Monday, April 30, 2012

Lulu's Mailbag: How can I work when other people's schedules affect mine?

I'm kinda behind on the Mailbag and I have some Redlined Resumes in the works, so I beg your forgiveness--I'll be traveling a lot for work in May, so my posting will be hit and miss.  i did want to give some attention to a long-overdue response to D., whose question piggybacks nicely onto T's dilemma that I posted about for the past two weeks (note: edited for clarity and length, as D and I emailed back and forth a bit on his question):

I work in a 3-person satellite office for a very large firm.  The firm's business hours are 8:30AM -5:30PM with lunch from 12:00PM -1:00PM, Monday through Friday.  I have worked in this office for 5 1/2 years. 

Neither my boss nor my co-worker adhere to the firm's business is a total gamble each day as to when they will arrive at the office, and when they will leave.  [Because they] intermix work with their personal business while at the office, [they] show up around 10:00 AM, spend several hours doing personal/non project-related stuff throughout the day, and work until 8:00 or 9:00 PM...     

I have more of a "get in early, get it done, leave on time" attitude towards the office. Therefore, I schedule my time accordingly and discipline myself to stick to that schedule in order to accomplish everything I want to get done.  When we have more work or a project deadline, I adjust my schedule accordingly to accommodate a few additional hours at the office.  Any personal stuff gets done at home in the evening, or on weekends.
 It is worth noting that everyone in our office gets everything done, and we never miss deadlines. 

I realize that everyone is different... [but] my colleagues' non-structured attitude towards time at the office often affects my ability to be efficient. I often find myself spending more time at the office than necessary because "I am needed as a member of the project team".  I have already finished everything I needed to get done that day, but they are running behind because they came in late or worked on something else for a period of time.  I am not compensated for this additional time I spend at the office (the firm abolished overtime compensation when the recession began).  

I find this very frustrating and disrespectful to my schedule.  What would be the proper way to address this? I have not directly discussed this issue with my boss.  I have thought about framing the issue in terms of how our team can work more efficiently, but I struggle with how to tie this discussion back to some of the specific behavioral patterns without sounding accusatory.

As an added note, I do know that I am not the only person in our company that is affected by the lack of structure in our satellite office.  I occasionally get calls from my boss's supervisor in our main office, asking why he isn't at his desk, or we receive general emails from the main office underscoring the importance of the relationship between working hours and project budgets. 

Wow, that is a good question.  What you're asking on the surface here is how to address the lack of connection between your schedule and your coworkers' schedules, but what you're really asking here, D., is how to manage up.  You will manage up for as long as you're not licensed and even for most of the time that you're licensed as well.  As long as you have a boss, you will have a need to manage up--to make sure that everything above you is going well so that it doesn't dribble onto your head.  As long as your colleagues aren't sociopaths, this is a fairly painless process.  Annoying, but mostly harmless.  You're also dealing with some of the issues that T was dealing with regarding hours worked; you don't mind pitching in when things are tough, the chips are down, and there's a looming deadline, but it's another thing altogether when you continually have to work late because someone else has been disorganized with their time.

Your heart and brain are in the right place when you assert that you want to frame the issue in terms of working efficiently.  That really is the right place to start when you talk with your boss and coworker about this.  Remember than whenever you ask for change, do so in the service of a job or in the service of a relationship--that's the key.  The other important part of asking for change is to take ownership of what you want while framing it as a benefit to both parties.  What do you want out of this?  Bear in mind that you, too, could start coming in at 10am and leaving at 7pm, but if you're more productive in the morning, then that needs to be part of the conversation.  You, too, could start doing your personal business during the day intermittently, but if you find that not being interrupted with non-work stuff makes you more productive and allows you to get things accomplished, then that also needs to be part of the conversation.

See if you can get them both in the same place and time, uninterrupted (usually this is accomplished with lunch), and talk about how everyone's schedules are working--how do your colleagues like to work?  You can contribute (or counter with) your own point of view, which is that it works best for you to work like x but not so much like y.  Is your boss aware that higher-ups have asked where he is?  If not, this should be shared with him in private: say "Eddie from the main office asked me this morning where you were and i didn't know, and he was pretty pissed.  How should I handle it when I get those calls?"  If your boss wants you to lie and you're not comfortable with that, then say so: "Mike, I'm really not comfortable with that.  If I don't know where you are, then I don't know where you are.  I know you have things to attend to in the morning, but it leaves me in a position where I'm either throwing you under the bus to Eddie or I'm lying to Eddie, and neither of those is acceptable to me in a good team environment like ours."

