5 Tips on How to Manage Remote Teams

In today’s working environment, it is increasingly common to find yourself managing a team staffed with people from all corners of the world. High performing internet connectivity, robust no cost Wi-Fi and secure remote access to your company’s network allows employees to work from virtually anywhere in the world. In the US, remote working grew by 103% between 2005 and 2016 and the trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Fueled by average cost savings of $11,000 per employee per year and increased employee satisfaction, the ability to manage remote teams is a must have skill.

Here are 5 tips to help Project Managers transition to an effective remote team manager role.

Leverage web conferencing

Web conferencing allows businesses to share ideas and information among people and across the organization in real-time. Web conferencing and other real time collaboration tools that also include video along with sound are well suited solutions for working remotely. Experts reveal that up to 93% of communication is non-verbal and companies can improve meeting efficiency and prevent miscommunications by enabling teams to actually see one another. The ability to see each other also increases employee engagement, connection and collaboration in meetings. Leveraging collaboration technology will connect remote employees and help preserve the productivity and efficiency of the on-premise team environment.

Know the time

Having team members spread across different time zones is a challenge that can mean extra work or longer hours for a project manager. Managers must accommodate their remote teams by managing all of the collaborative tasks during hours where the majority of the team is working. Depending on time zones, this could mean some team members will need to log-in earlier or later to join the rest of the team. If this is the case, try to know your people’s personal commitments before you schedule them off-hours.

Run efficient meetings

When running a remote meeting, make sure to give yourself extra time for preparation so the meeting can start on time. Virtual meetings require more prep as a rule, and if the first 5 minutes of your meeting are spent logging-in or getting logistics set, your chance of losing employees to multitasking increases greatly. Use agendas, visual aids, media and rotate speakers to keep the meeting moving. Ask team members to be ready on time and stick to the agenda as much as possible.

Build relationships

Building relationships with remote team members is often more difficult than building relationships with the people down the hall. It requires active work as there is a lack of organic connection time. To help build comradery, work to create open connection time in your 1:1’s and team meetings. Build in time for chatting about the weekend on the Monday AM meeting. Take time to know team member’s hobbies, friends, families and outside interests. Ask questions and practice active listening.

Be Clear on the mission

Nothing brings a team together more than a shared experience, mission or vision. With a remote team, shared experiences are difficult to achieve, however, having a clear team mission and vision will be valuable for brining your team together. Make the time to create a shared mission or vision with your team, involving all members in the creative process.

Geographically dispersed teams can offer huge benefits in efficiency, cost savings, employee satisfaction and access to top talent regardless of location. Managing these teams requires you start with trust and that you find new ways of keeping your team running smoothly. Assume your remote employees are doing their best work and leverage these five tips to build a high performing remote team.

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7 Point Checklist for Project Closure

Wrapping up a scope of work brings with it a range of emotions. Excitement, relief and sometimes even sadness are common at the end of a project where you have invested so much of your energy and time. Although it is tempting to move on to your next project, before transitioning, take the time to properly bring your current project to closure. Here is a short check-list to follow before fully exiting a project:

Are all required deliverables complete?

This is the time to reflect on the project plan. Review it with an objective mind or partner with a peer to help gain balanced feedback. Work through your project plan and ask yourself if all tangible deliverables have been completed. Be ruthless with your assessment and include not only mission-critical deliverables, but all deliverables the plan committed to.

Have all approvals been obtained?

Diligently obtaining written approval for sign-off during the lifecycle of the project is a ‘must-do’ and a good discipline to adhere to. Ensuring the proper approvals have been obtained keeps business leaders informed and accountable for their actions. It also protects you as the Project Manager (PM) to have the appropriate stakeholder’s confirmation that the project is approved.

Have all required administrative tasks been performed?

Managing the administrative side of the project takes time, however these housekeeping tasks are vital when it comes to project closure. Close out any open contracts and make sure all time has been properly accounted for, billing is complete and people on the project have been released and/or are assigned to new projects.

Are all project documents and deliverables archived?

Ensuring that all documentation related to the project is stored in a central archive and available for access is important. These may be used as the foundation for an upcoming project, or you may need to reference them for future questions about how this project was managed. It is also a good practice to create and archive a FAQ’s or Lessons Learned document, so knowledge and key learnings are transferred to the others who will come after you.

Have all calendars been cleared?

Check across the team to see all the meetings that have been conducted? If there are outstanding or unnecessary meetings still scheduled, make sure to cancel and remove these from calendars. Removing any confusion around recurring meetings is a courtesy to others and a best practice for closing projects.

Does everyone know the project is complete?

