Six Soft Skills Every Remote Business Analyst Must Have

Hard skills and business domain expertise make successful business analysis professionals but there is a core mix of skills needed in remote and hybrid work environments. In this post, I identify the 6 skills that are the most essential for success.

Virtual Communication Skills

Communication skills fall into categories such as verbal, non-verbal, and writing. These are essential skills regardless of whether you’re in the office or remote. But given our dependence on technologies that communicate across space and time, there are a whole new set of skills that fall into a category of their own: virtual communication.

The skills in this category include:

  • Virtual presence skills – involves understanding how to present an authentic version of you in all forms of digital communications
  • Audio visual skills -maintaining and troubleshooting audio, video and lighting tools
  • Writing skills for asynchronous communications – ability to clearly document information using techniques that make detailed information easy to read, search and understand
  • Communication delivery skills – think of this as more akin to public speaking. Understanding how to communicate your message through techniques such as eye contact, tone, and pace of your speech.


Remote workers cannot be successful if they can’t organize the information they are collecting. They just can’t. That’s why this is at the top of my list.

I don’t equate “organization” with having a clean desk (mine is terrible). Organization is an important component of communication. An organized worker can take information and structure it in a way that is easy for their audience to interpret.


You must be able to accept feedback if you want to grow, learn and advance. Being coachable is the single-most telling skill that will indicate how far a business analysis professional can advance in their career.

The qualities of being open-minded and willing to learn, essential to accepting and incorporate feedback, are the foundation of being coachable. If you can’t accept feedback, can’t learn from the experience of others, you’ll only get so far in a project and in life.


In the office you might be able to reach out to a colleague to get an answer. Working remotely means you may need to rely on your own skills for how to do something. Being able to search and learn quickly is a core skill that can help you work independently.


Call it agile (lower case “a”) or creative or an optimistic-mindset. When you’re working remotely, anything can happen. Being flexible allows you to find an alternate path or plan a different approach on your own.


Are you able to get work done when a manager is not around? Remote workers must have the ability to complete their work without someone asking you to complete it. A self-motivated remote business analyst can take action to clear their own obstacles or advance their work without management overseeing their work.

Forming, Storming, Abnorming: How to Deal With Toxic Employees

To expedite hiring on a recent project, we relied on outside sourcing company. They sent over candidates. We interviewed and checked references for each one. We needed people and even though we sometimes had a heads up about issues, we believed our on-boarding and coaching program could overcome them. Cut to the end of the year, when the team imploded due to a series of bad behaviors that we could have avoided.

Toxic team members happen. Here is how to deal with toxic employees if it happens to you.

When Someone Shows You Who They Are . . .

Toxic team members can slip through good hiring practices. It’s hard to have the perfect question that can weed them out. However, if you seek reliable references and their information reveals problems with the potential candidate, believe them. Especially if they are providing relevant, first-hand examples. Maya Angelou said “when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” The organization does not need to suffer the same fate as a prior one if you already have the knowledge.

Get Your Facts Straight

Sometimes teams just need a little time to form and storm. Things that might seem troublesome could be harmless. Make sure that what you are hearing or seeing is true. Fact-find. Follow up. Coach when possible. See the full picture to assess if there are problems.

Take the Time to Get to Know the Team Member

I once worked with a team that had a young employee who was talented and conscientious but had no social skills. The team refused to work with him and they complained to the manager frequently. We discovered during our coaching that he was on the autism scale. That important discovery helped us get him resources (and us!) so that he could be a successful member of the team. Make sure that you take time to understand all the conditions that shape a person’s behavior.

Coach and Influence

Sometimes the toxic employee isn’t damaging as much as they are distracting to others. Or you may catch the toxic behaviors early. Either way, take the time to have 1-on-1s with the employee and explain how they are distracting others and what behaviors you expect in their place. Over time, reinforce the behaviors you expect. Continue coaching to address other behaviors.

Don’t Tolerate Unethical, Dishonest or Illegal Behavior. Ever.

