Best Practices For Manager/Employee 1:1 Meetings

As more companies switch to remote work, it becomes ever more critical to intentionally connect with our co-workers and employees. While we are all trying to clear our calendars, scheduling weekly one-to-one meetings with every direct report continues to be essential. Even when working with the freelancers and contractors who comprise the liquid workforce, I have found that one-to-one meetings are crucial to a successful working relationship. Consistently great one-to-one meetings are the secret to improving team performance, morale, and company culture.

Emotionally intelligent managers know that people need to feel cared for and valued — people are happiest when they are learning, working on challenging projects, given room to make decisions, and encouraged to use their judgment to do their job. Your goal in one-to-one meetings is to discover how your direct reports are feeling and growing so that you can improve how you coach/mentor/sponsor/support them.

Managers should have a weekly one-to-one scheduled with each direct report. It is understandable if it needs to be rescheduled in a specific week, or if it doesn’t happen from time to time. But in my experience, managers should aim to have one-to-one meetings at least three out of every four weeks. It’s important to have regular check-ins to prevent larger issues from festering, allow for immediate and regular feedback and promote open communication.

Structure And Prompts

Start your one-to-ones with open-ended questions to help you understand how employees are doing, what is on their minds and how you might be able to help.

Check in on the employee’s current progress. Are there big or small successes to celebrate? How is progress tracking versus goals? What resources does the employee need? Ongoing reviews of progress ensure that nothing on a performance review comes as a surprise.

Every few weeks, be sure to dedicate some time to discuss long-term goals and ambitions. For example, ask employees what they view as the next step in their career path and how they see themselves in their roles. This helps you develop your people so that you can promote from within.

Here are some questions you may want to incorporate into your one-to-one agendas. These questions can help you understand how employees are motivated by their work, self-assess their skills, and view their control over their work.

1. Prompts To Understand Purpose/Relatedness

  • What are you most proud of?
  • Where do you see your job linked to our company’s goals?
  • When have your contributions to our company’s overall goals inspired you?
  • What can I do to make you feel that your work is meaningful and crucial to our company’s overall goals?
  • What feedback is the most meaningful/impactful that you have received?
  • What challenges/barriers are you facing, and how can I help remove them?
  • What part of your daily activities do you feel wastes your time?

2. Prompts To Grow Mastery/Competence

  • What is something you learned this week?
  • If you reflect on one piece of work product, where are you most proud of that work?
  • What is something you will do differently next time?
  • If you were to critique a recent project you completed, what grade would you give yourself? Why?
  • Are you celebrating the things you did well?
  • Are you avoiding anything you didn’t do well?
  • How can you become even better at…?
  • What can I, as a leader, do to help you to become even better?

3. Prompts To Support Autonomy

  • Do you have enough space to perform?
  • Are you able to make decisions that help use your experience and move your work forward?
  • Are you able to use your experience/expertise to help the company make good decisions?
  • Do you have the right level of influence to feel you are having an impact/adding value?
  • Are there things we should change so you feel like you have more ownership of your work?
  • What types of decisions do you feel comfortable making yourself? When do you hesitate to decide on your own?

As you start to wrap up your one-to-ones, make sure to ask questions that confirm any discussed actions and identify follow-ups for the next meeting. For example:

  • What are you committing to between now and the next time we meet?
  • What can I help you with between now and the next time we meet?
  • Is there anything we didn’t cover that you’d like to discuss next time?

As a manager, it’s your job to create environments and conditions that put employees where their intrinsic motivations are and let them be productive. Committing to regular weekly one-to-one meetings — with employees as well as freelancers — will help you develop your workforce and support their success. Investing this time in discussions with your employees will not only enable them to achieve their goals but is also essential for you to be successful as a leader and manager of people.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Professional Development Tips For Startup Founders

I’ve spent my career advising startup founders and founding companies myself. When you work in a big corporate structure, there are many structured professional development opportunities. When you’re a founder, you have to create your own professional development opportunities and prioritize those against building your company.

Here are my tips for professional development for startup founders.

Join a community of peer founders.

Entrepreneurship can be lonely. Finding and joining a program for founders at your stage is a straightforward way to find peer founders. Two organizations that I can personally recommend starting with are All Raise and On Deck, which run programs for founders at various stages. All Raise runs a seed bootcamp and a post-seed to Series A program, and On Deck runs a founder fellowship and a scale fellowship. (Full disclosure: I am an inaugural member of All Raise’s Visionary Voices Speaker Bureau and am an inaugural fellow in On Deck’s Fintech Fellowship and in On Deck’s Customer Success Fellowship.)

Connect with founders who are one to two funding stages ahead.

It always helps to know what’s coming and to get advice from those more experienced than you. These founders know and understand what you are dealing with and can provide a fresh but experienced perspective.

Once you get further ahead, be sure to return the favor and connect with founders who are one to two funding stages behind you. Personally, I love the energy of new founders. I find it energizing to mentor and advise new founders. In addition, the experience of advising other entrepreneurs can help you be more reflective of your own experiences, helping you learn more quickly.

Ask for feedback.

Ask for feedback frequently, and be specific when asking for feedback. I’ve found that frequent feedback has not only helped me continually learn and grow as an entrepreneur, but has also helped me generate new ideas to move my business forward. If someone gives you vague feedback, ask for specifics on what was good or what could be improved. Even when you get specific feedback, ask clarifying questions so you can be sure to leave with actionable insights. Always thank people for their time and feedback, and follow up with your progress if and when appropriate.

Get a mentor or coach.

Yes, I said a coach. Don’t be afraid of coaching. When we were kids, we all had coaches and mentors — experienced advisors to help us along the way. As a founder (or any adult navigating their career), a coach can be invaluable. Coaches can help you improve your leadership skills, increase your productivity, unlock new opportunities and help you set achievable goals and deliver results. Not sure how to find a coach or mentor? Ask your peer founders or founders a few stages ahead of you for some recommendations. However you find your coach, make sure you find someone you connect with and trust. Without trust, coaching won’t get you anywhere.

