Dig a Little Deeper

Living at home with your teenage brother has its perks — well, for him. Being a doting sister, I drive him to practice, bake him cookies and sometimes search his messy room for the “Orange Rocket” diagrams he forgot to take to school.

When he asked me to find them, I looked high and low. During my search, which went on way too long, I found some trash — namely, granola bar wrappers and empty Gatorade bottles. I also found things I didn’t want to see such as an AP Language quiz with a few too many red marks and, of course, more trash.

Surprisingly, I also found the Ray-Ban sunglasses he thought were lost and calculus homework (which was beyond my comprehension) that he scored a perfect grade on. All these disparate items were just lying around waiting to be discovered. Looking for my brother’s diagrams in a sea of papers, trash and dirty clothes was a lot like reading open-ended responses in surveys.

Even with features to prevent GIGO, some responses will still be useless junk. There will also be a few candid comments you won’t expect, yet provide helpful feedback nonetheless. But — buried beneath it all — you’ll discover some incredibly useful insights that validate your excavation efforts.

With open-ended responses, you may not always find exactly what you’re looking for (my brother had the diagrams the whole time), but allowing your participants to provide open feedback will give you a more substantial understanding of your respondents and a better idea of what’s working and what’s not.

You Never Know Til You Try

For some time now, my team has been writing and recording training videos for internal and external use. While I had written a few scripts — because I’m usually very busy with support — producing videos was a secondary task rather than a major priority.

Recently, my supervisor took a vacation. This forced me out of my comfort zone in a number of ways — mainly, I had to quickly become competent at video production. I wrote the scripts for two internal training videos that were needed immediately, and for the first time, I had to sit down and record them myself. Through trial and error, I quickly learned what worked and what didn’t. Although I went back to the drawing board a few times, I eventually discovered an efficient way to finish the videos.

Recording each video took less than two attempts. When I sent them to my supervisor, her reaction was overwhelmingly positive. She continues to tell me how excited she is about the job I did.

I definitely wasn’t expecting this kind of response; it just goes to show that you never know what you’re good at til you try.

Attempt the Impossible

Joanna Zimmerman

The first time someone sent me this article, I kindly accepted their suggestion and went on with my business. Though I like to remain informed about matters affecting my hometown, I was busy on this particular day and didn’t have time to read it. But, after receiving the article two more times, ignoring it proved much more difficult.

Titled “How A Young Community Of Entrepreneurs Is Rebuilding Detroit” the article, featured in Fast Company, describes how people of various ages and backgrounds are working to restore my hometown to its former glory. While the magnitude and approach of their methods differ vastly, they all seem to share an entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to scoff at the impossible, while embracing the unknown.

After spending my entire childhood in this fading city, I know just how difficult rebuilding will be. But, because the article reminds us “Where everything’s broken, anything’s possible,” the thought of tackling this seemingly insurmountable quagmire of despondency leaves me not just inspired by these men and women but invested in the outcome of their efforts.

As all good writing does, this piece forced me to think about my own challenges, especially in the workplace. What is my version of the impossible and the unknown? What areas of my work am I not improving because I haven’t thought critically and creatively? If we’re lucky, many of us work in companies where “everything isn’t broken” — places where paths have been blazed and guidance is available.

Even in these settings, however, attempting to implement new processes can seem daunting. But I encourage everyone, as I encourage myself, to engage your managers, those you manage and your peers. You’re surrounded by invaluable resources, and it’s your duty to make the most of them, especially because you never know what may inspire your next great idea.

Detroit’s gradual rehabilitation is poignant because people are looking underneath the city’s neglect to rediscover its beauty. Attempting the impossible requires you to embrace the opportunities and challenges around you and occasionally approach situations in unconventional ways. This is not only a model for fixing what’s broken, it’s also a model for creating something new and better.

Reaching a Tipping Point

By Craig Messenger

Every successful company has a tipping point — a situation when a series of incremental changes reaches a level that triggers explosive growth. The key to creating an environment that nurtures these substantial changes — whether in your personal or professional life — is to take a hard assessment of your current position and find ways to leverage it. Obviously, this is much easier said than done. But being willing to take a series of small steps can lead to outsized results.

