Boosting Productivity at Work: How General Managers of Software Companies Can Use GPT-4 and Get Their Employees on Board

So, at the moment, I’m thinking a lot about how to take advantage of ChatGPT, so I thought I’d map it all out into a blog post to help me crystalise my thoughts. I’m also, of course, using it to help me write this… here goes 🙂

What is GPT-4?

GPT-4 is an artificial intelligence language model developed by OpenAI that has the ability to generate human-like text, translate languages, summarize documents, and perform a wide range of natural language processing tasks. In this blog post, we will explore how you can use GPT-4 to improve your productivity at work and ensure that your employees start using it too.

Writing Assistance 📝

One of the most useful applications of GPT-4 is writing assistance. Writing is a critical aspect of many jobs, and it can be time-consuming and mentally taxing to produce high-quality written content. GPT-4 can help you overcome these challenges by providing suggestions for improving the clarity and tone of your writing. Here are some examples of how GPT-4 can help you write more effectively:

  1. Emails: Writing clear and concise emails is essential for effective communication in the workplace. With GPT-4, you can input a few keywords or a rough draft of your message, and it will generate potential sentences or paragraphs that you can use or modify to suit your needs. For example, if you’re struggling to find the right words to express gratitude in an email to a colleague, you can input a few keywords like “thank you” or “appreciate” and let GPT-4 generate potential phrases that you can use in your message.
  2. Reports: Reports are a common type of business document that can be time-consuming and challenging to write. GPT-4 can help you save time and reduce the amount of mental energy required to write reports by generating potential sentences or paragraphs based on your input. For example, if you’re struggling to find the right words to describe the results of a study in a report, you can input the key findings and let GPT-4 generate potential phrases that you can use in your document.
  3. Presentations: Presentations are an essential part of many jobs, and they require effective communication skills. GPT-4 can help you generate compelling and engaging content for your presentations by providing suggestions for improving the clarity and tone of your writing. For example, if you’re struggling to find the right words to describe a product or service in a presentation, you can input some basic information about the product or service and let GPT-4 generate potential sentences or paragraphs that you can use in your presentation.
  4. Web Content: If you need landing pages, or really any content for a web page, GPT-4 can generate great content, tailored for your target audience. Just make sure you include enough parameters into your prompt to make the output generated optimal for your specific case. A generic promp will produce generic content.

Research Assistance 🔍

Research is another critical aspect of many jobs, and it can be time-consuming and challenging to find the information you need to complete your work. GPT-4 can help you overcome these challenges by providing research assistance. Here are some examples of how GPT-4 can help you with research:

  1. Article Summaries: Reading and summarizing articles is a common research task that can be time-consuming and challenging. GPT-4 can help you save time by generating summaries of articles based on your input. For example, if you need to read a lengthy article for work but don’t have time to read the entire thing, you can input the article and let GPT-4 generate a summary that highlights the most important points.
  2. Related Articles: Finding related articles to support your research can be challenging. GPT-4 can help you find related articles by analyzing the content of the articles you’re interested in and suggesting other articles that are related to the same topic.
  3. Keyword Suggestions: Choosing the right keywords for your research can be challenging. GPT-4 can help you by suggesting keywords based on your input. For example, if you’re researching the effects of climate change on agriculture, you can input some basic information about the topic and let GPT-4 suggest keywords that you can use to search for relevant articles.

Customer Service Automation 🤖

Customer service is another area where GPT-4 can help improve your productivity. Automating simple customer service tasks can save your employees time and allow them to focus on more complex issues. Here are some examples of how GPT-4 can help automate customer service:

  1. Frequently Asked Questions: Many companies have a set of frequently asked questions (FAQs) that customers ask repeatedly. GPT-4 can help you automate the process of answering these questions by generating responses based on the question. For example, if a customer asks “What is your return policy?”, GPT-4 can generate a response that explains the return policy.
  2. Simple Inquiries: In addition to FAQs, many customers have simple inquiries that can be handled quickly and easily. GPT-4 can help automate the process of answering these inquiries by generating responses based on the inquiry. For example, if a customer asks “What are your store hours?”, GPT-4 can generate a response that provides the store hours.

Translation 🌐

Translation is another area where GPT-4 can help improve your productivity. Communicating effectively with people who speak different languages is essential in today’s global economy. GPT-4 can help you overcome language barriers by translating text between languages. Here are some examples of how GPT-4 can help with translation:

  1. Business Documents: Many businesses have documents that need to be translated into multiple languages. GPT-4 can help you save time and reduce the cost of translation by automatically translating these documents. For example, if you have a product manual that needs to be translated into multiple languages, you can input the manual and let GPT-4 generate translations in the desired languages.
  2. Customer Communications: Communicating effectively with customers who speak different languages is essential for providing excellent customer service. GPT-4 can help you overcome language barriers by translating customer communications. For example, if a customer emails your company in a language you don’t speak, you can input the email and let GPT-4 generate a translation that you can use to respond to the customer.

