Where We Work Matters

Offices and workplaces have evolved a fair amount over the years, but this year, workplaces have changed dramatically for millions of people without much warning, and now, after nine months there still isn’t an end in sight. The experience has been drastically different for people depending on their space at home, the type of work they do, the number of people (and especially little ones) at home, and many other factors.  Essentially every company which can theoretically work remotely has had to weigh the pros and cons. Over the last decade, many companies have previously experimented with remote work and despite challenges, have identified some major benefits such as more flexibility, increased job satisfaction, lower stress, and cost and time savings. Studies have also shown lower attrition rates with employees, less sick time and vacation time used, higher productivity, and higher job satisfaction overall. The problem with our current pandemic-forced remote work is that a few of the key factors in these positive benefits are missing: choice, space, and duration.  Let’s dig a little deeper. The main argument over the years has been focused on whether workers are more or less productive while working remotely. One of the most commonly quoted studies is a Stanford Study by Nicholas Bloom. That research was based on a randomized control trial including 1,000 employees of a company called Ctrip, a Chinese travel company. Over a nine-month period, they saw a thirteen percent increase in performance as well as a fifty percent drop in employee-quit rates. The experiment was so successful that Ctrip rolled out working from home to the whole firm.  Other experiments have also shown increases in productivity and employee satisfaction. There were some important caveats to note though.  Ctrip is mostly a call center which doesn’t necessarily translate to all types of work More than half changed their mind about 100% remote work. Bloom is quoted saying, “They reported feeling isolated, lonely, and depressed at home. So, I fear an extended period of working from home will not only kill office productivity but is building a mental health crisis.” They found that the best results happened when people had a day or two at the office a week. Bloom also pointed out the importance of face to face interaction. During this forced separation, using video on calls is critical. Overall, there seems to be a consensus that there are benefits to be had from remote work but that it doesn’t lend itself to all types of work. Remote work policies, when possible, should be thought out and executed based on the needs of the company, culture, and type of work being done. Furthermore, each employee needs opportunities to interact with coworkers. Thus, the benefits of remote work may diminish or disappear with an all-or-nothing approach.  Since many of us have limited choices about whether or where to work during this pandemic, it makes finding new ways to collaborate with teams and engage with coworkers that much more important. Hopefully the situation this year will encourage all of us to think outside the box, discover new, and possibly better ways to work, and keep our engagement alive and well. Author: By Jared Forbes   Image credit: https://cms-assets.themuse.com/media/lead/_1200x630_crop_center-center_82_none/7927c225-0777-468c-8abc-0da12a84c1cb.png?mtime=1584540189

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Working Remotely: Schedule Meetings with FindTime

The novelty of working remotely is starting to wear off and now the challenges of how to remain productive in this “new normal” are becoming real. As project management consultants we are constantly looking for the small changes that can help to make a big difference in effective execution. One of those small changes is a handy little Outlook plugin called FindTime.  FindTime is an essential plugin for simplifying the process of scheduling meetings, especially effective when trying to coordinate with larger groups. While working remotely it seems like the number of meetings is growing but that doesn’t mean you have to keep wasting time coordinating with people. The process is easy: Start writing an email in Outlook just as you always have in the past. Include people in the To: line (these will become Required attendees) and if you’d like, you can include people in the CC: line (these will become Optional attendees) Click the FindTime > New Meeting Poll icon and FindTime will show you all the times that are currently available for all Required attendees based on their calendars (green figures) as well as various times that work for most but not all (purple, yellow and red figures) Select a few times to provide options and click Next > Add to email This includes the poll in your email. Attendees simply need to click the link to select the times that they would prefer to meet. Since everyone is working remotely and won’t be able to stop by your desk to ask you questions, I would recommend some description the first few times you send out a FindTime poll to make sure everyone understands what they need to do.  FindTime will record the preferences of all Required attendees and once all votes are received, the meeting is scheduled automatically! Initial Installation: You will need to install this free plugin which can be found at https://findtime.microsoft.com/. Click Install for free and follow the instructions. Once the plugin is installed it will be displayed in the ribbon every time you write an email (Message > FindTime > New Meeting Poll) We understand the struggles that working remotely can present, you are not alone! Our team has been slowly building our own best practices to make working remotely seem more natural, much more productive and a lot less isolated. If you use Outlook with a team, you are going to appreciate FindTime. Check back for more tips and tricks to improve efficiency while working remotely.

