One of my favorite new Microsoft Teams features -
There are a TON of great new features that the Work From Anywhere shift has illustrated, and the Microsoft Teams folks have worked to quickly implement. Chris O'Brien, a Microsoft MVP and prolific information sharer, has blogged about the Big 4 groups of announcements from the March 2021 Virtual Ignite, and you can read more about Viva, Compliance, Azure, and Teams here.
I tend to be punctual and efficient in leading meetings, but one adaptation I've made this week is to reserve the first 5-10 minutes of online meetings for group intermission. This allows attendees flexibility as they navigate bandwidth-related lag and delays. This has been a little bit of an adjustment for me but it has paid dividends in alleviating one small stress for remote teams. I even include it right on the meeting notice:
Please note: In these changing times, online meetings are experiencing some lag on startup, so we'll aim to connect on time but understand it may take up to 10 minutes for all attendees to effectively gain access. Therefore, we'll use the first 10 minutes as intermission before effectively starting our meeting. Thank you for your patience!
I missed an important anniversary earlier this year; Paintrock Consulting Services, LLC, had its 5th year anniversary! And it wouldn't be possible without each of the people and businesses I've had the opportunity to work with, and one business who offloaded a job to me (Thanks, Tiffany!).
I think my favorite thing about being a consultant (besides being self-employed) is that I'm able to work across a great variety of client industries. Most of them face similar challenges or solution needs, but I've learned so much about the what those challenges are, and the innovative and interesting way companies manage them. The most beneficial habit that I've gained during this time is that I think about business processes, and efficiency opportunities, anytime I have an interaction with another business - as a passerby, customer, client or collaborator.
Now I find myself thinking about every step through a transaction or touch point with a business. This one runs a very lean organization; how do they plan and manage inventory so tightly? How can this operation which requires so much labor be automated in other ways to save expenses? How does that organization manage collaboration across an entirely remote team spread around the globe? If I'm lucky those lines of thought tend to lead to others. Such as: automating these processes more robustly and in collaboration with suppliers would allow the company with tight inventory turnaround to do more accurate forecasting and avoid waste, or wait times for products. Or, if this entity could coordinate with economic development teams they could participate in fast-track trials for manufacturing evaluation and improvement.
In short, working across a variety of industries and solutions has resulted in me thinking through things much more thoroughly. Veritically - what are all the components that could relate to this scenario, and how are they related? Sequentially - what is the trigger to kick off this process? How is it resolved? What can be learned by looking at all of them collectively; statistically? Collaboratively: how could that entity be unaware of the conflict they have with this other entity if they don't communicate, but are expected to share and collaborate on regulatory information?
I consider this 360˚ Thinking. And I am a better person for using it.
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Virtually every website that you visit will have some sort of Contact feature – perhaps a separate page with multiple contact options: a fill-in form, email addresses, phone numbers, snail mail addresses, live chat, or multiple social media paths: Twitter handles, Facebook page links, Instagram feeds, and so on.
If you are a small business, keep this in mind: be sure to have Contact information, but you must also endeavor to monitor those incoming communications. It’s fine if you have a channel on every social media platform out there – but if you do, you’ll need to monitor those for engagement, at a minimum. Bonus if you devote the time to provide content to engage your existing and potential audiences.
The same applies to the most basic online contact – a fill-in form or email contact. Do you know where that information goes after a visitor to your website sends it? If not, you should do an immediate ‘health check’ on your website. Full disclosure, I’m not a millennial – more of a Gen Xer – but my communication style is all millennial. Millennials, and many others, are often behind keyboards or smart phones for most of the day. It is far easier for them, and me, to keep my fingers on the keyboard to reach out to your company – as opposed to stopping my productivity to pick up a phone and call you. If they reach out to a company, it’s usually digitally – texting, via social media, email, or submitting a fill-in contact form via your website.
When those inquiries are not handled, not only have you potentially lost a customer, but that person is likely going to share that frustration among other social media channels about your business. Case in point: over the last two weeks, I’ve submitted either emails or fill-in contact forms to the following entities, because I’ve just bought a home and would like various projects done: a home repair business, a co-op, a furniture store, a waste management company, an attorney, an insurance company, a car dealership, and probably some others that I can’t recall. How many of these entities contacted me back? Zero. None. In some cases I’ve reverted to phoning them, because they were the only providers in my area. But if there were more competition where I live, these businesses would not have been given a second chance to obtain my consumer dollars.
Don’t let your website disappoint a potential customer before they even have the chance to do business with you. Make sure all of your Contact lines of communication are active and addressed to prevent this problem.
A few of the surprises that I've learned along the way were the suggestions to notify the Department of Motor Vehicles, so that they can "close" a driver's licence or identity account of the deceased, preventing identity theft. Another surprise was that some social media sites (Facebook and LinkedIn) required a copy of the Death Certificate to close accounts. Update - Februrary 12, 2015: Facebook will now allow you to identify a Legacy Contact in the event you wish for your Facebook posts to be memorialized, rather than deleted, after your death.)
Finally, I learned another valuable lesson on patience. Many of these actions are started by surviving family, but can encounter delays depending on the agencies (and the number of them) that you are dealing with. Hopefully the information here will help during that time. This information doesn't replace the wishes that your deceased loved one may have stipulated in a Will; but is intended as a guide for you to navigate through this time.
- Encourage your parents to document a Passwords list. You may be able to guess their password to Facebook, but do you know all of the websites that they've created accounts for? Personally I use a password manager for my 150+ different log-in and password requirements. It's safe to assume an elderly parent wouldn't have a robust social media presence, but it could become very frustrating to try to figure this out after a loved one passes.