How to Ensure Your Employees Start Using GPT-4 💡

Introducing new technology to your employees can be challenging. Here are some tips to help ensure that your employees start using GPT-4:

  1. Provide Training: Make sure to provide training on how to use GPT-4 effectively. This will help your employees feel more comfortable using the technology and make them more productive.
  2. Set Expectations: Let your employees know how you expect them to use GPT-4. This will help ensure that they use it in ways that align with your business goals.
  3. Offer Incentives: Consider offering incentives for employees who use GPT-4 effectively. This can help motivate them to learn and use the technology.
  4. Lead by Example: Make sure to use GPT-4 yourself and share your experiences with your employees. This will help demonstrate the value of the technology and encourage your employees to use it too.
  5. Share Wins: When someone has a big win using it, let everyone else know, so that they can emulate the behaviour.


GPT-4 is a powerful technology that can help improve your productivity and save you time. Its writing assistance, research assistance, customer service automation, and translation capabilities can all be invaluable assets for businesses. However, introducing new technology to your employees can be challenging.

By providing training, setting expectations, offering incentives, and leading by example, you can ensure that your employees start using GPT-4 effectively. With the right approach, GPT-4 can become an integral part of your company’s technology stack and help you stay ahead of the competition.

What is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT is a language model developed by OpenAI that can generate human-like text based on a given prompt. It is part of the GPT (Generative Pretrained Transformer) family of language models, which are state-of-the-art models in the field of natural language processing (NLP).

The model is trained on a massive dataset of text, which allows it to generate text that is similar to what a human might write or say. The training process involves providing the model with a large number of input sequences and corresponding target sequences, allowing it to learn patterns and relationships in the data. The result is a highly sophisticated language model that can generate a wide range of text, from news articles to poetry and beyond.

One of the key advantages of ChatGPT is its ability to understand and respond to natural language inputs in a conversational manner. This makes it a popular choice for building chatbots, which can engage in human-like dialogue with users and provide information, answer questions, and complete tasks. For example, a chatbot built with ChatGPT can be integrated into a website, messaging platform, or mobile app, allowing users to interact with the chatbot in real-time.

Another advantage of ChatGPT is its scalability. Because the model is trained using deep learning techniques, it can be easily fine-tuned for specific tasks or domains. This means that developers can customize the model to their specific needs, whether it’s for a specific industry or language, by fine-tuning it on a smaller dataset that is relevant to the task at hand. This allows the model to generate more accurate and relevant text, which can improve the user experience and increase the efficiency of the chatbot.

One potential limitation of ChatGPT is its tendency to generate biased text. This can occur if the model is trained on a dataset that contains biases, such as gender, race, or cultural biases. This can result in the chatbot generating text that is offensive or insensitive, which can have negative consequences for the user experience. To mitigate this risk, it is important for developers to carefully curate the training data and be aware of any potential biases in the dataset.

In conclusion, ChatGPT is a highly sophisticated language model that offers a range of benefits for developers building chatbots and other NLP applications. Its ability to understand and respond to natural language inputs in a conversational manner, as well as its scalability and customizability, make it a popular choice for developers. However, it is important to be aware of the potential limitations of the model, such as its tendency to generate biased text, and take steps to mitigate these risks. Overall, ChatGPT is a powerful tool that has the potential to transform the field of NLP and the way we interact with technology.

Why is ChatGPT a big deal for tech companies?

ChatGPT is a big deal for tech companies because it represents a major advancement in the field of natural language processing (NLP) and opens up new possibilities for building intelligent chatbots and other NLP-powered applications.

One of the main reasons why ChatGPT is a big deal is its ability to understand and respond to natural language inputs in a conversational manner. This makes it a powerful tool for building chatbots that can engage in human-like dialogue with users, provide information, answer questions, and complete tasks. For example, a chatbot built with ChatGPT can be integrated into a website, messaging platform, or mobile app, allowing users to interact with the chatbot in real-time. This can greatly improve the user experience and increase the efficiency of the chatbot, making it a valuable asset for tech companies.

Another reason why ChatGPT is a big deal is its scalability and customizability. The model can be easily fine-tuned for specific tasks or domains, allowing developers to customize it to their specific needs, whether it’s for a specific industry or language. This allows the model to generate more accurate and relevant text, which can further improve the user experience and increase the efficiency of the chatbot.

