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Illustration: A woman dressed in pink and purple sits at a table on her mint green laptop communicating with another person on a cell phone showing how tech solutions can help you deliver solutions from afar.
People & Culture

Delivering Tech Solutions from Afar

Let’s get something out of the way — managing people and delivering work is hard. Throw in a pandemic, the shifts to fully remote and hybrid work, and ever-evolving standards of how to manage illness exposures, it’s safe to say working can often feel daunting. As we continue to navigate the “new norm”, there are key foundational skills and approaches to help you feel a little more in control of your delivery destiny. Outlined below are practical tips and tools to help you foster relationships, build trust, and ultimately have a positive experience delivering high quality technology solutions — all from your office (whatever that may look like these days).

  1. Don’t Lose the Basics

Managing and delivering work still requires core fundamentals, whether you’re meeting in person or interacting over your digital meeting platform of choice. So, let’s do a quick refresh on the basics: Preparation, Communication, Transparency, and Stakeholder Management.

  • Preparation: Never go into any conversation without having 1) a clear purpose or objective; 2) a point of view or understanding established; and 3) an idea of what potential next steps may be or questions prepared to drive toward them. You don’t necessarily need to come into a conversation knowing everything but being prepared will make it more productive and save you time in the end. Being informed and prepared to have quality conversations not only builds self-confidence and external trust — it saves time!

  • Communication: We all know communication can make or break an effort. To ensure alignment with your stakeholders — 1) use simple, action-oriented language, 2) use supportive language to validate your understanding, 3) be clear about the purpose and next steps, and 4) proactively push incremental updates. Using these tactics will help keep communication flowing and teams on the same page.

  • Stakeholder Management: Everyone supporting your effort is a stakeholder and no two stakeholders are the same. Therefore, be sure to meet, communicate, and interact with people based on their preferences. Set-up initial meetings to validate their role, engagement preference, and expectations. Do your homework prior to meeting and use meeting time to validate your understanding of them and their space, allowing them to fill in the gaps.

  • Transparency: Being appropriately transparent can help you mitigate potential misunderstandings upfront. To ensure your transparency efforts are effective, make sure you understand each stakeholder — their role, how they like to be communicated with, and what’s ultimately important to them. Transparency is a sliding scale. It’s not about withholding information — it’s about intentionally sharing information based on the audience. Checking in and ensuring everyone feels they have the information they need can be a small step that goes a long way.

While these are all simple words, their successful execution will guarantee you’ll be seen as a trusted partner. Gaining trust creates more engaging and impactful relationships, makes you feel more empowered to execute, and often makes work less stressful and more worthwhile. Ultimately, trust is about being really good at the basics, which will help you shine whether or not you’re physically seen.

2. Make Every Interaction Count

One of the biggest adjustments to remote work has been the lack of casual, spur-of-the-moment conversations. The pandemic has made it clear how much those in-person run-ins really mattered — professionally and socially. With them few and far between, make sure every interaction you have counts. A way to do this is through intentional touch bases. Intentionally setting up time on each other’s calendars to talk lets you utilize and hone specific skills.

  • Foresight: Plan ahead. Set aside time to holistically review activities and milestones, assessing who may be impacted. Set-up touch bases to review any findings with applicable stakeholders. Ensure each meeting invite’s subject and purpose are clearly stated in the title This will help you avoid wasting time on unnecessary “meetings that could have been an email.”

  • Organized Thoughts: Make an outline of your talking points before the meeting so you’ll stay on track.

  • Effective Facilitation: Stick to the agenda and don’t be afraid to sideline conversations that aren’t on topic. Avoid open-ended questions (e.g., “who wants to start?”), display talking points as a visual to keep people engaged and recap the discussion and validate whether any topics were missed. Lastly, follow up after the meeting with a brief recap, including next steps and dates.

  • Meeting Length: If you just want a quick “face-to-face” to clarify something — proactively send a clear email outlining the discussion points and set-up a 15-minute touch base to talk it through.

These days everyone’s calendars are full, and workdays are long. If someone takes the time to speak with you, it means they want to support you. If you don’t use their time well, you might not get another chance for a while. Being intentional in your interactions — by leveraging the tactics above — shows the person you respect their time and, really, them.

3. Things Move Fast, Try to Slow It Down

Many industries have shifted to Agile delivery practices. While the type of Agile practice may vary, the basic concept of delivering incremental change faster is a goal that isn’t going anywhere. Yes, things move fast and change fast. Keep pace and avoid burnout by implementing some key practices.

  • Time Block Work: Set aside time for yourself to be productive — or just to take a mental health break. Use existing routines to prompt specific time block sessions. Even if you need to adjust, time blocks help keep certain activities and deadlines at the forefront.

  • Feedback Loops: Every interaction is a feedback loop. Be intentional! Regardless of the routine or interaction, be prepared to push relevant information, questions, and support needs. If you’re involved in multiple routines (e.g., stand-ups), work with meeting owners to establish specific days and timeframes to review your area.