Delegate, delegate, delegate.

Don’t hire quickly. In fact, I recommend doing each job function before hiring. But once you understand the work that needs to be done, delegate it as quickly as you can. Hire employees if the work calls for someone internal, but also be open to building a virtual talent bench. Using a liquid workforce ensures that companies can tap into the right expertise and skill sets as needed for any time frame. Engaging on-demand advisors and consultants is an efficient way for startups to grow their teams and scale their businesses without increasing their headcount.

Grow your network.

When you’re busy building your startup, it can be too easy to get deep into the weeds. As a founder, your role should be strategic. Yes, you should dig in when needed, but you should be focusing on the overall vision. Building a network of fellow founders, industry experts, investors, mentors, coaches and advisors will help you accomplish your extraordinary vision. Network with other founders in your industry, regardless of stage. Network with investors in your industry, even if you aren’t fundraising — and in fact, especially when you aren’t fundraising.

Build a “personal board of advisors.”

No one is exactly like you, and no one has built a startup precisely like yours. So there isn’t a single person out there who can advise you on all aspects of your startup. You’ll have to find and build a group of mentors and advisors who can help you with various issues. The right mentors are people who believe in you and are willing to provide honest, candid feedback.

Get a COO.

As soon as you can, get yourself out of the business of running the day-to-day operations and hire a COO. You need a COO who will not only have strong organizational, analytical, and project management skills but will also be your partner in growing your business. Trust and good communication are essential building blocks to the success of your relationship. The right COO will help you run your company’s operations while helping you take it to the next level.

Invest in your development.

As a founder, it’s easy to put off spending time networking or investing in your personal development. After all, there’s always a new fire to fight or an opportunity to tackle every day. Personal development time can be a low priority compared to the day-to-day requirements of running and growing your business. But this personal investment is critical to your success as a founder and entrepreneur. Prioritize and carve out time to focus on your personal development — invest in yourself as a leader, and it will help you in ways that you won’t anticipate.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Remote Work: Creating A Documentation-First Culture

Before the pandemic, the growth of remote work was already a significant workforce trend as part of the future of work — remote work options increased threefold from 1996 to 2016. After the experiences of the last year, this trend has only accelerated. My current team is fully remote (with a mix of employees, independent contractors, agencies, and freelancers), and I’ve learned that one of the keys to success with remote workforce management is documentation. Whether your company is considering an entirely remote workforce or a hybrid workforce, it’s critical to be a documentation-first company.

Benefits Of A Remote Or Hybrid Workforce

Hiring remote workers, including freelancers or independent contractors, has many different benefits for your firm. One of these benefits is cost savings, with a reduction in onsite operations costs. Even more importantly, your company has access to a much larger talent pool with the removal of geographic obstacles to hiring. And remote workers can be even more productive than onsite workers. A study published in Harvard Business Review found that work-from-anywhere arrangements were even more productive than traditional work-from-home policies. And in a recent PwC survey of U.S. executives, 83% of employers reported that their companies found success with shifting to remote work.

Remote work arrangements benefit the company and the worker — increasing the attractiveness of working for your company not only for potential new hires but also for retaining existing employees. A Gallup survey found that 54% of office workers would leave their current job for one that offers flexible work.

Challenges Of A Remote Or Hybrid Workforce

But engaging a remote workforce does also create challenges. Managing benefits can become more complicated for your HR team, and communication can be a critical issue with the potential for not enough communication and/or remote employees feeling left out or excluded. Plus, building and maintaining your company culture takes more thought and dedicated effort and programs with a dispersed workforce. One of the ways to overcome these challenges is with a documentation mindset.

Going Beyond Onboarding

It’s common for companies to have a standardized onboarding process to complete and collect all the necessary forms, like W-2s for employees or W-9s for freelancers. A digital onboarding process makes it easy to assemble and organize all the required forms quickly. But when you have remote workers, it’s critical to go beyond the documents and deliver a comprehensive onboarding experience. After all, a 2018 survey found that 93% of employers concur that a good onboarding experience is critical to retaining workers.

You need a documentation-first mindset when engaging a remote workforce. Think about how you translate an onsite onboarding experience to a digital experience. How do you bring your company’s culture to life? How do you make your company’s resources and tools easily accessible and understood? What training do you need to provide?

Preparing and regularly updating documentation in advance is critical to success as you scale your remote workforce. This shouldn’t be an ad hoc exercise, but rather something that your company regularly dedicates time to create, maintain, and improve.

Increasing Knowledge Sharing

With my remote team, I’ve found that documenting our processes and best practices is essential to our success in working well together, regardless of location. Fostering knowledge sharing through “living” documents increases our ability to collaborate effectively and for employees and freelancers to quickly help with new projects or contribute impactful ideas. And one of the most important areas to document is related to communication.

Make sure that your employees and contractors have a dedicated place for communication. For example, we’ve defined Slack channels for a variety of topics and projects, as well as for sharing FAQs. We also have documented details like tips for communication styles, expectations for communication content and frequency for project updates, who to connect with for different types of questions, and more. Effective, two-way communication is even more essential when working with a remote team.

Plus, with a documentation-first approach, it’s much easier to shift to a project-based work model. Moving from a role-based to a project-based organization increases the speed and agility of your business. This type of organization is only effective with robust processes and communication.

Embrace The Remote Workforce

It’s time to embrace new models of work and grow your remote workforce. Hiring remote employees, freelancers and contractors strengthens your talent pool and helps make your company more agile. With a documentation-first mindset, your company can smoothly transition to a remote or hybrid workforce. And that mindset will also help you take a more agile and project-based approach to plan and execute initiatives. Get ready to thrive in the future of work by becoming a documentation-first company and growing your remote team.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

A Blended Talent Strategy: How To Develop Your Liquid Workforce

A New Talent Strategy

HR leaders everywhere are shifting to managing a talent-based workforce that consists of full-time workers and liquid workers. Managing a blended workforce requires a different approach to employee development — you need a talent strategy for your blended workforce, not just your W-2 employees.