Ensuring that all stakeholders and departments involved in your project are aware that it is complete is a sometimes overlooked step, but one that will differentiate your from others. Properly closing with a formal wrap-up communication in which you share the achievements and results with everyone involved shows professionalism.

Have you thanked key contributors, stakeholders and sponsors?

Taking a few extra minutes to thank key contributors, stakeholders and sponsors is another act of professionalism. Saying thank you to someone is a simple way to leave them feeling good about you as a PM, regardless of how challenging they may have been. Make your last interaction on the project one of thanks and you’ll will improve your PM brand.

By utilizing this 7 point check list you can ensure that your project closing skills are as strong as your day-to-day management skills and you will be confident that you are leaving a project well managed.

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5 Skills for the New World of Work

There is no arguing that the way we work has changed greatly in the last decade. Gone are the 9 to 5 desk jobs where we gather a paycheck for clocking in and out, and work tirelessly for years at the same company; the goal to retire with a gold watch and rich pension. Our economy has evolved from a one career-one company ideal to appreciating cultivation of a rich skill set. Businesses are less concerned about tenure and more focused on experiences. In this new world of work, a different skill set is required for optimum success. To thrive in today’s work world, employees and leaders need the following skills:

  • Entrepreneurship: this article is not suggesting you need to start a business to cultivate this skill. It is the drive that leads individuals to make a leap and take risks in starting a business that employers want. Entrepreneurship requires innovation, vision, risk taking and relentless execution, which are all valuable skills to build at any level. According to Forbes, we are all entrepreneurs, so take some time to explore your inner entrepreneur.
  • Problem Solving: the old idea that managers have all the answers and that an employee’s job is to wait for their direction, has gone by the wayside. Strong leaders know that those closest to the work often have the best understanding of an issue. The ability to think critically, test assumptions and solve problems is a skill to build at all levels of an organization.
  • Agility/Flexibility: we all are familiar with some variation of the quote, “the only thing certain in life is change.” The same can be said of project management and work in general. Very few of us work on an assembly line, where we perform the same task every day. Even those of us doing task work, have variety in each day. The need to be flexible and to respond appropriately to the job at hand is a critical skill for success in today's world.
  • Collaboration: business and Project Managers know that collaboration is a skill necessary to get the job done. Leading teams often means collaborating with diverse stakeholders and team members but collaboration skills are not just important for leaders. Teamwork has become a staple of our new world of work. Collaboration skills include ability to build consensus, increase productivity, test theories, learn from others and innovate to grow rapidly.
  • Written and Verbal Skills: the ability to communicate with others both by speaking and writing is still the foundation for success in today’s working world. There are a few exceptions to this rule but for most of us, our ability to communicate clearly is the top skill we must continue building. Employees at all levels need to be able to communicate in order to share. Learning how to get your ideas across with clarity and intention separates the good from the great.

In today’s new economy, these soft-skills are rapidly becoming the new hard skills. Beyond certifications and degrees, cultivation of these five key skills can differentiate your performance from the rest.

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5 Ways to Overcome Project Obstacles

As project managers, we try to anticipate and plan for big challenges, but it is often the small daily obstacles that can derail our projects. These small obstructions are common and it is the way we solve them that distinguishes great project managers from the good ones.

There are many structured approaches to problem solving. Most follow a step-by-step process to define problems, identify their causes and to determine the best solution. This approach is often the standard way to handle big problems but it can be too much for smaller, day to day issues that need to be solved on-the-fly. Often, deploying a non-standard strategy can be better for moving you past the issue at hand. If you are looking for some quick problem solving methods to move you past the every day challenges or you feel your default problem solving techniques are not agile enough, here are 5 strategies to try the next time you’re faced with an obstacle:

  1. Create a visual of your project - using visuals like a mind map can help move your creativity in a new direction.
  2. Brainstorm a list of ideas - since solutions to problems often reside beyond the status quo, jotting down a list of all thoughts, including those that may seem way outside the realm of practicality, can help you find needed breakthroughs.
  3. Look outside – sometimes, taking an outsider’s view can reveal new ideas. Ask yourself what advice you’d give to someone else faced with the same obstacle.
  4. Circumvent the obstacle - tackle a different element of the project, move ahead in any way you can, simply keep moving forward.
  5. Work without judgment - letting go of the need for the solution to be perfect can be inspiring. Achieving a good enough outcome on the obstacle may free you up for brilliance on the next task. Additionally, you may have the chance to return to the problem later with refreshed creativity.

Building a variety of workplace skills to overcome challenges in real time will make you a better problem solver and a more successful project manager. Adding these 5 simple problem-solving strategies to your skills set can help you move your projects forward with a bit more speed.

