Working Remotely: My Top 5 Tips For Being a Productive Employee

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I’ve been working remotely for several years now, and I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. Do I love working remotely? Heck yes! Are there pitfalls? Of course. As is the case with most things in life, there are both pros and cons to working from home. Some pros: I have control over my schedule and hours of work, and I have zero commute, which saves me a lot of time and money. The cons? Working remotely can be socially isolating, and you must be a self-starter who is able to consistently produce results.

Here are my top 5 tips for being a productive remote employee:

Be motivated

Make no mistake, working from home is NOT for everyone. If you’re the type of employee who needs a lot of direction, or who enjoys being constantly surrounded by others, working from home is probably not for you. On the other hand, if you’re someone who likes flexibility, and who is motivated to get the job done, then remote work is probably right up your alley.

My motivation comes from the fact that I love the work I do every day, and I love the organization that I do it for. It’s not hard to be productive when that’s the case. I’m not sure it’s possible to simply “become” motivated, I think it’s a mix of personality trait and of being lucky enough to find work you are truly passionate about.

Have a routine

Humans are creatures of habit; routines give us comfort and stability. This is why it’s a good idea to have a work-day routine that you follow consistently. It also helps make you more predictable and available to team-mates, who quickly get a sense for your rhythm and daily pace.

In my case, I make a point of waking up and starting my day at the office at the same time every morning. I have my coffee, and listen to the same news channel every day while I work. I also have a routine for the first few hours of my day; I get the small, daily tasks that need to be complete out of the way bright and early, so I can concentrate on more important tasks and projects throughout the rest of the day.

Be social

It’s quite easy to get into an anti-social routine when you’re working from home, so it’s important to take active steps to get out of the house and socialize with other human beings. Even if you’re an introvert, humans are social creatures who need to have daily interactions with other people to stay healthy and positive.

I sometimes go to the local Starbucks for an hour or two with my laptop and work from the comfy couches, and people watch as I get my work done. Alternatively, one of my girlfriends works from home one day a week, so sometimes we’ll get together, either at my place or hers, and we’ll do our work side-by-side. Even though we don’t work for the same organization, it’s just nice to have someone to share ideas and chit-chat with.

Being social doesn’t have to occur strictly during business hours. If you’re working from home and socializing less during your workweek, consider taking on more social extracurricular activities, like joining a sports team or a book club.

Get dressed

I won’t lie, it’s nice to have the option to wear your comfy sweats or your pajamas all day… but truth be told, I feel better about myself when I’m showered and nicely dressed. I also have a lot of nice, business-y clothes and can’t stand the thought of not letting most of my wardrobe see the light of day. That being said, I like to get dressed every morning before I sit down at my desk. I also feel better about myself when I want to run out for errands or hit the gym if I don’t look like I just rolled directly out of bed.

Have an office space

It doesn’t even need to be an entire room just a proper desk will do, although I must say, having an entire separate room which acts as my office is an awesome perk for me. When I step into the office I step into work-mode and I can focus on the tasks at hand.

I can’t speak for anybody else, but I feel MUCH more productive when I’m seated at my desk, in a proper desk chair, with my keyboard, mouse, and large monitor in front of me, versus when I’m slouched on my sofa with my laptop on my lap. It might just be me, but sitting at my proper desk makes a huge difference in my productivity.

Reap the benefits

There are advantages to working from home… some of these benefits may include the ability to work from just about anywhere in the world, or the option of running your errands during the day, while most people are stuck in the office and the stores are quiet. So if you work from home, take advantage of the perks! If you’re working hard and getting your job done, there’s no need to feel guilty about reaping the benefits of your work-from-home situation.

These are five of the top things I’ve learned since I’ve been working for a remote organization for a few years now. Have you ever worked remotely? Do you prefer remote work, or working in an office? Share your comments below, I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter for more tips, tricks, and e-learning advice every day!

4 Reasons You Don’t Have an E-Learning Portfolio

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I find it surprising when an e-learning developer tells me they don’t have a portfolio. In certain industries, such as web design and graphic design, you simply can’t be viewed as a legitimate business person without a portfolio; I believe e-learning is also one of those industries. When I get asked for advice on hiring a great e-learning developer, my top recommendation is always: Don’t hire someone without seeing their portfolio.

