Tips for Using Skype for Meetings or Interviews

This week, my blog post about Relationship Dramas can be seen over at Coaching Confidence (click here)

So, instead this guest post was provided by Erin Palmer – a writer and editor with Bisk Education. Erin works with the online programs for prestigious universities such as Villanova University. Erin can be reached on Twitter @Erin_E_Palmer.


With much of the public sector facing spending cuts, alternatives need to be explored to remain productive and efficient while staying under the bottom line. Once such tool, video conferencing, is changing the way we do business by reducing travel and training-related expenses. Instead of dealing with mileage reimbursement and hotel bills, video conferencing helps to efficiently use time and energy within a lower budget.

One of the most popular video conferencing services being used is Skype. The software application provides a lot of services including free phone calls to landlines, but its video conferencing feature has grown in popularity. As is with any new endeavor, there are some tips to follow that will make your first (or next) meeting run a little smoother.

Make your environment distraction-free

With so many gadgets and devices floating around your workspace, something is bound to make a noise, light up or pull your attention away from the meeting. Remember that the other individuals participating in the meeting can see you. Remove clutter from your desk, make sure unnecessary electronics are turned off and keep people from coming into the office while conferencing. Be respectful of other’s time.

Dress appropriately

Don’t forget to look professional. Just because you’re not meeting in person doesn’t mean you aren’t making an impression. Dress as if you were actually going into a face-to-face meeting and make sure to do a spot check before you go live. Having a ketchup stain on your shirt or being dressed in pajamas is not appropriate.

Choose the right meeting time

Give careful consideration to the time you schedule the meeting. Too early or too late in the day both have their downfalls (both lend to less interaction from the group as they wake up or are winding down). If you’re working across different time zones, remember to account for the time difference and try to accommodate everyone.

Create specific parameters for the meeting duration

Letting everyone know how long a meeting is going to last will help keep everyone focused and moving forward on the meeting objectives. Be clear on a start time and sign in early, especially if you are running the show. It’s okay if the meeting runs a little long, but don’t keep everyone on if you’re only having a discussion with one individual.

Prepare materials and add contacts beforehand

Being organized before the meeting is very important. Have key statistics or data nearby that you can reference when needed. It is a waste of everyone’s time if you are trying to search for an important number or file while everyone is waiting on you. Moreover, sending an outline or other specific data to attendees beforehand will help to keep the meeting on point. This allows the other participates to generate questions beforehand and makes it easier to get lively participation.

Equally important is getting contact information, ideally before the meeting starts. Include alternative phone numbers should there be a problem with Skype or the connection. Being able to quickly reach other participants in the event of a problem will help salvage meetings and relationships.

Make sure that your speakers/microphones are in working order

It is vital to make sure everything you need for the video conference is working before it starts. Test everything with someone at the office so you know everything sounds and looks good. If you’ll be video conferencing on a regular basis, consider upgrading your microphone, getting a better camera, or buying a headset.

Listen intently

Remember that you’re on camera, so you should be paying close attention and listening to everything happening in the meeting. Be aware of your facial expressions and always be engaged. You’re on camera, so some physical cues like nodding and smiling will let the others know that you’re listening.

Skype and other video conferencing programs can really help the public sector cut down on costs without sacrificing productivity. Using proper meeting etiquette will help make video conferences just as effective and successful as in-house meetings.

These interview tips were provided by Villanova University’s online HR programs. Villanova offers human resources courses in addition to a Master’s Degree in Human Resources that is available 100% online. For more information please visit


A Tale About An Unemployed 17 Year Old

Let’s call her Emily.

8 months ago she was successful in being offered a place on an Apprenticeship scheme in an HR department in an NHS Trust.

Emily had a bright outlook on life and took a positive approach to her work. She quickly learnt the role and worked well with her team members. Everybody liked her and she was doing a great job.

In 4 months time, when her apprenticeship ended, the Trust was going to offer her a job in their HR team. In 4 months time she would have some vocational qualifications under her belt.

But Emily decided she didn’t want to work in HR. She wanted to be a Maternity Healthcare Support Worker (MHSW).

So her boss – the HR manager – arranged for her to shadow a Maternity Healthcare worker (MHSW) for a week, instead of coming to work in the HR Department.

The idea was that when a job came up in the next couple of weeks for a MHSW, Emily would be in a great position to be successful in obtaining that role.

On the first day of her shadowing she didn’t turn up. She’d changed her mind over the weekend and didn’t want to be a MHSW.

In fact, she had decided she didn’t want to be an Apprentice at all anymore.

So, her boss – the HR manager – called her to a meeting. She even asked Emily to bring her mum.