An effective talent management strategy is essential for every company to be successful. As companies adapt to meet the opportunities and challenges associated with the future of work, a new approach to talent management is required. The war for talent, particularly top talent, continues to challenge large and small companies, particularly as the freelance workforce continues to grow rapidly. Agile companies are building on-demand talent pools that can be quickly tapped, enabling rapid flexing of resources to meet skill needs. For example, corporate boards and executive teams are increasingly relying on the expertise and advice of on-demand advisors and consultants.

Blended Talent Management

Talent management needs to encompass attracting, onboarding, developing, engaging and retaining both employees and liquid workers. HR leaders need to adapt their processes and systems for the new blended workforce.

In traditional HR strategic talent planning, HR leaders take the following steps:

1. Understand the company’s strategic direction. What are the company’s goals and priorities?

2. Understand how employees can impact the company’s ability to achieve the strategic direction. What are the business drivers and challenges?

3. Complete a talent assessment and gap analysis. What skills are needed to achieve the company’s goals? Do we have the breadth and depth of skills and experiences required? What are the near-term versus longer-term requirements?

4. Enable talent management through the support of workflows (e.g., onboarding, performance management), software systems, and training and professional development. What HR support is required for managers to lead and develop teams successfully? What HR support is needed for employees to be successful?

5. Evaluate success through “SMART” (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based) KPIs and metrics. What will indicate the success of your talent management strategy?

These same steps can be adapted to incorporate a blended talent management approach. As you think through your talent assessment and gap analysis, consider where you have near-term versus long-term needs. Does your company need a surge in one area to scale new capabilities or a new business line quickly? Does your workforce have a digital-readiness gap? Is there an area that needs fluid resources that can ramp up and down as needed? Addressing questions like these as part of your talent assessment will help you develop your blended strategy and determine where liquid workers are best utilized.

Growing And Retaining Blended Talent

However, standard processes and systems cannot be used as-is when you expand from a traditional workforce to a blended workforce. Processes and systems need to be adapted or rethought to be effectively utilized for liquid workers. For example, to de-risk compliance issues, companies should separate employees and contractors into different systems for management and payment. Likewise, onboarding processes will be different for freelancers, emphasizing contractual elements (such as the master services agreement, statement of work and nondisclosure agreements) and enabling the freelancer to hit the ground running from the moment onboarding is completed. KPIs must also be adapted and focus on areas like project success rates and freelancer performance ratings.

Once you know what liquid talent you need as part of your blended workforce, you can focus on growing and developing that talent pool. Talent can be sourced through referrals from your professional network, recommendations from other workers and online talent platforms.

Innovative leaders will build their company a database of vetted liquid workers. Freelance and on-demand talent should be identified and sourced based on the identified needs from the assessment and skills gap analysis. Use trial projects to evaluate and assess liquid talent, and make sure that performance reviews are ongoing by collecting feedback and ratings for every worker with each project. Give thought to retention strategies and programs that specifically consider how to retain the best liquid talent. For example, some companies may provide back-end profit participation, equity or performance bonuses.

For leaders and companies that are ready to address the future of work, focusing on a blended workforce talent strategy will allow you to become more nimble and agile in achieving your company’s goals. The future of work is more than remote work, and it’s time to adapt our traditional approaches to talent management and shift to thinking centered around a blended workforce.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Clearing The Calendar: How To Identify And Avoid Unnecessary Meetings

It isn’t easy to be working at full brain capacity with so much going on in the world. These are unprecedented, tumultuous times. It’s important to give your team the mental and emotional space that they need right now, as it is more important than ever to bring emotions to the workplace. Helping your team adjust to remote work by reducing the number of conference calls can also help to improve morale — and productivity levels.

Too Many Conference Calls

These days, work feels like going from one videoconference call to the next. Scheduling conference calls or meetings often feels like the simplest way to tackle business issues. Want to brainstorm ideas? Let’s hop on Zoom! Not sure which action items to work on? Let’s jump on Meet! Need a status update from your team? Time for a conference call! Unclear about what the project scope is? Let’s schedule a meeting!

Does this sound like your team? There is a time and a place for a videoconference call or meeting, but in the age of remote work, I’m hearing that many workers feel overwhelmed with conference calls. The future of work has accelerated, and millions of Americans are adjusting to working from home. Many team leaders are managing remote workers for the first time. In turn, a number of managers have asked me for advice on reducing the number of meetings so their team can spend more time working, instead of talking at each other.

Replace Conference Calls With Concise Written Communication

With remote work, clear and concise written communication becomes essential. In many cases, you can replace large conference calls with brief but comprehensive documentation or succinct memos with detailed appendices. If your team struggles with writing clearly, start with small adjustments to give workers time to learn and adapt.

Keep in mind that clear written communication is a sign of clarity of thought. Writing a detailed memo requires better thought and understanding of what is important and how things are related. When your team members have clarity of thought, it’s easier to rally your team around a common goal. Your employees will be thankful for fewer meetings, and your team will be more closely aligned on goals, project plans, strategies, and processes.

Consider this: Jeff Bezos has said that in meetings of Amazon’s executive team, before any discussion, everyone sits in total silence, carefully reading six-page printed narrative memos. These carefully crafted and edited memos allow the team to spend the meeting having more in-depth discussions — they make the meetings more productive. Bezos shared his tips for writing memos in an annual shareholders letter.

Other Alternatives

In other cases, you could replace your conference call with an email, Slack message, or an @ mention in your team’s project management software. Sometimes, it’s best to plan a solo brainstorming session to clarify your ideas before writing them down to share. Personally, I find that I do my best brainstorming while walking outside, getting some fresh air.

