BREXIT For working Brits in France

SmartSteps regularly recruits bilingual personnel including English mother tongues, many British, for international companies in France (“FR”). Here we discuss Brexit and the implications.
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Professional Video Calls (tips)

Covid-19 has brought so many changes to our professional lives. Even those that could work from home invariably didn’t maximise this way of working. Video calls were the solution to distance issues, today they are the solution to Covid-19 and likely here to stay!

I made a few observations whilst watching Olivier Veran, the French health minister, on TV discussing Covid-19 (Covid being the reason for the increased popularity of video calls!) on a video link from his office. Obviously he has professional help to set up his video calls, but he was dressed for the part, suited as you would expect of a politician. He had a glass of water on his desk, a plant on the right hand side of the screen and the French and EU flags on the left with the background being a neutral view from his office. Other TV personalities are working from their homes too, none are giving away much about the inside of their homes! Backgrounds are neutral and cameras are fixed to showcase them advantageously! There are no audio or visual problems. They all prepared for their professional video appearances.

The average worker is not necessarily used to being on video. Even if we have done them before, it was often from the office with professional help to hand. Today we are obliged, by our new situation, to do them from our homes so below are some tips to succeed!

  • The background to your call! Do you want everyone to know what the inside of your home looks like? Neat or tidy home, it’s best to have your calls in a neutral professional looking space. If it’s not convenient to do anything like that at your home, some software solutions can blot out the background.
  • Close the door and windows to avoid unwanted background noise (children (remember the BBC interview with a foreign affairs consultant when suddenly the children burst in), animals, TV, vacuum cleaner, toilet flush, sirens,…). Head phones (AirPods), etc are great for cutting out unwanted surrounding noises, making it easier for you to hear what is being said, they may according to your set-up liberate your hands too.
  • Take precautions … the technical world sometimes malfunctions!  If despite your precautionary measures this happens, it’s always handy to have the telephone number by your side so you can continue the call, if necessary, by telephone.
  • Dress as if you were going to work. Poor presentation and accompanying hygiene can be seen on the video, rather like a smile can be heard on the telephone!
  • Organize yourself to minimize feeling intimidated by the screen. Not everyone likes to look at themselves, especially close up! Organize yourself to increase your confidence! Clear your desk, get a coffee/glass of water …have paper and pen to hand.
  • If you have the option, its best to have a dedicated area for your calls. If it only is a temporary dedicated area, you will learn to quickly set it up for calls when necessary.
  • If calling abroad, triple check time zones.
  • If you organized the meeting, have an agenda and if possible send it to the people who will be on the call. It shows your efficiency and allows them to organize their contribution to the on-line meeting. Agendas also help participants to stick to the subject! Like written documents, keep sentences short and sweet. Remember most people don’t like long calls.
  • Depending on what you need to demonstrate, think about using visuals to get your message across.
  • There are often ways of recording video calls, which in turn is why you should remain on topic and have professional presentation. Recording the video call can be a reminder of exactly what was said but it can also be shared with those who were absent.

Good on-line manners

  • Be aware of your body language, sit-up straight, look into the camera, don’t drift, don’t fidget, don’t eat, don’t interrupt, don’t multi-task, pay attention to the speaker,  … the same good manners are expected as if you met them in person.
  • Silence your phone so as not to be interrupted when you are effectively already on the phone (no one wants to hear the “ting” on your phone for every text received).
  • Microphones, just like telephones, can pick up faint noises, even your breathing etc., it’s an idea to mute yourself when you are not speaking to stop any involuntarily noises contributing to the call!
  • If there are more than two people on the call, check firstly that everyone can see and hear properly. If you don’t already know each other and you are the host it’s a good idea to ask everyone to introduce themselves (as they do on TV debates).
  • To avoid speaking over each other, wait for a moment of silence before speaking and/or raise your hand to signal you wish to speak. In face to face situations, body language normally indicates when you can talk, via video this is less obvious.
  • Speak clearly and at normal pace (be aware on distance calls there may be moments when for a second or two you cut out or there is fuzz on the line).
  • If you need to pull up a document, it will take a minute, communicate that you are doing so. If not, a call can become like one of those irritating phone calls when someone puts you on hold and you have no idea how long “being on hold” will last.

