From the beginning, SAKS Health has always been a fully virtual company. So, as the world pivoted to being completely remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we leaned heavily on our experience to help our clients and affiliate partners in this difficult time. One of the most important things we’ve learned over the years is that the backbone of our ability to meet the demands of a virtual work environment is quality project and program management.
And while our project management office (PMO) works across all our practices at SAKS Health, it is especially important to Digital Transformation, our newest practice. With our development teams offshore, all of our teams virtual, and now the new normal of our client partners also being virtual, having a strong project management team has been key to successful project implementation.
We have found that there are three important factors when working with teams virtually: communicating internally, developing trusting relationships with external partners and clients, and ensuring engagement and comprehension during virtual meetings.
Organization and communication are always important, but in this new environment, they are even more so. It’s like the Navy Seal saying “slow is smooth, smooth is fast”: slow down, be conscientious, and show empathy. By maintaining a calm, deliberate flow, we gain greater efficiency and deliver better experiences for our internal team, affiliated partners, and clients.
To make sure everyone hears the same thing when we are all not in the same place, we hold shorter but more frequent meetings. We don’t charge in with a long emailed response. But rather hold a quick, focused meeting, and if appropriate, with a visual so our colleague(s) can see the object for discussion, whether it be a draft sitemap, a proposed layout, or a disputed invoice.
Building Trusting Client Relationships
Developing client relationships is harder in a virtual environment and takes attention to different techniques. First of all, be kind to your clients—they are probably overwhelmed. Provide an agenda ahead of calls. Then, open the call by verbalizing the objective of the meeting. Often, people are in back-to-back calls; repeating the reason for the call gives everyone time to focus. And finally, watch the camera for visual cues to see who wants to speak. Ensure everyone’s voice is heard.
Running Successful Virtual Meetings
We have developed a list of some of the best practices that we find work for ensuring remote calls and meetings run as smoothly and successfully as possible:
Have an agenda
Open files you want to present before you start the call
Size files that you’re presenting so your audience doesn’t have to strain or squint to see them
Line all the files you’re presenting up in the window you plan to share so you can easily move from one tab to another
Log in a minute or two before the call
Turn on your camera and adjust the layout to minimize or hide your own picture so that you are not distracted
It’s ok to glance at your shared window but make eye contact with and talk directly to your camera
During the presentation, maintain engagement using tools like reaction buttons in Zoom or whiteboard in Google Meets to brainstorm with your colleagues
Turn up your charisma to give extra energy to the call and show genuine emotion
At the end, ask if anyone has additional comments or questions to ensure all voices are heard
While this is not an exhaustive list, these are some skills we have found to be useful in running virtual meetings and collaborating remotely.
In addition to these points, one of the biggest questions we hear is whether you should use your camera while on a virtual call. We’ve seen it all. In some calls, no one uses a camera, and in others, everyone has their camera on. While still other calls start with all cameras on and end with most turned off. We have found that meetings with cameras turned on allow you to connect transparently and build trust with your colleagues. This is most similar to the in-person office meetings where we could all see each other and pick up on non-verbal cues. But having cameras turned on for all calls is not always feasible due to a wide range of reasons from zoom fatigue to not being in a camera conducive space. In the end we recommend a blended approach, using the camera when connection is most important and turning the camera off when you need to recharge your batteries.
While these are just three aspects that help improve program management and project delivery, they are nonetheless vitally important, especially in this virtual era, for successful strategic and tactical activations. We’ve all learned a lot in 2020 so let’s make sure we are doing all we can to have better communication in 2021.