Overcome workplace communication challenges: a 2-part training series

I was thrilled to help organize a two-part training series to 1) help leaders break through communication barriers, and 2) provide communication tips for overcoming workplace conflicts.

Have you ever …

Chances are, you answered yes to at least one of these questions. We’ve all been there. Communication can be challenging, especially in the workplace, yet it plays a fundamental role in our daily lives.

A huge thank you to Julie Schaller, a longtime friend of Simplicity and cofounder of Empower Coaching, for sharing her time and knowledge with our community.

Learn how to break through communication barriers - Part 1 video training with Empower Coaching’s Julie Schaller

Get actionable strategies for overcoming the most common communication challenges. Julie Schaller uses the Myers-Briggs personality type framework to help you better understand your communication style and how your style relates to other in the workplace.

Communication tips for resolving workplace conflicts [LinkedIn Live] - Part 2 video training with Empower Coaching’s Julie Schaller

In this 30-minute LinkedIn Live presentation, Julie shares pro tips for overcoming communication conflicts in the workplace. This training will help you:


Why it matters

The art of communicating effectively at work is a barrier for many professionals, especially in this increasingly digital era. It can cost you the promotion of your dreams, a life-changing deal, or career advancement.

For some, good communication comes naturally, but for others, it can be challenging to articulate their thoughts and feelings in conversation, often leading to conflicts and fundamental mistakes. Whether you are an effective communicator or not, it is essential to understand the importance of effective communication and how it can help you progress in the world of work. This is especially true for professionals in marketing and business management where effective comms ensure that teams work together and are in line with the company's objectives, giving others a sense of belonging and resulting in increased performance, constant innovation, and brand advocacy.


Staying connected while staying apart

One of my favorite coronavirus Tweets so far reminds us to be gentle with ourselves in these far-from-ordinary times:

It can be incredibly difficult to concentrate right now—I’m writing this while dismissing news alerts, with a kindergartener doing math worksheets to my left and a 2YO playing with imaginary suitcases at my feet—let alone stay connected.

Now that we’re fully remote, our team has a new ritual: Friday video all-hands to connect, share, and end the week on a positive note. In our first of these v-chats, we each shared our suggestions for staying connected … while staying apart.

We hope that these tips—ranging from tech hacks to self-care reminders—help you weather this storm with your spirit intact.


Tech hacks & tips

Video meeting hack: Blur your background

If your home office also doubles as a bedroom or you don’t want to share your messy workspace with clients and teammates, there’s hope! Blur your background (or upload to virtual background) in your video conferencing tool of choice.

We use Microsoft Teams for most internal and external video calls, so here’s a quick look at how to blur your background in Teams during a meeting: Select More options … / Blur my background.

Here’s more detail on how to blur your background in Microsoft Teams and Zoom.

from Sheryne Cadicamo, Client Success Manager

Use your company’s collaboration tools—for work and fun

Turn to technology to replicate in-office conversation, whether it’s collaborating on a project or comparing Netflix binge notes.

Here are some ways we think about using Teams:

  • Create channels for each business function (Marketing, Sales, Operations, Talent, etc) and discuss & share within the relevant channel. For example, notify the broader team in the Marketing channel when a new blog post is published, or hash out process details in the Operations channel. And don’t just keep it to work! We also have non-business channels for very important topics like Puppies & Kittens & Kids, Good Vibes (Only!), and Just for Fun, so we don’t miss out on socializing.
  • @ your audience. Tag the people who need to see and/or respond to your post. You can @ individuals or the entire channel based on your need and its priority.
  • Set shared expectations. We’ve all found that we feel the need to reply IMMEDIATELY when someone pings us. Don’t. Set a shared understanding of expectations, including things like how to flag time-sensitive/high-priority messages, if/when to update your status, desired turnaround time/SLAs for specific tasks, and when to @ the entire channel vs individuals.
  • Thread your replies. If you’re not getting notified when people reply to your messages, it could be because they’re not replying directly to it. Be sure to hit the Reply button to thread your response, rather than starting a new conversation.

  • Add a profile photo! It’s nice to see smiling faces, even if they’re only 2D. A picture is much friendlier than the tool’s default initials.

From Stephanie Chacharon, Content Marketing Director

Virtual show & tell

We’ve all enjoyed getting these virtual glimpses into our team’s lives—messy-faced toddlers and barking dogs included. Facilitate a virtual show & tell session—whether there’s a rotating host for your weekly team meeting or a dedicated channel for people to share pieces of their world, based on their personal comfort levels.

And just like we used to do in AIM (throwback!), set your status. (Teams and Slack both have this option.) Beyond the automatic calendar-sync status changes, you can let teammates know that you’re heads down on a project or taking Frankie the Pup out for a quick walk.

From Madeline Obernesser, Business Operations Manager

Embrace video & screensharing

As the newest member of Team Simplicity, Brianna’s onboarding was abruptly shifted online once the coronavirus hit the Seattle area. She’s appreciated the use of screensharing within Teams to continue training with her team.