Technical Check-Up

  • If you are using your own personal account for communication purposes it may be an idea to create a professional account. Just as most have a professional email address, please ensure you have a professional: username, photo and check your privacy settings for any apps or software.
  • Not unlike adjusting your camera for photos adjust your screen so you don’t look distorted. Your computer or telephone has to be at the right height and distance so your face does not go askew. I noted (with professional help) Olivier Veran was in the middle of the screen!
  • If invited by someone else, you may be required to upload some software beforehand. Try to get on the call 5 minutes before so you are ready in time.
  • Check that the meeting technology you use works on your computer. There are so many these days! MS Teams, Zoom, Gotomeeting, …
  • Adjust audio, brightness (you don’t want to appear dark and dim). If you want to hear clearly try headphones with a built-in microphone. Check your Wi-Fi connection and that all equipment that needs plugging in or charging is so.
  • Close any windows, tabs or applications on your computer that you’re not using. especially if you are sharing your screen with other participants disable pop-ups, chats, calendar notifications, emails, … don’t involuntarily inform participants of your online activity.

Resources

It’s best to search your browser for information pertaining to your situation. There are software/apps galore, videoing tips and opinions on the quality of software.

Conclusion

Video calls make us all stars of the screen! Being on screen requires confidence and professional help (make up and professional lighting!). In the office no one expects such high standards, just common sense to get the most out of your call. Try to help yourself as much as possible, however, for the technical side we are not all IT wizards! Solicit help from IT professionals in your company to set up your first video calls. If you need equipment: EarPhones, mobile, your screen is too small, … request it. Whether we appreciate video calls or not, they are here to stay so as many of us have adjusted to home working, so we must adjust to video calls.

Happy videoing to you all and stay safe in these exceptional times!

Lynda Petit is a French British recruitment consultant with 20+ years’ experience, CIPD qualified, member of the ANDRH and operating in France.

Working from home – the new norm!

The French government introduced a new “remote working” law in January 2018 meaning workers had the right to telework and if an employer refused, they had to justify their decision. This law was all about coercing employers into more flexible working practices. But old habits die hard and not much changed, except during periods of travel disruption and if a family member was sick. No one could foresee workplace progress would be imposed by a lightening quick sanitary crisis, catching everyone by surprise! Fast forward May 2020, COVID-19, confinement and working from home for many of us is the new norm!

Work life balance has been a major topic these last few years and the majority of people I speak to are enjoying the confinement: no commuting, cleaner air and less noise (if you are in a built-up area), feeling rested, lunch spent doing some banal household task and general wellbeing. Even if it’s difficult to work with children (especially young children) and manage home schooling, many parents are profiting from the extra family time.

Home working fits better within the knowledge sector, essentially keyboard work. Not all professions (manufacturing, retail, …) can accommodate home working, although this should not be used as an excuse not to apply some flexible policies. Just as homeworking isn’t practical in all businesses, it isn’t practical nor does it suit all employees. Firstly everyone’s personal circumstances are different. Generally those with family have two jobs: the one for which they are paid and the other unpaid that comes with having children. This in turn means rushing from the office to the school/creche before it closes or paying someone else to do it for you… Others may be single, alone, living in a small apartment and finding confinement isolating, solitary and a generally uncomfortable and lonely situation. A recent Kaspersky research group involving 10,500 people across 12 European countries and Japan showed that 75% of people aged up to 25 felt lonely since lockdown compared to 37% of those aged 75 and over. They described the first couple of weeks as being a nice break but the lack of physical contact and structure to daily life difficult to bear.