They sat and talked about Emily leaving the Apprenticeship Scheme. Emily liked her work, liked the team, but she would not change her mind. She didn’t want to work in HR, she didn’t want to be a MHSW…..and she didn’t know what she wanted to do. All she knew that she did not want to continue on the Apprenticeship scheme. She wasn’t bothered about getting the qualifications. She wasn’t bothered about the almost guaranteed job at the end of it all. In four months time.

Her boss called the Education Provider, who also called a meeting with Emily. But they were unable to change her mind.

So now, Emily is at home. Unemployed. And a statistic.



A post about why I get out of bed every day

A few weeks ago my husband and I had dinner at my father-in-laws.    During the evening, the conversation turned to a discussion about the fact that when you’re retired you wake up every day and you can decided exactly what you do or don’t want to do.  But the main point was that when you’re retired you don’t HAVE to go to work.

To give you some background, my father-in-law dedicated his life to academia.  He invested in his pension scheme and a few years ago retired at the age of 60.  To say he is enjoying his retirement is an understatement.  He bought a boat, stripped it down and built it back up again.  In the summer, when he isn’t holidaying in Greece for a month, he goes sailing.  In winter, he works on the boat.  He regularly hosts and enjoys cooking fabulous food for his friends.  Needless to say, my father-in-law and his wife have a great social life.

But my argument round that dinner table was that I believed that when I wake up every morning, I am doing exactly what I want to do now.  I’ve worked hard to build my career and now I work as a freelance consultant.  This means that not only do I get to choose what projects I get to work on, I also get to choose how and when I want to take time off work to pursue other activities (like spending the summer in Spain with my kids).

Presently I’m working on 5 projects.  Each one is very different to the next and are interesting and challenging.  I’m not saying that these projects aren’t without frustrations, because they are.  But for me, the frustrations and how I overcome them are part of the learning experience.

A few days later I was participating in a very difficult meeting with some  trade union officials.  I sat there and thought  “I don’t want to be here”.  And with my father-in-laws words from the previous weekend echoing in my mind, I began to think “Why am I here? I don’t need to be here, I could do something else much more enjoyable.”

I must admit I came out of that meeting with a look on my face like “a bag of spanners”.  Two hours after the trade union meeting had finished I was briefing the Director of Operations and the Director of Finance on how the meeting had gone.  I concluded my debrief with some strategic advice – both short and long term as to how they should manage the situation which turned into a very productive debate of the issue.     It was this meeting which turned what potentially was a disastrous day into a good one.

That evening I was listening to a programme on Radio 4 about planning financially for retirement when I had the sudden realisation that I had 30 years of work ahead of me.  At first I felt shock (I don’t know how I’d miscalculated it, but I previously believed I only had 2o years of work ahead of me!) But then a bubble of excitement grew from the pit of my stomach.

I consider myself to be experienced in practicising my profession and I am able to earn a good living as a freelance consultant.  I realised that 30 years would give more experience, more opportunities to learn and hone my craft, to get better at what I love doing.  I was excited about the potential of my future.  

It may be interesting in 30 years for someone to draw attention to this post and ask “Was it all that?”   But to be honest, the answer doesn’t really matter.  I’m enjoying the here and now.

Where do you stand on bullying?

I’ve been talking a lot about bullying recently. It started a few weeks ago when I participated in the weekly Twitter Talk #nhssm on the topic of cyber bullying.

Then a friend of a friend contacted me as they are being bullied at work because (she believes) she’s just agreed a flexible working arrangement so she can support her husband who is having on-going treatment for cancer.

And a BNI colleague called me as his daughter started a new job six weeks ago and is finding the workplace too “aggressive” and wants to leave.

What I found interesting in the #nhssm chat is that one participant was surprised to hear that there was bullying in the NHS.  But it is a fact – as the annual staff survey shows – that there is  bullying the NHS .  (Unfortunately) Bullying within the NHS generates a substantial income for me as I frequently undertake complex investigations into bullying and harassment.

I still remember my first investigation in 2000 – a case of a nurse bullying a patient; I’ve also seen staff-on-staff, managers-on-staff, staff-on-managers. I’ve investigated a fair share of senior Doctor grievances about being bullied.

Last week I met up with Andy for a drink and he started to tell me about recent developments at work. His boss, Darryl, has always had a strained relationship with one of the General Managers, Derren. However, he hadn’t realised how bad until he attended a meeting recently when they were both present. The atmosphere was hostile, the dislike between the two parties tangible. Andy came out of the meeting thinking “What was that about?”

