Updated: Mar 4, 2020
As we manage projects of longer durations with remote partners we have not worked with before, we may feel like gaining control is somewhat challenging, especially when the trust levels are yet to be fully established. Yet, we know that the future of the workplace will increasingly wane out legacy practices that were designed at a time when the fax machine was cutting edge.
According to Global Workplace Analytics 50% of the established employee workforce are already working remotely and 80 to 90% of all employees saying they would like to work remotely at least part of the time. Hence this is no longer an aspirational efficiency model but is backed up by an overwhelming amount of examples in various businesses how people are collaborating.
We have performed customer development interviews with several organisational design consultants on the frameworks they employ to ensure success. Some of the main factors that unanimously come up as success factors have been summarised below.
1. Always be Clear on Expectations after every interaction.
Bear in mind that each individual has different backgrounds and experiences, utilising vague words (non-SMART) actions are almost always going to result in unpredictable outcomes. Always be clear on what each objective and goals are, show examples where possible, use templates, and use calendars to set milestones.
As you are online, utilise video conferencing so you can relay and discuss your objectives, share point of views on how best to achieve efficiencies. Video conferencing is more powerful than calls to accelerate your rapport, it also prepares the stakeholders on how they can better help your project.
2. Remote is now also Local
Whether you call a stakeholder who is in the building next door, or you call internationally, we have been learning to build rapport through technology since the last decade. Treat your remote stakeholders like they are local and treat your local people like they are remote.
This will not only give you more efficiency but the reach of your trust will fructify. The more interaction, the better you get to know your stakeholders both as a person and as a professional. Set appointments even if it is a quick 15 minute placeholder in your calendar. This will allow you to also track your day and how you spent time.
3. Engage Regularly
Engage with your top 10 stakeholders on a daily basis through some kind of communication. Use multiple channels to communicate. Then, plan a recurring face-to-face meeting or video conferencing whether this is weekly, monthly, or annually, and could be combined with a training or coaching program or a joint delivery. This constant interaction and engagement will help remote stakeholders feel included, and to be a team player but more importantly this will allow like-minded stakeholders build high value relationships that refer opportunities to one another.
4. Schedule Video-Based Presentations
Practice makes perfect, so creating the habit of video conferencing will not only make you push ahead of the boring video conferences and webinars where people get into a forced robotic and uncomfortable mode. All listeners sense it and becoming more natural over video conferencing will also reap tremendous rapport (and rewards) with all stakeholders, even clients.
There is no denying that looking at one another when interacting also boosts productivity but also increases mental alertness and overall mental well being. Professionals who relay their work, objectives and goals face to face are more likely to feel engaged and committed to their own progress and satisfaction levels when they are done with their day.
Create your virtual A-team for every project, agree tasks, set clear expectations on the number of ways you are accessible and expected SLA’s for tasks. The more you set SLA’s for certain types of responses, the better you become at allowing a realistic buffer to under-promise and over deliver. Also set clear indications on when you can take calls, when you prefer to respond only to emails, when you are accessible via instant messaging.
6. Make It Feel Inclusive
It is often too easy (especially for technically-focused introverts) to glide back into long gaps of radio silence once there is no scheduled co-working tasks. This can overall erode productivity, professional and mental wellbeing. Overcome this with virtual meetings and partnerships on business development or client development.
Successful partners know the value of how meaningful a quick but energetic 5-10 minute call can be. This can take the form of check-ins and touchpoints that are essential to any relationship. Remember quality is more important than quantity here so there is no need to drag on, keep it impactful.
7. Mission, Values, Role And Outcomes (MVRO)
When you walk away from any communication, create a genuine and heightened empathy towards understanding your stakeholders professional mission, their values, what they perceive their role to be and what outcomes mean a mutually fructifying professional relationship. This point takes practice but it is critical to any professional relationship.
Hence, one should firstly become mindful of their own MVRO’s to help them get aligned with mission, the values that truly matter to your stakeholders, as well as the outcomes they love delivering to others and their natural role in any situation.
This will keep them truly motivated and enjoy working with you productively on all projects you reach out on.
8. Set up for success
If remote stakeholders do not know where to download files, struggle hearing on a conference call, and consistently receive meeting invitations for times when they are still asleep, this is a good way to alienate them.
First, invest in creating reliable document sharing architecture with access rights. This will not only keep you organised but essential to make collaboration possible. Then develop clear processes to use such tools.
9. Stay Focused On Goals, Not Activity
High levels of activity do not equate to success as too many people run a lot to nowhere relevant. Manage expectations, align yourselves and stay focused on goals when embracing remote stakeholders.