Like most things in life, home working comes with its benefits but also its challenges for companies, managers and employees. Challenges may be:

  • Technical. Getting to grips with the latest conference call software, computer break down, poor internet connection,…
  • Technology has allowed the possibility of extended working hours! Who hasn’t read an email late in the evening or over the weekend? Since January 2017 French workers have the legal right to disconnect, but not everyone respects this right and not everyone imposes working time discipline upon themselves.
  • Much of our personal communication takes place via telephone and email and home working has encroached into our private space.
  • The extroverts amongst us may find home-working difficult. Energized by interactions, solitary environments can be tedious. Like food, water and oxygen, humans need social contact.
  • The introverted can motivate themselves, but homeworking reinforces the “introverted” character trait, meaning some can become so remote other team members may barely know of their existence!
  • The private home space becomes the professional office, boundaries blurring.
  • Managers too will have to learn how to motivate teams remotely. Some, at the end of the confinement period, will simply want to return to their old ways. 
  • Research has found that creative work is best done face-to-face as opposed to by video.
  • … and for recruitment purposes some of us are better suited to home working than others namely those that can focus and get work done! Motivating yourself can actually be quite a challenge requiring self-discipline! Without the buzz of the office some will simply not translate thoughts into actions, putting off unpleasant tasks, for example. Research shows that of the Big Five Personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism) Conscientious types are better at home working. Why? Because they are “reliable and prompt” and character traits include being organized, methodic and thorough.

For effective remote working, businesses will be obliged to reorganize and train massively. Home-working requires new organizational rules. Possibly the future is a balance between part-time remote work and part-time office work (we all need some human social interaction). As some of you will have seen on social media, friends are having virtual aperitifs, I was invited to a virtual quiz, there were 25 of us (some were in UK, some in France and some in Gibraltar, it doesn’t have to be just local, tech opens up the world!)! Transposed to the office there will be virtual coffees, virtual lunch breaks, virtual team building exercises, … Perhaps some of us could co-work in more local offices, there are many serviced offices these days. For something less formal, until confinement, it was common to see people working in cafés. Hot-desking may become a more fashionable word again, home working part-time is an opportunity for businesses concerned to have less square meters of expensive office space. The investment for businesses so workers can work remotely is quite minimal. 

Home Working Tips

  • If you lack self-discipline have a timetable, be organized, set up a routine, have reminders of what needs doing, a draft agenda for the day. Good task management software can help organise your days.
  • Your employer will provide all the technical equipment to work productively from home but it is also important to adapt a proper work space.
  • Working from home means less commuting and for those in cities using public transport results in less exercise! Organise physical exercise.
  • Stay in touch with people. Video calls are not the same as in person meetings but they are quite close. Make a conscious effort not to cut yourself off. In the future employers may organize fixed days when everyone has to be at the office, or a rota of one week at the office per month.
  • Set rules, close the door, to avoid unwanted background noise (loud children, TV, vacuum cleaner, toilet flush, …). 
  • During fixed-times cut out distractions, TV, music, social media, home chores, …
  • Try getting up at your usual time and use your now economised commuter time to do household tasks
  • You can work longer hours, but you don’t have to! Fix limits, timetables, hours, …
  • Look smart during video meetings, being at home isn’t an excuse for shoddy presentation or poor personal hygiene.
  • Learn more about yourself and your working style and adapt it as much as possible to this new working situation.
  • Try the Pomodoro method which crudely means 20 minutes of focused work followed by a 5 minute break. When I looked up an app on my iphone, plenty of suggestions came up: Any.do, Be Focused, Plantie, Flat Tomato, Egggzy, Focus-to-do, …there are many technical solutions to help us work more efficiently
  • Finally, you can also seek help from your HR department. Most HR professionals are working on the subject for you as well as learning home-working on-the-job just like everyone else. We are many discovering new working methods.

*     *    *

Many of us have realized we can work just as well from home as from the office. Covid may well be with us for a while so with time will working from home become more universally accepted? To this, we have no answer, but I personally doubt we can return to our former ways, at least not totally. The arrival of Covid will surely be recognized in the future as a propellant to major change in the work place.

Every cloud (however dark) has a silver lining!

Written by Lynda Petit, a French-British recruitment consultant with 20 years experience, CIPD qualified, member of ANDRH, operating in France.

What do clients seek in an Assistant?

As many of you already know SmartSteps often recruits bilingual assistants for our international clients. Over time candidate’s profiles have changed and I am hearing from candidates and clients that the job itself has evolved. So what is the situation today? Read more