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Suddenly a remote worker? These are the project management tools you need

Suddenly a remote worker? These are the project management tools you need

Remote working is on the rise. Recent statistics from Global Workplace Analytics reveal that 80-90% of the workforce would like to telecommute, at least part time. Although around half of all roles have some element which could be done from home, that option is only available to just over 20% of workers.

Although there have been some high profile companies who reigned in their remote working programs, many others are reaping the benefits. Remote workers are more productive than their office-bound counterparts, and less likely to take time off sick because they can avoid that stress and back ache inducing commute.

Then there is the lure of the global talent pool. While in the years gone by you may have had to limit your recruitment to what talent happened to be on your doorstep, the rise of telecommuting means that you can find the best developer you so desperately need from anywhere around the world. When you have that number of possibilities, finding the perfect person seems much more achievable.

But for some managers, running a remote team, or supervising their first remote worker can seem challenging. But one vital element of managing a distributed team, is making sure that the whole team knows what needs to be done, and when.

Fortunately, there are some really great remote project management tools available. Here are a few of our favourites.

Trello

Trello is intuitive, with the most obvious functions visually driven rather than hidden behind layers of menus. Regardless of language or level of experience, new starters can hit the ground running with this site.

Trello is a deceptively simple tool. On the surface it’s the digital version of a T-card system. Once you’re signed up to Trello (their basic service is free) you can set up boards, which correspond to projects. Within these boards are lists, and in each list are the cards themselves. We use lists to mark out the different stages in our workflow and create a card for each task which then gets moved along the board as work is completed.

Where Trello really comes into it’s own for remote teams is how it enables asynchronous workflow. Team members can leave comments, and tag each other with questions, and each user will be notified they have something to respond to when they log in. There’s no reason for someone in a different timezone to get left out of discussions.

And nothing gets lost with Trello. Once you’ve finished with a task, you simply archive the card. It disappears from the board, but can still be viewed with all comments, files and links retained so you never have to forget that one time Bob from accounting made a joke.

As well as being accessible from the website, Trello also comes with an Android and iPhone app version so even the truest digital nomad will be kept up to date. As soon as any changes are made to a card, they are mirrored on everyone else’s account. As long as your team keeps checking Trello, there’s really no excuse for not knowing what is going on.

Speaking of teams, you can create teams in Trello to speed up the process of permissions. Have your designers, developers and QC people set up as teams and you can quickly and easily set up a new board and invite the right people to join it.

While Trello does offer a free service, if you really want to power up your project management experience then it’s worth looking at it’s business or enterprise class packages. These allow integration with a wider range of sources, for example GitHub, Salesforce and Slack and additional customisations.

Asana

Asana is a widely used project management tool that consistently gets great reviews. While there is a lot of overlap of features between Asana and Trello, our experience is that the learning curve with Asana is a bit steeper as it lacks the intuitive drag and drop UI that makes Trello a joy to use.

Asana allows you to set up teams, and them to assign teams to a project. Within that project there are tasks, and those can be split down into subtasks. These can be assigned to particular team members, but others can follow a task so they stay informed about it’s progress.

Where Asana goes beyond Trello is in its communication features. While you can tag other team members in both products, Asana comes with two integrated team communication tools; team conversation and team calendar.

Conversations allows you to make announcements or give updates on the process of a project and all team members will receive notifications both within Asana and through their email. The calendar gives a visual representation of the flow of a project over time. We often say that communication is vital to remote team function, so any tool that prioritises that has an advantage. If you can keep your chat on the same site as your project management, you stand a better chance of creating that feel-good, team bonding experience that will increase the productivity of your team.

Small teams can use Asana for free, however larger ones will need to pay for the software. Asana does take some time to get into, however their onboarding process gets good reviews too. Once the learning curve is mastered, this feature-rich project management tool really comes into its own, with tools such as the smart inbox ensure team members only getting the notifications they need, and being able to turn them into actionable tasks immediately. If Trello seems a bit simple for the tasks you’re taking on? Asana may be just what your remote team needs.

Wrike

Some of the big corporate names use Wrike; Adobe, Stanford, EA Sports. It’s award-winning software and gets some very good reviews in the industry press.

The process with Wrike begins with requests. A team member who needs something, creates a request and can assign it to the relevant department. For example, if the sales team need to know about upcoming new features from the developers? They can make a request for that information. Once they’re approved, requests become projects.

