It’s no surprise that remote work was on the rise in 2020. Recent reports reveal this “new normal” is here to stay, as 62 percent of managers in various industries expect their workforce to be more remote in the future than before COVID-19. Moreover, the projected growth rate of full-time remote employees will reach 65 percent in the next five years.
As a remote project manager, you understand the benefits of working from home (WFH)—fewer office distractions and non-essential meetings, more work-life balance, increased productivity, to name a few. However, one of the prevalent roadblocks for remote teams is inefficient communication, according to Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work Report. So whether your team is remote for just a few months or you made the switch permanently, here are four strategies for project managers to optimize their team’s communication (with actionable tips to get started ASAP).
Even after several months, working remotely during a pandemic can still be uncharted territory, so you need to make realistic adjustments. Most importantly, give your team grace and understand that communication can often be more challenging during these times.
For example, you may need to allow for more response time. Remember that each individual has their own workflow. In their Guide to Effective Communication, Hubgets explains: “Unless it’s absolutely urgent, give people time to finish the tasks they were involved in before being able to read your messages…compile everything you want to say into a single message instead of sending several short lines that might become disruptive.”
While lags in communication might seem counterintuitive to performance, being patient and kind will yield better results. Focus on leading your project with empathy—78 percent of employees say they’re willing to work longer hours for an empathetic leader, according to a recent report.
Put it in action: Pad the timelines for your projects to include lengthier response times from key stakeholders. This way, you won’t be stressed when inevitable delays occur, allowing you to be a more understanding communicator.
When employees work from home, the boundaries that used to separate job and family start to merge. With the increased pressures of COVID-19, this is an unavoidable reality. Some of your staff could have to split their focus between work projects and their children’s virtual school. Others may have a sick relative in their care. For those with packed houses, they might be working more in the early morning or late evening. This pandemic flipped everyone’s normal routines upside down. To effectively work with everyone’s hectic schedule, make sure that each person—including you—communicates to the group when they’re available or inaccessible.
As situations evolve, so do your team’s schedules and responsibilities. Make sure to regularly check-in and ask about any changes.
Be mindful of everyone’s availability and schedule team-wide communication during time blocks that are conducive for everyone.
Put it in action: Use your internal calendar system to keep track of your team member’s availability. Schedule a monthly email reminder for everyone to update their schedule, if necessary. You can double down efforts by encouraging folks to label their availability in your chat program (i.e., at my desk, out of office, at lunch, PTO). Plan essential meetings well in advance to allow for necessary adjustments and give participants plenty of lead time.
If your team members don’t always work at a fixed location or are often on-the-go, it can be difficult to maintain a steady, reliable flow of communication. A time tracking system with GPS features can help avoid the irritation of not being able to check-in with employees while they’re in transit. These programs can also make it easier for your team to submit their time-sheets and whereabouts, so you can see in real-time if they’re reachable.
Put it in action: Check out this review of ten potential options. Depending on your budget and needs, find the best platform, and get your team on-board in 2021.
Gone are the days when email threads or phone calls were the only methods of virtual communication. Now your team has numerous options to connect with one another. However, it might get overwhelming or confusing if your team member receives a text, email, and instant message about the same project. Where to respond first? What if they miss an important note?
When project managing, you know that all details are key. A communication plan will ensure that everyone’s on the same page, and all information is shared in a streamlined and organized fashion.
Put it in action: To create your communication plan, outline which platforms to use, and when. For example:
> If someone has a quick question or needs some basic information, use a web-based chat or instant messenger.
> If you have documents or multimedia files to share, use a project management or collaboration platform.
> If the entire group needs to assemble for a weekly meeting, brainstorm session, or team-building activity, use a video conference. (Remember, rather than calling in, this allows you to see and hear each other, tune in to nonverbal cues, and feel a sense of camaraderie).
Just because your team is scattered right now does not mean communication has to take a nosedive. As a project manager, it’s your job to set the tone for consistent, strong, and effective communication. Your remote team can remain connected, aligned, and results-oriented in 2021 using these strategies.
About the author
Tracy Ring is a freelance writer and content marketer who works with organizations to curate engaging content and grow their social media presence via targeted digital marketing strategies. She brings a real-life perspective to her writing from 8+ years of diverse experience including, HR, project management, customer and client relations, and admin roles. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.
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