The potential applications of ChatGPT are vast and varied, and it has the potential to transform the way we interact with technology. For example, it can be used to build intelligent virtual assistants that can answer questions, complete tasks, and make recommendations, making our lives easier and more convenient. It can also be used in customer service, where it can be used to automate routine tasks and provide fast, accurate responses to customer inquiries.

In conclusion, ChatGPT is a big deal for tech companies because it represents a major advancement in the field of NLP and opens up new possibilities for building intelligent chatbots and other NLP-powered applications. Its ability to understand and respond to natural language inputs in a conversational manner, as well as its scalability and customizability, make it a valuable asset for tech companies, and its potential applications are vast and varied.

*Written completely by ChatGPT

Responsive Web App vs Native Mobile App


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Many businesses are dealing with this quandary at the moment, and there a number of factors to keep in mind when deciding how to cater for users on mobile devices. These factors can be broadly broken down into 2 categories: User Experience (UX) and technical considerations.

Firstly, however, lets discuss what these 2 options actually are.

Responsive Web App

This is a website that shows up differently depending on the screen size you’re viewing it on. For example:

  • When shown on a PC’s web browser (i.e. a large amount of real estate), it will show everything.
  • When shown on an iPad’s web browser (i.e. a medium amount of real estate), it repositions some things and potentially removes some parts.
  • When shown on an mobile phone’s web browser (i.e. a small amount of real estate), it shows a cut down and optimised view, often removing whole sections if necessary.
Figure: This is one responsive web application, that shows different layouts depending on how much real-estate it has access to

Responsive Web App – Decision Factors

The UX benefits of this option include:

  • Familiar experience – users who use multiple platforms will see a similar experience.
  • No install – one barrier for use can sometimes be that users may not want to install an app on their mobile from a company that they don’t trust yet.
  • Some access to phone features – Web apps have recently been given access to many device specific features via the API, meaning that you can now use the phone’s GPS, camera, accelerometer, etc from the browser.
  • SEO friendly – customers will be able to Google your web app easily… Native apps are not SEO friendly.
  • Mobile First – if your users are primarily going to be using your web app via their mobiles, you can build the UI with that in mind, and optimise for their experience. In extreme cases, you may not even worry about desktop users at all.

The Technical benefits of Responsive Web Apps include:

  • Price – it’s generally cheaper to build and maintain 1 application that can be used on any device that has a web browser (PC, Mac, iOS, Android, etc.).
  • Web Wrapper – If your web app is a Single Page Application (SPA) then by using technologies such as Cordova or Electron, you can wrap them in a native app “shell” that allows them to be installed directly onto a mobile device, and removing the header of the web browser… giving some of the stickiness of a real native app.

Native Mobile App

This is an application that is installed directly onto your mobile device via the App Store (for iOS) or Google Play (for Android).

Figure: Usually, apps that can be opened from your home screen are Native Mobile Apps

Native Mobile App – Decision Factors

The UX benefits of this option include:

  • Stickiness – You have a button on your phone to open it directly. You don’t need to open the web browser and navigate to the URL.
  • Full access to phone features – almost anything the phone can do, you now have access to, including multi threading, Augmented Reality libraries, etc.
  • Offline access – although technically possible to some extent with some web apps, this is much easier for native apps.

The Technical factors of Native Mobile Apps include:

  • Hybrid – you used to have to build 1 app for iOS, and another completely separate app for Android, but now with technologies such as .NET MAUI, Flutter, Electron, etc, you can build 1 app that will work on both.
  • Expensive price – if you need a web app anyway, then you’re still doubling up as you’ll need to build and maintain a web app and a mobile app separately.
  • Code reuse – if you choose your stack carefully, you can get a lot of code reuse across mobile and web platforms. For example, you could have a .NET API, Blazor web UI, and .NET MAUI mobile app, (which can reuse a lot of the Blazor components).


This question can really only be answered by each organisation specifically, but at the risk of oversimplifying:

  • If you need to keep your costs down, most of your users are on the web app on their desktops anyway, and you don’t need heavy offline access or other phone features, go with a Responsive Web App
  • If you need to be accessible via the App Store or Google Play, need the experience optimised for mobile users, need phone specific features like offline access, and don’t care about desktop users, go with a Native Mobile App, preferably Hybrid so you only have to build and maintain 1 mobile app

9 Tips for Searching Effectively in Outlook

Some people are really good at using Outlook search to find the emails they need, while others have a hard time. Searching for emails can be a real struggle, sometimes you want to find emails from months ago but you aren’t sure exactly what to search for.

