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Three Ways to Clinch the Home Field Advantage in Remote Work

March 24, 2021

Telework is changing the face of project management. Important projects are being led from a greater distance than ever before, and many clients are no longer requiring contractors to ever be physically on-site of large scale work. While this is incredibly convenient and beneficial for historically under-resourced regions or communities, there is danger in working in the dark. People love to “root-root-root for the home team,” and evidence suggests that community knowledge makes work go better (source). As social innovation project managers, we at Change Often maintain that contract work can be conducted in a way that empowers those who had the idea in the first place. Working with a client should be more listening than dictating. Here are three ways any contract worker can truly join the home team, even when working from afar:

1. Resource Mapping

All projects occur within systems, and putting time and resources into understanding those systems at the front end of your project provides huge returns on investment. By the time a project manager is brought on the team, a number of stakeholders have already collaborated to make something happen. It is your responsibility as the newest member of the team to catch up with what happened before you.

Find out how your client identified the need you are addressing. Find out who will benefit from the problem being fixed or the optimization of a process - and find out who will hurt if it falls through. See if anyone has tried to do this work before you, what they did, and why they still need you on the project. Introduce yourself to people, organizations, or businesses within your client’s sphere of influence, and remember names & roles. Share your past experience, or tell your new colleagues about your growth-mindset wisdom. In the moment, this might feel shallow or overwhelming, but it communicates to your client that you are personally invested in this work, and you will have a better perspective to develop your workflow strategy.

2. Inclusive Communication Policies

Remote work lives in the world of email, Zoom, and project management software. Each and every client has a different blend of those three elements, plus many more ways to connect. This is another step for the early stages of your contract: find out what the best way is to communicate with your client, and adapt your workflow to their preferences. Make sure you really listen, too. If you send a client six emails and hear nothing back, and finally catch them via text and they tell you email is their preferred method of contact, consider texting them a heads-up the next time an important update hits their email inbox.

In my experience, project management software can be a blessing and a curse at the same time. Clients may ask you to use a PM program that you are not familiar with, or your client may have never used the software you prefer. I recommend a blended approach with a healthy amount of duplication, in a have-your-cake-and-cover-it-too style. For only a little more time on the clock, everyone gets to access information in a comfortable way. Think “and” — not “or.”

This extra time is worth it, because everyone on your new home team deserves to understand your process, and take a look around at what you’re up to.

3. Define the Why

While the last two pieces of advice helped you to build an inclusive workflow, this thought informs more of your ground-level philosophical approach to remote work. You have been hired as a contractor because you made someone believe that you can transform their idea into a reality. Because of your technical skill, you can make something happen! It is your due diligence to understand exactly what your client wants.

I have frequently heard things like clients don’t know what they want or they only know it when they see it, but I don’t believe any good businessperson would pay someone just to see what they come up with. My theory is that most contractors don’t know how to ask the right questions. I wish I could draft up a blog about the perfect set of questions to ask, but that varies by industry. What I can do is help you build the room to get an idea, in writing, of exactly what your new team wants: Map your resources, communicate equitably to your new network, inquire relentlessly, and take good notes.

Populate your roster, understand your lineup, and you’ve got a winning home team, even from afar!