How To Decide Whether To Schedule That Next Meeting

Ask yourself these questions to help with your decision-making process for scheduling meetings.

Do I know why I want to schedule a meeting?
It’s tempting to schedule a conference call when you don’t know what to do on a project — it provides an illusion of progress. But if you’ve already had a meeting to plan and structure the work, spend some solo time thinking strategically. Evaluate the scope of work and the current progress toward milestones, and you should be able to start figuring out your action items and other progress that must happen. Then, ask yourself the next question.

Do I need input from colleagues?
Now that you’ve figured out the action items, you may find that you don’t need outside input. When this is the case, get to work instead of scheduling a meeting — at this point, that would be an inefficient use of your team’s time. On the other hand, if you need your team to provide feedback or answer questions before getting to work, move on to the next question.

Is a real-time conversation necessary to move the project forward?
If you need some feedback or additional information from your team, ask yourself whether you need a real-time convo. If not, you may be able to communicate over email or an instant messenger or group chat (I use Slack with my teams). In some cases, asking for clarification directly in your team’s project management software may be the best course of action. The more you allow your team to work asynchronously, versus in synchronous calls or meetings, the more chunks of time your team will have to focus on deep work. But if your specific questions do require a real-time conversation, then you may need to schedule a conference call or meeting.

Do you really need a face-to-face meeting versus a conference call?
I recommend videoconference calls versus audio-only conference calls. The addition of video makes conversations more effective because of visual cues — participants can read body language and easily know who is speaking. If it’s a quick question with only one person you know well, a phone call is probably best. But if it requires more discussion, schedule a videoconference call.

Spend an adequate amount of time preparing for the videoconference call to make it as efficient and productive as possible. Write down goals for the videoconference and desired outcomes, and prep and send out materials in advance.

In some cases, you must communicate face to face and in person. We won’t be able to cancel all meetings, but we can do our best to make the most of them.

Hopefully, with these questions in mind, you’ll be able to reduce the number of conference calls and meetings your team has to attend while increasing your team’s productivity (and morale).

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Interested in the Future of Work? Join the Work of the Future #FutureOfWork Facebook Group.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Top Tools for Remote / Distributed Teams (Working Remotely)

For most of my career, I’ve worked remotely with clients across the country. While my friends put on makeup, get dressed in business casual attire, and commute to the office, I sometimes work in pajamas (or sweaty athleisure after a morning workout).

As a co-founder of FlexTeam, I manage our team of 300+ executive-level consultants — all working remotely as independent consultants / 1099 workers. At FlexTeam (and at Liquid), we believe working in this way (building companies with a dynamic “liquid workforce” that can easily be scaled up or down) is the future of work.

To seamlessly communicate and work effectively with remote / distributed teams, whether traditional W-2 employees or part of the liquid workforce, you need the right technology and tools. I’ve tested out dozens of email, phone, video chat, and web-based collaboration tools so you don’t have to.

Here are the tools I’ve found most useful for working remotely / distributed teams.

Team Communication

When working with a remote team, communication is of the utmost importance. Slack gives remote teams the ability to communicate in a modern day work environment while allowing users to creatively express themselves through emojis, gifs, and status updates. One of my remote / distributed teams can’t get enough of the party parrots custom emojis.

You can communicate in private direct or group messages, or slack channels. Slack channels can be set to private or public and allow you to keep conversations organized, while reducing the number of emails your team sends and receives. Also, slack allows many apps and integrations within your slack team to increase your team productivity (and/or happiness, depending on the integration)! My favorite feature is the ability to mute channels and set “do not disturb” times — the ability to control notifications feels so satisfying.

I’ve tried other alternatives — Atlassian’s Stride and HipChat, which have been discontinued; Microsoft’s Yammer; and Ryver — but slack is still the gold standard. I use slack everyday with multiple different remote / distributed teams.

Collaborative Documents

I use Google Drive and G Suite (Gmail, Google Calendar, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Keep, etc) on a daily basis. In fact, most of the tabs open on my browser are from one of Google’s many products. Sure, Google Drive (and Docs, Sheets, and Slides) has its flaws. But I haven’t found a better tools for real-time online collaboration on files. I’ve tried Microsoft’s Office 365, Zoho, Quip (recently acquired by Salesforce), Dropbox, Box, and others. Admittedly, I need to spend some time testing out Dropbox Paper. Still, I’m mostly satisfied with how Google Drive behaves.

My favorite feature is setting expiration dates for view or comment access to files. This allows me to share files without having to remember to go back and remove access.

I couldn’t work with my distributed / remote teams without Google Drive and G Suite.

Document Storage

Google Drive is hands down what I prefer for collaborative documents. But there are many more file types that can’t be edited directly in Google Drive. For those files, and for long-term storage and retrieval of documents, I use Dropbox. (Confession: until three months ago, I used a combination of Box, Dropbox, and OneDrive for various purposes before finally committing to Dropbox.)

Whether it’s logos and design files, or contracts and other PDFs, I like the ease of shared Dropbox folders. Sure, it isn’t perfect, but I’ve yet to find any tech solution that is. Dropbox makes sharing files easy and syncs to every device (web, mobile, pc, mac). And best of all, the syncing is seamless and doesn’t use up all the RAM on my laptop.

Plus, it’s free to start with 2GB! And if you upgrade to a paid plan, you get tons of additional features — features that you’ll be happy to have for managing your remote team. One of the most important ones, in my humble opinion, is version history. As of October 2019, Dropbox Basic or Plus accounts can recover any file deleted or changed in the last 30 days, while Dropbox Business accounts bumps that up to 120 days, and Dropbox Professional accounts gives you 180 days!

That way, if any member of your remote team (or a client) accidentally deletes a file (or worse, infects the file with malware), you can rewind and recover what you’ve lost!