Zarca Interactive held an important summit last week for this very purpose. While we feel on the brink of a tipping point, the steps we take now will determine whether we actually reach it. Throughout the many sessions, the wide-ranging discussions enabled different departments to understand their common purpose, while also giving everyone insight into each department’s daily processes. We were left with a deeper appreciation for our roles and an understanding that every decision matters.

These sessions proved beneficial, but it was the larger message of the week that resonated more: namely, learning and adapting after making small mistakes is essential. While it’s okay to make new mistakes, as they provide new opportunities for learning, making the same errors repeatedly is unacceptable — it demonstrates stagnation rather than progress.

Though it may seem like I’m preaching, I feel there’s important truth in this message. Recognizing opportunities (which are often disguised as difficulties) for growth, and taking advantage of them, is integral to this company’s culture and the key to being successful with any company.

Training Day

My first three weeks at Zarca Interactive have been a whirlwind. While the amount I’ve learned in such a short time has been staggering, I know there’s much more to come. I’m being trained as a Client Services Representative, capable of assisting clients and colleagues with any issues they encounter while using our system. As such, it’s extremely important that I know the system backward and forward.

Learning the intricacies of the Engage survey platform has been a difficult and fulfilling challenge. Because every client has unique needs, our system is extremely flexible, containing a variety of special features. Since each feature has its own unique purpose — whether it’s commonly used or not — there’s a lot for me to learn.

Thankfully, I’m not alone. Strong team cohesion has made my training much easier than expected. I’m surrounded by brilliant coworkers, ready and willing to answer my many questions. It won’t be long now until I assume the full responsibilities of a Client Services Representative, and then I’ll be the one providing answers for our many valued clients.

Growing Pains

Zarca Interactive is growing! But, while new people and rapid growth are great for our company, the process also makes demands on current employees. A growing company challenges you to adopt new roles, test your flexibility and push professional limits. But — as with any new opportunity — there’s the potential for great reward.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re experiencing structural changes in your office:

Be flexible.
While your work environment may undergo a great deal of change in a short amount of time, flexibility allows you to accommodate newcomers and make them feel welcome.

Be accessible.
Your experience is a valuable asset. Allowing team members to shadow you permits the smooth transfer of knowledge, while giving you the ability to fine-tune your work and revisit skills learned in your earlier stages of training.

Meet your new neighbors!
Like most Americans who probably spend more time in their office spaces than in their homes, your workspace environment can become extremely important to you. As a result, forging strong working relationships with your office neighbors can add a positive element to each work day.

As an added perk of my recent office reconfiguration, I’ve had the opportunity to interact daily with a new set of co-workers. The proximity to colleagues outside of my immediate team provides me with a greater latitudinal understanding of company roles. I’m able to participate in a wider range of conversations, hear problems that arise and solutions that are offered, and increase collaborative efficiency.

Expand your network.
In addition to solidifying relationships within your current office network, bringing others onboard extends that network and gives you the ability to make connections and gain experience from new acquaintances. Our office is located in Herndon, Va. — a long way from where I grew up in Michigan. Imagine my delight when a new employee from my same neighborhood joined the Research Team! Being open to new people can have a positive impact on your daily interactions.

Because many of us have a tendency to become comfortable with the status quo, adapting to rapid change can be hard. Just remember, in the midst of those growing pains, “The best is ready to begin.”

I Got Your Back (Up)

After my last blog post, many people asked me to go into more depth about the best ways to back up their data. While we all know the importance of backing up our files, it’s often one of the most neglected acts of basic computer maintenance. But as anyone who’s experienced a computer crash can tell you, losing your most important data — personal and professional — is an unmitigated disaster that can end in tears. Don’t let this happen to you.

So, here are a few more useful tips that will help you keep your data safe and secure:

First, keep track of where you store your information. While keeping your files organized is good for workflow, consolidating your data also makes it easier for data specialists to recover those files if your hard drive crashes.

Second, schedule a regular backup. It’s a simple process that requires simply an external hard drive and approximately 30 minutes. Plug the external drive into your computer’s USB and follow the prompts that guide you through making it your default backup drive. Once the process is complete, your operating system will regularly and automatically back up your computer.

Third, sign up for a cloud storage service. Dropbox, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon offer cloud services with differing amounts of free and paid storage space. While the one you choose is mostly a matter of preference, these services ensure that your most important files are backed up and available no matter where you are.