And ditch your webcam fear! I used to cringe at the thought of turning on my camera during a meeting, but now I rely on it all day to long to connect with the team. It’s a great way to feel connected and read the room, plus it holds participants more accountable to stay focused.

From Brianna Mueller, Business Operations Coordinator



Work & team vibes

Create a positive, dedicated workspace

We can’t all have the home office of our dreams, but we do have control over how our workspace makes us feel. It can be as practical as a comfortable chair or as simple as a jar of fresh flowers, but find ways to make your workspace feel positive and energizing. And please, don’t work from bed. Try to contain your work to a part of your living space where you can unplug from at the end of the work day.

From Joan Yamamoto, Financial Analyst

Stick to your work hours

Work creep is a thing, especially when you’re working from home. 22% of remote workers say it’s their top challenge! In the absence of the physical cues of entering and leaving the office, don’t fall into the trap of never turning work off. Set a start and end time to your workday—and stick to it.

If you struggle with focus, try breaking your day into 30-minute chunks.

From Erica Bueno, Digital Marketing Specialist

Finish today with tomorrow's start

End each day by closing your computer and making a list of all your outstanding to-dos and lingering thoughts. Getting them out of your head and onto paper will help you turn off your work brain, and it will give you a great start for tomorrow’s workday.

From Amanda Swahn, Talent Manager


Self-care reminders

Grab your walking shoes (and eat those veggies!)

Move! We underestimate how much walking we actually do on an average day—going up and down the stairs, across the street for coffee, around the corner for lunch, back and forth to the kitchen for water breaks, and so on … At home, it’s not unusual to look up from your screen and realize you’ve been chair-bound for the last few hours. So be intentional about moving.

Slot walk breaks into your daily schedule. Even five minutes of aerobic exercise can have anti-anxiety effects. Turn your 1:1s into walking meetings—and encourage your teammate(s) to walk on their end, too! Use the time you would have spent driving to lunch to fit in a quick jog, workout, or neighborhood walk.

And it’s SO easy to snack the day away at home, so try to stock up on fruits, veggies, and other healthy snacks, so you can easily reach for something other than Double Stuff Oreo's and chips.

From Carrie Morris, VP, Client Services

Share positive news

The current news cycle is incredibly overwhelming. Avoid spinning into negativity and anxiety by sharing positive news and keeping a positive outlook.

We’re using our new Teams channels—Good Vibes (Only!) and Puppies & Kittens & Kids & Stuff—to share lighthearted memes, cute cat videos and pet chicken (yes, chicken) pictures, heartwarming news stories, and assorted other things from the non-dark side of the internet.

From Cheryl Kolodzaike, Finance Director

Take breaks (no, seriously!)

Recharge between meetings by taking short breaks. Stand up, stretch, walk around, grab a drink of water. You’ll return to your work re-energized … and ready for yet another video call.

From Markelle Linstedt, Talent Manager

Stay firm on healthy boundaries

We’ll say it again: Maintaining healthy work boundaries while working remotely takes discipline! Just because you’re now technically always “at work” doesn’t mean you always need to be on. Take breaks and step away from your virtual office and into your home. That means shutting your computer and placing it out of eyesight at the end of the day and not replying to emails at all hours of the night just because you can or feel like you should.

Set boundaries and stick to them.

From Jennie Woolridge, HR & Finance Specialist

Choose opportunity, not fear

I loved this line from Lisa’s latest letter to the team:

"In a world where so much feels out of our control, I find comfort in reminding myself that it’s up to me to choose fear or opportunity. Fear is a downward spiral that leads to stress, anger, and resentment with no solution. Opportunity opens our minds to creativity, possibility, and innovation."

Let’s choose opportunity—and help others in our community find it, too.

From Lisa Hufford, Founder & CEO

Last, but not least, this is a difficult time, so reach out if you’re struggling. Ping a coworker, text a friend, talk to your boss, or whatever you need to find connection and support. You’re not alone. We’re all in this together.


Check out our remote work real-talk

Want more support? Check out our on-demand remote work webinar with our founder and CEO, Lisa Hufford, and remote work experts Monica McNeil, Mary Cronkhite-Johns, Maura Donaghey, and Hai Duong, for a real talk on how to thrive in the new world of work.

FFA x Simplicity: Sponsorship in action

2019 was transformational for the Female Founders Alliance (FFA).

The organization tripled its membership, launched its programming on a national scale, inked a deal with WeWork, honored an incredible group of women and allies at the Champion Awards gala, and successfully completed its second Ready, Set, Raise Accelerator cohort—which collectively raised $2.7M and counting.

We’ve been proud to sponsor FFA as it works tirelessly to support female and non-binary founders of venture-scale companies. To show our support, we funded a marketing resource—the talented and values-driven Sara LeHoullier—for 2019 to help FFA expand its reach. As the year rapidly winds to a close, let’s take a look back at all the organization accomplished in 12 short months.