Getting the job done quickly isn’t worth it if the team is going to be undermined by a dishonest team member. This will do more harm than good and could forever damage the team’s ability to trust their leadership. Moreover, unethical, dishonest or illegal behavior can put the company at risk for lawsuits, HR complaints and so on. As soon as you verify that a team member has crossed that line, take immediate steps to move the person out. And by “out” I mean “out of the organization” and not just “out of the team.” Shuffling a toxic employee to a different team delays the inevitable and further erodes trust in leadership.

Zoom Studio Effects: A Remote Technique!

Many of us are spending a lot of time in Zoom meetings this days (apologies to those primarily using Teams, Webex, etc). Over the past year (heck, the last 6 months), they’ve add A LOT of features to improve virtual meetings. Recently, they’ve really expanded their video settings and new Studio Effects, which can add some fun and flavor to your virtual meetings.

What are Zoom Video Settings?

If you click on the Video icon in the lower left hand corner, you’ll see a few new-ish options.

  • Choose Virtual Background
  • Choose Video Filters

We’re beyond familiar by now with Virtual Backgrounds, right? If you aren’t, let’s discuss!

What are Virtual Backgrounds?

Virtual backgrounds replace your live background with an image or video of your choosing. Zoom provides a few by default. You can upload others. Some companies are even providing branded, company-appropriate backgrounds as options.

There are a few common sense rules for Virtual Backgrounds (VB):

  1. VBs should be appropriate for your audience. Leave backgrounds with more “personality” for your 1-on-1s or team meetings. Else, keep things basic for those important audiences
  2. VBs should not be distracting especially if you’re the speaker. The camera should be focused on you. Not the menagerie in the picture.
  3. When you’re not sure if Rule 1 or 2 applies, KEEP THINGS BASIC.

BUT NOW Zoom has added Video Filters!

What are Video Filters?

Think Insta or SnapChat filters but for Zoom meetings. These can add flair and fun to your Zoom meetings. They can also create trouble. Follow the same 3 VB rules above for Video Filters.

To access these new features:

Just a few clicks away from Video Settings and the new Studio Effects!
  1. In Zoom Settings, click Background & Filters
  2. Click the Video Filters link to view the filters. The filters appear. Click one to view it in the preview window.
  3. In the lower right corner of the Video Filters, click Studio Effects (beta)
  4. The Studio Effects panel opens.
It’s the Masked Business Analyst!

When would you use Video Filters or Studio Effects?

If you’re working with an audience over the age of 12, there’s probably no reason to use the filters. However, the new Studio Effects, available from the Video Filters page (in Zoom version 5.3.1) are the bomb-diggity for those of that can’t muster the energy to wear make-up!

I wake up looking like this . . . with Zoom Studio Effects!

Check out the eyebrows and lipstick feature. This can give your face a little color and definition. And when paired with Zoom’s extra awesome Touch Up My Appearance feature, you can wipe that Zoom fatigue right off your face. Or, ladies AND gents, you can sport a mustache just in time for Movember!

Now, even the ladies can show their support this Movember!

But seriously, Zoom continues to improve their video settings with each release. As evidenced by the fact that Zoom refers to the Studio Effects as “beta,” there are more features coming that will expand how we see and manage our virtual identities through this platform.

The Organizational Problems Keeping Your Teams From Succeeding

I’ve been on lots of teams over the years – good and bad ones. The teams always had good people doing good work. The “bad” teams always seemed to have organizational problems that prevented us from performing well. The indicators were there early: bad behaviors were permitted, lack of psychological safety, focus on hitting a finish date at any cost instead of caring for the people shouldering the load. The difference between the good and the bad teams was simple: leadership.

Are you a leader that can’t quite figure out why your team is under-performing? See if any of these issues might be happening in your organization.

Control of communication

Communication is “managed” by a few key individuals. Honesty is “balanced” with certain groups’ “need to know.” Notice how I’m using quotes? That’s because there’s a lot of hidden meanings when communication is controlled.

This is not always a management tactic either. Teams or key project contributors may control communication to avoid blame or give a particular spin on their work. Note: this is always my first red flag that a team or project is in trouble.

Examples of this include:

  • “Be careful” and “Don’t” are used frequently when team members are allowed to speak with others
  • You are coached on how to say things or what details to leave out
  • Information must come through only a few people
  • There’s a “meeting before the meeting” followed by a “meeting after the meeting” to make sure everyone is on the same page

Individual heroism over team work

Teams are tasked with getting work done but it’s a core group of individuals that are consistently rewarded for “heroic” efforts. This sends the message to people that team effort isn’t valued.