Quick Video Chat

Working remotely, it’s easy to fall back on email, IM, or even slack instead of meeting in person or talking on the phone. Regular video conferences can help you reconnect with your remote team — allowing you to build a more effective working relationship.

I recommend (formerly — I’ve tried skype, Google Hangouts,, and many other video conferencing tools. They’ve all failed me on more than one occasion, usually cutting out video and/or audio part way through a meeting; sometimes they have failed to connect altogether. uses WebRTC (real time communication) and provides a beautiful, smooth, and polished alternative to everyone’s default video chat platform, Google Hangouts. It uses HTML5 only (no flash) and there are no sign-ups. No plugins needed, unless you want to screenshare.

Unfortunately, the free version limits you to 4 participants so you’ll need to pay up (or use another tool) if you need to talk to more than 3 other people at one time.

Side note: has a much better product than but unfortunately their free version limits you to 2 participants (so it only works for one-on-one video calls).

Conference Calls

I used to love for team or client conference calls. But I switched to UberConference (when T-mobile stopped supporting calls to phone numbers) and I’ve never looked back. It has all the features you might want, from custom hold music to free call recording, local dial-in numbers to mobile apps — it has everything. I love that it makes it easy to call in to conferences from the app. And now it also supports video conferencing (with screen sharing) for $15/month.

I use UberConference for conference calls with my remote / distributed teams as well as with clients.

Phone Calls and Voicemail

Google Voice began as a startup called GrandCentral, which Google purchased in 2007. I’ve been using this product since 2006, when GrandCentral was founded.

It’s a simple way to get an extra phone number to share with clients or your remote team — especially when you don’t want to share your personal cell phone number (or want to share a number with a local area code). You can use this separate phone number to answer calls, receive voicemails, and even send and receive text messages!

Full-featured Phone System / Team Phone Number.

When it comes to business communications (especially with clients or customers), phone calls are still king. Whether you’re resolving a client issue, making a sale, or fleshing out details, sometimes phone is still best. If you need a full-featured VOIP (voice over internet protocol) phone system, I highly recommend Dialpad. It’s a big upgrade from your traditional PBX network, especially for remote / distributed teams.

Dialpad delivers crystal-clear phone calls to the devices you already use (computers and mobile devices). It’s easy to set-up new users and you can quickly see what calls have been made and when. Plus, it has great iOS and Android apps and integrates easily with UberConference (my preferred conference call tool)!

Project Management

If you’re like me, you’ve got a million projects going simultaneously. But whether you’re working on just a few projects or many, team communications need to be super clear when you work with remote / distributed teams. As the founders of Asana put it in a blog post “the bigger your team, and the bigger your mission, the bigger your coordination problem.”

In my humble opinion, Asana and Trello are the best tools for project management — whether you work in a remote / distributed team or a traditional work environment.

Asana enables teams to track and manage the progress of projects within a shared workspace. At a more granular level, tasks can be created to keep track of individual components of a larger project. Users can add tasks, assign them to team members, set due dates, comment, and share relevant documents. The result is a highly customizable platform for project management. I find that the free version is usually sufficient for most teams — it supports up to 15 team members, unlimited task projects and conversations, and access to limited dashboards and search functions.

Trello was originally a web-based list-making application, which has evolved into task management app based on the Kanban system (a system originally developed by Toyata for for lean manufacturing, but that has become widely adopted by tech startups and other companies). It allows you to have a visual overview of what your remote / distributed team is working on and who is working on it.

Think of it as a whiteboard that you can fill with post-it notes.

The free version of Trello gives you 10 team boards, but only allows you to use 1 power-up (additional features and integrations that make Trello much more useful).

Now, whether to use Trello or Asana? I recommend you try both to figure out which is best for your remote team’s needs. You might find you want to use both for different cases.

Webinars and Video Conferencing

If you’re putting on webinars, there’s nothing better than Zoom. Zoom has a great free version that allows you to host conference calls and video calls, and supports screen sharing, making recordings of video and screen shares, and more. The only problem is that it limits calls to 40 minutes (though you can easily just start up a new call immediately after your call ends).

But where Zoom shines is hosting webinars. Sure, Google Meet (or Hangouts) is okay, too. And I do like when talking to 3 or fewer participants. But if you are hosting multiple panelists with many viewers, Zoom is the tool to use.

Internal Wiki / Shared Truth

Notion is a relatively new tool (founded in 2016). The company describes the app as an all-in-one workspace for note-taking, project management, and task management. I find that it’s great for note-taking and collaboration with markdown support that also integrates tasks, databases, and wikis.

Notion is incredibly versatile and I can think of dozens of different use cases. I highly recommend playing around with it to figure out how to integrate it with your distributed / remote team.

Manage, on-board, and pay 1099 workers / freelancers

Oftentimes (but not always), remote / distributed teams are made up of 1099 workers / freelancers engaged in project-based work. So I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Liquid, a new all-in-one solution powering the liquid workforce (full disclosure, my project-based consulting firm FlexTeam is also the team behind Liquid).

Liquid streamlines the way you onboard, manage, and pay your liquid workforce. It’s currently in limited free beta, with new features added every day. Let me know if you’d like an invite to our free limited beta!

Other tools worth exploring

Here are a few other tools that I don’t use, but have on my list to explore and evaluate.

Miro (formerly RealtimeBoard) is a self-described “visual collaboration platform for teams who want to collaborate faster, more easily and deliver better results!” From what I can tell, this is a collaborative white board tool that also incorporates video, chat, presentation, and sharing. And it integrates into slack and other tools! My preferred collaborative white board tools had been Limnu — but because they nixed their free plan, I’m open to exploring other alternatives.

Confluence by Atlassian is another shared workspace platform. Originally created as a wiki and documentation tool for developers, it has potential applications for non-technical teams collaborating on content. To me, what’s intriguing about Confluence is the $10 one-time fee for a self-hosted solution.

Okay, that’s it for me.