#ActionLeaders

But first, what does FFA want you to know about FFA?

“We are #ActionLeaders laser-focused on accelerating the growth of venture-backed companies founded by women and non-binary individuals,” says Divya Kakkad, FFA's Director of Marketing.

“FFA is more than just a group you join to say you're in it. It's a real, action-oriented community of women and non-binary founders.”


Sara LeHoullier, FFA marketing manager, via Simplicity Consulting

And beyond that, membership isn’t just something to pad your LinkedIn profile.

“FFA is more than just a group you join to say you're in it,” says Sara LeHoullier, a Simplicity consultant who’s supporting FFA’s marketing efforts as part of our sponsorship. “It's a real, action-oriented community of women and non-binary founders … and they're so open to talking, helping, connecting with each other—it’s clear that this isn't a zero-sum game.”

And for Sara, that’s exactly why she loves this work.

“Some people are able to separate their work and their personal life completely. I have never been able to do that … I want my work to reflect my values as a human being,” says Sara. “With Simplicity, I've always been able to be myself—and with FFA, I’ve felt the same. We all have different communication styles and personalities, but instead of feeling like I had to conform, I felt like I could bring something a little different to the table. And I believe in the mission of FFA so strongly that it was a natural fit for me.”

“We are #ActionLeaders laser-focused on accelerating the growth of venture-backed companies founded by women and non-binary individuals.”


Divya Kakkad, FFA, Director of Marketing

Expanded Access on a national stage

“We really grew into a national organization,” says Samantha Agee, FFA’s Vice President of Business Alliances. That growth to new markets enabled the organization to meaningfully connect with founders across the country.

The organization received press from Forbes and Fast Company to Cheddar and Tech Crunch, the latter of which dubbed FFA’s accelerator the “Y Combinator for female founders.”

And FFA’s Access Tour, which exists to foster meaningful connections to help female founders move their businesses forward, travelled from Seattle to Portland, LA, and New York. The tour combined panels, AMAs, and 1:1 meetings with an impressive lineup of investors, leaders, and coaches like the Riveter’s Amy Nelson, Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan, Dreambox Learning’s Jessie Woolley Wilson, and HBS professor and WeWork board member Frances X. Frei, to name a few.

“FFA couldn't exist without the support of our partners, so we couldn't have hit any of our milestones without support from our partners, including Simplicity.”


Samantha Agee, FFA, VP of Business Alliances

Ready, Set, Raise! No, really

One of the most tangible effects of FFA’s work is its Ready, Set, Raise (RSR) accelerator program.

The second RSR cohort represented a diverse range of industries, as summarized by TechCrunch:

Collectively, the cohort’s 8 founders raised nearly $3M as a result of the 6-week accelerator program, says Divya.

“FFA couldn't exist without the support of our partners, so we couldn't have hit any of our milestones without support from our partners, including Simplicity,” says Samantha. “The accelerator is the easiest place to point to: Two of our companies have closed their rounds.”

One of those companies is Give InKind, a smarter giving platform founded by Laura Malcolm of Tacoma, WA. The startup tripled its pre-seed round goal, bringing in $1.5M from Seattle investors.

Pay it forward

It’s FFA’s ambitious goals and meaningful results that attracted us to the organization in the first place.

“I’m committed to FFA’s success because its mission is SO vital: enabling female founders to make their mark and literally change the world,” said Lisa Hufford, Simplicity founder & CEO, in an earlier post detailing why she committed to funding a marketing resource for FFA in 2019.

And for Lisa, supporting FFA is about paying it forward: “As we find success in our careers and learn from the inevitable failures along the way, it’s the responsibility of us all to pay it forward, again and again. Take the meeting. Lend a hand. Teach a lesson. Share your expertise. Those little actions add up to big change in our community.”

Simplicity’s support—funding Sara as a marketing resource for 2019—was critical to FFA’s growth.

“Her passion for women-founded companies and the community at large was apparent in her work,” says Divya. “She helped us move the needle on key metrics like growing our community, newsletter, and social following.”

FFA’s founder and CEO, Leslie Feinzieg, sees Simplicity’s support as the embodiment of a key theme of her message.

"I talk a lot about the importance of sponsorship over mentorship, and Simplicity's support for FFA is exactly what this should look like,” says Leslie. “2019 was only our second year in existence, but it was also a transformational year, one in which we went from a regional community with a single employee using trial and failure to figure out what works, to a national community with proven success stories and a six person team. We could not have done that without Simplicity and without Sara.”

FFA in 2020

The team is energized by the growth they’ve experienced in 2019—and what’s on tap for 2020.

“It’s been amazing to see how the entire community, including Simplicity and investors and all our partners, have come together in that united mission to move these companies forward,” says Samantha.

In the new year, the organization plans to continue its growth into new markets like Boston, San Francisco, and Atlanta, with a goal of being in each major VC hub.

Ultimately, FFA wants to be the biggest community of female and non-binary founders. If this year is any indication, the organization is well on its way.