The world of business is accelerating toward remote work environments, whether by choice (with 70% of the workforce previously adopting either part- or full-time remote work into their weekly regimen) or being forced into it due to current pandemic circumstances, it’s not altogether surprising a majority of managers believe distributed workforces will become the new ordinary in the future.
Regardless of where you work, the purpose of a project team stands resolute—to foresee any barriers to completion, control the direction of current initiatives, and deliver a complete service to the client within your established timeline and framework. The problem for project managers and overseers to raise, therefore, is how working in isolation from fellow colleagues may threaten your ability to execute on these responsibilities (or even exceed them).
That being said, enjoying the benefits of working from a personal office or coffee shop does not inherently come at the cost of your project team’s productivity or capacity to deliver. Here are a few suggestions for organizations looking to revamp both their remote work offerings and their project management strategies.
Get smarter with your meetings
Distributed teams mean distributed meetings as well. Localized organizations hold the distinct advantage of connecting with coworkers face-to-face—whether that’s calling for an emergency morning meet-up or touching base with a desk neighbor. Successful project communication for remote teams, therefore, will require you to become smarter and more efficient during your web-based meetings and conference calls.
Start by drafting a plan of action or agenda prior to each meeting and dispersing it to all necessary parties. By prioritizing objectives you’ve thought about before coming into the meeting, you’ll be able to keep your time together focused on priority topics and reduce meeting time by upwards of 80%. Chances are if you are struggling to write an agenda that feels robust enough to cover the call’s full duration, your meeting is either scheduled for too long or may not need to be held at all. Don't be afraid to pare it back to appropriate time for the agenda. No one loves a meeting that drags on just to fill the allotted time.
Effective scheduling is another pain point that remote teams experience. Distributed teams often must accommodate multiple time zones on top of already hectic work schedules. You may find it possible to squeeze in meetings during every person’s normal business hours, but if this isn’t the case you should rotate meeting times so that the same team members aren’t expected to phone in at odd hours of the day.
The final ingredient in the smart remote meetings recipe is choosing the right technology. A phone call might suffice for less pressing conversations, but arranging your meetings through a video conferencing platform aids your team in conveying the nuance of both visual and auditory communication. You should also onboard your entire team to the same shared calendar service to expedite the scheduling process and provide a space for sharing meeting links, agendas, relevant documents and any security passwords.
Keep expectations realistic
If you are responsible for setting your team’s cadence for deliverables, it’s also your duty to mitigate expectations—both externally with customers and internally with the wider project team. As with any disruption to your office’s status quo, the transition to teleworking can impact your deadlines and output quality until employees are acclimated to this new workstyle, which can hinder your relationships with your customers if not managed properly.
Transparent communication with your customers means that you are actively updating your points of contact on any adjustments in your timeline and avoiding unrealistic promises or projections. A study that polled B2B marketers on their thoughts around communication and customer relations reported that 69% of respondents viewed overpromising as the most damaging communication offense. As difficult as these conversations may be, the longevity of your relationship with customers hinges on your ability to remain candid and open, in times of success and duress.
Maintaining reasonable expectations for your project team members during remote work may require you to revamp your approach to project tracking. For teams who struggle to accurately allocate resources, draft timelines to completion, or map out individual task stages in a project, these obstacles will become only more pervasive outside of headquarters. Digitize your approach to organizing projects with the help of a remote-friendly PMO solution. These types of tools provide a place to visualize historical project data, collaborate with colleagues assigned to the same tasks, and help you forecast each team member’s availability should any future projects overlap.
Master your remote “voice”
The life of a project manager is one of follow-ups, touch bases and conversations with clients. Although this constant communication will still exist for distributed teams, the strategies you employ may be required to change. The tone of your voice encapsulates 38% of communication, and body language occupies another 55%.
With so much of remote work contingent on written communication channels—chat platforms, emailing and texting—it’s entirely possible that your messages are being misread or misconstrued by others, particularly in conversations that are deadline sensitive.
A skilled remote project manager knows how to best communicate not only the message they wish to relay but also their tone while delivering it. One specific strategy that works for both written and spoken communication is called mirroring, or the action by the listener to reflect the speaker’s voice, word choice, and mood throughout the course of conversation. In an email, this might mean adding a few extra exclamation points or punctuating with the occasional emoji. By adapting to your team’s preferred communication methods, you’ll help reduce the spread of misinformation and make your written conversations as effective as possible.
It’s also critical for project groups to understand each other in more than just a professional capacity to further build the camaraderie that is foundational for great teamwork. A lack of personal connection is symptomatic of remote workers in general, as off-site employees are more inclined to feel left out and bad-mouthed by colleagues when compared to in-office workers. That’s why it’s important to take some time each day to further those connections with fellow remote teammates. You could choose to dedicate a messaging channel for your company’s remote crew or schedule an optional “water cooler” meeting in the morning—whatever works best for the individual people who embody your organization.