To make cross-functional teamwork effortless, you have to use the right tools for collaboration. Whether you work out of a coworking space, at home in your pajamas, at your local coffee shop, or in your roaming RV, I hope you found this list helpful!

Let me know in the comments what tools I’ve missed for remote / distributed teams (or what I got wrong)!

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

FlexTeam  is  a mission-based micro-consulting firm, co-founded by Yolanda Lau in 2015, that matches talented mid-career women with meaningful, challenging, temporally flexible, remote project-based work opportunities. FlexTeam’s clients are businesses of all sizes across all industries and sectors. FlexTeam’s most requested projects are competitor / market research, financial models, and investor decks. FlexTeam is also the team behind Liquid.

Project-based Work for Work-Life Fit

My dad is a surgeon. Specializing in transplants, he was always on call and rarely home. As a teenager, I vowed to find work that would allow me to spend time with the family I hoped to one day have.

My journey to find work-life balance led me to MIT where I studied Chemical Engineering and Biology (I took a detour on the pre-med path). During college, I was almost always employed part-time. I worked at a retail shop on Newbury Street; I tutored students enrolled in Introductory Biology; and I supported Women’s Recruitment efforts for MIT Admissions. It was in my role at the Admissions Office, where I was on a team that created MIT’s first online resource for prospective female undergrads, that I saw the advantages of working independently and remotely on project-based work.

Then, graduation came and it was time to get a job. I stayed on campus to start my career at the MIT Technology Licensing Office. Working to commercialize MIT-developed technology through licensing agreements with startups and passionate entrepreneurs (along with the traditional big corporations) opened my eyes to entrepreneurship. And it gave me an intensive education in intellectual property, negotiation, business development, marketing, branding, product development, alternative dispute resolution, trademarks, accounting, communications and public relations, and much more.

So after a two-year stint at the TLO, I went off on my own path. I co-founded a real estate development, investment, and property management firm, where I focused on operations. That led to other business opportunities, which led me to what I’ve been doing for the last decade — helping people start new ventures and helping those small businesses grow.

I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to make a living by doing meaningful work, while also having time for what matters in life — family and friends.

But not everyone is so lucky.

I’ve seen too many friends make the difficult choice between a fulfilling career and time spent with their children. Some have chosen to return to their jobs on a part-time basis, only to find that their responsibilities are closer to full-time at part-time pay. Others have chosen to jump back in head first, relying on loving grandparents or nannies to help with family responsibilities. And some have chosen to stay at home for now and hope to return to a career when their youngest kids reach school-age. Of those in the last group, many are using volunteer roles to keep up their skills or work a few hours a week at hourly jobs that don’t utilize their education or experiences.

A study in 2005 by Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Carolyn Buck Luce found that 37 percent of highly qualified women have voluntarily left work at some point in their careers, and among mothers, that statistic rises to 43 percent. Pew Research estimated that there were over 370,000 highly educated and affluent stay at home moms in 2014. And it’s been well documented that those who choose to take a break from their traditional career are financially penalized when they return to the workforce (the “motherhood penalty”). According to the Center for Talent Innovation, women lose 16 percent of their earning power when they return to work, and one in four returns to fewer management responsibilities.

But my unusual career has shown me there is another way.

Project-based consulting.

Short-term project-based work with clear milestones and deliverables could allow mothers (and fathers, as well as daughters and sons caring for elderly parents) to find work-life fit. These caregivers could continue to earn an income, keep their skills up-to-date, while retaining time to care for their families. Those who no longer need to worry about the long-term costs of leaving the traditional workforce are happier and more satisfied; and happier caregivers lead to happier families, and a better society.

Project-based consultants are more efficient and productive, as productivity goes up for highly motivated workers in a part-time results-oriented environment. Moreover, project-based consulting provides businesses with highly qualified (might I say, over qualified) freelancers at a discount. The attractive price is one of many reasons to hire freelance consultants.

I’m not the first to espouse the mutually beneficial nature of project-based work. In a 2013 article for the Atlantic, Paulette Light wrote:

Project-based work provides many benefits to both businesses and those re-entering. Freelancers don’t hit the bottom line as hard as because they aren’t paid benefits. With clear project descriptions, deadlines, and compensation, more moms who may be overqualified for a position might decide that they are willing to help out with a project because it meets their needs in the short term. I am sure that many moms will even step up to do a project even at the cost of their family because the timing is only temporary. As the business and the mom work together more, maybe a full-time job will come of it when all parties understand the value.

I think it’s safe to say that the benefits of project-based work are clear, for mothers, families, and businesses.

So let’s quantify the benefits.

The Power of Parity by McKinsey Global Institute

In 2015, McKinsey Global Institute found that advancing women’s equality in North America and Oceania alone could add $3.1 trillion to $5.3 trillion to the GDP in those regions by 2025. By increasing the number of women in the workforce, reducing the motherhood penalty, and improving gender equality using 12 other outcome-based indicators, the potential increase to GDP in this region is equivalent to the current GDP of Japan or Germany.

A recent study by Danielle Lindemann, Carly Rush, and Steven Tepper found that artistic careers — that is, those in performing arts, design, art history, writing, film, the visual arts, and music — did not have the wage penalty associated with motherhood that is found in most other industries. They theorized that this lack of penalty was due to the flexibility in employment as well as the project-based nature of artistic work. So increasing the number of women engaged in project-based work would surely decrease the motherhood penalty, getting us one step closer to gender wage parity.

Now let’s go back to the statistics of highly qualified women — previously defined as those with a graduate degree, a professional degree, or a high-honors undergraduate degree — who have left the traditional workforce. In 1982 to 2013, 44.1 million college degrees were granted to women. Let’s assume that five percent attended the top 40 schools and that 37 percent of women voluntarily leave work; that leaves 815,850 highly educated women between the ages of 24 and 55 who have left the traditional workforce.