Trust that you have assessed the right attributes of the stakeholders and trust the right stakeholders with the right job. We are all professionals and require a certain freedom in getting our work done. Hence when tasks are assigned, concentrate on what is being accomplished, what is value being created.
If someone has previously invested numerous hours in creating skills or templates that are at the cutting edge, and that enable them to deliver quicker than anyone else, it is only natural for them to reap the dividends of their initial investment through successive use of their investment. Also remember that this is a sign they work smart and were proactive in developing their expertise. Hence the ability to deliver quickly due to prior investments also adds a premium on delivery.
Focus on your end of the deal and create value through focusing on agreed goals. If the goals were sub-optimal then iterate your adjustments and refinements with each successive new project.
Remember, achieving goals lead to accomplishment, not activity levels.
10. Be Deliberate
Be deliberate about your intention to succeed, you are connecting talent like not many can, and our time is too precious to not build genuine connections.
Be deliberate in your intention for nothing short of mutual success. Set up one another to win and establish clear expectations. Make each meeting count with intentional purpose and opportunities to engage and contribute in a variety of ways.
Intentionality is an essential practice, and if your stakeholders understand your deliberation on creating mutual value, your clients will not be able to help but see this is part of your professional DNA.
11. Communication Strategy
Always have a strategy for communication both internally or externally. Set the frame-work for formal progress status updates and allow a buffer for informal check-ins in between.
Set guidelines on what progress looks like and how the progress ought to be communicated. Be mindful of quality touchpoints as any over-reporting is burdensome. Instead for items that rapidly change, communicate over quick calls/video conference and follow up with bullet points for agreed actions.
Always classify each communication touchpoint on what is either urgent or important or both. The combinations are:
Urgent, less important (agree fewer touchpoints and scope quickly)
Urgent, important (agree fewer touchpoints but be extra careful on scope)
Not urgent, less important (agree what that looks like and touchpoints)
Not urgent, important (agree what important looks like and timeframes)
Avoid long internal emails and overly caveated emails. Instead set a call/video conference to explain the reason for caveats and the variables involved. This will help you articulate it more easily over time and help you achieve efficiencies where you only issue the longer versions in the final output.
12. Avoid Multi-Tasking
Ask yourself is multi-tasking is really working for you. A lack of focus can inhibit productivity in even computer processing. Hence ensure you have blocked out your calendar to dedicate to specific tasks, and avoid distractions. Set your phone on busy if required and also allow for regular breaks where you are able to receive video calls instead of phone calls.
Multi-tasking results in spreading too thinly across tasks and inhibits creating poorly considered information scoping, information request or general back-and-forth. Avoid extensive email trails and refresh all considerations to what is relevant at the present stage.
Ensure any “reply all” is sharp and pertinent and will not result in a chain of multiple responses that can be annoying and reduce productivity.
Fridays can be notorious for these as people are trying to tick off their action points for the week. Make Wednesday or even Thursday the day for this, and allow Fridays as a flow-over mechanism for what is truly needed.
13. Stay True to Yourself and Your Bigger Goals
With AI and automation, only professionals who focus on skills advancement rather than checklist-like stability will thrive, this is a fact.
Not only is change a given, but also rate of change is what we are now focusing on. Laws are evolving, and our new templates have to be designed in a smart way that allow for changes in law, changes in practice, changes in requirements.
But see it from a more philosophical outlook, would you rather spend your time on the same boring tasks, or develop into your natural interests. Once we work on our natural interests, learning, development and proficiency becomes a mere consequence of our professional lives and its evolution.
Engage and perform together with stakeholders that share your goals.
14. Use Technology To Build Community
Take away technological platforms and society would feel a gaping hole from the brutal change in way they can connect to one another.
Building community in a professional setting is also increasingly possible as businesses learn the ways to use technology. Create dedicated spaces for celebrating special days such as birthdays, milestone achievements and offer your thanks and recognition.
Being deliberate in celebrating your successes together, appreciating key milestones and achievements creates a positive and successful community.
15. Close Rapport and Support
As the human behind the professional, it is essential we find those with whom we develop close work friendships who we can appreciate their life by discussing family, commonalities and shared beliefs. Having this form of relationship with a fellow professional who shares the same reality not only offers perspective, but makes one appreciate the person we are and not just the professional.
This can result in helping one another become more efficient on collaboration tools, shared docs and spreadsheets, phone calls, chat, and video to invest in the relationship. Show you are supportive of their success by using inquiry to help them achieve their goals rather than only checking on their progress and numbers.
Deeply rational individuals have to be mindful of this as even they are susceptible over time to feeling genuine professional relationships with individuals we admire, both as professionals, and as a person.