If you don’t have an e-learning portfolio, you probably have a reason. But if your reason is listed below, you should reconsider and remember that you’re working in a competitive, global market, where anyone can create a free blog or portfolio website in a few minutes.

You’re Too Busy

The “I’m too busy” excuse is the most common and most overused. You’re too busy to put time into creating something that could well hold the key to your success and potential future earnings? Your call.

Why this isn’t a good reason: Everyone has the same number of hours in the day. Bottom line is: if something is truly a priority, you will make time for it. If it’s not a priority, you won’t. Potential clients don’t care about how busy your life is; they care about hiring a candidate who can show work that is up to their standard and get the job done.

You Don’t Have Any Experience

Maybe you do have the time but you’re new to the e-learning industry and have zero real-world experience or projects.

Why this isn’t a good reason: First of all, don’t advertise this fact to potential clients. For many people “zero experience” equates to “lacking skills and credibility.”. If you don’t have any real world projects to add to your portfolio, don’t despair: create your own samples. Choose a topic that you’re a passionate about and develop a mini e-learning module. Which leads me to my next point…

You Don’t Own E-Learning Software

I’ve heard many people say the following: “I can’t create samples for a portfolio because I don’t own any e-learning authoring tools.”

Why this isn’t a good reason: Just about every authoring tool out there offers a free, fully-functional 30-day trial. Take advantage of that and use your 30-days wisely! Create a few mini 5-slide e-learning courses that showcase your skills. Another option: Powerpoint! So many people have access to this but don’t take advantage of it to create awesome e-learning; you can even hyperlink slides to create branched scenarios and create engaging samples.

You Signed an NDA

This is one I’ve heard quite a few times: “I’ve done a lot of awesome things, but I can’t share any of it because I signed a nondisclosure agreement.”

Why this isn’t a good reason: Anyone can say they’ve created great e-learning, but at the end of the day, actions speak louder than words. Of course you should never share confidential materials you’ve signed an NDA for, but there’s no harm in asking a client beforehand if you can use a sample of work, stripped of original content and identifying information, for your portfolio. This is a standard procedure in other industries, and often the request is included directly in the contract of work. If you can’t use any of the work you’ve signed an NDA for, don’t panic: you can still create your own samples!

The e-learning industry is getting more competitive by the week and potential clients want a candidate who can demonstrate their skills and abilities, instead of taking a gamble on someone with nothing to show. Don’t give potential clients or employers a reason to pass you over: create that portfolio today!

I’d love to hear your thoughts: are these legitimate reasons for not having a portfolio? Are there other reasons that I left out? Leave a comment below and let me know. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter, as well in the E-Learning Heroes community, for all the latest.

Why You Need a Professional Headshot

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As some of you may have noticed on Twitter or LinkedIn, I’ve recently updated my profile photo across all my social media sites; I finally bit the bullet and did a professional photo shoot.

I decided it was beyond time for me to do this because a) I want to portray a polished and professional image, and b) I disliked the only professional headshot I had because it was taken right after I landed from 10 hours of travel. In addition to that, I now wear my hair curly and people literally did not recognize me at events with the old photo and hairstyle. (Tip to others: have you recently made a big change in your appearance? If so, consider updating your photos.).

Long story short: I needed some new professional photos, stat. My sister recommended her co-worker photographer Misha Lytvynyuk and I was not disappointed. In fact, the hardest part was choosing just one photo! These were my top 3 contenders:

collageHere are 3 important reasons you should also consider professional headshots:

Shows You Care

Someone who devotes time and money to professional photos shows they care about their image and want to make an investment in it. That says a lot about a person and their commitment to their career.

Looks Matter

Whether we like to admit it or not, people are judged based on their profile photos. Use a photo that makes you look your very best and remember that this image represents your brand and personality to the world.

It’s What Professionals Do

Have you noticed that almost all successful people have a great-quality, professional profile photo? Put yourself amongst that crowd; a great photo make you look like a polished and organized professional.