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remote communication tips

Virtual Project Management Tips to Get Your Company through COVID-19

Author: Luke Bradshaw As individuals and organizations alike feel the impacts while dealing with a Covid-19 reality, managing projects and teams of people have presented new challenges. Whether it’s a major tech company in Silicon Valley or a local church, new ways of communicating and organizing people and projects are needed. Implementing virtual project management strategies effectively can make it possible for companies to conduct work across the globe, while enabling employees in different locations and cultural backgrounds to all work seamlessly on the same projects. Considering the benefits an organization can get managing virtual project teams, here are some virtual project management tips to help you handle the new COVID-19 reality: Schedule regular meetings Scheduling briefings or huddle groups at the same time on the same weekday contributes to creating a healthy routine. Routines provide team members with something they are used to and familiar with, which in return puts the team at ease and reduces stress. Additionally, look towards choosing video calls over phone and email. With virtual teams, regular video calls are a great way to avoid misunderstandings and connect team members on a more personal level. Establish communication tools The importance of establishing multiple communication tools is vital. First of all, your team has a way to communicate something that is urgent to the right person immediately. Secondly, it unifies processes such as what to use for conference calls, screen recordings, and so on. It is clear what tools is used for what, which contributes to creating that internal feeling of togetherness. The nature of virtual teams makes them a bit trickier to manage over a long period of time than a collocated team. Communication difficulties or scheduling conflicts can cause important information to get lost in the shuffle and forgotten. Furthermore, it may be difficult to know who is working on various tasks at any given time or when different team members are available. Too much ambiguity in a virtual team usually results in a diffusion of responsibility when it comes to getting things done. Therefore, it’s critical to have a well-defined system in place for tracking progress, workflow, and expectations, which will enable team members to be as efficient and effective as possible.  Use project management tools Traditionally, project management has involved translating brain power onto pen and paper and loads of spreadsheets, emails and various messaging platforms. While these methods still work for some, tracking projects through these means when working with virtual teams can be messy because there’s so much backtracking to do and important information can get lost. Interactive, web-based project management tools help keep track of those tasks and projects in one place, allowing organizations to plan entire projects from beginning to end, manage project schedules, and collaborate in virtual team settings. Online project management software has become fundamental for businesses to optimize their processes and be more efficient and effective in carrying out their tasks. Build trust and relationships Even if a virtual team has the best processes and tools in place, it will still fail to deliver positive results if team members don’t trust one another. A lack of trust can manifest in a variety of ways. In most cases, the root problem is a lack of strong, genuine relationships within the team. When employees lose trust in each other or a virtual leader, team members can become disengaged and self-oriented, which makes any form of collaborative work difficult. Investing in creative ways to promote team-building exercises and help build trust for virtual teams will create better outcomes and more team confidence.  

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Microsoft teams tips

Working Remotely: Microsoft Teams Mute Button

You work with some great people but sometimes…they can be loud! Here’s a quick tip on where the mute button is within Microsoft Teams so you can mute yourself, mute others, and mute all while in a meeting. As we continue working remotely we are quickly seeing who is good at facilitating meetings and who could use a little help. Let’s make sure you are in the first group! Microsoft Teams allows you to quickly meet with others virtually which is critical to effective communication while working remotely. As of June 2020, Microsoft increased the limit on attendees so now you can invite up to 300 people to the meeting. Can you imagine how noisy that will be? So it’s important, for your sake and everyone meeting with you, that you are comfortable and confident with the mute button. Joining a Microsoft Teams Meeting Before you join a meeting you will have the option to turn on your camera, blur or change your background (we’ll get to this in another article), turn off your microphone or change the settings, allowing you to select another set of speakers, a different microphone or a better camera if you have multiple connected. It’s a good idea to mute your microphone when entering a meeting and keep it muted until you’re going to speak, this is really a courtesy to others and will be much appreciated.  Personal Mute Button While the meeting is in progress, you have the option to mute or unmute yourself. On the bottom toolbar, you will see a camera icon on the left and a microphone icon next to it. Click it to mute yourself, click it again to unmute yourself. You will know the microphone is OFF if there is a diagonal line through it.  Individual Mute Button You also have the ability to mute an individual in the meeting. We’ve all had that one person who is “listening” but not really focused on the call. That happens to be the person with kids or dogs or construction going on in the neighborhood so it is really nice if you can mute them as needed. Below the person’s picture, click on the three dots to the right of their name and you will get the option to Mute Participant. Problem solved!  You can also click on the three dots to the right of a person’s name within the right sidebar. If you don’t see this sidebar, click on the two people icon “Show Participants” to open the People sidebar. These are all the People / Participants in your meeting. The same Mute Participant option can be found here.  Whole Meeting Mute Button There are definitely those situations, especially if you have 300 people in the meeting, when you don’t know who is making the noise. In this case, you will want to Mute All. Open the People sidebar by clicking on the Show Participants icon (the two people to the left of the red Hang up icon). In the upper right corner, you will have an option to Mute all. You won’t have this option if you are in a meeting with just you and another person, however, Microsoft Teams will make this mute button available to you when more than two participants are on the call. Stay safe, stay productive and get back to work!  