See what happened there?  You paid Mike (the name I'm giving your boss) a compliment about your office's environment (hopefully it was honest), and you're showing him the consequences of his behavior--it puts you in an awkward situation.  That's how you frame your discussion about time with your colleagues: "When you guys come in late and don't have something ready for me until 6pm, I get frustrated because I'm here early when I'm most productive and have to stay late time and again and work when I'm fried.  Can we work something out that allows us to keep our schedules but also keeps the workload clear for everyone?"  

Remember that even after you work something out, you may need to remind them of the agreement: "Chuckie, it's 3 o'clock, and I do have to leave right at 5 today.  Did you have that plan ready for me?  If not, I can definitely start on it tomorrow right at 8, or even at 7:30 if you need it sooner."

Have courage, D.  With a couple of good discussions, you might be able to find some relief in here.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Lulu's Mailbag: Where do you draw the line with time spent at work? Part 2 of 2

Last week, I answered T.'s email about drawing the line at work with having to stay late every afternoon because a manager hands you something at the last minute.  There's more to flesh out with his question, though, regarding how and when to draw that line.  

Where that line lives may be different for everyone--interns who have lots of family, spiritual, and extracurricular obligations may have less disposable time then interns who mainly go to the gym and then watch Hoarders on TLC while eating dinner.  (By the way, if you need motivation to clean your apartment, watch one of those extreme hoarding shows--you'll be emptying the trash and Swiffing during every commercial break before it's over.  Plus, seeing how nasty the houses are will help curb your appetite and help you lose weight.  It's a two-for-one deal...but I digress.)  If you're really busy outside of work, you may need to figure out how to schedule your overtime better, which means you'll need to be even more proactive with your manager(s) regarding asking when things are due and do they have something coming up.  I must caution you all against being too busy outside of work, however, because sudden deadlines and emergencies are going to happen, and you will need to stay late or come in early sometimes to help with them.  Careful planning and good communication with your boss can eliminate some if not many of these emergencies, but not all of them.

Some if not most bosses will be accepting of your limits, readily or grudgingly.  If they're grudgingly accepting, resist the urge to succumb to the guilt.  Some bosses (and some coworkers) will try to push on your boundaries--maybe they think it's crap that an intern dare "talk back" and say they're not willing to stay late every single day and time someone "needs" them to stay, or maybe they're mad with themselves for not setting that boundary for themselves long ago.  Here's the bottom line to remember when someone tries to push your boundary:

Is the work getting done on time and with quality?

It's a yes or no question.  If the answer is no, then you need to work with your boss to get things right so that you can do the work well and on time.  But if the answer is yes, then no apology or long, drawn-out explanation is needed.  This is a concept introduced by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson of the electronics retail giant Best Buy.  Ressler and Thompson created the ROWE, or Results-Only Work Environment.  Instead of being obsessed with time, they reasoned, why aren't we focusing on results?  If you're getting the task assigned done on time and with a high level of quality, who cares if you did it late last night or first thing this morning?  If it's good and done, then it's good...and done.

I could do two or three posts alone on how Ressler and Thompson's work would be best used in architecture (and where I take issue with their assertions--I don't fully accept their whole premise, but most of it feels solid to me).  For now, though, I'll pass on their approach to dealing with people who take shots at you.  When someone begins to hassle you about "oh, I guess now it's time for you to leave, huh?" or "oh, nice of you to show up", you simply and calmly ask them:

"What do you need?"

This questions stops the heckling and focuses on the result.  What do you need, and when do you need it by is what matters.  If the response is, "I need to to do these redlines for a meeting tomorrow, and I have to leave at 7am to get to that meeting", then you know that they either need your help right now or if you really really can't help them, you may be able to help them find someone who can.  If the response is, "I have some redlines that need to be done by end of day tomorrow," then you can glance at them and assess if you can handle them in a timely manner the next morning. And if the response is just more heckling, then you can repeat the question:

"Homer/Marge, did you need something?  If so, let me know.  I'm willing to work with you to get something done.  What's up?"