- There are an inexplicably huge number of phone calls to be made. After the second or third automated menu and endless loop, you will be ready to choke someone. Use the website www.gethuman.com to type in the company you're trying to reach, and you'll get a list of the best options to reach a real, living human being on the other end of the phone. If that doesn't yield results, my second choice is messaging the company via Twitter.
- You'll probably be in shock for a while, or numb, or simply not able to perform at your best. That's understandable. That makes having a list to guide you through these new and sometimes unexpected actions very helpful.
I've created an action list that our family used to divide up who could do what after my mother's death. I'm posting it here in the hopes that it might help you or your family through difficult times.
Action List Following the Death of a Parent or Spouse
- Log in to computer: export Contacts and email the Contacts file to yourself or your family.
- Archive documents and images to a shared cloud storage account for family to go through; don't delete things now.
- Import contacts to your computer or account. There will likely be people that you'll want to notify of the death. From your own email account, notify the deceased’s contacts about the passing and provide them with contact information for any future communication.
- Work with the email address provider for the deceased to close the account. If wary of closing the email account, set up a forwarding rule so that you receive all incoming email meant for the deceased, and have the deceased’s email account closed after a month or 45 days. This should be enough time to capture any unanticipated incoming email from persons or companies who were not aware of the death.
- Close social media accounts. Keep extra copies of the Death Certificate handy - Facebook requires one to close a loved one's account, for example, as does LinkedIn (although these rules are always in flux. Be prepared anyway.)
- Check digital camera for images to share or distribute.
- Check cell phone for contacts to archive and share, or – if a smart phone – for images and other items to archive and share.
- If a smart phone, depending on the cell phone type, notify the iTunes store, Google Play, or Windows Store about the death and ask them to work with you to close the account(s) on any and all Apps that the deceased may have installed. You’ll do a separate notification to the carrier (Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T for example) in the Financial notifications, below.
- Gather items to be shared among family. While family is around, especially when they have all come from a variety of locations, use this time to sort through and claim any desired clothing or other items not expressly stipulated in a Will. It may feel grotesque to do this shortly after someone dies, but it could also be an effective way for the mourners to share memories of your loved one and to feel busy.
- Collect items to be donated.
- Donate eyeglasses and hearing aids to the Lions Club International.
- Donate other items to area groups of interest. Was the deceased a painter? Perhaps an art gallery could use the extra supplies. An avid reader with too many books to keep? Consider donating them to a senior citizen’s center, community center, or small library.
- Obtain as many certified copies of the Death Certificate as you can get. We needed about 20.
- Other documents you will want to ensure you have readily available: birth certificate, marriage certificate(s), any divorce certificates, any hard copies of life insurance policies.
- For the survivor(s), list out bills and their frequency, the source for payment, schedule, and add to calendars to help automate some of the more routine things in their life for the time being.
- Notify the three Credit Reporting Agencies of the death. You can request the account be changed to "Deceased - no additional credit inquiries allowed". There are a number of good online notification letter templates available. Send copy of death Certificate w/date of birth, address, and social security number, and marriage certificate to:
Experian: PO Box 9701, Allen, TX 75013
Equifax: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374
TransUnion: P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19022
A. Send items registered, return receipt required.
B. You should receive a confirmation letter from each along with a credit report on the affected Social Security Number.
C. Verify the activities on the credit reports. In our case, one of the big three confused my Mother’s social security number with the next SS number in chronological order. What resulted was called a “blended” or “mixed” credit report, and apparently this is not an uncommon issue!
- Notify all credit card accounts. You may need to provide copies of the Death Certificate for this purpose.
- Notify all Utilities - may need to have account name changed to that of surviving spouse, and this may require a certified copy of the Death Certificate.
- Notify all Financial institutions. Most accounts will go to surviving spouse as long as they are also named on the account; if no surviving spouse, then the beneficiary information provided to the bank by the deceased will come into play.
- Notify Social Security. There is a $250 death benefit that the surviving spouse must 'apply' for; may take up to four months to receive.
- For elderly spouse survivors, consider adding a trusted family member to remaining open accounts to help the survivor manage them going forward. This may become a necessity if the deceased spouse managed the money throughout the marriage, or if the surviving spouse has any disabilities.
- Consider enrolling in online banking and auto bill pay for reasonable expenses and utilities for the surviving spouse.
- Notify all Insurance companies (home, health, auto, recreational vehicles, etc)
- Notify Medicare/Rx program
- Notify / Update Deeds and Titles (this may not be necessary in states with Spousal Rights of Survivorship if deeds and titles are in both names).
- Send copy of death certificate to the County for vital statistics / ownership / spousal survivorship information, and removal from jury duty pool.
- Notify DMV / Cancel Driver's License. This helps prevent identity theft.
- Notify your tax preparer.
- Notify and Cancel memberships AARP, Amazon, discount clubs, health clubs, etc.
- Notify family attorney (you may need his or her help in filing life insurance claims, working with Social Security, working with tax or deed and title changes)
- Notify volunteer organizations that they were involved with
- Notify alumnae organizations
- Thank You note writing can be shared by family after the services and reduce the burden of just one person doing them all.
If the deceased is named in your Will, Power of Attorney, or other legal documentation, eventually you may wish to consider recreating or updating these legal documents. In my family's case, my Mother was named as my Father's primary durable power of attorney, with me as the secondary. 4 months after my Mother's death, my Father had a series of strokes. In order to even obtain hospital updates (due to HIPAA requirements) I had to present the durable Power of Attorney along with a certified copy of my Mother's Death Certificate. We did arrange for an elder care attorney and revision of my Father's legal documents to allow more clear support from both my brother and myself.
There you have it - most of the things that our family did to manage after my Mother's death. Have we missed anything that you've experienced after the death of a spouse or parent? Please let us know!