The next day Andy was in an informal 1:1 meeting with one of Derren’s junior managers when he learnt the true extent of the situation. Allegedly, Derren and Darryl fell out about 8 years ago and have never sorted out their differences. Derren however has recently been saying that he believes Darryl is “absolutely useless” and is on a personal mission to drive Darryl out of the organisation. Apparently “everyone” knew about this.

Andy was in shock to hear this, but as he absorbed the information past events that he’d not fully understood now seemed to make perfect sense. For example, over the last two years Derren has actively sabotaged projects and instigated investigations into areas of HR where he felt there was any impropriety. Andy has been an innocent bystander but  has indirectly felt the impact of this behaviour.

Andy was now wondering what he should do.  Like me, he feels quite strongly about bullying & harassment.  Having seen the awful psychological damage it can do, I like to think that I stand up to bullying:  a few months ago I was in a meeting with a client and one of the participants swore a number of times.  Whilst the colourful language was used in jest, it wasn’t appropriate.  In fact, one of the other participants made a passing comment about it as we left the meeting.  I spoke to him about it a few days later when the opportunity was right.

However it’s not as easy as that in Andy’s case.  I’m not going to detail what Andy decided to do after our chat, because everyone deals with such situations differently.  But there were three key things I felt he  needed to think about:

a) his relationship with his boss,

b) his reputation within his organisation,

c) what he might say when he gets to an Employment Tribunal (when, not if).

I don’t think it’s always clear exactly what we, as HR professionals, should do when we see such deep entrenched bullying behaviour.  Striking that balance that ensures Andy maintains his integrity, his professionalism and his job as an HR professional isn’t going to be easy.  I just hope he doesn’t get caught in the cross-fire.

A post about my GP surgery, Patient Choice & Customer Service.

This morning I had the unfortunate task of having to visit my local GP surgery to drop-off a request for a repeat prescription.  Whilst this may seem like a seemingly normal event, I always dread it….and as my story unfolds you will understand.

9.15am I walk into the GP surgery and wait patiently in line for a receptionist.  Apparently, their partial booking system isn’t working, again. After 3-4 minutes I reach the front of the queue.

Me:  Hi, I just want hand in my repeat prescription request

Stony-Faced Receptionist:  Can you put it in that box over there (pointing towards a box by the entrance).

Me:  I’m sorry, but I’d rather give it to you personally, to ensure that the repeat prescription doesn’t get lost.

Stony-Faced Receptionist:  Our repeat prescriptions NEVER get lost

Me:  I’m afraid that it’s happened to me on a number of occaisions over the last two years, but it never happens when I hand it in personally to a receptionist. Thanks.

I leave the prescription on the reception table and move towards the exit.

Stony-Faced Receptionist mutters under her breath: But the box has only been there for a couple of months.  

The thing is, before I even entered the surgery this morning I knew I was going to be greeted by Stony-Faced Receptionist and her attitude.  I also knew that it wouldn’t matter how appropriately (or inappropriately) I phrased my request I would be at the receiving end of poor customer service.

This has been going on for 3 years, and over the years Stony-Faced Receptionist‘s attitude has not improved.  And frankly, I find this unacceptable.

Without doubt, the influence of twitter friends such as @robjones_tring and @dougshaw1 has been rubbing off.  These guys care passionately about customer service.  Through their blogs they are making me think about what exactly is going on in my local GP surgery.

Without doubt, there are plenty of different and more appropriate ways my Stony-Faced  Receptionist could have handled the situation.   But where is the performance or conduct management?     At the very least,  it appears that my  Stony-Faced  Receptionist‘s behaviour is tolerated by her managers and colleagues.  I could go as far as saying that her behaviour is seen as acceptable.   Our interaction this morning is therefore a reflection of how management treat their staff and is an indicator of the (low) level of staff engagement in that surgery.

I did think – at 9.20am this morning –  about changing to a different GP surgery.  However, this surgery is only a 3 minute walk from my house.  And when I’ve been ill I’ve been grateful for the fact that I can easily reach the GP for any emergency appointment.  It would be too much hassle and inconvenient to change my GP surgery.  And I can’t guarantee that the new one would be any better.

And that’s where the problem lies.  Although patient choice is one of the main driving principles of the NHS at the moment, the question remains how much choice do we really have?   In reality, very little.  (Actually, in reality many people don’t understand the full potential of patient choice and don’t take advantage of it).

And that’s where we (as staff) get lazy.  We know that the patient can’t or won’t go elsewhere, so there’s no need to make an effort with our customer service skills.