Being able to find an email quickly in Outlook is an important skill. Here are some tips and tricks about how to find that email buried in your inbox…

Note: These tips will also help you in your Google/Bing searches too.

outlook search


Let’s take an example scenario and see what tips we can use to search. Last month, you got an email in your inbox from your manager Bob about making changes to how you see data in his Northwind website.

Tip 1: Give the person you are talking to the focus

If you get 10 calls a day, you should be using this tip 10 times a day. When you get a call from Bob, before he has finished saying “how are you” you should have already typed in the search box and be looking at his most recent emails.

To get Bob’s most recent emails the best thing to do, is to limit Outlook to only your inbox folder and only emails from Bob by:

  • Change the folder to “Current Folder”
  • Search for:    from:Bob

Note #1: You can change the folder scoping to fit your specific needs

search scope
Figure: There are several scoping options available

Note #2: You can change the default to always be “Current Folder”

outlook search options
Figure: Outlook Options for Search

Tip 2: Focus on the person (i.e. to: from: cc: bcc:)

There are many different ways to focus on people. If know that the email was sent to Adam, from Bob, Luke was CCed and Chris was BCCed then:

  • Search for:    to:Adam from:Bob cc:Luke bcc:Chris

Tip 3: Focus on the subject (i.e. subject:)

If you have a good idea of what the email subject contains, then the “subject:” scope can help a lot. For example, if you know that the email had Northwind and Bob in the subject then:

  • Search for:    “Subject: Northwind Bob”

Tip 4: Use negatives (i.e. –)

Negatives are a great way to remove results you know definitely won’t be relevant. For example, if you know Luke and Adam frequently work with Bob but weren’t involved in that email then:

  • Search for:    -Luke -Adam

Note: Start with a broad search, and then, when you start seeing irrelevant results about invoicing, add -invoice to your search

Tip 5: Use quotation marks (i.e. “”)

You can search for a direct match in an email using quotation marks. For example, if you know that “days outstanding” was written in the email then:

  • Search for:    “days outstanding”

Note: Particularly useful when using common words but you know they were written in an exact phrase. E.g. “on top of this”

Tip 6: Combine 2 searches into 1 (i.e. OR)

Sometimes you might know a specific thing was referred to, but aren’t sure what terminology was used. For example, let’s say you know the email mentioned either “web app” or “website”. In that case:

  • Search for:    “web app” OR website

Note: Must be upper case… lowercase “or” won’t work

Tip 7: Find a file (i.e. hasattachments:yes)

Emails can be filtered to only include ones with attachments. If you know the email has an attachment then:

  • Search for:    hasattachments:yes

Tip 8: Find a file’s content (i.e. attachment:)

File contents can also be searched. If you know that there was an attachment that contained the text “20/07/2021” then:

  • Search for:    attachment:”20/07/2021″

Note: You must enter dates in USA format #ouch

Tip 9: Focus on the date received (i.e. received=<>)

You can filter on a specific time period or date. For example, If you know that the email was received after 07/20/2019 then:

  • Search for:    received>”07/20/2019″

Note #1: You must enter dates in USA format #ouch

More Info: Outlook has a heap of other properties that you can filter on.

email metadata
Figure: Outlook has a lot of meta data filtering options

Learn more: How to search in Outlook

The Art of Negotiation

Chris Voss is the expert on this topic, and I highly recommend his book “Never split the difference: Negotiate as if your life depends on it”.

Most people go into a negotiation assuming that it is a zero sum game, and that their opponent in this win-lose encounter is the adversary. The best negotiators, on the other hand aim for a win-win solution, and enlist the help of their negotiating opponent in battling the situation instead.

Your main goals should include:

  • Doing all you can to show the other side that you are negotiating in good faiths
  • Becoming genuinely interested in what drives the other side
  • Building trust-based influence through the use of tactical empathy, or deliberately influencing the other side’s feelings
    • Aim to deactivate negative feelings and magnify positive feelings

Tone of Voice

Combative negotiators will often use an assertive tone of voice, and this often just gets your opponent off side. Instead, use a mix of these 2:

  • Playful/accommodating
    • This is the voice of a bear of truths delivered gently
    • It promotes collaboration
    • Use it approximately 80% of the time
  • Late night FM DJ
    • Use when they’re upset or agitated
    • Soothing, downward inflection
    • Use to highlight an unalterable fact

If you can nail the right tone, you’re that much closer to building trust-based influence and moving together toward a great deal.


This is the conscious repetition of your counterpart’s words. Mirrors are designed to show the other side that you’re listening to them and understanding them.


  • Your negotiating partner: “I’ve had a really difficult year, and it seems like you’re discounting all of the financial and personal stress I’ve been under.”
  • You: “Financial and personal stress?”