One of the advantages that Wrike has it that it offers task templates. If you have jobs that come up repeatedly (bug fixes, sales enquiries, etc.) then you have a template set up which ensures that nothing ever gets assigned to the wrong person or given a lower (or higher) priority than is necessary. Project templates can include tasks, for example: Fix bug, testing, inform user.

Wrike could certainly be used for simpler projects, but Trello probably has the edge for less complex workflows. Wrike certainly has the edge when it comes to larger organisations with several teams who may all need to work together on a project. Integration of remote teams into the wider company can be an issues, and Wrike allows your people to connect seamlessly with their on-site colleagues. You might even find the lines between office-bound and remote start to disappear.

Where Wrike differs from the other solutions is that it has three separate user levels, regular users, external users and collaborators who all have different levels of permission. This allows you to include customers and subcontractors in the mix and have them comment on tasks. It’s a really inclusive communication tool.

For workers, the ‘My Work’ tab acts as a daily to-do list. It brings up all the tasks allocated to a person, and sorts them by the date they need to be completed. It’s prioritization that allows Wrike to help your remote team to meet their full potential for productivity, making sure that tasks get done in the right order. There’s no need for anyone to go lone wolf when their tasks are set out so clearly.

Choosing a Project Management Tool

The most important thing to consider when you’re choosing your project management tool is that it should do what you need it to; while many offer some great features, if you’re not going to use them, you really don’t need them.

Communication is the most important element when it comes to remote team management. As vital as it is to office based colleagues, it becomes even more so when you have staff working around the world towards a common goal. Collaboration is also key, and all of these tools will help keep your staff on task.

Writer’s bio:

Sharon Koifman believes every company, from the biggest enterprise to the newly-launched garage startup, should have access to the world’s top talent. That’s why he used over 15 years of experience in the tech industry recruitment & HR to create DistantJob, a boutique staffing agency that specializes in remote employees.

His unique recruitment model allows DistantJob’s client to get exceptional better fitting talents at an incredible value.

Business

The UnRefundables: Shoppers left out of pocket post-pandemic

The UnRefundables: Shoppers left out of pocket post-pandemic 1
  • One in ten shoppers (11%) left out of pocket or without refunds since pandemic
  • One in three shoppers (36%) actively avoiding purchasing due to refund worries
  • Clothes, hotel bookings, flights and electronics top list of UnRefundable items

New consumer research[1] commissioned by Visa has revealed a sharp increase in people unable to access returns or refunds for items bought during lockdown, with one in ten (11%) of those who requested money back still waiting for, or denied access, to a refund or voucher – a 215% increase from pre-pandemic times[2].

These items, coined “UnRefundables”, have left millions of concerned shoppers out of pocket. Of those that were able to access refunds for their items, one in five (20%) only received partial refunds, through cash or vouchers.

The consumer survey of 2,000 UK respondents and conducted by Opinium, revealed returns and refund requests have increased by 16% since the start of the pandemic, as more than two fifths (41%) of shoppers tried to return and refund items, services or events. Almost half (49%) of people who experienced refund issues didn’t get to use their purchase – receiving faulty or incorrect goods, items not arriving, products not being as advertised, being charged multiple times or billed the incorrect amount, or a purchase that wasn’t authorized.

UnRefundable fear putting pause on consumer spending

The research revealed that frustrations regarding refunds could have knock-on effects for British businesses, with over a third (36%) saying they have avoided making big purchases due to fears their money would not be returned and a quarter (28%) are more worried about securing a refund since the pandemic started.

Despite now being able to travel abroad and within the UK, there is increased concern amongst consumers making travel related purchases. In fact, one in three (34%) respondents say they are worried about a travel booking being refunded due to a local lockdown or “second peak” of the virus.

This follows a big increase in people trying to get refunds on flights and hotel bookings, with a fifth (22%) saying they have had more difficulties trying to get money back on cancelled holidays and events.

Why can’t Brits access refunds?

Over two fifths (43%) have been deterred from requesting a refund for an item, service or event at all – citing confusion about the returns process (15%), lack of time for the process (10%), the return window (also 10%), as well as no access to a printer for return labels (8%) as key pain points. Worryingly, one in 10 (10%) were not able to contact the company to pursue a refund.