Do you have any tips of your own about professional headshots? Any thoughts or feedback about my article? Let me know in the comments below!

Quick Tip For Organizing Your E-Learning Samples

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Every week I create new e-learning demos in my role as Community Manager for the software company Articulate. When I help out community members in the E-Learning Heroes forums I often like to share some of these demos to help illustrate a point or demonstrate a type of interaction. Some of these demos were created over a year ago, and I noticed I had a problem: I didn’t have an easy place to quickly access all of my published samples.

I do have an online portfolio, but it desperately needs updating, and typically a portfolio only contains the crème de la crème of e-learning work, not all of the short little samples and demos.  Much of the e-learning content I create isn’t exactly “portfolio-worthy”, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a valuable example that can’t be helpful for others.

I do also have a “Projects” folder where I keep all the project and published output files for my demos. But what I didn’t have is what I would a “visual repertoire” of my courses where I could easily see them all and access one by clicking on a quick link.

I recently solved this problem quite easily using a simple table in a Google Docs file. Here’s a sample of what it looks like:

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Now my e-learning demos are all organized in one neat table with titles, thumbnail image, description, and link to published output. This has saved me a lot of time of searching through folders looking for the right link. The fact that it’s a Google Doc means it’s always available to me wherever I am, as long as I have internet access. Just wanted to share this quick tip with you! Now if I could just get around to updating my portfolio…

Do you have tips of your own for keeping all of your demo files and e-learning samples organized and easily accessible? If you do, leave a comment below — I’d love to hear your tips or tricks. And since you got all the way to the end of this article, you might want to subscribe to my blog!

Making the Most of Industry Conferences: My Experience at LSCon 2014

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I’ve recently returned from attending my second major industry event, the Learning Solutions Conference (LSCon 2014) in sunny Orlando, Florida. As my regular readers know, I use my blog to chronicle my learning experiences, so I wanted to share my experience at LSCon 2014 here. Conferences and industry events can either be a big giant bore, or a great opportunity to make connections and learn new information. It’s up to you to decide which approach you want to take; I’ve taken the latter approach for both conferences I’ve attended, and they’ve both been great learning experiences for me.

Learning Solutions is an annual event that showcases new technologies for e-learning  delivery. It was an exciting and busy week; I got to participate in the conference in more ways than one. For starters, I manned (womaned?) the Articulate booth at the expo for the full two days alongside some of my awesome Articulate co-workers. I  also had the opportunity to present a 45-minute stage session (Use Articulate Storyline to Create Engaging Scenarios for E-Learning) which was very well attended. Last but not least, I was a participant in the SolutionsFest e-learning demo exhibition where I shared an e-learning project I created featuring the Articulate Weekly E-Learning Challenge. On top of that, I got to meet so many familiar faces that I’ve been chatting with through social media for years (I’m talking to you Patti Shank, Tim Slade and Mark Sheppard!). Needless to say, it was a busy and engaging event for me!

I am writing about this conference because despite the fact that industry-type events can get a reputation for being dry or boring, I really think that these types of conferences are a great life experience for young professionals like me who have so much to see and learn. There are so many new learning experiences involved in attending an event or conference: the travel, the professional development, the socializing.

Here’s a few simple tips, based on my personal experience, that work well for making the most of your next event.

Participate In The Event

The best way to get the most out of a conference is to participate in it. For LSCon 2014 I was lucky because, since I work for Articulate  (who was a sponsor of the event) I got to attend on their behalf and I got to present on the stage on their behalf. However, in the past, I’ve also submitted my own ideas for sessions and I have been accepted and presented as an individual. One of the benefits of participating in the event is the often speakers and presenters get to attend the conference for free or at a discounted rate. Some of the big events can be quite pricey, and when you factor in travel and hotel costs, being accepted as a speaker can determine whether or not some individuals attend the conference at all.