Let’s say that project-based consulting could allow these women to work as much as they want to. The average American with a full-time job works 47 hours per week. Let’s assume that the working moms in this country spend 28 hours per week on family responsibilities, as they do across the pond. So if we assume that moms want to work only as many hours as is the difference between normal full-time employment and is needed to fulfill family responsibilities, that means moms would be happy to spend 19 hours per week working. That seems low to me, given an informal survey of friends who are moms. My unscientific survey leads me to believe that mothers would like to generally work from the hours of 9am to 1pm, or approximately 5 hours a day, leaving them time to drop the kids off, pick them up and take them to after school activities, and take care of all other tasks to run a household. So we can guess that moms would like to work 19 to 25 hours per week.

Now, independent consultants earn an average annual salary of $97,000. Let’s assume the average independent consultant works 40 hours per week and takes 6 to 8 weeks off each year. (What’s the point of working for yourself, if not to finally take time off? Besides, taking vacations results in lower stress as well as more happiness at work and home and greater success at work.) So, if each of the 815,850 highly educated women who have left the workforce were able to work 19 to 25 hours per week and earn income proportional to the average independent consultant’s salary, they could be earning about $46K to $61K each year. That income could allow families to be more stable, to create emergency funds.

Collectively, that’s $37.6 billion to $49.5 billion worth of paid work that project-based consulting could enable. And that’s just the 815,850 women with degrees from the top 40 colleges who have left the workforce.

Imagine how high that number would be if we did the same calculation for all women with college degrees who have left the workforce; all 16.3 million women. That increases those values to $751 billion to $989 billion.

Then imagine if we added the increasing number of men who are choosing to stay home.

What now?

For caregivers seeking work-life fit

If you are a caregiver who has left or wants to leave the traditional workforce, update your LinkedIn profile summary to state your interest in project-based work. If you are already doing project-based work, mentor would-be project-based consultants. Those who have a gap in their work history will need help understanding current business practices, coaching to regain their confidence, assistance with resume writing, and support to determine how their skills translate to clearly defined projects.

Take advantage of MOOCs like Coursera, EdX, and NovoEd, and resources like OpenCourseWare, Khan Academy, Code Academy, and Skillcrush to keep up your skills and acquire new ones — I’m passionate about lifelong learning / continuous education.

For business leaders who want to support work-life fit

If you work for a small or medium sized business and are in a position to retain project-based consultants, use your social capital within your company to do so. Then, convince your peers to do the same. Your employer will thank you.

If you own a business, start engaging highly educated and experienced moms (and dads, as well as daughters and sons) who have left the traditional workforce on project-based work. Like me, they could perform strategic analyses, craft a go-to-market strategy or customer acquisition strategy, assess your competition, determine where to cut costs, generate blog posts, manage your social media, guide you through a difficult negotiation, or help you decide whether to enter a new market or create a new product. Others could help you create financial models, craft a marketing or communications strategy, write PR pieces, assist with legal issues, plan events, and help with the hundreds of other things small businesses need help with. Small businesses like yours are the economic engine of our country, driving innovation and growth.

Still not sure how project-based consultants could help you manage and grow your business? Contact me and I’ll be happy to help you brainstorm.

Whatever the project, be clear with your goals and expectations to ensure you will be happy with the results.

Sites like HourlyNerd by Catalant, SpareHire, MBA and Company, Hillgate, Toptal Business (formerly Skillbridge) and 79 Studios’ own FlexTeam make it easier and more affordable for small businesses to find highly qualified project-based consultants.

Of these, only FlexTeam focuses on moms who have left the traditional workforce. Regardless of the method you use to find workers, helping to make project-based consulting commonplace will help more people find work-life balance, which will surely benefit us all. This is the future of work.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Skills for the Future of Work: what I’ve learned about people while building FlexTeam

I started FlexTeam in 2015 with two other MIT alums. In the early days, we all worked on everything: project scoping, operations, operations strategy, people ops, staffing, business development / sales, marketing, customer success, engagement management, project management, community management, content creation, quality control, copyediting, product development, consultant training & education, social media management, invoicing, and all the other things that come with running a startup or small business.

But as we’ve grown, we’ve all narrowed our focus a bit. My focus now lies mostly with our consultants — onboarding, education, training, learning & development, community building, best practices & processes for projects, project placement, etc.

My personal interest in FlexTeam has always been our consultants.

I’ve long thought that project-based work was the key to finding work-life fit, and once I became a mother I began dreaming about creating a mom micro-consulting firm to help women stay as engaged professionally outside of the traditional workforce.

So when we started FlexTeam, I was the one who sent out our first call for consultants. We started with a simple email to our sorority list (yes, I was in a sorority at MIT). The subject line was “remote / work-from-home opportunities,” the body of the email was five sentences long (plus our contact information) and included a link to a google form to sign up to work “as a freelancer remotely for FlexTeam.” That google form got 30+ responses within a few days.

That was 2015.

Today, we have hundreds of independent consultants in our database and a long wait-list of women who want to join us. Our consultants are alums of MIT, HBS, Wharton, Stanford, Princeton, McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, Bain, Merrill Lynch, & many more elite organizations, who reclaim their time by working with us on challenging projects for our clients. Our consultants work with FlexTeam to help them create their own work-life fit. And our clients get access to highly experienced, highly educated women that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to hire (whether on a project, part-time, or full-time basis).

So what have I learned about people and career success?

First, computational / algorithmic thinking is fundamentally important to being successful as a management consultant working remotely and independently.

What is computational thinking?

Computational thinking is a term that has been used for decades. The phrase computational thinking popularized by an essay by computer scientist Jeannette Wing. Wing suggested that thinking computationally was a fundamental skill for everyone (not just computer scientists). I think of it as the ability to solve problems algorithmically and logically:

  • the ability to break down a problem into its component parts;
  • analyze and organize data;
  • recognize patterns (within the problem and with past problems);
  • identifying, analyzing, and implementing potential solutions;
  • and iterating when feasible.