The refund wait time has also increased notably during lockdown, with 12% saying it took over a month to get their money back compared to 7% who got a refund beforehand. Older people (aged 55+) are experiencing the biggest wait for refunds, with 5% waiting over a month before the pandemic, compared to 17% who have experienced this wait time since.

Visa has teamed up with personal finance expert Jasmine Birtles to allay consumers’ fears of being left out-of-pocket over the summer.

Jasmine Birtles commented: “If you bought something online that’s not up to scratch or hasn’t turned up, but the seller won’t budge or they’ve gone out of business, it can be tempting to chalk it up to a poor purchase decision or simply bad luck. With money a particular worry for many households currently, it’s important to research your refund options – you don’t always have to accept rescheduled dates or vouchers for equal or lesser amounts that leave you out of pocket and inconvenienced.

“If, after speaking to the retailer, you are still unable to get a refund, there are alternatives available to claw back those costs. You should contact your bank that issued your Visa card and ask them to pursue a chargeback claim, where they may be able to submit a claim to the retailer’s bank to request your money back. You can pursue a chargeback claim if you received only a partial refund, goods that weren’t as described, or have been offered alternative refund methods, including vouchers, points and rebooking. Your bank has 120 days from when the payment was made to make a chargeback claim, which is great news for people who might have missed the returns window. However, it’s worth noting that banks’ timeframes may vary and it’s best to file a dispute as early as possible to allow plenty of time. For travel, concert tickets or future-dated items, this time limit begins on the day of the event or holiday booking – providing extra reassurance to those worried about making holiday purchases.”

Jeni Mundy, UK & Ireland Managing Director, Visa, commented: “With consumer spending crucial to Britain’s economic recovery, it’s concerning to see that people are worried about securing refunds should they need to, and that in some cases this is even preventing them from making purchases. It’s important that people understand the many options open to them to get their money back should something go wrong. A good place to start is to get familiar with a seller’s cancellation, refund and exchange policy before you buy – this can often be easily found on their website. Another good way to put yourself in the driving seat when it comes to getting your money back is to pay using a Visa debit or credit card – this opens you up to the option of making a chargeback claim or provides credit card protection to ensure you aren’t left out of pocket.”

Visa’s UnRefundables: Top items being returned

  1. Clothes, shoes and accessories (31%)
  2. Hotel bookings (21%)
  3. Flights (20%)
  4. Theatre tickets (14%)
  5. Electronics (14%)
  6. Food and drink (10%)
  7. Home appliances (10%)
  8. Concerts (9%)
  9. Furniture & home furnishings (9%)
  10. Sporting goods (8%)
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Business

New Moneypenny Survey Shows How Office Life has Transformed in Post-lockdown Return to Work 

New Moneypenny Survey Shows How Office Life has Transformed in Post-lockdown Return to Work  2

A new survey by leading outsourced communications provider, Moneypenny, into the return to work post-Covid lockdown, shows that almost half (45%) of office workers surveyed are returning to work immediately, with a further 31% due back in the next one to four months, however 48% admit to having some concerns about COVID risks and a further 15% are not at all comfortable about going back to the office.

For some workers the return to work has been further delayed, with 5% not required to return to work until January 2021 at the earliest, and 18% having no specific date to return.

The North East and East Midlands have the most workers already back at work among those surveyed (53% in both regions) compared to the East of England which has the lowest proportion (41%).

New Moneypenny Survey Shows How Office Life has Transformed in Post-lockdown Return to Work  3

Navigating the new commute 

A reluctance to use public transport is shown in the fact that only 16% of those surveyed will use it to commute, while 66% will use their car. The East Midlands had the highest percentage of workers choosing to drive to work, with 81% saying they’ll commute by car, compared to 53% of those in London. Manchester had the lowest percentage of workers stating they’d be using public transport, with only 7% claiming it to be their commuting method of choice, while London had the most (29%).

Local Office Economy

In a blow to those hoping returning workers will boost the local economy, the survey showed more than 35% said that they won’t be visiting any local amenities when they go back to work.  There is a clear difference between the age groups however, as 51% of those aged 18-24 and 41% of those age 25-34 said they’d visit a nearby sandwich bar, compared with 21% of 45-54 and 11% of 55-64s who would do this.