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How to Efficiently Sell Your Ideas

Not all of us are born sales people and the thought of selling a product, solution, or idea may make you feel uncomfortable. However, many of us are selling as part of our job every day even though sales is not part of our title or job description. As project managers, we actually need good selling techniques for every project.

Have you ever tried to convince management to change a project deadline or show executives that a strategic milestone is improbable? Perhaps you are working to properly set expectations with a new client whose ideas are unrealistic or you want to introduce a new tool to your team but need support from a group to move forward? All of these scenarios require selling.

Selling can be defined as a "persuasive conversation". It involves convincing someone to be inspired to take action by buying into you and your ideas. The ability to sell your-self and your ideas are critical skills for project managers, so, familiarizing yourself with a few basic selling techniques can help you become more successful.

In the selling discipline, one of the most respected methods is called consultative sales approach. This model suggests a consultative approach that first identifies the needs of your audience and then offers them a solution.

This method requires a high level of credibility and expertise as you are educating your client and making recommendations for a solution. It is effective because it requires your focus and understanding of your audience’s needs before you put forward your ideas.

To become a more persuasive project manager try to develop these basic consultative sales techniques:

1. Prepare

Believe it or not, professional sales people spend a lot of time preparing for a sales call or meeting. Before you pitch your idea, spend some time getting clear on:

  • Who is the target audience? Is it one person our a group? Can the person you are asking make a decision? What do you know about the person and how have past interactions been?
  • What are the key needs or drivers? What need or problem is your client (boss, team) facing? A common mistake is to think your solution meets a top need. Be willing to think about all of the possible needs, not just the one you have the solution to. For example, your solution to the current staffing issue might be a winner but for your boss, a more pressing need exists with budget.
  • Get clarity on what you are “selling.” Is it a new product you want to invest in or a new process or workflow? Get clear on what your solution or idea is and learn as much as you can about it. It is also wise to research competitive solutions or ideas, remember you are the consultant and expert.
  • Get ready of objections. What would the opposition say? Take some time to brainstorm any objections that may come up and how you might overcome those objections.

2. The Pitch

Once the preparation is done, you are ready for the first attempt at your sales pitch or “persuasive conversation.” Here are a few tips to set you on your way:

  • Make it a conversation. Connect with the audience and share your ideas, research and wisdom. Enthusiasm is contagious, if you are genuinely excited about your solution and believe in it, let the conversation flow.
  • Focus on “Sharing” not “Selling. Think of how your product, idea or service will help your audience and less about your wish to “sell” it. Consultative selling implies you have identified what your audience needs. Make the client’s needs the focus of the conversation.
  • Ask Questions. Keep the audience involved and engaged. If your pitch is being made to one person, make sure to listen as much as you talk. If you are presenting to a group, ask questions and solicit feedback along the way.
  • Look and Listen to feedback. Pay attention to comments and questions received from your audience. It is also important to pay attention to their body language during the pitch. If your boss starts to shuffle the paper on his desk, it might be time to wrap it up.

3. Handling Objections

Even with the best preparation, objections to your idea or pitch will arise at one time or another. One of the best ways to overcome an objection is to stop it from even occurring, by introducing what you suspect as the biggest objection yourself. Introducing a “suspected objection” will allow your audience to add context, however anticipating the objection will allow you to maintain control of the conversation. If an unplanned objection is introduced you can handle it in the moment by:

  • Listening. Let the objection be voiced, rather than immediately jumping in to address the objection. Let the person with the objection fully voice their concern.
  • Restate the objection. Restating the objection demonstrates to the audience that you listened and understood. It allows them to clarify if needed. It can be as simple as, “So you are worried about user adoption of the new system.
  • Explore the rational. Often times, the first objection is not always the real objection. Asking a few more questions around the objection and working to uncover why that objection exists will help you to overcome it. “Has user adoption been an issue in the past?” “What training was utilized on the last launch?
  • Address the objection. Once you understand the objection, you are better equipped to address it. Answer the objection head on with clear evidence, data and confidence.

4. Closing

In consultative selling the close in often part of the natural flow of conversation. You’ve listened to the needs of your client, addressed the objections and shown how your idea meets their needs. A logical approach is the close using the Next Step Method. “We’ve talked about our needs for a better project management tool and addressed the issue of user adoption, it feels like we are ready to move forward, what do you think is our next step?” After posing the question, pause and let the client answer. Possible responses can be a need for another meeting, a pilot, executive sponsorship etc. The goal is to move your idea or project forward by taking that next step.

Selling yourself and your ideas need not be a stressful undertaking. In using a consultative approach, you shift the focus toward the needs of the client or organization and by approaching the selling as an opportunity to engage in a “persuasive conversation”, you can begin to experience more successful meetings.

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