I think the ability to work with uncertainty is also part of computational thinking.

Why is computational thinking an important skill?

As the world becomes more complex and interconnected, so does the work people do. More importantly, as machine learning and artificial intelligence begin to do more of our work, it will become more important for people to do work that machines find it harder to do.

But for FlexTeam, I’ve found that solving client’s problems requires consultants (or, at the very least the project manager, who supervises other consultants) to be able to think computationally. Our clients expect the work to get done; but they don’t want to spend time telling us how to do the work. That’s why they’re paying us — to get it done without having to expend additional resources or brainpower to it.

A consultant lacking in computational thinking skills is able to get the work done, but requires attention from others to figure out a plan of action. More than that, she needs help with gut checks (does what I’ve produced make sense in real life?), has difficulty coming up with recommendations (a key component of FlexTeam’s offerings), and she sometimes lacks creativity to get the job done.

The computational thinker is more adapatable, agile, and able to manage time and priorities. And as they are self-motivated and curious, they find joy in solving problems.

Communication skills are also important

Since we work remotely (our consultants are all over the United States, with a few spread out across the globe), written communication skills are obviously important to us — our consultants communicate with our clients via chat on project pages, and our consultants communicate internally with each other via Slack. Also, most of our projects require us to deliver a report or memo of some sort to the client, so it’s important to write clearly, effectively, and precisely.

But we think that effective oral and written communication skills are important to succeed in any career these days.

Again, as machine learning and artificial intelligence begin to do more of our work, it will become more important for people to do work that machines find it harder to do — effective communication is one such task. Computers can surely put together pieces of writing, but understanding nuances of communication are best left to humans.

Can a computer take a client’s message, and tease out what the client really means? Can it tailor their message (whether oral or written) to the audience? Can it read the audience to know how best to phrase their message?

I think not.

Our best consultants are able to intuit what a client’s main concerns are, even if they are unspoken. They are able to intuit how frequently a client wants to be updated, and how much detail the client wants. They are able to communicate effectively to other consultants what work needs to get done and when, and knows how to motivate them when necessary.

You can certainly get by without superior oral and written communication skills, but you’ll be more successful if you excel at those skills.

As Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson say in Rework, “Hire the better writer.”

“Soft skills” make all the difference in career success

So far we’ve learned that computational thinking and writing skills are important to career success. Obviously, some core competency in knowledge is also important. But it may surprise you to hear that “soft skills” like grit, resilience, persistence, being a good listener, empathy, a desire to learn, a cooperative attitude, resourcefulness, kindness, a “always do your best” attitude, optimism, ability to deal with difficult personalities, and manage conflict (among many others) are just as important.

The benefits of soft skills can be hard to measure, but new research reveals that training employees in soft skills can bring substantial return on investment to employers while also benefiting employees.

In fact, we’ve found that consultants who lack these “soft skills” typically produce work that client’s are less satisfied with. These “soft skills” enable consultants to go above and beyond for our clients. And the truth is that having soft skills like emotional intelligence usually correlates with computational thinking abilities and writing skills. These skills build on each other!

So what?

If you are looking for a job, assess your computational thinking abilities, writing skills, and “soft skills”. Where can you improve? How can you work toward improvement? Where do you excel? How can you highlight those skills in your resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile?

If you are hiring, recognize that at some point there is a level of technical capability or job function competence that is sufficient. After that, the person who is the better writer, who is better at computational thinking, and who has better “soft skills” is going to get you more productivity than someone who is simply more technically brilliant. He or she will be more eager to learn, more eager to work, and simply achieve more. She’ll get more done and go above and beyond.

If you work in education, think about how you are teaching these skills to your students. Whether you are a kindergarten teacher, or a college professor, what can you do to help your students learn these skills? Read Mitchel Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play — this book talks about the importance of computational thinking and creativity in the future of work, and discusses how to teach and cultivate it. Read Dr. Tony Wagner’s book The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need and What We Can Do About It — published in 2008, the 21st century skills listed in this book are still relevant. In fact the “7 survival skills” are traits that most of our best consultants at FlexTeam excel at.

And if you’re a busy business person looking to get more done, think about working with FlexTeam. Our top consultants excel at all of these skills and are ready to help you achieve more.

Let me know what other skills you think are important to career success!

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

FlexTeam  is  a mission-based micro-consulting firm, co-founded by Yolanda Lau in 2015, that matches talented mid-career women with meaningful, challenging, temporally flexible, remote project-based work opportunities. FlexTeam’s clients are businesses of all sizes across all industries and sectors. FlexTeam’s most requested projects are competitor / market research, financial models, and investor decks. FlexTeam is also the team behind Liquid.

Books to Live By

Confession: I spent New Year’s Day 2019 reading one entire book and starting a second (John Maeda’s The Laws of Simplicity and Mitchel Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play, both published by the MIT Press, in case you were curious.).

I’ve always been a bit of a bookworm. Ok, more than a bit. I was the strange girl who spent hours upon hours in libraries and bookstores, who had shelves upon shelves of books. I’d read on the subway, waiting for coffee, and sometimes even while walking. It’s no wonder I never excelled at sports.

As I child, I loved reading adaptations of classic novels — at that age my most prized possession was a pocket-sized electronic dictionary. In my teens, I continued loving fiction, especially historical fiction. In my twenties and thirties, I’ve come to enjoy non-fiction, particularly biographies, business books, and books on science (think Oliver Sacks or Mary Roach) and positive psychology (science of happiness).

I have a ton of favorites, so many (about 50 or so) that I usually break them down by category. Of those, there are a handful that I live my life by (and by handful, I mean that only in comparison to the 600+ books I own). These are books that I turn to over and over again for guidance and advice; books I frequently recommend.

Books that guide my life, personal and professional:

Books that have shaped my vision for building companies:

What books have shaped your views and guide your life? I’m always eager to discover new books.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.