Mirroring is a rapport-building technique with wide applicability. It works as well at cocktail parties as it does during hostage negotiations.  Mirroring can be an effective means of quelling the often reflexive hostility of confrontational people.

Mirroring can also be used to gather intel. Using it will lead your counterpart to not only repeat themselves but to elaborate and offer additional details. This expands what you know about them and their position.


Labelling is used to give voice to the other side’s feelings.

  • It looks like…
  • It seems like…
  • You look like…

Note that you should avoid the 1st person here… don’t say “I’m hearing…” or “I think…”. That would only signal that you are number 1 and everyone else is an afterthought. Keep it about them.

Labelling is designed to let the other side know that you understand their feelings, to help build relationships, and to gather information. It can be used both to reinforce positive emotions and to counteract negative emotions.

Example for a negative:

  • You: “It seems like you’re finding this project frustrating”

Example for a positive:

  • You: “It seems like you’ve been working really hard to make sure this project succeeds”

Dynamic Silence

30643845 – coffee break

Leaving a pause for a little longer than feels natural can in some cases help a lot to bring out more information.

Calibrated Questions

Calibrated questions are how and what questions structured for maximum effect. They are designed to change the power dynamic of the negotiation and force consideration of your position into the equation. In other words, they allow the other side to see things from your side of the table and allow everyone to keep their sense of autonomy intact.


  • You: “How am I supposed to do that?”
  • You: “What are you trying to accomplish by doing that?”

These questions also help cultivate the illusion of control in your counterpart. They can serve the same purpose as why questions while sounding less accusatory. Why questions tend to trigger a defensive posture.

Accusations Audit

Unexpressed negative emotions never die. They fester like an infection.

In preparing for a negotiation, you’d be well served to perform an accusations audit, during which you’ll create a comprehensive list of all the negative assumptions, thoughts, and feelings you think the other side may be harbouring against you.

Be exhaustive. Your goal is to list all the possible negative emotions and get out ahead of them. You want the other side to come back and say, “Hold on, you’re being too hard on yourself.” This would be an ideal response, as now your opponent is showing empathy for you.

Yes and No Questions

When it comes to a line of questioning, there are three types of yes answers :

  1. Yes as a commitment (used to agree)
  2. Yes as a confirmation (used to affirm commitment)
  3. Yes as counterfeit (used tactically by someone who doesn’t trust you, feels trapped, or wants you to go away)

Often, a no can be much more valuable than a yes. In certain circumstances, people feel safe and protected by a no.

So, a question like:

  1. “Is this a good idea?” may be better phrased as “Is this a ridiculous idea?”
  2. “Can you agree to do it this way?” could be better presented as “Do you think it’s unreasonable if we can both agree to take things in this direction?”

When answering a yes question, people are going to feel that every piece of information they provide is another commitment to be made. By contrast, a no relieves them of the sense that they may have just surrendered their entire negotiating position.

And don’t forget that no is equally valuable to your own cause. After saying no, use dynamic silence to let it sink in, demonstrating to your partner that you stand by your word.

Defeating Fear of Loss

Young man frightened on white background.

One of the primary negative emotions that can derail a negotiation is the fear of loss. Neuroscience teaches us that fear is a dominant factor in human decision-making. Use your skills to try and figure out what the other side is scared of losing.

Know that people will begin to talk about a deal being “fair” once they feel backed into a corner. Fairness, in this moment, becomes the end all/be all of the negotiation. People will even walk away from a good deal if they feel like they’ve been treated unfairly.

If you get the sense that the people across the table think you’re being unfair, encourage them to speak their minds about it. Then ask for a few examples of how you’ve allegedly been mistreating them. You may find that the other side’s idea of fairness will result in something that’s totally unfair for you. The key to negotiation may be deference, but that doesn’t equate to subservience.

Do whatever you can to deactivate this fear of loss—remember your mirrors and labels—and keep your negotiation grounded, collaborative, and positive.

Bargaining Strategies

When negotiating, it’s always best to steer clear of a bargaining situation. But sometimes it’s unavoidable. Below are the stages of the Ackerman system. It’s paramount to employ tactical empathy between each round:

  • Establish a target price for the goods you want to buy.
  • Make an initial offer at 65 percent of your target price.
  • Assuming no deal, raise your price by 20 percent.
  • Assuming no deal, raise your price by 10 percent.
  • If still no deal, raise by another 5 percent.
  • Your final offer should be an odd number, and you should be prepared to include some non-monetary compensation to show them you’re committing all of your available resources.