Wearing masks in the office

The survey showed that 61% said their company has made masks compulsory, of which 28% require them to be worn at all times, in all areas, while 33% require them to be worn only in communal areas. A further 26% said their company has made masks voluntary and they plan to wear one, while 13% said they are voluntary but they won’t wear one.

When asked whether they minded having to wear a mask at work, 37% said they had no problems with the new rule, however, a further 36% said they would find it too much to do a whole day of work wearing a mask and 13% said they don’t mind wearing a mask at work short-term, but would be less happy if the policy was for the long-term. A disgruntled 9% don’t like having to wear a mask at work at all, as they feel it inhibits their freedom and human rights and they don’t like being told what to wear. A further 2% said they’ll refuse to return to work so long as masks are compulsory.

New Moneypenny Survey Shows How Office Life has Transformed in Post-lockdown Return to Work  4

In larger cities, masks are more likely to be compulsory at work, with 40% of those in London stating that their companies have already made them compulsory for all areas of the office, compared to just 14% of those surveyed in Yorkshire.

Co-workers and social distancing

Social distancing at work is clearly a concern, as 16% of those surveyed said that they don’t trust their colleagues to social distance in the office, while 37% trust some, but not all colleagues.  Scotland’s workers seem to be the least trusting, with 23% of workers stating they distrust team members.

Death of the tea round?

Some offices have banned the sharing of equipment completely (cited by 31% of those surveyed) while even without a ban, a further 35% said they won’t be sharing stationery and equipment with colleagues.

Even the tea rounds have been called into question. While 47% said they will make teas and coffees for their colleagues, 38% will only make tea for themselves and 14% said their companies have banned tea rounds.

Office workers in the East of England are most likely to only make drinks for themselves (51%), in contrast with London, where 25% will make drinks for themselves.

New Moneypenny Survey Shows How Office Life has Transformed in Post-lockdown Return to Work  5

 Commenting on the survey, Joanna Swash, CEO of Moneypenny said: ‘We were interested to see how many office workers are either already back at work or will be going back in the next few months.  While there is inevitably nervousness about Covid risks, it is positive to see the large proportion of people who are happy to work with their company in following the new health and safety rules and we’ve certainly been impressed by how innovative and agile our own clients have been in adapting to the new normal at work.’

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Business

Honest services wire fraud and the need for caution on multilateral development bank projects

Honest services wire fraud and the need for caution on multilateral development bank projects 6

By Joshua Ray, Legal Director, Rahman Ravelli www.rahmanravelli.co.uk

A recent court case extended US prosecutors’ extraterritorial reach for tackling corruption. Joshua Ray explains the implications for those accused of wrongdoing on multilateral development bank (MDB) projects

Imagine the following scenario: You are an executive for a Paraguayan construction firm that has just secured a contract with the Paraguayan government to build a hospital in that country.  The scale of the project means you will need to hire a number of subcontractors and, as you are in charge of choosing those subcontractors, you decide to seek bribes from those wanting the work. Such action is ill-advised and morally problematic. But as commercial bribery of this sort is not illegal in Paraguay, you may have breached your company’s code of conduct but you have not committed a crime under Paraguayan law.

Yet, unfortunately for you, the funds for the hospital were loaned to the Paraguayan government by the World Bank via a wire transfer from its Washington DC headquarters.  And under a recent decision from the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals, United States v. Napout, you may have just committed “honest services” wire fraud under US law—even though you never stepped foot out of Paraguay and did not break your home country’s laws. The Napout decision is important as it expands the extraterritorial reach of US prosecutors’ anti-corruption efforts.  For the reasons that I detail below, it has significant implications for foreign businesses, especially those engaged in projects sponsored by multilateral development banks (MDBs), whose financing comes from the US.

As they did after the 2008-2009 financial crisis, the World Bank and other MDBs are counteracting the current virus-induced global economic downturn with plans to deploy hundreds of billions of dollars in loans, primarily to governments in the developing world.  Much of this will be parcelled out to private sector entities to construct hospitals, testing facilities, sanitation systems and other important infrastructure. Such projects carry the risk of corrupt local officials and business leaders siphoning off such funds for themselves. MDBs are mandated by their charters to take all reasonable steps to combat fraud and corruption on MDB-financed projects.  They do not have law enforcement powers but they satisfy their mandate by building provisions into their contracts with direct borrowers (e.g. governments) that compel the borrowers to adhere to the highest ethical standards during the execution of MDB-financed projects.  MDB contracts require borrowers to give the banks freedom to audit any of their books and records that relate to MDB funds.