Many years ago I led an HR Department who also provided an HR Advisory service to the 50+ GP practices within our patch.  It was an innovation at the time.  No other PCT was offering such a service.   We started with one HR Manager.  The team quickly grew to two because the demand was so great.

My good friend Anne (and frequent commentator on my posts) was the HR Manager of this GP – HR advisory team.   I’m sure she’ll agree with me about how difficult it was to provide a comprehensive service to such a disparate set of small businesses.   Many didn’t want our advice.  It was hard enough work just trying to get these surgeries to implement basic HR practice.   The concept of developing these surgeries in the art of customer service, at that time, was light years away.

I’d like to think that in 2011 it’s very different – that GP staff are more customer focussed.  But I know that’s not the case. Raising customer / patient service is an incredibly difficult challenge due to the logistics of the management of GP surgeries.  And as far as I can tell, there’s no appetite for it.

The real irony – and I promise, these are my last words on this topic – is that if my surgery implemented e-repeat prescriptions (which many other surgeries operate) then we wouldn’t have needed the interaction at all.   And then perhaps we would all have been happy at 9.15am this morning.

The strange relationship of HR & Finance

One of my blogging rules is not to write about a current client.  The only time I’ll break this rule when I’ve got something positive to say.  And this blog is just that.

Over the years I’ve worked with a number of different Finance Departments and a range of good and not-so-good management accountants.  I would describe my relationships with this department as good, but distant.

For example:  I’m used to drafting proposals underpinned with my own financial workings and then asking Finance to sign-them off.  9 times out of 10 the financial accountant spends a short period of time working through the numbers before approving the paper.  The exception comes when I’ve made an erroneous assumption on a particular financial element, but after a brief tweak, the finances are back on track.

However, I’ve been through a huge learning curve recently with one of my clients.  I’m working on a range of projects for this client, all centred around cost savings (what a surprise!).

I first same across Diana – a senior finance manager-  in my first week with this Trust.  One of my major projects involves a significant level of financial data.  I approached it with “you do your bit…..and then I’ll do mine”.  Diana instead challenged this and proposed a way of working that was more integrated “we’ll do this together….go to meetings together, challenge the data together…and propose a way forward…..together”.

I have to admit, I didn’t get it.  Whilst we had a project plan, my behaviour wasn’t one of “working together”.

But Diana is tenacious and driven.  She kept popping up everywhere.  Emailing me about wanting to meet for 15 mins to check on the status of the project and talking about other projects that I was working on.

“Karen, whilst the last status report you wrote on x was good, it was superficial on the financials.  Before you start to draft the next report, come to me first.  I will help you draft a more robust project from a financial point of view.”

“Karen, whilst I understand what you’re trying to achieve through x, I think that my team will be able to help you producing a one-page document that will succinctly (and in more detail) demonstrate the point you are making”.

And so it went on…..until I had that lightbulb moment.  Diana wasn’t being difficult.  She was trying to ensure that as a Trust we were delivering quality information that crossed both the HR and Finance disciplines.  And when that moment happened I emailed Diana to tell her that I “got it”.

The next project came along and we worked together with the service manager.  In two weeks we had developed a robust options paper.  It took less time that if we had worked on the project seperately, at a distance.

Another project is on the horizon – and we’re both syncronised in our approach with the manager on how we think we can help them achieve the outcome in a way that is efficient and robust.

I really wish I’d worked with people like Diana on other projects that I’ve been involved in, in the past.  Perhaps I wouldn’t have had to close down a workplace nursery? (a decision which still hurts me, but at the time I had no option as, according to my financial understanding, it would never break-even).

So now I know what it feels like to work in an integrated way with Finance – and I’m going to bring this learning to my next client, my next project.

The F word

It’s recently been reported that a former interim chief executive of an NHS Trust was unfairly dismissed for sending a high volume of inappropriate emails, including personal ones, and not taking action when receiving inappropriate emails.

The Employment Tribunal felt that the emails were “largely innocent; at or below the level of seaside postcard humour”.  It went on to highlight that over a two year period, the emails contained 12 expletives and the f-word appeared six times.  As such, the Tribunal felt that this reflected language “in common everyday usage throughout industry, commerce, voluntary organisations and public authorities”.

I have never used the F word in an email.  And those who know me, know that I don’t shy from verbally expressing my anger by using expletives (but not quite as fluently as Gordon Ramsey).  But I think a line is crossed when it’s written in an email.

Equally, I have never seen an email in over a decade of working in or with the NHS that contained the F word.  And if I did, I’m not sure what I would do.

So I’m not so sure I agree with the Tribunal’s opinion that using the F word six times in two years in an email is a reflection of everyday usage in business.

Am I wrong?