By Veronica Thraen / June 8, 2020
I must admit, I struggled with working from home when I received my first remote opportunity a couple years back. I was accustomed to working in an office environment – scheduling face-to-face meetings, walking over to a colleague’s desk with questions, and enjoying the overall camaraderie you have with the team each day.
I wondered how I would be able to maintain that same camaraderie while keeping teams motivated and focused on the end goal. I also wondered how I would continue to build strong working relationships and effectively communicate with teams when I can’t work with them in person.
Here’s what I’ve learned while leading project teams remotely:
Lesson #1: Some face time is still beneficial during a project
I was asked to work onsite for the first 3 weeks of my remote project. This was extremely helpful because the team had not worked with me in the past. During the 3 weeks, I was able to meet with team members and stakeholders individually to get to know them and understand the environment. This made for a much easier transition to working remotely for the remainder of the project.
It is also beneficial to meet in person when critical information needs to be shared – like during a kickoff meeting where the project goal/objective, scope, timeline and team roles and responsibilities are communicated. You’ll have a better chance of gaining the team’s undivided attention when everyone is in the same room.
Can these activities be handled remotely? Of course! But having some face time (if possible) is always best when trying to build working relationships and overall team cohesion.
Lesson #2: Discuss and agree upon the team communication plan
At the start of any new project, the team should discuss and agree upon how they will communicate throughout the project: for example, the best time and frequency for meetings and the tools to be used to communicate remotely (i.e. chat, web meetings, document sharing, etc.). The team should also be aware of each other’s working hours as some may vary.
In addition, it is important to keep time zones in mind if teams are geographically dispersed. The last thing you want to do is inadvertently schedule a meeting for 6:00 pm on a Friday evening and expect everyone to be available.
Lesson #3: Being remote does not require more meetings
Just because you are working remotely does not mean you need to have more meetings to keep up on project status. Some may feel it’s necessary to micromanage because they cannot see team members working at their desks. But if teams are getting work done on time and within budget, there’s no need to ping them throughout the day. Some flexibility and trust will go a long way.
Sticking to the agreed-upon communication plan is best; however, there will be times when impromptu meetings are necessary. Just keep in mind that team members can be assigned to more than one project, so their time may be limited.
Lesson #4: Managing stakeholder expectations remotely
A weekly status report is a great way to keep stakeholders updated on the project. But not everyone reads a report.
To ensure that stakeholders are engaged throughout the project, consider scheduling a weekly 1:1 call with the executive sponsor and weekly calls with stakeholders to help keep the lines of communication open. Having a meeting on the calendar for the same day/time each week will give them an opportunity to ask questions and give you the opportunity to provide status and escalate any issues/roadblocks.
There can be a wide variety of distractions while working from home. But if you can remove or tune out those distractions and focus on the tasks at hand, you’ll find that you can get more done working remotely and successfully lead teams to their end goal!
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