Tricked by Time Zones

You’re not the only one to have been tricked by time zones. We receive multiple calls everyday from people who have either been told the wrong time, or were confused themselves.

It’s understandable, considering that there are nine time zones that span the United States and its territories. They include: Eastern, Central, Mountain, Pacific, Alaska, Hawaii-Aleutian, Samoa, Wake Island, and Guam. Of course, you don’t need to worry about all of them.
Featured in this picture are the most popular time zones. Click on the image to enlarge and then print a copy for future reference. Each color grid represents an hour. Notice that Arizona (AZ) and Indianapolis (IN) alternate time zones depending on the time of year.

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Time Zone

If you don’t think you need a time zone chart to reference, here is a test:

If you made a call on the fourth of July from Arizon at 2:00PM, what time would it be in New York?

Did you need to reference the above chart to find out the answer? If so, you should print this up for future reference! The answer is 5:00 PM New York (EST)

So the next time you’re planning a multi time zone conference call, send an email reminder. And if you host weekly meetings, be sure to plan them on the same day at the same time to prevent confusion.

“Homeshoring” - Home is the new office

There are numerous reasons to start building an at-home workforce.

First, consider the cost of an employee:

  1. Recruiting expenses
  2. Salary
  3. Benefits
  4. Taxes
  5. Office Space
  6. Equipment

You can see how these costs can add up. In times past, companies have traditionally out-sourced jobs to call centers overseas… this was called “offshoring.” But, after companies like DELL and other companies started receiving complaints, then they deciding to bring the call centers home. These companies discovered that it wasn’t just about saving costs, but savings customers.

Homeshoring is the next best thing to overseas call centers. It allows an employer to offer a lower wage in exchange for the privilege of working from home. This also allows very competent and employable people (such as stay-at-home moms or people with physical disabilities) to gain employment.

Rising gas prices are helping to convince employees to work from home whenever possible. In addition, many companies have discovered that you can’t always rely on the day-to-day commute, as seen with California commuters. Working from home has become a huge incentive for prospective employees and an attractive option for employers.

The biggest concern with at-home employees is accountability. How does an employer know if they are actually working? New technology has been developed to provide a similar level of accountability at home, as a person would receive at the office. For example, companies like oDesk, an at-home HR staffing agency, have developed software that takes random screen shots of what people are working on every 10 minutes. In addition, they provide a live Web cam that lets an employer physically see whether a person is sitting at their desk. An employer can also see a log that tracks keystrokes, mouse clicks, and phone calls.

And lastly, another advantage to working from home is that you get a lot more done with fewer distractions around.

To summarize:

  1. Lower Employee Cost
  2. Large Pool of Prospective Employees
  3. Work-at-home Perk – stay competitive and keep employees happy.
  4. Eliminate Commuting – be prepared in-case of commuting crisis
  5. Be more productive – no office distractions

We use Accu800 and our PBX when we need to work from home to provide a seamless experience for our customers.  

Waistline vs Bottom-line

As a business owner or manager, you’ve got to take care of your most important assets – the employees! The healthier your employees are, the better they will perform.

Here are the benefits of having fit and healthy employees:

  1. Minimal sick days - Which means they’ll spend more time at the office getting things done. This will also lower your health care expenditures.
  2. More Energy - Which will help them stay focused and accomplish more. They’ll feel better about themselves and the work they’ve done.
  3. Confidence – People who stay fit tend to feel good about themselves, because they’re accomplishing their goals and living a balanced lifestyle. This feeling carries over into their work because people want to gain control and confidence in all aspects of their life.
  4. Motivated Workplace – Confidence is contagious. People who succeed with their work and health goals tend to inspire those around them to do the same.
  5. Success – People who can accomplish rigorous fitness goals are likely to establish and meet their goals in the workplace.
  6. Good attitude – People who are healthy tend to “feel good” both mentally and physically. They’ll bring this positive attitude to the workplace.
  7. Reduced Stress – Regular exercise can reduce physical tension and emotional stress.

So if you’ve got the time/resources, go to your local gym and negotiate a discount rate for your employees. You don’t have to buy them a monthly membership, just do some research and find competitive offers. And if you already offer snacks at the office, make sure you provide healthy alternatives to the ever-popular soda and chips.

Keep your employees fit, and improve the bottom line.

Every Business is a Partnership

When a company chooses another company as a vendor for services, it’s more than just a customer-provider relationship. It’s a partnership. Both entities depend on each other, and companies that don’t treat every customer as a partner are not getting (or giving) the full benefit out of the relationship.