When this is done repeatedly and as calmly as possible, you show the heckler that you're not rising to the bait. The point of your "what do you need?" question is to find out if the emergency is real or in your boss' head.  Now, if this is a boss heckling you, it can be hard to hold the line and stay calm, but it's necessary.  You may decide to talk with them later about it:

"Homer/Marge, when you were saying all that stuff earlier about me leaving right at 5, was there something you needed?  I'm glad to help get things done, and I can do a better job of helping you when we plan a little ahead of time.  Can you help me with that?  Can we talk about this a little?"

Sometimes in order to get what you need at work, you have to manage up and take control of the situation.  You have to help your boss--or company--help you, and part of that involves showing or explaining to them how helping you helps the company and project.  When you can make that case, and when you stick to your guns, you can ultimately make everyone's lives easier: people are more organized and well-rested and the quality of work is higher.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Lulu's Mailbag: Where do you draw the line with time spent at work? Part 1 of 2

Now that the economy is kinda-sorta coming back, it seems like I'm getting more questions about workload and time spent in the office. I recently received the following question from T. (edited here for length and clarity, as we emailed back and forth a couple of times):

I generally work 7:30 to 5:30 and half day Fridays, which is our office policy.  My time before and after work  is typically booked...usually we have an obligation of some sort to get to...gym, dinner, event, etc.   So I find it hard to stay even 1 minute past 5:30 and it's tough for me to get in anytime before 7:30.  It's not that I’m unwilling, it's that my personal time is important to me and I keep a clear distinction between that and work time....

Our firm isn't super busy right now, but we're all willing to put in extra time at a deadline, and I know I’ve shown (when our [name of big huge project] was active) that I didn’t complain about doing it.  It's understandable and it's perfectly okay on occasion to do that.  I bust my butt when I’m here, I typically work through lunches, so I’m not a slacker. 

My frustration comes from the random tasks that seems to come at the end of a day or ones that are gonna take longer but still need to be done in a week.  They come last minute, so there's no time to prepare for them.  So there's no time to cancel outside of work obligations.  So seeing as my wife/friends are more important than any job I’ll ever have, I choose them.  I get done what I can and I leave.  That’s where I think the unfair labeling occurs.

What I gotta ask is where do you draw the line between flat out saying "nope, I gotta go I’m sorry this can’t get done but I can’t put my life on hold, you had me here for 45 hours – I can’t give you anymore" before it starts to sound like you just don’t want to “help” out.  How can you let your employer know that you’re not able to stay late/come in early – because I’m not willing to put other aspects of my life in jeopardy to do so?

That, my friend, is the $64 million question, even for licensed architects with years of experience.  Where and how do we draw the line with our firms when it comes to our time?  And when we decide to draw that line, how do we say it?

I've said here before that neither extreme is a good idea--always working overtime or never working overtime.  (I've also discussed the importance of being willing and able to lean into the strike zone now and then, because it's going to be necessary.)  Work-life balance in architecture, as in many professions, isn't so much a balance as an ebb and flow.  There will be times when work takes all your energy, and there will be times when your life takes all your energy.  Let the pendulum swing--it will come back to the other side.  And when things aren't crazy-busy, do take the time you need to have a life.  You'll need that rest and life for when the pendulum swings back towards OMFGWEHAVESOMUCHTODOANDNOTIMEAUUUGH!!1!!!

T's question is a big one because it points to not an intern problem but a management problem. If a project architect or manager consistently works on something all day and finally gives it to you just at the end of the workday, the time management problem is theirs, not yours.  However, because rank sometimes hath privilege, their problem becomes yours.  Sometimes the architect hasn't gotten this thing done because his/her attention has been pulled in so many directions that day that s/he never had more than five minutes to think about it at a time until 4:50pm.  (This, by the way, has been the story of my life recently, so I can empathize.)  Sometimes the architect has bad time management skills.  Sometimes s/he forgets.  Sometimes s/he has unrealistic expectations.  Sometimes s/he isn't clear about when this needs to be done.  Sometimes the intern has to manage up--that is, have the conversation with the manager to figure out workload and schedules because the manager is too frustrated/overwhelmed/disorganized to even know that the conversation needs to happen.

