Updated: May 11, 2020
When operations are going smoothly, clear communication is imperative for any project manager. Regular check-ins, intermittent phone calls, huddles, and “seeing” colleagues every day provides a sense of security in executing and managing projects. However, as organizations transitioned their project managers to remote work, not having these normal project management communication channels was the most suffocating experience for many project managers. Project managers felt as though they lost control of their teams, their resources, while their projects teetered on the brink of a significant collapse. Project managers who have never worked in the remote environment may still be experiencing palpitations and anxiety over this, as communication in this new environment has been nothing but chaotic and frustrating for everyone.
Why? Well, regular communications such as daily check-ins were replaced with a million emails and constant phone calls to compensate for the lack of being in the typical environment. If, as a project manager, you were to review lessons learned, hindsight would say this remote communication process was a very reactive response to support continuity of the project instead of an agile and adaptive updated communication plan to help all stakeholders thrive and the project outcomes survive. Unfortunately, the consequence is that this thrust into the remote work experience would cause many project managers to dismiss the possibility of remote project management. However, it is not the ineffectiveness of remote work but an improper communication strategy that lead to this belief. Remote work could help project managers to recognize issues that occur in their routine work and provide an opportunity to refining their project management strategy with an emphasis on how communication is managed. Remote work, and virtual communication can be extremely beneficial to the organization and as such, you should consider revisiting your virtual communication strategy, before dismissing the value of remote project management.
Here are three tips to help you revamp your communication as a remote project manager to support project success:
1. Use of effective communication channels. Effective communication is not incessant synchronous communication. Many tools can be used for virtual teams to maintain open communication. These include:
o chats groups that allow instant responses to communicate with one person or the group without having to tie up someone’s time with incessant phone calls. These chats also allow us to communicate over time zones, perfect for conversations that are not time-sensitive.
o specific team groups chats that include only key members of a team. This avoids confusion when everyone is involved and trying to figure their role.
o Phone calls to clarify difficult tasks or tasks that need clear instructions with limited room for misinterpretation.
The advantage of using asynchronous chat channels is that you may unleash more ideas and creativity than before, avoiding groupthink. One message can lead to multiple back and forths over a period of time allowing ideas to expand more than may have happened with an in-person conversation. You can engage more people in the conversation and really get new ideas and innovations going for your project. In addition, the conversation can be tracked, so easy to revisit if there is a need.
2. Not all rules apply. Though best practices certainly have its place in any successful project, you need to consider the context of a situation before following best practices. In times of crisis, following hard business etiquette and netiquette practices isn’t ideal. With the sudden transition into remote work without ample preparation, flexibility is a must. Not everyone’s experience to get started remotely and routinely sustain their work is the same. Consider that team members are juggling being a parent, caregiver, and managing the stresses the crisis brought. Also, they may not have had the necessary equipment to work remotely. Until work life returns to normal, think about the following:
o Offer flexibility. It may be difficult for some people to maintain traditional work hours. Therefore, communicate with team members to determine a schedule that will work for everyone. Synchronous meetings have not be ideal for everyone, so having options is beneficial. o Accept multitasking. If there needs to be synchronous meetings, remember people are in their homes with family, pets, and their lives going on around them.
o Functionality. Communicate with your team to determine the challenges they face in working remotely. Persons may have to share computers with their children who are being schooled at home as well as with their spouse, who also needs to work remotely. There may be issues of internet availability and the strength of connectivity as well. Do not assume that your team members will let you know the challenges they face.
3. Use technology. Despite the times being stressful, take the time to learn some new communication platforms to maintain connectivity with your remote team. Zoom, Skype, GoTo Meetings and WebEx are all platforms that can be used efficiently to support the team engagement. Keep in mind, don’t just use this for formal meetings.
o Use various communication platforms to maintain your water cooler chats, coffee meetings, and employee get-togethers, but now virtually. Remote work is not equivalent to isolated work. Team members need to collaborate and can do so in an online space, not just for work, but non-work-related fun! These activities will help maintain collaborative work relationships and sustain a sense of community. Also, we are still humans with the need to vent, this time through virtual water cooler meetings.
4. Humanize communication! Whatever the work environment, mindfulness of your pitch, tone, and volume in communication is imperative. Now, with additional stresses, it is even more critical in this current remote environment. Therefore, consider spending the extra time to review your message before sending it off. Also, you may need to take the time to engage with someone in the first few sentences to humanize your communication before getting into your main message.