Every decision about who to use for outsourced services is weighed carefully. Should a company bring a service in house? Should it be outsourced to a local vendor, a smaller national company, or one of the big companies? These decisions require time to consider and planning – one decision can lead to other decisions, which can lead to other dependencies.

Now, when a “provider” company fails to treat their consumers as a partnership, the process begins to break down. Changes get made to services that come out of the blue. These changes have ramifications to the “customer” company that can range from some time lost finding a new provider to a mandatory complete rework of how business is done.

In the telecom world, things move slower than the rest of business. Most of the time, it can take weeks, even months to add, change, or cancel services. Anyone who has ever tried to move (either for personal or business service) quickly has found that the phone companies can have delays that can leave customers without telephone service for a significant period of time. In business, communication is key, which is why a company must trust wholeheartedly in the partnership that they form with their communications provider.

This is why Accu-Rate Communications works hard every day to meet our customers’ needs. Our slogan of “customer driven technology” is something that we take to heart. Many of our features originated as suggestions from our customers. We work every day to foster partnerships with our customers and strive to constantly think of ways to improve upon our relationships.

Other companies in the communications field are not as interested in fostering a relationship. Late last year, Accu-Rate was informed that one of our carriers (Xspedius Communications) was bought by Time Warner Telecom. We spoke to our sales people, and to our technical contacts, who assured us that business would continue as usual with our partnership. This was a partnership that we have worked on and build over several years, and have come to a perfect symbiosis with.

Having never heard anything else, we assumed that all was well and that nothing would change. This afternoon May 17th 2007, we received a fax (not a phone call, not a face-to-face meeting, not a video conference – but a fax) from a person at Time Warner Telecom (Tom Marx – no title was listed anywhere in the fax) that stated that they were ending our relationship in 30 days unless we choose to call them and make new arrangements. I guess this is how Time Warner Telecom renegotiates contracts? I tried to call Tom Marx twice on the afternoon of the 17th and got voice mail. I waited an hour and called again. Again got nothing! When you get 30 days notice of a carrier shutting you off for NO REASON at all for some reason my blood pressure was soaring! I have thousands of customers that expect us to provide them a reliable service and I get this fax that states after over 4 years of service (very good service by the way), Never a late payment by us, that the new company who bought out Xspedius is canceling our service without reason in 30 days! What kind of Customer Service is this? What kind of Company just shuts you off with a fax and nothing else? What kind of company lets their people send a fax and then not answer their phone to tell you why they are terminating the long standing relationship that has prospered? What kind of company does this when large accounts are hard to find? What kind of company turns off paying customers? What kind of company doesn’t even tell you why they are terminating their agreement? Can you tell I am frustrated? Can any company or household afford to do business with a company that treats a customer this way? I am asking because I am bewildered and shocked at the way Time Warner Telecom has handled this situation. As it stands we still have not heard from Tom Marx. Who is Tom Marx and what does he do at Time Warner Telecom? You can find him on the web site? He is only mentioned on the web once on a press release from 2006. Sorry again for my rambling!

In my search for Tom Marx I clicked on “Our Management Team” and read the information about Larissa L. Herda Chairman, President and CEO of Time Warner Telecom Inc. (Nasdaq:  TWTC). Very nice biography etc. My question was does she have any idea of what Tom Marx is doing? Does she approve of canceling accounts that have a nice history and payment record with the previous company they bought? Why buy companies if you are going to cancel the customers and put a very bad taste in their mouth? I don’t understand? I would like to hear what others think on this blog? This is a shout out to find out if other companies do business and succeed in business this way?

The good news for our customers is they will not see any downtime or issues with our service because we only operate at 50% of our peak capacity and have redundant systems and locations. The bad news for our customers is we will lose 30 days of development because our IT staff will be moving out of the Time Warner Telecom facility and reinstalling our equipment in another location.

Now, 30 days is not a long time in the telecom world. Most of the time, it would take longer than this to get ten new phone lines. We are talking about thousands of phone lines. Needless to say, it will be difficult, but Accu-Rate is committed to taking care of our customer-partners, and we will solve this with minimal inconveniences to our customers. Already, plans are in motion to prevent any downtime while our entire business is moved to new service providers.

Here is the text of the fax:

May 17, 2007
Re: Accu-Rate Services Agreement with Xspedius Communications
To Accu-Rate Communications, Inc.:

This letter concerns the Accu-Rate Communications Services Agreement and Addendum #1 entered into by and between Accu-Rate Communications and Xspedius Communications LLC effect ive December 1, 2003 (the “Agreement”). Time Warner Telecom Holdings Inc. is currently the sole member and owner of Xspedius Communications LLC as the result of acquisition which occurred on October 31, 2006.