This has been the case for me in the past. In 2012, I was encouraged by one of my mentors to attend DevLearn, and I was eager to attend my first conference and find out what it was all about. My boss at the time told me I could go to the conference, but only if I was accepted as a speaker and my Registration costs were covered. So I submitted three session ideas and one of them was selected (Training Needs Analysis: Would You Like Fries With That Training?). I was SO excited when I got the e-mail. That’s how I got to attend my first ever conference, DevLearn 2012 in Las Vegas. So if you can find any way to participate, whether it’s presenting a session, sharing a case study or example, or even co-presenting with someone else, try to do it. Presenting is also a nice way to gain exposure, gain credibility and expertise, and get practice with public speaking.

Network and Meet New People

I think a lot of people make the mistake of milling around the conference alone, or sticking with their friends or co-workers, and not taking the opportunity to make new connections. Sure you might feel a bit awkward the first few times you introduce yourself to someone brand new, but others won’t think you’re weird: this is a normal part of being at a conference! Most people attending these events, in my experience, will have their business cards at the ready and will be happy to share what they do for a living and why they are attending.

If you’re a bit shy or nervous about meeting new people, here’s a good way to help break the ice: use social media to your advantage!  It’s easy to use social media to get to know people in your industry ahead of time through channels such as Twitter, the Articulate community forums, or LinkedIn. This way, when it comes time to meet some of these connections at an event, it’s less intimidating because you already feel like you know them. When I attended DevLearn, I used Twitter and the conference hash-tag to meet up with a group of other attendees who were there solo and we all went out for dinner and drinks as a group and had a great time!

Find Out What’s New

An industry conference or event is a great learning opportunity and a chance to get some insights into what the next “big thing” in your industry will be all about. Take this as a chance to identify new trends and technologies that are relevant to you and your job, and that you should know about. Be pro-active about your learning and career development; before you attend, look over the schedule and identify the sessions that you’re interested in attending.

Here’s a tip: try going to sessions that you don’t know anything about or that will teach you something brand new, instead of sticking to what’s familiar and what you’re already comfortable with. Challenge yourself!

Those are three tips I’ve learned through personal experience for making the most of business conferences, trade shows and industry events. One last thing: I really think having a positive approach and optimistic outlook is a key part of the equation. We all know about self-fulfilling prophecies. If you believe you will learn new things and make new connections, chances are, you probably will!

Do you have any tips or experiences about a conference or event you’ve attended that you’d be willing to share? If so, please leave a comment! And since you’ve made it all the way to the end of this article, perhaps you should subscribe to my blog!

Community Manager: Top 10 Duties

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I haven’t written a new post in a few months because, as some of my social media followers may know, I recently experienced an exciting career change. As you might also know, the first few months at a new job is a supremely busy, exciting, and learning-intensive time. I’m super grateful and stoked about my new gig, which is Community Manager for the cool software company Articulate. Another thing I’m grateful for are my awesome blog subscribers, so here I am, adding some fresh content for you guys!

I like to relate my blog to my real-life learning experiences, so I thought it would be fitting to write a post about what it is that a community manager (CM) does. I’ve had to explain it to a lot of people lately because when I tell someone I’m a community manager, the typical response is “What’s that?”. It’s a relatively new job title, and it’s one that can vary greatly across organizations. The one thing that is consistent across the board is that community managers tend to wear a lot of hats! I’ve decided to compile a list of general duties that are carried out by CMs:

Act as the public face of a community or organization

The community manager is often times the “public face of the company”, so it helps to be like-able, down-to-earth and friendly person. The CM should instill trust in community members and gives them insight into the organizations’ personality. The “personal touch” provided by the community manager sets a company apart and gives community members a person they can reach out to and engage with, which makes them feel special and connected.  As the face of the company, the community manager should always maintain a professional image, and respond appropriately to both praise and criticisms.

Develop and curate content for various channels

Great communities share great content, and while some of the content may be created by the members themselves, it’s often up to the CM to create high-quality content, as well as curate and organize the content created by others. Content could include social media updates, blog posts, articles, tutorials, webinars, community discussions, podcasts, videos, marketing information, newsletters, website content, and more.