Fixing this problem starts with a respectful conversation about expectations, typically during a non-hectic moment:

Intern:         Hey [manager's name], I wanted to discuss some scheduling and workload stuff with you for a second.  Is this a good time?
Manager:   Yeah, sure.
Intern:         Cool.  So, I know sometimes you have stuff for me to do, but you're not ready to give it to me until the end of the day. How much of those kinds of tasks can wait til the next morning?
Manager:  Some can, some can't I guess.
Intern:        Fair enough. Can you let me know what's urgent when you give it to me so I don't assume that everything is urgent?

Another tactic that can help this scenario is checking in with a chronic hand-over-at-the-last-minute boss is checking in with them a few hours before the end of the day.  Let's say you generally leave around 5 or 5:30.  Go to your boss if they're in the office (or call them if they're not) and ask if they have anything going on that you should be working on or know about by the end of the day, and how urgent is it.  This is especially helpful if you know they're working on something to give you.  Depending on their answer, you can remind them of your schedule:

Intern:         Hi [manager's name].  So, it's 3 o'clock, and I wanted to see if you had those redlines ready for me to work on.
Manager:  Um...
Intern:         I only ask because I have to leave right at 5 today, so if you need it today I'll need to get your redlines by, say, 3:30?

I realize that some of this talk might seem or feel kind of bold.  But remember: You're a grown-up too, just like the managers, and adults speak to other adults with clarity and respect. You're asking for clarification and checking in with your bosses for two reasons: one, because you want to do a good job and make them and the company look good; and two, because you want to protect your life from a constant onslaught of other people's schedules and/or poor time management skills.  While you won't always be able to fend that off, you can draw the line more clearly with your managers.  You're well within your rights to do so.

Next week: Part 2, or what to say when someone tries to call you out on defending your time.  If you have topics you'd like to see covered here or questions you'd like to ask, feel free to leave them in the comments or drop me a line via email in the sidebar.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Redlined Resumes: the importance of narrative, and the importance of reflection

Today's Redlined Resume is a sharp one, and it has a lot of points to discuss (and for debate, I'm sure), so I've saved it for last in this string for RRs.  (I've received some more resumes to redline, but I'll comment on a few other topics before we go back to another string of these.)

RF's resume takes a unique approach--its narrative style makes it a cover letter and resume all in one.  I recommend a little editing here as well as bolding text that points out really important information.  Most people use bullet points in their resumes because that format quickly highlights the most important information for the reader.  When the resume takes a more narrative form, as RF's does, it can give the reader a better feel for the candidate's personality, but now the reader has to work a little harder to know what the facts are.  Putting specific pieces of text in bold type allows a reader to skim the resume as if it used bullet points, but also read it like a narrative.  RF's choice here is bit daring, and I really like it.

You'll notice at the bottom I've suggested to delete the mention of Dean's List, Eagle Scout, and the fraternity.  Now, if this fraternity is a type of co-ed honors society, I might leave it in and find a better way to describe it.  But if not, I would leave it out, no matter how much of a leader you might have been.  And here's where the importance of reflection on your resume comes in: when I have mere seconds to make a good impression, what about me on paper will tell my story and set me apart in a good way?  What matters most to those looking at my resume?

Here's what matters to an architect at a firm, in no particular order:
  • honors and achievements earned during college (related to design)
  • work experience during and after college
  • architecture/firm-related work experience during and after college
  • degree from an NAAB-accredited school
  • LEED AP or other design-related achievements
  • military or intensive volunteer service (e.g., Peace Corps)
Here's what doesn't matter to an architect at a firm, in no particular order:
  • honors and achievements earned during high school
  • work experience during high school
  • whether or not your college or grad school was an elite design school*
  • your hobbies and general interests
Here's what might matter to an architect at a firm and could work against you, in no particular order:
  • what college you attended, and whether or not it was an elite design school*
  • certain activities, including polarizing political/social groups or Greek societies
The hard truth is this: what might matter to you might not matter at all to a firm in terms of getting hired, and it could hurt your chances.  My albeit informal poll of my colleagues as well as my own experience revealed that architecture students usually had to pick between being in a Greek organization or being an architecture student.  Those who chose to remain in Greek organizations generally weren't very strong in the program because they had a very strong alternate force competing for their attention (i.e., the fraternity or sorority).  Firms may see this as not being as serious about architecture, just as your career is taking off and you're about to be asked to work late nights and weekends...the same late nights and weekends you might have refused to work as an architecture student.  