This right of an MDB being able to audit the books extends to any indirect beneficiaries of MDB funds for a project, such as suppliers, consultants and contractors. Such third parties must also agree to submit to the MDB’s jurisdiction to investigate and sanction them for corruption, fraud or other misconduct. Punishments imposed by MDBs can be harsh, and can include debarment; where a company is prevented from bidding on MDB-financed projects for a number of years or even indefinitely.  When an MDB uncovers misconduct through its own investigations it can – and often will – refer its findings to national law enforcement agencies; which can mean even more serious problems for those investigated.

The significance of the Napout decision regarding such situations is that it enables US prosecutors to pursue MDB-related bribery even when the purported wrongdoer is not subject to the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Prosecutors can now pursue suspects for such bribery even if that suspect is not a US company, issuer or agent and has no other connection to the US.

The Second Circuit’s Decision

The appellants in Napout, Juan Angel Napout and Jose Maria Marin, were two former executives at football’s world governing body, FIFA. They had been convicted of using their positions to obtain millions of dollars in bribes relating to the sale of marketing and broadcasting rights. Napout had been president of Paraguay’s national football federation and Marin held the same post in the Brazilian football federation.

They both appealed on the basis that their convictions were the result of impermissible extraterritorial applications of the US honest services fraud wire statute.  The crux of their argument was summed up by Napout’s counsel, who argued that the US had no authority to police the relationship between a Paraguayan employee and his Paraguayan employer and an alleged scheme involving South Americans that took place almost entirely in South America.

The issue of whether the honest services fraud wire statute had been improperly extended to extraterritorial conduct was then reviewed by the Second Circuit. It concluded that as long as a wire fraud scheme involves a wire transmission from, into or through the US that is “essential” or more than “merely incidental” to the overall crime, the extraterritorial application of US law was permissible.

The appellants argued that honest services wire fraud was a materially different crime than regular wire fraud, as the focus of honest services wire fraud was not the use of the wires but the bad-faith breach of a fiduciary duty owed to the scheme’s victim. They argued that as the actual conduct underlying an honest services fraud scheme occurred abroad, it could not be prosecuted in the US solely because it used US wires.  But the Second Circuit disagreed: all that was required to uphold Napout’s and Marin’s convictions were facts showing that the use of US wires in their case (transfers of bribes in and out of US banks) was “essential” to their scheme. On that issue, the Court easily determined that the wires were essential: at least $2.4M of Marin’s payments were sent to his New York bank account and $2.5M of Napout’s were paid in US dollars generated by wire transfers originating in the US.

Implications for Participants in MDB-Financed Projects

The decision in Napout is relevant to MDB-financed projects as it clarifies the breadth of the honest services wire fraud statute and shows the ease with which US prosecutors can use it to target conduct that occurs almost entirely abroad.

The “honest services” variant of wire fraud is somewhat unique to US law and it is not universally recognised: a main piece of Napout’s defence, for instance, was that honest services bribery in a commercial context was not illegal where his conduct took place.  But in the Second Circuit’s view, this fact was largely irrelevant.  The Court ruled that the men had violated the statute by knowingly violating their duties to FIFA under the organisation’s code of ethics.

So, what does this mean in practice?  The Napout decision confirms that the reach of US anti-corruption efforts extends far beyond the bounds of the FCPA; which applies only to bribes paid to “foreign officials” by US issuers, domestic concerns or their agents.  Using an approach based on honest services fraud, all that US prosecutors need in order to have jurisdiction is for an “essential” US wire to be used in the scheme.  As several of the main MDBs are based in the US – including the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank – a fraud or corruption scheme involving MDB money could easily make “essential” use of a US wire transmission; thus rendering the offenders subject to possible US prosecution.

This is an important point for companies and individuals participating in MDB-financed projects to keep in mind: even if commercial bribery is legal (or at least widely accepted) in the country where the project takes place, if the ultimate funding is flowing from the US then extreme caution must be taken to ensure that US wire fraud statutes are not violated.  This is particularly critical for projects taking place in developing countries where accepted business practices have not yet caught up with norms elsewhere.

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