Interact with the community across multiple platforms

One of the key duties of the community manager is to spend time interacting with members, both face-to-face and online. These interactions usually consist of building and strengthening relationships, promoting the community, responding and assisting to community questions and concerns, finding and engaging new community members and keeping current community members interested and satisfied.

Monitor the internet for conversations about the community

The community manager monitors the web for comments or discussions related to their community and responds to inquiries and comments, attempting to create a positive experience and add value to the user experience. In some cases, the CM can re-direct complaints or messages to the appropriate departments for follow-up. By participating in conversations related to their community, community managers can build brand visibility and develop a positive reputation as an expert within their industry.

Respond and assist with questions and inquiries

The community manager will address and resolve any issues related to the features and functionality of the community. Furthermore, the CM is often responsible for customer support – answering questions however they come in (email, social media, telephone) and managing any online feedback forums.

Develop communications and marketing strategies

The community manager may be responsible for creating strategic marketing and communications plans to provide direction for the company’s public-facing communications. To that end, a community manager should have an understanding of what’s possible using various technology platforms and should be able to to educate and integrate these technologies to improve the business and the user experience. Additionally, a community manager works to identify the tools and activities that are most appropriate for communicating key messages to the community.

Analyze and report on social media metrics

The community manager monitors the health of the community by compiling and analyzing metrics about growth and engagement levels. CMs analyze numbers (Is the total number of community members going up? Are the number of social media followers increasing?), but they also do some more subjective analysis (Are the community discussions of high quality? Are the newcomers becoming contributors?)  The community manager analyzes these stats to identify trends and exploit opportunities, and finds ways to improve on those metrics through testing and new initiatives.

Plan and attend events on behalf of the organization

One of the roles of the community manager is to attend industry events, conferences, and networking opportunities in various cities. At these events, the community manager’s role is to represent their organization in a professional and personable fashion. The CM may also be tasked with planning meetups, workshops or user groups for members of the community, in order to strengthen interpersonal relationships and get members together.

Engage new customers and community members

One of the signs of a healthy community is to have a lot of “community champions”, in other words, a lot of highly engaged members. The community manager should identify, empower and train potential champions. The CM should reach out to these champions and thank them for their contribution, and should subtly encourage them to take other steps to contribute even more the community. In addition to working with community champions, the CM should identify and target potential new members.

Network and build strong relationships

Whether attending community events or monitoring online conversations, one of the ongoing roles of the CM is to continuously network, in order to build strong relationships that could potentially be of benefit to the community. The CM identifies and develops relationships with key organizations or individuals that fall within the company’s areas of focus and they work to cultivate relationships that impact the organizations’ missions, and develop partnerships that are meaningful and increase community awareness.

There you have it! Those are ten tasks that are commonly carried out by community managers. It’s important to remember that this list varies greatly from one company to the next, depending on the size of the organization and community. If you look at this list and think you have most of these skills or love all of these things, perhaps a job in community management should be in your future!

Evolution of an eLearning Designer: How Social Media Advanced My Career

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I’ve started off 2012 on a great foot: at a new job at Langevin Learning Services. I can’t believe how much my career has evolved over the last few years, and how much I’m learning every day. The more I’ve thought about how it came to be that I landed my current gig at Langevin, the more I realize how much social media has played a key role in making it happen. In all probability, it never would have happened without social media.

We’ve all read the news articles about how social media is being used for recruitment, and about how employers are moving away from traditional resumes and focusing on a candidates’ online personality and contributions. My story is a perfect illustration of how developing an online identity can really get your name out there, help you gain great exposure and maybe even land you a job! I’ve decided to write a blog post about how I developed my personal social media identity, and how that helped me land my current gig. Here are the top three factors:

Growing my LinkedIn network

One of the earliest and most important aspects of my “social media identity” is my LinkedIn profile. Several years ago, on the direction of a former boss, I signed up for a LinkedIn account and took the time to completely fill it out. This was when I was at my first job, fresh out of university. I remember thinking how bare my job experience looked and what few connections I had.

