Anthony J. Colciaghi of FCA: “Set expectations for success at kick-off and revisit them regularly”

Set expectations for success at kick-off and revisit them regularly. Working remotely requires a greater emphasis on defining goals. Be sure to always have the project’s goals and success metrics stated clearly and prominently on every weekly meeting’s agenda. As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a […]

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Set expectations for success at kick-off and revisit them regularly. Working remotely requires a greater emphasis on defining goals. Be sure to always have the project’s goals and success metrics stated clearly and prominently on every weekly meeting’s agenda.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anthony J. Colciaghi.

Principal Anthony (Tony) Colciaghi is the managing principal of the firm’s Philadelphia office, and he leads FCA’s Legal Workplace Practice and Corporate Studio. Throughout his 35-year career, including some 30 years at FCA, Tony has managed and designed over five million square feet of office space. Anthony is a hands-on principal and a trusted advisor to his clients, with whom he has consistently formed long-term relationships.

Throughout his career, Tony has led teams nationwide that have delivered transformative design. He was principal-in-charge of the workplace interiors for GlaxoSmithKline’s new office in the Philadelphia Navy Yard that dramatically transformed the multinational company’s business and culture. Some of his most recent projects have been for EisnerAmper with their new offices in San Francisco and New York, as well as offices for Fox Rothschild in Chicago, Ballard Spahr in Salt Lake City, and is leading the project for McCarter & English’s new Newark office.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

I have always been very curious about how things are designed and work — a building, interior space, materials, furniture, machinery. That led me to study architecture at Temple in Philadelphia and Rome. From there my first job out of college was for a sole practitioner in New York City where I worked on commercial interiors and renovations. My second job led me back to Philadelphia where I have been with my current firm, FCA, for 33 years. Architecture and how things work are just in my bones — walking the streets always looking up at the details and even in my off-hours, I play architect renovating and maintaining my 100+ year old Victorian home. I am generally happier when there’s a construction project in my life — obsessed with the details and delighted with the outcome.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

My most interesting story is really more of a most interesting project full of great stories — as a recent college grad I was Staff Architect on a Horace Trumbauer historic renovation project. It’s a beautiful Beaux Arts building in Philadelphia that was stripped of its detail and grandeur during “modernizations” in the 60s and 70s. FCA was charged to restore it to its former beauty. I found myself working as an architect, historian, archaeologist, and detective. It was so exciting. And such a complex and significant building — I was in architecture heaven: digging through drawings on linen; opening spaces not seen by a human for decades; working with artisans and craftsmen to restore and recreate ornamentation and detail in stone, bronze, iron, plaster, and glass. It was an amazing experience. My kids even know it as one of dad’s projects — I have a photo of them when they were young in front of some of the bronze work. And 30 years later, the building still looks beautiful!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Yes — I missed a digit on a paint specification once. And when I showed up on the project site, I wondered who picked that door color! Lesson learned: always make time to double-check your work and documents.

What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

One: Be a good listener. On any given day, a third of your employees can be dealing with a significant personal issue that can affect their performance. Recognizing this or checking-in with your staff regularly, like catch ups over coffee and asking about how they are doing is key to helping uncover, understand, and open a door to talking and possibly asking for help.

Two: Engage and mentor your staff. Ask what else your company can do to make work more enjoyable (every office and culture are different); have mid-year check-ins with all staff; try to offer varied work experience for hands-on work — especially for junior staff; offer mentoring programs and on-site experiences.

Three: Learn from your work. Have debriefs at the end of projects and take time to understand your lessons learned.

Four: Always play as a team. A good leader can and does fill-in at any level and any moment in time — play as a team, everyone including the leader does whatever it takes.

Five: Be there for your team. Leaders must always provide a safety net or know who to call to get one.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

My firm has had as many as four locations; and we currently have three. Running our firm primarily out of Philadelphia, I have over 20 years of working with remote project teams. And we routinely have specialty consultants who are often remote. We have been using the tools and technology for this for years, thankfully. The pandemic shifted this (working with our offices, teams, individuals, consultants) to the entire workforce — ours and our consulting partners — to being 100% remote for the first few months. Between our prior experience and our phenomenal IT leader, we almost didn’t miss a beat.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?

  1. Ensuring that you maintain the integrity of your processes to continue delivering your best high quality work.
  2. Needing to find better ways to stay connected when the team, the subconsultants, and the client are all working remotely.
  3. Remaining accessible and approachable as a leader.
  4. Maintaining the community of the office remotely, so that your team is always on task and always on track.
  5. Determining and acquiring the proper tools for digital communication

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges [solutions]?

Set expectations for success at kick-off and revisit them regularly. Working remotely requires a greater emphasis on defining goals. Be sure to always have the project’s goals and success metrics stated clearly and prominently on every weekly meeting’s agenda.

Stay connected virtually. Check in weekly, if not daily. Set up regular team video meetings, and have a project group chat to talk with the team regularly. Clear and constant contact is essential to maintain team focus and engagement while working remotely.

Talk and listen to your clients, teams, staff, and partners — make sure to address all questions and issues promptly. Check in one-on-one with each team member. Keep in mind that sometimes team members are not comfortable bringing up concerns in a larger group setting.

Focus on team communication and, as their leader, make sure you are in constant communication with your team. Don’t be afraid to overcommunicate! It’s all about communication. Be constant, be engaged, be clear, and check in frequently.

Invest in the tools to enhance collaboration. Do not be afraid to try different technology platforms to find the best fit. Working remotely demands supporting technology that is tailored to the task at hand. What works well for communication and data sharing might not be the best for innovating, material sharing, etc.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

Meeting virtually is important and as close as we can get to meeting face to face in this environment. Insist on cameras on for these meetings. For all of these messages, even when not remote, practice using non-confrontational wording that will get the point across but not in an aggressive way. Rather than, “your numbers are abysmal and you need to improve them”, say, “let’s look at your numbers. We are looking for this, how can we help you get there?”. Using this kind of language can soften the blow and opens the door for conversation and buy-in from your team member.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

I would use the same wording in an email that I would use in a meeting as in the example above.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic? Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

First, set up infrastructure. It’s key to invest and train in the remote technology tools. Confirm what your staff needs to perform their roles effectively from home (monitors, task chairs, headsets, etc.). Set-up support workflows with your technology group and be prepared to quickly overnight tech, as needed. Try to limit paper and printing as much as possible (correspondence, accounting (payable/receivable), documents, submittals, proposals, etc.). And if you’re pitching new business remotely, rehearse and make sure you know your technology — for yourself, your team, and your potential client.

Second, focus on process, flexibility, and innovation (It’s remarkable how many business leaders didn’t think employees could effectively do their jobs remotely until experiencing working remotely for themselves during the pandemic.)

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

Over communicate and create as many touchpoints with your team members as possible. Show you care by showing interest and following through with solutions to problems. When we work remotely, we don’t have the advantage of sitting next to others, walking by our associates at their desks and starting a conversation or sitting informally with our cohorts in the breakroom with coffee or lunch. We need to do our best to create these touchpoints virtually — creating casual check-ins and talking about more than just work.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think what the world needs most right now is kindness.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Less is more where more is no good.” Frank Lloyd Wright

“You have to go wholeheartedly into anything in order to achieve anything worth having.” Frank Llyod Wright

“Quality is not an act, it’s a habit.” Aristotle

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Winston Churchill. There are times when life can be difficult, but power through, you will get to the other side — and the battle will make you stronger.

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