Body Language and Speech Patterns

We all have one way of telling the truth. If you can identify how your counterpart looks and sounds when he or she is being honest with you, then you’ll be able to detect any deviations from that pattern that may signal a lie. Keep the following in mind:

  • The Pinocchio Effect
    People who are being dishonest tend to use more words and effort than necessary to communicate their point.
  • The 7-38-55 Rule
    In interpersonal communications, 7 percent of a person’s effort is conveyed via spoken words, 38 percent by tone of voice, and 55 percent through body language.

When you’re at the negotiating table, pay attention to how people speak and act. Do the words they’re saying match up with the way they’re carrying themselves? Look at the people who are not talking—what does their body language signal to you? People who are being sincere don’t typically calculate their body language. The opposite is true of people who are being dishonest.

If you sense people are being deceitful, deploy a label using your inquisitive inflection: “It seems like I’ve missed something here?” A lie indicates that the other side is afraid to tell you the truth—they perceive you as a threat. In short, you’ve just encountered more negative emotions to be deactivated. To help defuse them, revert again to the late-night FM DJ voice, avoid all traces of accusation, and get your counterparts to drop their guard.

The 80-20 rule (AKA the Pareto Principle)

There’s a filter I try to use every day to make sure I’m maximizing the effect my work is having on the business. It’s called the 80-20 rule, or the Pareto Principle.

The theory states that

  • 20% of your customers will give you 80% of your revenue
  • You wear 20% of your clothes 80% of the time
  • You use 20% of software features to get 80% of the value of that software
  • 20% of the population control 80% of the wealth
  • 20% of the players in a sports team create 80% of the wins
  • You spend 20% of your time to produce 80% of your day’s output
  • And the one we really care about today: 20% of the effort you make produces 80% of the results

It comes down to whether you use your time efficiently or effectively. AKA working smarter, not harder.


You may spend a busy day getting a lot done, ticking off a lot of tasks, having a lot of meetings, and finishing the day thinking, “I used my time efficiently today and got a lot done”. You give yourself a pat on the back and think you did well, but did you actually do anything useful today? Or did you just complete a bunch of stuff that didn’t really matter.


Instead, take some time at the beginning of the day to work out which of the tasks on your plate really matter. Which ones will unblock others and allow them to get more done. Which will have a disproportionate result on the business. Over time you’ll be able to work out a hierarchy of work, allowing you to do it in the right order every time without having to think too hard about it. You may find that you end up getting fewer tasks done in a day, but the ones you did were important, and really made a difference.

Figure: The Pareto Principle

Managing Remote Workers

This past year has been surprisingly busy for IT professionals. When COVID hit, we all battened down the hatches, expecting a potential business downturn. However, within a month, a wave of new business hit our doors, as companies realized they needed to be able to offer their services online to stay relevant.

This, of course, was also the point that we had sent everyone to work from home, and since our main point of difference from overseas development houses was our locality and communication skills, this was a risk for us. The solution was to make sure our consultants were able to be as effective as possible while working remotely.

If you are facing the same challenge, here are some tips:

Webcam and mic

The experience of speaking to someone on a video call can range from terrible to excellent, depending on a few things.

If the webcam and mic on their laptop is not up to the job, get them an external webcam. Even a simple Microsoft Lifecam for AUD $100 is usually sufficient and has a decent inbuilt microphone.

If you want to one level higher, you can fork out $600 for a full Marantz Turret with a high quality camera, mic, and light. However, be aware that this will not be centered with their screen, so often they will not look like they’re looking at the camera.


Video call background

A good background separates people who look like they were forced to work from home and those who can thrive there. It’s not always possible to do all of these, but in a perfect world you do as many of the following as possible:

  1. Keep it tidy. A messy background can be distracting
  2. Close doors and cupboards
  3. Possibly use a screen behind you – ideally with company colours
  4. Digital background options
    1. Blur – simple and effective
    2. Take a photo from where your webcam usually is at your desk at work and use that as your digital background
Figure: Take a photo from your laptop’s perspective to use as a digital background

Touch base

We take general office banter and water cooler talk for granted and, although some of us feel like we spend all day on Teams calls, you should remember that there is another extreme for people who do not get to talk to anyone all day.

Make sure everyone you’re managing is part of a team and do at least a Daily Scrum call to check in with each other each day. If you’ve got people who are not part of a larger team, consider having a daily check-in call for those people yourself. No one should be left without any human contact for days at a time as it can be isolating and demotivating.

Think “Remote first”

In the instance you have some people co-located, and 1 or more people remote, it’s best to prioritise the remote people as much as possible. They are missing out on the body language and non-verbal cues that the rest of you will enjoy, and they will not be able to hear any muttered back channels, so whenever someone talks, make sure they talk towards the mic.