This letter is to provide notice that the Agreement has expired. Please consider this letter to be thirty (30) days written notice that Xspedius/TWTC will not be providing further services under the Agreement. Furthermore, the rebate programs set forth in the Agreement are not being renewed and will terminate thirty (30) days from the date of this letter.

If Accu-Rate Communications is interested in continuing with other services from Xspedius/TWTC, we are available to discuss doing so. However, such understanding must be set forth in a mutually agreeable writing executed by both parties. Please contact me at (XXX) XXX-XXXX if you wish to discuss a possible new business arrangement. If we do not timely hear from you, we will assume that you do not have any further interest.

Tom Marx

Some things to note in this fax:

  1. Tom Marx does not have a title. We have never met nor heard of him.
  2. The fax appears to be a form letter, with “Accu-Rate Communications” filled in.
  3. The fax was sent at 4:11PM on a Thursday. Attempts to call Tom Marx were met with voice mail (several attempts were made)
  4. Our Xspedius sales person that transferred to Time Warner Telecom is out of the office until the following week.
  5. No “welcome” letter, “welcome” call, or meeting was ever set up with an official representative of Time Warner Telecom. This fax is the first communication we have received.
  6. The letter provides no room for any debate. It is a termination (similar to an eviction) letter that states that if we want to continue our “partnership” that it will be on TWTC’s terms, and we will have to accept their terms. The issue with 30 days is we don’t have time to renegotiate because if we don’t like their terms we wont have time to move our circuits. 30 days is not enough time even with our strong relationships with other carriers we are going to have to call in a ton of favors. As it stands now we only have 29 days to get out of Time Warner Telecom location. If we don’t have something renegotiated by noon on the 18th of May we will have to contact our back up carriers and order circuits with rush id’s.
  7. We are going to have issues getting new phone lines installed in our office in 30 days.
  8. I guess the lesson to be learned here is trust no company because you are only as good as what’s in the four corners of your agreement and get a 90 cancel policy instead of 30 days! Have a back up plan. We had back up plans in place for all kinds of disasters but never thought a company we had history with would just wake up one day and send a fax saying we don’t want your business anymore!

Accu-Rate not only pledges never to do business with our customers like this but would never even think about leaving a customer hanging. We will rely on the backup options we have put into place and transplant our entire operation to alternate carriers. If all goes as planned, our customers will not have to experience any outage, and will not have to worry about the partnership that we have worked to build over the last 20 years. Take this Time Warner Telecom as a cautionary tale – know your partners. Someday I would like to know how Time Warner Telecom thought sending a cancel notice via fax would help you grow their business?

Trust is a hard thing to earn and easy to lose!

I am sad because XMC had some great folks in the sales team, support team, and in the COLO. XMC had folks that cared about the customers and the growth of the business. We don’t even have time to wait until our sales folks get back from vacation to go over what this fax is about and why we got it. We have to be decisive and start our move by Noon CST on the 18th of May 2007. Hopefully we will find out who Tom Marx is and why he sent this fax before noon or there is no reason to even wonder about the past if we don’t have our contract back in force as it was before, but now with a 90 day clause! I learn from my mistakes.

I guess Time Warner Telecom…. No, I am not going to guess or assume!

Coffee Talk: Work less, get more done, and feel better

Let’s face it; sometimes the office stifles creativity. I’m talking about the feeling where you’ve sat in your leather chair for too long and it starts to feel hot and your eyes start hurting from looking at the screen and the office drone is giving you a headache.

The best thing to do is leave the office. At our office, we practice this technique by getting coffee in the afternoon. It’s a valuable time that we use to discuss creative or strategic projects. It gives us a breath of fresh air which in-turn gets our thoughts flowing. Sometimes we only have 15 minutes and other times it lasts an hour. But regardless, we make a point of leaving the office.

You should do this too. And if you don’t have the time for coffee, then leave the office during lunch. Don’t think about eating at your desk or skipping lunch… make a point of getting out and smelling the roses. If you’ve go 15 minutes, take your MP3 player and go for a walk around your building.

If you do this, you’ll work less, get more done, and feel physically (and mentally) healthier.

50 Helpful GTD Resources

We're all on a quest to achieve maximum productivity, right? Whether it's mastering the to-do list, organizing email and calendar items, or improving project management – this list has something for everyone.  

For those of you who don't know, GTD is shorthand for "Getting Things Done." It's a popular work-life management system developed by David Allen.
Kim at Optimized Life has created a list of different tools, using the GTD methodology, which will help you get organized.

