Remote projects and teams: Effective communications (part 2)
Switching to remote project and team management is hard, even more so in a crisis. In this second of three articles, we will focus on two essential skills for successful remote management: learning to write well, and managing expectations inside and outside the team.

One key skill for remote project management: learn to write well

In the office, body language can often remedy clumsily chosen words or take the sting out of a sharp comment; therefore, you don’t need to be a perfect communicator to get the right or intended message across. However, when 95% of your communication suddenly becomes text-based only, small slip-ups can quickly snowball into major misunderstandings or team conflicts.

Being a good writer is an essential part of being a good remote worker.

— Jason Fried, Remote

So, what can you do to avoid this? “Writing is a skill, and skills improve with practice,” points out Kara Blackburn, Senior Lecturer in Managerial Communication at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Here are some useful tips to keep in mind:

 

  • Think before you write: Don’t rush into writing. Take a moment to ask yourself, “What is the key idea or information that I want people to remember?”
  • Focus your message: Lead with the main point and then create a hierarchy of information. Also, try to be as concise as possible. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.
  • Use plain English: Try to avoid buzzwords, jargon, and colloquialisms. This is particularly important if you work in a multicultural environment where cultural references might not be picked up by everyone (American football, anyone?).
  • Re-read what you wrote: Very few people write their best on the first go. So, be sure to re-read that email before you send it and imagine how the recipient may perceive it.

If you’re interested in taking your written communications up a notch, here are 10 great tips for improving your digital communication.

Why you need to be more deliberate in managing expectations

When everyone is working in the same space, having quick touch bases with colleagues during the day and keeping up with what’s going on in the office is second nature.

With remote work, however, people can quickly feel out of sync with their team members. Knowing who’s working on what (and when) can become quite fuzzy. And the rules for knowing when it’s appropriate to ping someone on chat—at the risk of disturbing that person’s focus—or when to communicate something explicitly with the team—without becoming a proverbial “Captain Obvious”—are not always abundantly clear.

That’s why managing expectations, both within and outside of the team, and developing processes to ensure that team members can connect regularly and stay synchronized across their projects is more important now than ever before.

Here are a few ways to do this:

  • Set up a “check-in” and “check-out” system: It can be as simple as asking everyone to say hello on a common chat thread when they log in at the beginning of their work day or to update their calendars to highlight “working” hours.
  • Institute a “who’s working on what?” and “what have you done this week?” check-in: Agile teams have a head start here with daily and weekly stand-up meetings designed specifically to do just that. For teams that operate under a more classical structure, this can be a great opportunity to test the stand-up format and see if it could mesh well with the team’s working dynamic. Alternatively, an internal “team newsletter” can be an effective and easy way to get important information shared with all team members as well as with senior management, too.
  • Show your work often and encourage your team to do the same: When you work in the same space, showcasing your achievements—even if those are small milestones throughout the life of a project—is as easy as pointing out something out on your computer screen or a whiteboard or even demonstrating your latest prototype in front of your entire team. When working remotely, if you don’t make the effort to show your work, it can quickly slip under the radar.

 

This article is the second of a three-part series. Take a look at Part One for 7 Best practices when making the switch to remote work. In the next instalment, we look at two essential roles of a team manager: manage morale and help the team develop resilience.