The other part of that hard truth is that not everyone knows how important your achievements are, and trying to explain how important they are could waste valuable resume space.  Until a reader commented here that being an Eagle Scout is a rare and important achievement, all I knew about it is that it's the highest you can go in Boy Scouts and not that many Boy Scouts do it...and that Boy Scouts is something that boys and teenage guys do in elementary school and junior high, and maybe high school.  But after you've spent five or six years in college, nothing you did in high school really matters anymore.  

I was a drummer in high school band, and my school was in the most musically-competitive district in my state.  I made State Honor Band three of my four high school years, which was no easy feat and would demonstrate to anyone in the know that I was physically very coordinated and could sight-read unfamiliar music very well, which meant I could adapt to unfamiliar situations quickly.  This is a skill I can now use as an architect...but including this on my first post-grad-school resume wouldn't have helped me, even if I had applied for a job in my home state.  It's likely that no one would have understood its importance in the way I did, and explaining it on a resume would have taken up space where I could have been touting more directly relevant experience, like the time I spent working in a hospital (which would tell a healthcare-design firm that I had direct experience with the kinds of buildings that I'd be designing with them).

In the years since I finished college, I spent some time doing improv and stand-up comedy.  I learned and practiced skills in those settings that are infinitely helpful when I deal with clients and consultants--I know how to read a crowd and say what needs to be said to get them on board with my ideas (or with the decisions that need to be made at that meeting). I know how to use inoffensive humor as a way to break the ice or break tension, I know how to stand in front of a semi-hostile group of people and present my case convincingly (and am not afraid to do so, such as in interviews when pursuing a project), and I understand the power of word choice in both spoken and written formats.   I think my on-stage comedy experience is incredibly important, but I know that no one else will likely see it that way.  Including "Member of Mixed Nuts Comedy Brigade in Littleton, CO 2001-2002" on my resume looks like fluff to any outsider, so I save it for an interview or even a deeper conversation after I've gotten to know my project team.

That's what I'm asking all of you to do when you include hobbies, interests, and achievements on your resumes.  Think about what's really going to be meaningful to the people who are flipping through dozens if not hundreds of resumes, and edit for focus and impact.

*You might occasionally meet someone who will only hire people from Ivy League colleges or refuse to hire people from certain other colleges, but for the most part a professional is a professional.  It's kind of a crapshoot sometimes, but the work world for architects is an interesting playing field.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Redlined Resumes: international flavor

Today's Redlined Resume is from GS, who is not from the U.S. but has offered up his/her resume (or CV, curriculum vitae, as they say almost everywhere except for the U.S.) for our review.  While GS might not ever come to the U.S., my comments on this resume will be aimed as tuning it for an American audience.

GS has, like some other recent resumes we've seen, a nice cleanliness to it.  The text is a good size and very clean, and s/he includes information that implies that s/he has a website that showcases his/her work.  (If this is the case, then that website should be included at the bottom of the resume/CV, much like YH did last week.)  GS's website is clean and clear and shows that s/he has a range of job experience in design-related jobs, like the graphic design and screen-printing firms.

But what kind of experience?  That's what's lacking in GS's CV--just as it was in YH's resume last week, I'm missing the details to know if GS was just a lackey at these firms or if s/he did some real, meaty design work.  What did GS do at the screenprinting shop?  What kind of designs did s/he work on as a freelance graphic and architectural designer?  With a few details on what kind of projects s/he worked on, a firm would be intrigued to go to GS's website and see more.  The work and types of tasks that GS did will tell a firm more about whether s/he is a good fit for them.  In that vein, GS might need to jettison a few other details here, namely the information about his/her high school and possibly the scholarships.  That will free up space to give a potential firm some great details on how excellent a fit GS might be.

Comments? Questions? Resumes? Armageddon?  Let me know if the comments or via email in the sidebar.  Thanks!