For those who rely on a daily to-do list, here are some suggestions:
TaDa Lists - Ta-da makes it easy to create lists for every occasion.
ToDoist - Here's a simple todo list and task manager that
is super easy to use. ToDoist is a bit more powerful and
allows integration with Gmail.
MyTodos is a free online todo list that will allow you to organize your
life in just a few minutes a day.
Toodledo is another web-based to-do list that is easy to use. You can use this simple tool to help you get organized,
stay motivated, and increase your productivity.

Who invented the eight-hour workday?

For some of you, the workday doesn’t seem long enough to get everything done. For others, you can hardly wait for the day to end. So who is to “blame” for the eight-hour workday, and how did it come into existence?

Here is a summary of what I found on Wikipedia:

  1. Industrial Revolution caused 10-16 hour workdays.
  2. In 1817 a social reformer named Robert Owen developed the eight-hour day saying “Eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.” (8+8+8)
  3. On May 1st, 1886, in what is regarded as the first-ever May Day Parade, 80,000 people walked down Michigan Avenue in Chicago. This caused 1,200 factories across the country (350,000 workers) to go on strike.
  4. The American Federation of Labor declared May 1, 1890 as the start-date for the eight-hour workday. 
  5. On January 5th, 1914, the Ford Motor Company doubled pay and cut shifts to eight hours a day. Given Ford’s success, other companies followed suit.
  6. The Adamson Act was passed in 1916 to establish an eight-hour workday and overtime pay (for railroad workers).
  7. In 1938 the Fair Labor Standards Act made the eight-hour day standard across the country as part of President F.D.R’s New Deal program. 

The(8+8+8) sounds good, but in my opinion it isn’t accurate. It doesn’t factor in the time we spend getting ready in the morning, commuting to work, working-out, and making dinner. Most of us only have 5-6 hours “free” if we’re lucky.

My solution would be to switch to a 28 hour day. This would still provide 168 hours in the week, but the week would only be six days long. This would allow more time to work, play and sleep and would eliminate an entire day of commuting.  We could get rid of Monday, because nobody likes that day anyway.

What would you do with an extra four extra hours a day?

Accomplish your deadlines

Here are some suggestions for when you’re creating deadlines:

  1. Create both long and short term deadlines – Long-term deadlines are good, but you also need stepping stones to measure your progress.  If you don’t break-up your tasks, you’ll be knocked over by the giant wave of things to do. Don’t leap across the river, use stepping stones.
  1. Get outside help – Have others help you create your deadlines. Research shows that people who are given a series of interim goals perform better then when they establish the interim goals themselves. It also helps to have people track along with your progress.
  1. Be honest - Sometimes deadlines are unreasonable. Look to the past as a guide of what you’re capable of doing.  And if you’ve got more work then usual, be honest with yourself. And if you end up missing a deadline then adjust accordingly for next time.

[Bonus tip]: Under promise, over deliver. Deadlines are not only for you, but others. Meeting a deadline will make you feel good, but it can also get you promoted.

Childlike Productivity

I read an article about childlike productivity that I wanted to share. It'’s from a website that provides tips on "living life with less stress and more fun."

Childlike Secrets to Productivity (Summary):

  1. Plan – Most kids know exactly what they are going to do the next day "I'’m going to build a huge fort with my lego'’s tomorrow!"
  2. Don't over-plan – You never hear a child say "I will wake up at 6:00am and play with my legos until 8:00. Then I’ll color in my coloring book until 9:30, when I'll have a snack before taking a quick ride around the block on my tricycle…"
  3. Mind your passions – Once in a while you've got to step back and ask yourself the question "why am I doing this?" Kids make sure that they spend their time doing things their passionate about.

You’re an expert, so think like one

By Andrew Clogg

I once had a basketball coach who said “This game is 10% skill and 90% mental.” Before each game he would have us close our eyes and imagine shooting, passing and scoring. He always emphasized the importance of maintaining our “game face and attitude.’

And it worked… at least, I think it did.

You’ve probably heard of the phrase “mind over matter.”  Below is my interpretation of this phrase and how it relates to conferencing:

Key Point: If you think you’re an expert, they will think so too.

When you start your presentation, speak with confidence and state the purpose of your presentation up-front. Share with your participants why you’re the person with all the answers. Remember that you’re the expert on the subject and that they are attending your conference to hear you speak. Keep this at the front of your mind and you will perform much better. And as a side note, never downplay your content. Even if you are running out of time an expert never “short changes” himself.

If you don’t think you’ve got what it takes, then check out this blog which says you can be an expert on anything. (warning… this is a parody!)