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Who Invited the Dog? Tips for Business Meetings While Sheltering in Place

By Jacklin Garcia, Posted on April 7, 2020 at 10:19 am

Jacklin Garcia

Many of us now find ourselves unexpectedly working from home. Maybe you’ve always worked remotely, like my spouse who has recently lost 50% of his home office space to me. We’re all living in a state of some uncertainty, with conferences postponed and opportunities to connect fewer and farther between—yet work still needs to get done. Are you, like us, now attending or hosting more video calls and webinars? It’s wonderful that we have the technology to help bridge the distance between ourselves and our coworkers or customers while we are all remote. In fact, we’ve found that our meetings start and end on time more often now that they’re all remote! But this new normal comes with its own set of challenges and different etiquette than face-to-face meetings, so here are a few tips to make you a virtual-meeting pro!

Embrace your new co-workers.

What (equipment)

There are so many different brands of virtual-meeting software. In fact, Synergex uses more than one to meet our needs as a company. Most have generally the same features, but if you aren’t familiar with what your company uses, you should take the application(s) for a test drive. At the very least, learn how to properly adjust your webcam and microphone settings and use the mute and screen share options (more on all these later). Pro tip for working from home: Depending on how your network is set up, you will likely want to use this software outside of your company’s VPN!

If you can, make sure you have a decent camera and microphone. A good headset seems to be the preferred way for many webinar pros to mic up, but a lot of us are just making do with what’s built into our loaner laptops for now, and that’s OK too! Pro tip for working from home: Sometimes using a phone line or the software’s mobile app to dial into the meeting might be a better option for your audio.

Where (setting up the meeting space)

In an office setting, you might have a choice of meeting rooms that are already equipped with the technology you’ll need. At home, you may not have that luxury. Find a space with the fewest distractions for you and in your background. I think we are all getting used to seeing a cat or dog (or even a small toddler in my case) walk by in the background of a meeting by now, but to whatever extent possible, try to minimize this for the duration of your meeting. This may be tough if your workspace is in a common area. Pro tip for working from home: Try setting expectations with your partners, kids, or roommates about when you will be in meetings so they know to make themselves scarce during those times.

Steve Ives shows off his setup.
Oliver Chu uses a simple setup

How 

Share your camera. Communication is more than 50% non-verbal, so being able to see those you are meeting with or enabling them to see you while you’re making a point is hugely important. Try to check out what your camera will pick up before sharing with the audience. You can usually do this through the meeting software itself, but some computers also have a built-in camera app that you can use to do the same. If possible, make sure your camera is at about eye level. Pro tip for working from home: It’s ok if you don’t have a pretty way to raise your laptop to get the camera to eye level. We won’t see the pile of books propping it up. Another working from home pro tip: Network issues seem to come up more at home where we don’t have an IT department to manage them. Go ahead and turn off the cameras if anyone in the meeting is experiencing audio/video delays or choppiness. We’ve found that seems to stop most issues.

Not all of us have ideal backdrops in our makeshift home offices. I know I can’t be the only one with a pile of clean laundry lurking just out of view, but these things can be distracting to our audience. If you can’t physically hide the distractions, try changing the angle of the camera slightly. Pro tip for working from home: It’s totally acceptable to use the blur or background image options to hide distractions digitally.

If you want to go above and beyond, you can set up a greenscreen like Marty and pretend you are back at the office. 

While meeting from your computer can have its perks, it can also be fraught with distractions. Close any email, chat, or other unnecessary applications that have notifications. Many of these applications have both auditory and visual cues that can be disruptive to the meeting, especially if you’re sharing your screen. Pro tip for working from home: Many of us are using personal computers, so be even more vigilant about tidying your desktop so nothing shows that you may not want to share with others if you need to share your screen.

Use the mute button when appropriate. I was in a meeting a few days ago, and I could clearly hear a lawn mower in the background. Life happens and we can’t control everything around us, but if you have ambient noise and you aren’t currently leading the meeting, it’s OK to use mute until your turn to speak.

Have an agenda. This should be true for all meetings, but it’s especially important for remote ones.