Symptoms can include:

  • heroes are visibly rewarded. You know what that looks like. A key project status update occurs where one person – usually, the same person over and over – is acknowledged for working “above and beyond” to make X happen.
  • unrequested overtime is valued – individual heroes work a lot of overtime – usually without being asked – to pull off a timeline or deliverable that otherwise could not be achievable. They receive praise from leadership when they give up their personal time to help the organization.
  • lack of team collaboration – the heroes have the best ideas and know how to implement them. They pursue that direction with limited involvement from others. They are not encouraged or just don’t feel the need to coach and mentor others to spread the knowledge out.

Disrespectful behavior

An eyeroll in a private conversation. A backhanded insult in a team meeting. Outright shouting and humiliation in public meetings. These are flagrant signs of disrespect.

When disrespect is permitted, team work and morale are undermined. It can be even more devastating to the organizational culture when the leaders are the ones exhibiting the disrespect. This gives employees tacit permission to be disrespectful to each other.

More subtle examples, which can be equally damaging to employee morale, can look like this:

  • Gossip and, in particular, allowing a gossip culture to flourish
  • Lack of regard for team members such as demanding unending overtime, referring to employees as “resources” or “bodies” rather than the using their job title or name
  • Scapegoating and blame culture – blaming others when something goes wrong instead of assessing the root cause and fixing the problems
  • Micromanaging specific individuals or teams without providing any explanation as to what concerns leaders may have

Team competition

Team competition when done correctly can lead to increased morale and innovation. But teams can collapse when this competition comes with the threat of job loss or discipline. The threat doesn’t have to be real. Teams can pick up the vibe through the gossip mill, by watching the behaviors of the leaders, through poorly coordinated communication or, worse, the absence of communication.

Team competition can also be a problem when outside staff are brought in to do a portion of the work. One group can interpret leadership’s actions (or lack thereof) as favoring one side or the other. This creates an “us versus them” mentality which can give the favorite team permission to treat others poorly.

So What? Now What?

Do you see any of these happening in your shop?

These situations aren’t inevitable. Honest, empathetic leadership that prioritizes employee well-being is the key to addressing these behaviors early so they don’t become systemic problems.

Five Ways That Companies Get Serious About Remote Work Over the Next Year

With so many companies going remote first, our home office is now an extension of our employer’s office. Companies will think long and hard about what that means for their liability. We’re going to see changes in the requirements they place on their remote workforce. Here are five ways that companies will get serious about remote work and the future of remote working over the next year.

Pop-up Offices in Retail Spaces

Those malls and retail spaces that have been shuttered by COVID? Wait for them to re-imagine themselves as pop-up office spaces. Companies like WeWork and others may have already taken office spaces in this direction. But owners of large retail spaces will get in the game by offering meeting and work space that is nested within their large, planned spaces. Those spaces already have food options and other small businesses that can support workers (such as shipping stores and so on). They’ll also reconfigure the public spaces to offer experiences that are both safe and relaxing.

Private businesses invest in public internet infrastructure

Some companies are paying for or are subsidizing their employees’ internet access today. However, the real problem is that not everyone has access to “good” internet. Heck, a part of the workforce doesn’t even have access to internet.

Internet and communication infrastructure in the US has been problematic. It’s largely been driven by what private telecom companies wanted to invest in. Think large urban areas with businesses and users willing to pay top dollar for fast internet. Small municipalities that have tried to provide this service to their communities have been stopped by aggressive telecom lobbies. (Check out this story on the town of Wilson, NC trying to become its own internet provider)

Large private businesses will stop investing in their own real estate and start to invest in state and local infrastructure to bring better internet to underserved communities. This not only ensures that the workforce has access to internet but that the access is affordable.

Return of tax deductions for home offices

The home office deduction was eliminated in the US with the last big tax code revision. Many newly remote workers will get an unpleasant surprise next tax season when they realize investments they’ve made to their home to add or expand their dedicated office space cannot be deducted. US companies will lobby their representatives to bring this back to benefit their workers.