Figure: Don’t let remote people feel left out of the conversation

Daily Scrums

Even if you don’t usually use Scrum to manage your staff, Daily Scrums are a very valuable tool to quickly touch base with your team and make sure they’re on track, both with how much they’re getting done each day, and whether their understanding of the project priorities line up with yours (i.e. what order the work is done in).

Ideally you can use something like Azure DevOps to prioritise and track work items, but even a free tool like Trello can work in a pinch.

Figure: Even a simple shared Trello board can provide a great shared view of priorities and progress

The 5 Levels of Leadership



The world renowned Leadership expert, John Maxwell, has defined 5 levels of leadership, and we’ll go through each one here, to help you understand how to advance through the levels, and also to understand why it’s important to strive to do so.

First of all, it’s important to state that these levels are additive… a level 3 leader still needs everything they learned in levels 1 and 2 to succeed.

Level 1 – Position

People follow because they have to.

At this point, you have been granted a position of leadership (usually via a job title). This is the beginning of everyone’s leadership journey but should not be the end. People at this stage will only follow you because they have to, which means they’ll do just enough for you that they don’t get in trouble, but no more.

You have not yet built the influence to command respect from colleagues but it is a necessary starting point, and allows you to think about what kind of leader you’d like to be.

Don’t push people at this stage, just help them and take an interest in them. Also, don’t expect them to come to you yet.

In order to graduate from this level, you need to believe that your job title isn’t what makes you a good leader. People are your most valuable asset, and good leaders include others. Therefore, you don’t need to have all the answers.

Level 2 – Permission

People follow because they want to.

Leaders on this level make people know that they matter, and as your relationships grow, so does trust. Eventually, people permit you to lead them.

This will all lead to a more enjoyable workplace, and a more engaged team with boosted energy. Also, the 2 way communication will allow for better decision making, both by your team, and you.

To get to this level, focus on people rather than just tasks, and treat others as you’d like to be treated. Give praise and encouragement when appropriate, but balance this with candour as needed.

Careful not to get stuck at this level, however, as you can sometimes seem like a weak leader, or be prone to being taken advantage of.

In order to graduate from this level, you need to recognise that there’s more to leadership than just influence, you have to take people somewhere. You must grow together, and sometimes it’s worth risking a relationship to achieve a vision as a team.

Level 3 – Production

People follow because of what you have done for the organisation.

This level is about delivering results, and really separates true leaders from those who simply hold a position. When you achieve exceptional results, it gives people a reason to follow you, and so your leadership intensifies. Once you reach this level, you really become a change agent and can tackle more difficult or thorny issues.

At this point, you start to get momentum, as your past successes fuel yet more success. You set the standard for your followers, and people will want to be a part of your team.

To get to this level, figure out where your strengths lie and focus on them. Always communicate a clear vision to keep your team aligned towards a common goal. Make sure this vision is focussed on areas with the highest return, and don’t lose sight of the fact that results are your goal.

Some traps to be aware of include thinking you’re a better leader than you are, due to your momentum bringing you success… it’s still important to remember the lessons from level 2, as you don’t want to lose sight of your people.

In order to graduate from this level, you need to value, challenge and develop your followers. Realise that growing leaders is the quickest way to achieve a vision, as it will multiply your output.

Level 4 – People Development

People follow because of what you have done for them.

At this level, the focus shifts from delivering results, to developing people. The idea at this level is to reproduce yourself, but each person’s individual strengths will help raise the whole organisation to a higher level.

Results will start to take care of themselves as your new leaders help to improve everyone else around them. This also frees you up to work on bigger things, and it’s immensely rewarding to see others develop.

To get to this level, start by only recruiting the best, and then place them into the right positions. Once you have your team on the bus and in the right seats, model leadership behaviour yourself as well as coaching others to live and perform well. Lastly, empower others to allow them to succeed.

You must be willing to focus on the long term, as leaders will not develop overnight. Also be aware that you will need to let go of control, and also the ego boost of being the only leader driving success in the organisation.

In order to graduate from this level, you need to fully believe that your biggest goal as a leader is to create more leaders, and start to develop a leadership culture, where everyone can teach, practice, coach, and reward leadership at all levels.

Level 5 – Pinnacle

People follow because of who you are and what you represent.

The aim for a leader at this stage is to have their followers develop into level 4 leaders themselves. This is very hard, but results in a level 5 organisation.

This gives your leadership reach, and creates a legacy within your organisation that may outlive you.

Don’t get complacent though… you will need to be careful not to stop learning, and always be reinforcing everything from the previous levels.

Remain humble and open to learning. Create an inner circle to keep you grounded. Create room for others at the top, and focus on what only you can do.

Lastly, plan your succession, to ensure your legacy.

