Last week, I wrote a post about how to make your workday more productive. In this follow up post, it’s my goal to help you further reach that objective by giving you tools to apply to your interactions with others.
As consultants, especially the “work remotely” type, how we create and maintain relationships with teammates, bosses and clients defines how good we are at our job. It’s not enough to be the best developer/architect/project manager in the world. You also have to be a great consultant to be a vital part of your company.
1. You’re an individual, let that show
To borrow a quote from Pulp Fiction: “Personality goes a long way”. I highly encourage you to let your personality show in your daily interactions, nobody wants to work with an robot-like person. Are you funny? Are you quirky? Let that shine through. Your company culture will help you figure out the line between acceptable and unprofessional.
In CodeScience, we’re highly encouraged to let our uniqueness run wild, from purple mohawks to wearing minion hats during calls. We always turn on our cameras during meetings. We love to hand each other (and our clients!) “Minion of the Moment” awards for outstanding effort.
All of this helps you know people better and, as you probably already figured out, when you know somebody you work much better with them.
2. Always, always, always respond to client emails
This one sounds obvious, right? Well, it isn’t. In this digital age, we often forget that on the other side of the email there is a human being that is waiting for an answer or an acknowledgement. We also forget that non-verbals don’t apply to digital communication. Just like you would answer a client if he asked you a question in person you must do so via email.
It doesn’t always need to be a long paragraph, but it needs to be there. If a client sends you an email outlining action items, or meeting notes, respond with a quick note acknowledging receipt and providing preliminary ETAs for any items you are responsible for. Clients always appreciate knowing that you’re on top of things.
One last note on meeting invites. While I’ll cover meeting etiquette in the next topic, this one is a biggie. Never ignore invites. If you plan to attend, accept it ASAP. If you can’t make it, decline (ideally with a note). If you aren’t sure, mark it tentative and communicate your go/no-go decision with at least 24 hours to go. It’s horrible for a client to join a meeting room expecting you and you’re AWOL.
3. Remember meeting etiquette
Books have been written about meeting etiquette, so I will be (relatively) brief here. Meeting with teammates, bosses or a client is among the most important tasks of any consultant, especially if you work remotely. This is the time to get on the same page, explain deliverables or ask/answer any questions. There are a few easy rules to follow: Don’t be late. Don’t be noisy. Don’t be a conversation hog.
I’ve my calendar set up to remind me 10 minutes in advance of any meetings. Unless I’m in another meeting, I join the room as soon as the popup comes on. I’d rather be the first and not the last. Besides, I can continue working while I wait for the meeting to start. If I’ve an unexpected problem (like a previous meeting running long) I shoot off an email as soon as the delay becomes apparent. Remember that if you’ve been invited to a meeting it’s because you have something to contribute. Be there on time.
Keep your phone muted while not talking, you never know when your dog will bark, a fire truck will drive right by your open window or your 3 year old will come squealing to you. Noise is incredibly distracting in a meeting, and can make it impossible to communicate so anything you can do to minimize it is good (I invested about $100 in a great pair of headphones with a unidirectional mic to avoid catching as much background noise as possible). Also, a lot of us get bored by working in the same place, looking at the same window/wall every day. Going to Starbucks to spend a couple of hours is normal. However, Starbucks is usually super noisy, so try and avoid it if you have a day with jam-packed meetings.
Now for the one I am most guilty of. I’ve always been a talker, but in remote meetings I can be downright annoying. Since most times I can’t see my interlocutor’s face when I am remote (especially clients, who don’t usually turn on their cameras) I don’t easily realize when my time is up and my point has been made. Try and make an effort to keep it short, and stop often to let others interject or ask you questions. You can even experiment with setting a timer on your phone to avoid the 3 minute soliloquy.
4. It’s always better to over-communicate
Sometimes less is more but not when it comes to reaching out, especially if you’re remote. Clients and teammates can’t be inside your head and know what is the status of your tasks. Are you blocked? Are you planning to finish ahead of time, or late? Do you need anything? One of the most frustrating things for other people is for you to need something and not ask for it until right before your deliverable is due or, even worse, after.
Speak early and often, be vocal but clear, let others know what’s going on, even if there’s no real update. Sometimes a simple “all is good, progressing in time” brings peace of mind to somebody who would otherwise be worried about you. And, if things are not going well, you could be getting help early.
It’s easy to go into a cocoon and then emerge victorious at the end, but work should not be a suspense movie for stakeholders. Letting them know where you are makes you dependable, will turn you into their hero, and you’ll take one problem off their plate.
5. Know your limits
As consultants, most of the time our aim is to please the client. As teammates, we don’t want to fail our colleagues. However, nobody is Superman (unless your name is Clark Kent, of course). It’s very common for us to take more than we can handle and then miss deadlines or deliver poor work.
We all like to feel good and be valued and we all like to be high-achievers. However, cramming 80 hours of work in a 40-50 hour week only leads to burnout. We can all do it for a little while when the project is in a crunch, but doing it routinely is not productive. It is much better to manage expectations and be realistic about what is possible. If the project really has 80 hours worth of work a week for you, then what it really needs is another team member.
It’s important that you learn how much you can safely handle and how to say no once you have too much on your plate. You’re not doing anybody a favor (especially yourself) by taking responsibility for too many tasks.
Being a consultant isn’t rocket science but, like everything, it does take a bit of work. Since the word “consulting” actually means “asking for or giving advice,” it’s not surprising, that most of it revolves around communication. If you make sure that everybody around you knows what’s going on, you follow some basic rules, and you consistently deliver what you promise then you’ll be a superstar, whether you’re the most technically talented guy in your team or not.