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Working Remotely in a COVID World

Author: Jon Bruning As of June 10, the Bay Area is on day 86 of shelter in place. Those of us lucky enough to continue working have largely found ourselves working remotely. For many, this means endless video calls on Zoom, Teams, WebEx, or Hangouts, and cramped workspaces that are far from ergonomically friendly. I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one who finds myself constantly standing in front of an open refrigerator, unsure of how I got there. I am both a project manager, managing internal projects at my company Motive Power, and a consultant, working with Motive Power’s clients on various projects across industries. I was worried that my job would be difficult to perform while working remotely. I’ve done aspects of my job remotely for the better part of 15 years, but rarely 100% and never 100% on longer engagements. I wondered: How could I connect with my team the same way as I did in-person? How could I get the updates I needed? How could I keep my team motivated and marching toward our deadlines?   During shelter in place I did a few things differently than I normally would have. I want to share some changes in communication cadence, style, and methods I’ve found helpful while working remotely. Working Remotely – Shelter In Place Tips & Tricks When I’m on site with my teams, I get a lot of my updates informally. Bumping into each other by the break room or a quick drive-by at someone’s cube or desk. These types of quick check-ins allow you to get necessary information quickly without a formal meeting eating into people’s already busy calendars. Since shelter in place, I’ve replaced these face-to-face check-ins with text and IM interactions – quick virtual check ins to get a piece of information or two, still, without a formal meeting. It helps keep deadlines and actions in people’s minds without taking much time away. Pro tip: Keep these succinct or else you end up with a meeting length interaction that you intended to avoid. In addition, a reset on expectations of response times will help manage stress levels on your team and help with morale and positive momentum. Let’s face it — many of us are working remotely in a home with babies, rowdy teenagers, and possibly dealing with family and friends whose health was impacted by the pandemic. Finally, while it is considered a huge faux pas in 2020 to use our phone to call people, picking up the phone for a 2 minute chat is often the quickest way to check in. You can also gauge a person’s mood and temperament through their tone much better and adjust your communication style and expectations in response. I, possibly uniquely, find it nice to chat with my teams while I’m stuck inside my home all day! Being both a project manager and a consultant, I constantly switch between the tools Motive Power uses and the tools my clients use. What I’ve found using numerous collaboration platforms is that they all generally function the same: You can share your screen, video chat, mute people with noisy backgrounds, whiteboard, etc. If there is a functionality you’ve used on one platform, chances are a quick Google search will point you in the direction of how to do the same on another.   That said, the platform we choose isn’t what is important in so much as that we actually use them and maximize the functionality they provide. Video chats vs audio only meetings recreate the sense of connection we had in face-to-face meetings, and I find engagement to be notably higher with video enabled. Virtual whiteboarding provides a tactile feel without being together in person. I’ve seen whiteboarding done with plugins on communications platforms, and I’ve even seen colleagues use a real whiteboard in the background of their video. Both worked great and increased team engagement! All in, we’re still assigning actions, mitigating risk, motivating teams, driving schedules, and managing communications while working remotely in this shelter in place world. Making a few simple modifications to your communications can go a long way to keeping your programs on track and your teams motivated ensuring successful programs!

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