Bonus tips: Remote presentations

If you were planning on making a presentation in person but are now trying to translate it to the digital realm, there are a few things to keep in mind. 

You need to engage with your audience in a different way than if you were meeting in person. Experts suggest that you engage the audience every four minutes! That’s at least seven times in a 30-minute presentation. How do you fit all of that in such a short time period? Throw out calls to action for the audience and use whatever tools are available to you, such as polls, hand raising, chat, or a question box.

Use more slides with fewer words than you would for an in-person presentation. The audience can read what is on the screen quickly. They don’t want you to read it to them. If you do, they will likely put your presentation in the background and start to browse email. So, keep the slides light on content and keep them moving to ensure your audience stays attentive. 

Staying connected

While many in-person gatherings have been cancelled or postponed for the foreseeable future, Synergex is still here for you! We’re offering several webinars throughout this year on topics ranging from web services to unit testing to debugging. We’ll also continue to host our regular OpenVMS remote customer meetup and our Harmony Core office hours.  Keep an eye on your inbox for upcoming invitations.

We invite you to comment on this post to share any additional tips you may have for remote meetings and presentations. You can also join in on the conversation about general working from home tips in Community.

We hope to see many of you in person in Sacramento in May 2021 for the DevPartner conference, but in the meantime stay home and stay healthy!


Another Synergex Hackathon Is in the Books

By Jacklin Garcia, Posted on November 18, 2019 at 11:56 am

Jacklin Garcia

This October we hosted our second annual company-wide hackathon at Synergex. While our first attempt last year yielded better results than we expected, this year we outdid ourselves. From the quality of the projects to the logistical execution, this event was a home run. We’ve decided to adopt the hackathon as an annual tradition, because it’s proven to be the most successful team-bonding experience we’ve had, and it fits well with our corporate values of learning and initiative. If your company would like to join in on the fun, continue reading to find out more about our process, some of this year’s projects, and the things we’re still working to improve.

Opening Pitch

A week or two before the hackathon, we started with an optional brainstorming session, using a shared Google spreadsheet to capture all the project ideas that came out of the meeting. (I’ve found that sending an email with the sheet isn’t as effective for gathering input as getting everyone together. When there’s a dedicated time for this event, people show up and put their energy toward generating ideas. Plus, when one person explains their idea, it often sparks another from someone else.) We kept the sheet available for anyone to add ideas after the meeting as well.

The next event, a pitching session, took place about a week before the hackathon. The floor was open to anyone who wanted to lead a project from the ideas list or to suggest a new one. Participants raised their hands to express interest after each pitch. At the end of the session, we went through the list again and asked everyone to select their top project choice so we could start forming teams. This part was a little like herding cats, and not all projects that were pitched got picked up. However, we walked out of the room with teams decided.

Starting Lineup

A few days before the big event, we had a one-hour pre-hackathon workshop for teams to get together and plan. This was the time to download software, set up source control, and determine if any additional equipment was needed. By dedicating this preparation time, all teams could come into the hackathon ready to hack!

Our hackathon lasted roughly eight hours, plus time for meals and breaks. We started with breakfast and a quick presentation about logistics, and then the teams were off to start hacking. We largely left the teams alone, only announcing when lunch and snacks were available and giving a few time warnings before the clock ran out. Once hacking ended, the presentations and demos began. Each team had five minutes to share what they’d created.

After the presentations, everyone got to vote, and we asked that they not vote for their own team. Finally, we awarded prizes for the best hacks, and one team got to take possession of the coveted golden grabber arm until the next hackathon.

This Year’s Home Runs

We’d call this event a success regardless of what projects came out of it, simply due to the cross-team collaboration and energy that would be hard to replicate in any other way. BUT this year’s projects were also quite impressive, and we plan to implement several of them in whole or in part by the time next year’s event rolls around.

Team 1 worked on a proof of concept for online documentation for one of our products. This product previously had only paper manuals!

Team 2 put together a proposal for a corporate volunteer and giving program.

Team 3 researched a new collaboration tool and demonstrated how it could be set up for our company’s use.

Team 4 researched a new business line and created a commercial to promote the new business.