This is a lifelong, challenging journey that can be immensely rewarding.

Bots! Huh! What are they good for?

Figure: Click here to chat… maybe to a real person, or maybe to a bot

Bots are pieces of software that can speak and be spoken to, either in text form, e.g. web chat, or in voice form, e.g. Siri.

Figure: Often simple questions will be fielded by a bot, and only if it can’t answer your question will a real person be contacted

A bot could enable you to text a number to order pizza and have it delivered without ever talking to a real human.

A bot could also allow you to ask a question in natural language, and will provide you the answer. It can often do this by digesting a company’s knowledge base, and either linking you to the correct place, or else give you the answer directly.

Another use for a bot is to kick off an automated task. If you’ve ever asked Siri to set an alarm or reminder, read you a message, or even turn on the lights in your smart home, then you know what I mean

Figure: Siri reminders have completely revolutionised how I organise tasks

Bots During Coronavirus Season

Businesses at the moment are struggling with both a supply and demand problem. The downturn in the economy has reduced demand in many sectors, while also simultaneously making it hard for many people to work due to social distancing concerns.

There are also record numbers of queries on forums such as job boards, requests for information on welfare, and concerned people trying to get the latest information on what changes are being made.

This is a perfect opportunity for Bots to shine:

  • They are infinitely scalable (i.e. can talk to thousands of people at once)
  • They work 24-7
  • They never get sick

The best customer experience generally happens when a bot fields initial queries, and then passes over to a human agent only if it gets stuck. This combats the possible downside of a customer potentially asking questions the bot can’t answer, while still deflecting the majority of tickets with an instant answer that requires no human effort.

Examples of ways Bots have helped during this crisis so far:

  • Centrelink – the welfare government services have been hammered by applications for the dole as well as requests for information. Bots have been able to deal with a huge proportion of the cut and dry cases.
  • Remote work support – the sudden shift from people working in offices to at home has caused a big change to people’s requirements for their home internet. Bots have helped telecommunications suppliers to make sure their customers’ requests can be answered or actioned in real time, at any time of day or night.
  • COVID-19 information – more powerful general purpose bots such as Siri, Cortana, or the Google Assistant can get key information from certain websites to be able to instantly ask common questions such as “How many Coronavirus cases are there in Australia?”

Bot Frameworks

Microsoft Azure and Google DialogFlow are both excellent frameworks for building custom bots, and both provide voice recognition, natural language processing, and workflow tools.

If you want to build a custom bot for your own company, have a look at and maybe give me a call.

Stay safe.

Further reading: Adam Cogan, who owns SSW, did a piece on bots last year:. Check it out to see 5 simple questions that bots should be answering in your business:

The Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance Model


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I found a small book at an airport recently called “The Decision Book: Fifty models for strategic thinking”. It’s a nice easy read and a good thought provoker, and one of the models in particular really spoke to me.

The Drexler/Sibbet model covers how to turn a group into a team. It specifies 7 distinct stages that a team will generally go though, and the unique issues that can arise at each stage.

1. Orientation


Main question to answer:

  • Why am I here?

Benefits if resolved:

  • Purpose
  • Team identity
  • Membership

Problems if not resolved:

  • Disorientation
  • Uncertainty
  • Fear


2. Trust Building

Trust Building

Main question to answer:

  • Who are you?

Benefits if resolved:

  • Mutual regard
  • Forthrightness
  • Reliability

Problems if not resolved:

  • Caution
  • Mistrust
  • Facade


3. Goal Clarification

Goal clarification

Main question to answer:

  • What are we doing?

Benefits if resolved:

  • Explicit assumptions
  • Clear, integrated goals
  • Shared vision

Problems if not resolved:

  • Apathy
  • Scepticism
  • Irrelevant competition


4. Commitment


Main question to answer:

  • How will we do it?

Benefits if resolved:

  • Assigned roles
  • Allocated resources
  • Decisions made

Problems if not resolved:

  • Dependence
  • Resistance


5. Implementation


Main question to answer:

  • Who does what, where, when?

Benefits if resolved:

  • Clear processes
  • Alignment
  • Disciplined execution

Problems if not resolved:

  • Conflict/confusion
  • Non-alignment
  • Missed deadlines


6. High Performance

High performance

Main question to answer:

  • Wow!

Benefits if resolved:

  • Spontaneous interaction
  • Synergy
  • Surpassing results

Problems if not resolved:

  • Overload
  • Disharmony


7. Renewal

Staying power

Main question to answer:

  • Why Continue?

Benefits if resolved:

  • Recognition and celebration
  • Change mastery
  • Staying power

Problems if not resolved:

  • Boredom
  • Burnout