Finally, keep physical copies of your most valuable documents. While digital storage has many advantages, there’s nothing like having a hard copy of a file that was lost or accidently deleted.

But no matter what solution you choose, you must always be proactive. Because although I got your back (up), you have to always watch your front.

Keep on Pushing Through

While March was the busiest and most stressful month I’ve had in my limited time here, I learned some very important lessons. Most importantly, I discovered there’s probably nothing my team won’t do to keep our clients happy.

Let me explain.

In December 2012, we signed a lot of new clients. In January and February of this year, all of our managed clients were developing and preparing to launch their surveys. In March, many of these big projects went live. And, in the midst of all this, one of our major clients implemented a technical restriction that rendered the system nearly inoperable for all of their users.

During this period, I was replying to twice the normal amount of email support requests, while spending the rest of my days on the phone with clients or working with the engineering team to resolve multiple serious problems.

There were a few days when the stress of keeping up left me emotionally and physically exhausted. Even then, knowing the next day would only bring more of everything would constantly weigh on my mind. Support took up 100% of my time; there was no room for any other projects. And I was far from the only one feeling the pressure.

But we had to get it done.

Everyone on my team pushed themselves to ensure that each client received the outstanding support we’ve become known for. We eventually found a solution to the technical restriction plaguing that one client and the rest of our big projects were successfully launched.

My point is, we feel your pain. As our client, your work is our work and, when things are broken and your back is against the wall, ours is too. So when it comes to providing you with the solutions you need, we don’t give up and make excuses. We just keep on pushing through.

Protecting Your Data: Basic Steps

As computer and internet usage rises, your data and technology profile continues to grow and define you, while privacy vulnerabilities continue to increase. From the information you share on the web to the data collected by all the companies with which you interact, there’s plenty of information available about you on the internet.

Since you’re leading more of your life on computers, smartphones and tablets, it’s critical to ensure that you’re taking the most basic steps to protect sensitive data.

First, take your data seriously by having multiple backup locations. In the unfortunate event that your computer crashes and you didn’t back up your files, that data is lost forever. As a safeguard, use an external hard-drive or cloud storage service to back up your most important information.

Second, just because you delete something doesn’t mean that it can’t be recovered. But there are file scrubbing applications that will permanently delete your recycled files. This is especially important if you’re removing sensitive personal information such as financial records that you may have accessed on a shared computer.

Third, be wary of the sites you visit, especially if you’re downloading third-party software. Some sites host legitimate third-party applications that they bundle with Trojans and other types of malware. Many anti-virus programs provide browser extensions which inform you about unsecure and dangerous websites. Use these tools as an internet roadmap so you’ll know which places to avoid.

This isn’t a comprehensive list by any means. But following at least a few of these steps is a good way to start protecting your data and regaining some control over your technology profile.

Engage and Innovate

I love talking about our office projects and events, especially when I discuss how we use our survey platform, Engage, to plan nearly everything. As a member of the Happiness Committee and Product Committee, I see firsthand how useful Engage is — it allows you to keep everybody informed and organized.

Recently, the Happiness Committee, or “HapCom,” planned an internal Chili Cook-Off. So I created a survey that served as a registration page for people who wanted to make chili and those who would bring side items. During the event, I distributed a survey asking my colleagues to rank their favorite chili recipes. And, when voting was done, I ran a quick Bar Graph report that let me almost instantly determine the contest winners.

As a member of the Product Committee, or “ProdCom” as I like to call it, I’m the point of contact for all feature requests and system issues for clients and employees. To streamline the process of recording and sending these requests to our engineering team, I created a form that everyone can use. By enabling Rules & Alerts, I receive a copy of every submitted ticket, which I then send to the engineers. I use the collected data to trace ticket origins and filter responses based on request types. This becomes incredibly useful when we’re choosing features for the next release.

While these are definitely innovative uses of our survey platform, by far the most “important” way we use surveys internally is to stock our snack closet. Every two months, our administrative assistant sends a multiple text box question to the entire office asking for our snack requests. She then runs a verbatim report and uses the responses as the shopping list.

Honestly, I love having Engage as an internal resource — we’re always finding inventive ways to use the platform. I encourage you to also “engage” and innovate.