Business insurance directed at the remote worker

Many companies already require remote workers to add additional coverage to their personal policies. Usually this is additional auto insurance to cover trips made in their personal vehicle, etc. But these times mean new risks and the insurance market will respond with new types of policies for things like:

  • personal cybersecurity,
  • business equipment,
  • loss of use of their home office along with a salary replacement element, and
  • new types of personal remote worker liability coverages

These types of insurance are not new to the market; however, they are only available for insureds that are businesses today. Enterprising insurance companies will quickly fill this need.

In addition, employers will ask employees to add additional coverages to their homeowner’s policies to cover risks like workplace injuries, personal liability, and so on. Some are already doing this.

Home office audits

Companies are taking on a certain amount of liability in having their workforce work from home. The home office is an extension of their office. Home safety, reliability of business equipment and so on will become more of concern. Companies will not only start to request and require certain safety standards but will enforce those through home office audits.

Companies and their remote workforce are just starting to come to terms with “remote first” looks like. What other things do you think will change over the next year?

Hand Signals: A Remote Technique!

There’s a running joke on my team. If you see my hands moving but can’t hear me, I’m on mute. I talk with my hands. My hands come alive anytime I talk. I can’t help it. But this “bad habit” has created some happy accidents in remote meetings that have enabled me to take some of my hand signals and create a non-verbal way of communicating.

I call this technique Hands Alive.

What is it?

Hands Alive means to use your hands to give speakers or viewers hand signals to give them information. It’s a non-verbal way of communicating.

What are the signals?

This is a short of list of possible hand signals:

  • Thumbs up – “Good” or “I agree”
  • Double thumbs up – “I very much agree!”
  • Stop/Pause – (hold palm flat so it’s shown to the camera) “Stop” or “Wait
  • “One second” – (hold up the index finger) “hang on a second”
  • Time’s up – (point to your wrist to indicate their time is over)
  • Applause – (clap your hands) hooray! or “that was great!”
  • Air quotes – used to paraphrase or quote was someone else has said.

For fun add:

  • Raise the roof – hold your palms to ceiling and push up. Means to “raise a ruckus” or make some noise to celebrate.
  • Running Man – a dance move from the 90s. Doesn’t mean anything but it’s another way I celebrate non-verbally!
The Running Man as popularized by the Fresh Prince. I do this from the waist up to celebrate. It’s really all about the arms anyway!

How to use hand signals

Your team may have other hand signals it uses. Be sure to take a picture of each and add its definitions so you can share with new team members.

Obviously Hands Alive requires a camera. If you read my other posts, I’m a big believer in having the camera turned on at all times. Cameras keep us human and keep us connected to each other.

Why does it work?

Virtual conversations can have a lot going on. Hand signals are a simple, visual way to communicate without interrupting the flow of a conversation. This can make conversations more inclusive and equitable so that participants who may not be able to speak can still participate in the conversation.

Hand signals can also add some fun to your virtual meetings too (see my post on Virtual Team High Five: A COVID Friendly, Remote Technique!)

Hand signals also work well when you have speakers of different languages. These common signals – if worked out in advance – can be easy ways to communicate agreement/disagreement or manage meetings without needing to understand a new language. (Note: make sure to take in account any hand signals which should be avoided in these situations)

Demand Management: Roles & Responsibilities

This is part 3 in my 3 part series on Demand Management. In this post, we’ll look at demand management roles and their responsibilities.

Demand Management Roles & Responsibilities

The key roles in this process are:

  • Requestor
  • Demand Manager
  • Demand Analyst
  • IT & Business Review Team
  • Decision Making Body (ex Steering Committee)


The person who submits the idea. This can be the person who came up with the idea or a person designated to submit requests. The requestor:

  • participates in the demand management phases to elaborate on the idea submitted
  • presents the item to the steering committee
  • is accountable for answering questions on purpose, need and priority

Identifying who can submit a request is an important decision when defining this role. Some of the questions to determine this are:

  • Can anyone in the organization submit an item or just certain kinds of items?
  • Do these items need to be vetted or approved before the requestor can submit them?
  • What is the requestor accountable for in each phase of demand management?