Team 5 created an API to access and print data from one of our productivity tools.

Team 6 made a proof of concept for a new UI for one of our products.

Team 7 had a plan for getting involved at local universities to increase our footprint in the greater Sacramento area. This included sponsoring their hackathons!

Base Hits and Foul Balls: Recommendations for Your Hackathon

You can do this too! Here are final dos and don’ts to consider when planning your own event:

  • Do have fun! For 2019, we themed our event (baseball!) and had that dictate food, team names, shirt design, and awful puns in pretty much all presentations and this blog post.
  • Don’t wait until the day of the hackathon to decide on project ideas.
  • Do explain logistics, including time limits for presentations/demos, up front.
  • Don’t wait until the end to take a group picture. Two years in a row, participants have left before we got the group photo. The start of the day might be a better time, or while votes are being counted.
  • Do have the hackathon open to all employees. Hacks don’t have to be technical! Our best projects seem to come from teams with mixed professional backgrounds.
  • Do have the WiFi password visible in all rooms, and test logistics prior to hack day.
  • Don’t make voting overly complicated.
  • Do host a fun social event after the hackathon. We’ve traditionally done this off site, but keeping it in the office allows teams to keep working on their project if they’d like to.

Reach out to the Synergex education team if you’d like some additional help getting started—or check out the Careers page on the Synergex website to join us for our 2020 hackathon!


An open letter to Synergy developer hiring managers

By Jacklin Garcia, Posted on May 2, 2019 at 12:58 pm

Jacklin Garcia

Dear Hiring Manager,

Congrats on your new Synergy developer hire! Recruiting isn’t easy, but now that you’ve found the right person for the job, the real hard work begins. The onboarding period should be used for training your new hire and setting their expectations about the job. This time is crucial, not only to ensure a smooth transition for your team, but also to make your new employee feel welcome. So where do you start?

Tell your Synergex account executive about your new hire

New Synergy developers in the DevPartner program are entitled to a welcome box full of goodies. This box contains educational materials like laminated cheat sheets as well as some fun Synergex-branded items. Don’t forget to mention the new hire’s T-shirt size when you reach out.

Download and modify the suggested 90-day plan

At Synergex, we use 90-day plans for all of our new hires. They are a key part of our onboarding strategy. We’ve created a template plan for you to download and modify from our education library. At the very least, we suggest grabbing the link for the new hire onboarding playlist on YouTube that is referenced in the plan and reviewing the other materials available in library.

Send your new hire to a Synergy DBL Language Essentials class

The best way to learn Synergy DBL is to take this class. Many developers prefer hands-on learning, and in this class, students will build a simple application in Synergy. You can either send developers to our headquarters for the standard five-day training or request a custom class at your location. If a class at HQ isn’t being advertised when you need one, that’s ok! Reach out to classes@synergex.com and we’ll see what we can do.

Have your new hire subscribe, join, or follow us on various platforms

We don’t like to bombard our customers with emails, so connecting with us on sites like YouTube and GitHub is the best way to stay in the know about new educational content. The Synergex Community is also the place for Synergy developers to get advice from their peers and make suggestions for Synergy/DE enhancements.  Bookmarking our online documentation is also a great idea!

Call support early and often

Our support team is incredible, and their services are free with your Synergy DevPartner subscription. Encourage new hires to call in (toll-free from the US and Canada 800.366.3472 or +1.916.635.7300 for all other countries) or email (support@synergex.com) with any Synergy-related problems they may encounter. Our support team is made up of engineers who are more than capable of troubleshooting issues and helping you track down bugs in your codebase. They are also happy to report any product bugs you may encounter directly to our development team. 

Attend a Synergy DevPartner conference

Our conferences provide a dedicated time to learn and immerse yourself in the latest and greatest in the Synergy/DE ecosystem. It’s free for DevPartner subscribers, and it’s a unique opportunity for your new developers to get face-to-face interaction with their Synergy developer peers and the Synergex team.

If you need help identifying any additional educational materials, please reach out to us! Congratulations again on your new Synergy developer, and best of luck with the onboarding process.

Sincerely,

The Synergex Education Team


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