  • Meeting Management: Come to your meetings with an agenda, validate attendance, push key points, and call on people by name to validate understanding. When attending other meetings, confirm whether you’re needed and what you should come to the table with. Whether it’s your meeting or someone else’s, use it to talk about things you care about and need support on.

Your time is precious, and you want every interaction to be intentional and useful to you and the people you work with. Finding time efficiencies will lead to work efficiency. You won’t be working as many hours, and you’ll be more alert and focused on the work you are doing. Also, you’ll likely be leading by example — helping team members realize ways they can improve their meetings and feedback loops.

4. Remember, No One “Knows It All” (or Likes One)

Feeling caught off-guard is a nerve-wracking experience. When it happens, it’s normal to feel uneasy and worry you will be perceived as not knowing your space. However, it’s perfectly acceptable, and expected, not to know everything. That’s why there are subject matter experts and other team members needed to accomplish any workplace goal. Getting comfortable in the unknown is important, and there are a few tips to help you get there.

  • Prepare for the Conversation: Let people know your expectations of them upfront. Communicate the purpose, goal, and what each person is responsible for before the meeting. Depending on the level of complexity, set-up time with individual attendees to make sure everyone is on the same page going in the discussion.

  • Show Your Willingness to Learn: Prior to a conversation, gather as much information as possible. During a conversation, share your current understanding and prepared questions Share your screen to capture feedback in real-time and allow attendees to validate the information. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and take the extra time to understand people and projects.

  • Follow Up on Missing Information: Once a meeting wraps, be transparent about missing information and who’ll be responsible for gathering it. Once information is received, push it out to the team. Be consistent and close loops!

Keep in mind, your greatest tool is humility — acknowledging that you don’t know or fully understand something can be endearing. People can tell when someone is being disingenuous. Just admitting you don’t have all the information will save time and energy, and most importantly, maintain or further build trust with your stakeholders.

5. If Something Doesn’t Work, Adjust and Keep Going

Workplaces change. People change. Teams change. Work changes. So that means you and your approaches to those things have to be ready to change. Change doesn’t have to be drastic. As you’re working, practice some routine actions to help you incrementally review and refine.

  • Take Time to Reflect: Make a proactive, pointed effort to reflect once a week, or every other week, on your routine, relationship, activities — and consider how you can improve.

  • Check In with Stakeholders: Connect with people one-on-one and request feedback on your communication and management approaches. If it’s an individual you’re having engagement challenges with, ask questions such as, “Do you have a conflict with the day/time of this meeting? Is the content I’m sharing valuable to you? Is there a better way I can support or communicate with you to make this time useful to you and your team?”

  • Solicit and Apply Feedback: Honestly listen, take the feedback, and apply it when and where you believe it will be helpful.

Give time to see if anything improves. If yes, great! If no, try something else! Frequent reflection and adjustments will go a long way in keeping you and everyone around you engaged.

6. Use Your Tools

No matter who you are or where you work you have access to tools — technologies that will enable you to maximize your impact. However, it’s important to understand what technology best fits what you’re trying to accomplish. Using the basics — preparation, communication, transparency, and stakeholder management — as the baseline, there are key tools that teams should leverage to successfully deliver technology solutions.

  • Content Management System (CMS) — Use a centralized knowledge repository with an intuitive layout and common terminology to document work. Pro tip: Include the link in routine communications, to promote transparency.

  • Collaboration Channel — Use a centralized communication platform to conduct and manage real-time discussion and collaboration. Ensure individuals who have channel access understand the engagement model and expectations. Pro tip: Create tags — logically grouping individuals — for faster collaboration.

  • Software Delivery Management — Use a centralized product management platform to manage task planning, execution, and team performance. Pro tip: Ensure ‘definitions of done’ are understood by the team, properly configured, and recorded against throughout sprints.

A tool is only effective when it’s set-up properly, everyone understands how to use it (i.e. what it means to them and what they’re responsible for), it’s consistently used, and its use is reinforced at a leadership level. Additionally, when you ensure the tools are accessible from anywhere (cloud-based), access-based, and configurable — you empower teams to self-manage and stakeholders to quickly see and understand what’s most important to them.

Keep it Human

Pre-pandemic, the disadvantage of being remote generally seemed like a problem for the few people who weren’t in the room. Unless, of course, you were that person not in the room. Now that our room is a Zoom room, we must be more cognizant of our actions. Body language cues have shifted and it’s easy for a person to become a resource — just someone who completes work. Therefore, as we apply the approaches and tactics outlined above, we need to be sure to keep “human” at the forefront. While we may not be physically seeing a team member, leader, or partner, they are still there and they are still human — wanting and needing high touch, quality interactions. They need to feel that you care about them and their time. Practicing these approaches will communicate that you care and continue to improve your relationships and skills.

The days of being physically in the office, face to face, running between floors and into co-workers in the halls and kitchen likely won’t fully come back. Therefore, we must continue to adapt and refine to be successful together, even from afar.

Interested in joining Ally's team of talented technologists to make a difference for our customers and communities? Check outAlly Careersto learn more.