Demand Manager

This role is accountable for the demand management process and its outcomes. The Demand Manager ensures items move through the phases. This involves:

  • communicating and updating the process
  • owning and configuring the tools or templates to support the process
  • ensuring that the process runs smoothly
  • providing metrics to the organization about the process
  • performing governance to ensure that the process is being managed effectively
  • reporting on benefits of managing its demand
  • identifying hand-shakes between demand management and the software development lifecycle and project management processes in the IT organization

Demand Analysts

This role is accountable for ensuring that ideas go through the appropriate demand funnel activities. The analyst is accountable for much of the day-to-day work that occurs with the demand management process.

The Demand Analyst may also:

  • facilitate the demand management meetings and events
  • work with the requestors to prepare the deliverables needed as the idea works through its lifecycle
  • produce the metrics and updates to show the demand management effectiveness
  • capture the dispositions of the demand items and ensure they move into their next phase based on those outcomes

IT & Business Review Team

This is a group made up of representatives from across IT that will participate in the review, discover and estimation of items coming through the process.

This group should be made up of architects, tech leads and analysts and other “big picture” type roles that can focus on areas like:

  • if the organization has the right tools, skills or capabilities to solve the problem
  • how best to solve the problem using existing or new technologies
  • identifying the hidden or unknown impacts or risks that solving the problem may expose
  • providing ROM (rough order of magnitude) estimates based on high level information

Decision Making Body

This is a decision-making body made up of business and IT representatives that will make several different decisions in the demand management process:

  • is this idea worth exploring? and
  • is the proposal worth pursuing?

The roles described in this post are key to managing items coming through the demand funnel. Your organization may need other roles depending upon size of the organization, compliance or regulatory factors which impact your demand or any other criteria which makes your demand unique.

A simple approach to demand management can solve many problems. This series was intended to give you some background in how to do that.

Have more questions? Reach out to me at The Virtual BA Coach.

Demand Management: Categories of Work

In Part 1 of this series I introduced a simple 4 phase Demand Management process. In this post I look at categories of demand and how they can help you scale your demand management process.

Categories of Demand

Categories of demand are used to scale the process and identify the specific activities needed to explore, pursue and plan the work.

Standard categories of demand include:

  • Projects – large efforts needed to meet strategic goals.
  • Enhancements – changes or updates to existing systems.
  • Support – work to run existing systems. Support work is divided into 2 categories: operational requests and service requests.
    • Operational requests are work items like applying patches to the OS or installing upgrades to existing systems.
    • Service requests are requests for work like resetting a password, running a batch job or fixing an inoperable laptop.

Every organization should identify its demand categories when planning their demand management process.

Planned vs Unplanned Work

Demand can represent planned or unplanned work

Planned work is work that comes in advance or is anticipated, such as during an annual planning exercise.

Unplanned work is work that comes in at any time with little or no notice. Service requests, bugs and even some enhancements can be unplanned. Unplanned does not always mean “unexpected.”

Planned and unplanned work definitions help identify where work is coming from and how quickly a response to it is expected.

Scaling Demand Management by Category

Michael Gentle in IT Success! Towards a New Model for Information Technology uses a funnel to illustrate an ideal demand management process. Sales funnels represent the journey that customers go through to make a purchase. Opportunities start as leads. The lead goes step-by-step through activities in the funnel which result in winning or losing the sale. Not everything that enters the funnel leaves the funnel.

Project demand works much the same way. Not every proposal for work that enters your demand funnel will result in an approved work request. And that’s the whole point of this process!

Below is an imagined demand funnel that layers categories of demand over the activities and decision points to show how work might flow through a demand management process. Some categories need more evaluation and decisions but others need just a little decision-making.

Diagram borrowed from Michael Gentle.

In the last post in this series, I’ll describe the roles that support this demand management framework.

A Simple Process to Manage Project Demand

Does this sound like your organization?

  • Do you have more projects than you can finish?
  • Is every project an emergency?
  • Do you have multiple ways that work is submitted, tracked and managed?
  • Do you have trouble determining what the priorities are?

If your project work is coming in faster than you can deliver it, you need a Demand Management process to give order and priority to your work. I’ve worked in a number of over-committed project organizations in my 20+ years. Through research and some trial and error, I’ve come up with a simple process that helps organizations plan and prioritize work and enables teams to work smarter (not just harder).

