known as the person who brings a negative atmosphere to the office and sparks too much debate. Furthermore, if you cause enough trouble and break-up a team, that client will never want you back and word will quickly get out to recruiters.

Consider This Before Sparking a Political Discussion

As the introduction to this post notes, some groups of people fair quite well when they find a common ground in politics and the right bond can bring a team closer together. So, while we’re not recommending you never bring it up at work, we encourage you to carefully consider your situation.

First and foremost, know and understand the policies at your client’s site. Respect any rules or requests they may have on the subject of politics at work.

Secondly, know your crowd. If your peers and colleagues involved in the discussion are on the opposite end of the spectrum, or you have no idea where they lie, it may be best to stick to talking about the weather. People are not going to change their opinion simply because you made a valid point, so don’t think this is the time to start bringing them over to your side.

If the Inevitable is Going to Happen

If you must discuss the upcoming election, latest decision by the majority government, or hottest policy change while working, you should at least do it wisely. Never let these discussions get in the way of your own productivity or that of your client’s. If there’s one thing that will lead to a bad review at the end of your project, it’s costing them too much money without enough results.

Next, always be respectful of those with opposing views from yours. Ask questions, learn their perspective and be curious, as opposed to one-sided and confrontational. It’s also wise to avoid the really hot topics (you know what they are) and know when to end a debate before it goes too far and starts causing the damages described above.

Independent contractors have a reputation to uphold if they want to continue working for a specific client or even with a specific recruiter. While being opinionated and informed is a valuable trait, it can also be destructive. Speaking your mind too much while on a project, or even on social networks where recruiters are sure to be looking, can be detrimental to future opportunities.

Do you ever discuss politics at work? If you do, how do you ensure a meaningful conversation? Share your suggestions in the comments below.

The Truth About Annoying Coworkers

Regardless of the client, industry, project or location, if you have to work with people, you’re guaranteed to have some annoying coworkers. We scoured the world for tips on how to ensure these people never cross your path again, but all we learned is that annoying people are inevitable.

Given we can’t avoid annoying coworkers, the only next rational step is to accept they’ll be around and possibly try to understand them. This fun infographic from Olivet Nazarene University provides some insight into annoying co-workers in various industries, including what makes them annoying, how people have dealt with them, and where they’re most likely to be found. If you can’t change an annoying person, at least you can find solace in the fact that you’re not alone.