Over the years, this has definitely changed. I think that’s because I’ve taken the time to craft (what I hope is) a thorough resume that has a personal touch, but still represents all my relevant work experiences and skills. I keep it as current as possible. I post original, business related status updates from time to time. I really make an effort to have a LinkedIn profile that looks “neat” and visually attractive. I’ve expanded my LinkedIn network over the years through meeting new people as well as by connecting with other instructional design and eLearning professionals through LinkedIn groups and through my Twitter account.

Speaking of Twitter…

Getting on Twitter and expanding my  following

The reason I ended up on Twitter is kind of a fluke; I was working at my second job, a small high-tech company, and we were at a round-table meeting discussing social media. One of the project managers mentioned she needed someone to start Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts for the company. She looked around the table for volunteers. I was the only one who knew what Twitter was. Kidding, but really I was the only one at the table with an actual Twitter account (although at this point I wasn’t really using my Twitter account; I had mostly just signed up out of curiosity to check it out and I didn’t “get it” right away). Anyhow, I jumped all over the chance to be “social media coordinator”. Luckily for me, everyone else was really busy with their projects and/or not that interested in social media, so I didn’t have any competition for this awesome role! I was thinking “I can actually be paid to be on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn at work? SWEET!” (or something along those lines).

All joking aside, I took on my new social media role pretty seriously and learned many tricks of the trade (it sounds  so cliché, but it’s true!). Eventually, with a lot of new knowledge about social media under my belt, I really expanded my own personal/professional Twitter profile and network. I broke through the 1000 follower barrier recently, which was a great milestone for me.

Finally, one of the most important things I have done with regards to my social media identity has been…

Starting my blog

Writing this blog has been really fun for me, but more importantly, a great learning experience. When I first thought of starting an eLearning or instructional design-related blog, I wasn’t sure if I should. “Do I really know enough to write about this stuff?” is what I originally thought. I’ve always really enjoyed reading and writing, but there are so many well-written and informative blogs out there. I wasn’t sure I’d have the pizzazz required to make a blog stand out amongst thousands. Also, I had heard of WordPress but for some reason it sounded like some intense, difficult to learn application. (Haha! Crazy, I know. I figured out the interface in about an hour, maybe less!)

Eventually I decided I was just going to do it! I needed an outlet for my writing and to share my graphics and artwork. I decided that I don’t have to write authoritative white papers on eLearning and instructional design, or anything like that. Instead, my blog has a casual tone to it and I write about my own personal learning experiences relating to eLearning, social media, graphic design and more. I write about discoveries I’ve made and new things I’ve learned as I follow this intriguing career path. I’m usually inspired to write blog posts after I encounter a problem or a question while I’m working.

How did all of these things help me land my job at Langevin?

Last fall I started following an instructional designer at Langevin Learning Services, Karen, on Twitter and LinkedIn, and she followed me back. Eventually, she subscribed to my blog, which I was pretty stoked about. She had been following my blog for a month or two when I wrote a review of a Langevin Learning Services workshop I took a few years ago. (Instructional Design for New Designers is the workshop, and you can read the review here). The reason I wrote the review was that I actually thought the workshop was terrific.  Ever since I took it I’ve been raving to my instructional designer friends how good the workshop was, how much I learned, etc. One night, I needed a topic for my blog and I realized that I should write a review of the workshop I had attended. So I wrote the review and hit publish! I made sure to send the link to Karen on Twitter, since it was good PR for them! I wasn’t expecting anything more to come from it.

A few weeks later, I got a direct message from Karen asking me if I would be interested in doing the pre-screening/interviewing for an Instructional Design position at the company. She had scoped me out on Twitter and LinkedIn, and she knew I had some writing skills and interest in learning new things, thanks to my blog. Of course, the review I had written and the fact I had taken one of their workshops played well in my favour.  I jumped at the opportunity to work somewhere that I knew would challenge me and stretch me to my full potential. Fast forward a few months, I got the job! Now I’ve been settled in for a few months and I couldn’t be happier.

That is my tale of how social media helped me land my current job. My story goes to show how important a personal social media identity or “brand” is in 2012. Personally, I enjoy Twitter, LinkedIn and writing my blog so much that it doesn’t ever feel like a drag, or like extra work. This is how I know that I’m in the right field!