What is Demand Management?

Demand management is a process which guides how customer demand is taken in, analyzed, prioritized and planned. Proper demand management helps to:

  • plan and prioritize their organization’s work, services and assets
  • staff the project-related organization to support customer needs
  • identify trends in demand and help their customers take a more proactive approach to technology needs
  • anticipate and budget for future work

How Did I Get Interested in Demand Management?

I became interested in demand management because I was on the receiving end of many of those project “emergencies” and poorly prioritized work requests. It was only when I started working on an IT process improvement initiative that I had the time and the buy-in from our leadership to understand the root causes of our chaotic work in-take processes. We discovered that our IT organization never said “no” to anything in an effort to be responsive. However, this created backlogs, challenges and misfires that could be easily avoided by dedicating a little more time upfront to discover if the project should be and could be done. This lead to the development of a simple demand management framework with 4 phases.

A Simple Demand Management Process in 4 Stages

I’ve seen a lot of work in-take processes, simple and complex. What I’ve discovered is there’s really just one process for managing project demand. It contains 4 simple phases and a few stage gates. The process can be scaled up or down depending upon the type of work requests that are coming in.

The steps within the phases are placeholders for activities that an organization can tailor to their needs.


This first phase, called Exploring, is all about clarifying the problem to solve and deciding if it even needs to be solved. The stage gate at the end of this phase asks question “Are we going to pursue this piece of work?” This question acknowledges that evaluating the work request has an unrecoverable cost so the organization should be confident that this is a problem worth solving.

The request is declined if the answer is “no” at this stage gate. Else, the request moves onto the 2nd phase: Pursuing.


The Pursuing phase involves identifying high level requirements to understand more about the request, its costs and impacts. The organization is not creating a full set of requirements, just enough to provide a high level estimate.

“Big thinkers” perform most of the work of this phase. They are usually high level team members who can take in abstract information and see across silos to come up with a variety of ways to resolve the demand item. They see outside their roles to bring new perspectives to the request.

The Big Thinkers should be non-essential project members, like architects, technology leads and business analysis leaders, because projects in the Pursuing phase may not receive approval or funding. Essential team members, whose focus should be prioritized, approved and budgeted work, are not part of this phase.

This phase ends with a stage gate that asks the question “Are we going to do the work requested?” “No” means that the work will not be pursued. “Yes” means the request will be pursued and is forwarded to the next phase.


The Planning phase involves setting the budget and finding resources to perform the work. Some approved work may not be formally budgeted. Support work, for example, may be part of a team’s Run budget. But every approved work request includes the costs, time and resources. These outputs are documented so they can be shared with the delivery team.

The 3rd stage gate in this process does one last check to make sure the work is still needed. “Has the priority or need for the work changed?” A “no” stops or delays the work until the time is right. A “yes” forwards the work to the next phase.


The final step in the demand management is the execution of the work. At this stage, the work request is transitioned into the software development lifecycle (SDLC) for the team or into a project management tool, if the request is not technology-related.

Get Control of Your Project Portfolio: The Course

I’m passionate about making great things possible. That means great ideas, great teams, great teamwork, you name it! Great things can happen when organizations have smart, consistent processes in place. Too much work, poor quality work or work that doesn’t move the organization forward is a recipe for overwhelmed teams and under-performing IT organization.

I started exploring this topic in a 2-part series on a simple 4 phase demand management process:

4 Phase IT Demand Management Framework

A Simple Process to Manage Demand

I’ve used that simple framework over the years to help IT leaders and teams get control of their work and have seen dramatic improvements each time. With companies downsizing their staff, projects and technology spend these days, there are a lot of IT organizations that need to hear about it.

I created a Udemy course Get Control of Your Project Portfolio with Demand Management: An Introduction to Demand Management that provides the foundation that business analysts, project managers and IT leaders need to implement demand management in their shops. This 1 1/2 hour course, with case studies, activities and templates, will give you the headstart you need on getting your demand under control.

For a limited time, you can take the course for $12.99 USD using this link (a savings of more than 40%) or enter code GETCONTROL50OFF at checkout. This sale is good through Wed, April 26, 2023 so act now!