Before the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly half of workers (49%) said they’d never worked from home, according to a survey from Wrike. Another 23% reported only working from home during exceptional circumstances. For this reason, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many teams suddenly found themselves working from home for the first time and scrambling to modify their responsibilities, activities, and workflows to meet the confines of remote work.
There are plenty of benefits of remote work that go above and beyond those associated with the health and well-being of a company’s workforce including increased flexibility, heightened autonomy, and reduced costs. For project managers, in particular, many teams notice an improvement in productivity after shifting to remote work, which helps tasks and projects reach their deadlines more quickly and efficiently.
Unsurprisingly, however, remote work does bring its own set of challenges that project managers must learn to overcome. Because remote work isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and is even expected to become a large part of “the new normal” in a post-COVID-19 world, project managers are best suited to adjust to this style of work as soon as possible.
Here are six tips to help project managers learn the ropes of remote work and function as a productive, efficient team during COVID-19 and in the future.
#1: Maintain Strong Communication
One of the greatest challenges of remote work is establishing a healthy level of team communication. Many organizations struggle to find an adequate level of meetings, emails, and check-ins, a dilemma that’s often only proliferated when migrating to remote work. It’s important to keep in mind that although a lack of communication can create a significant problem for project teams, too much communication can also create a set of problems of its own.
Here are a couple of habits that can lead the way to healthy communication levels:
Host Digital Meetups
Just because you and your team no longer work from the same location doesn’t mean that your conference room, roundtable-type meetings have to come to a screeching halt.
When discussing new project specifications, soliciting task updates, or informing a team with status updates, try to recreate your typical meeting styles with one of the many teleconferencing options that are available today. From group calls to video conferences to instant messaging, there are many up-and-coming methods that teams can use to stay in touch. However, you may want to require the use of video calls when communication can’t be conducted in person. Too many nonverbal cues are lost when we default to phone calls and instant messaging. On the other hand, video calls encourage participation, engagement, and fruitful conversation.
Schedule Regular Check-ins
Bear in mind that in an office setting, if you have a question, you can usually walk over and ask the person who’s likely to know the answer. However, while remote, this isn’t quite as simple. It may require a bit of extra effort to keep in proper contact with your team.
Should you need recurring updates on the status of tasks, client deliverables, or other materials, it may be beneficial to set up a project-focused messaging group for quick project syncs that don’t require an entire hour-long meeting. Some messaging platforms, like Slack or TroopMessenger for example, even offer automated reminders that will prompt group members to send updates on a regular cadence.
#2: Identify and Utilize Digital Tools
In addition to teleconferencing software, there are a number of project management-specific digital tools that can help facilitate tasks and responsibilities while working remotely. There are many helpful programs online that can help project managers organize their projects, and also provide a central location where other team members can check in on the status of a project, get the documents they need, and indicate when they’re finished with a task.
In addition, project managers can also utilize technology to help them conduct their reporting responsibilities. Reports are a vital component of project management—they keep everyone aware of time spent, deadlines, and overall progress and are an essential tool for communication between the project manager and client.
However, it is critical that these reports are consistently up-to-date and incorporate relevant and factual data. Software like ClicData that automates the reporting process for project managers can help to make this process much more straightforward and also create well-informed reports. ClicData provides in-depth and real-time examinations of projects, and our interactive dashboards take care of keeping track of timelines, budgets, and tasks.
Utilizing the right project management and team collaboration tool for your organization is a crucial key to success for remote project managers. Allowing technology to do your heavy lifting and automate tasks where necessary will make your responsibilities much easier to manage, while also facilitating a more collaborative and efficient team dynamic.
#3: Keep an Eye on Security Protocols
Data breaches have become a major concern in recent months, largely in part that businesses had to make an abrupt shift from having workforces where most employees worked in an office, whereas now, the majority works from home. For many, security protocols were left to the wayside in hopes to quickly resume to “business as normal.” In fact, as CNBC recently reported, data breaches increased 273% in the first quarter of this year compared to the first quarter of last year.
Project managers have an important role to play in protecting an organization’s cyber safety, especially as they have much to do with sending, sharing, and reporting on a project’s data and information.
Cybersecurity is crucial to every project, regardless of how sensitive the data you’re dealing with is. You don’t want your project to be the weak link in your company’s cybersecurity policy, and you can never be sure what potential points of exploitation your project might open.
One way to improve your cybersecurity protocol is to implement identity and access management tools, like multi-factor identification, single sign-on, and privileged access management. This helps prevent compromised user credentials, which are often a symptom of common hacker tactics such as malware, phishing, and ransomware attacks.
Having the proper cybersecurity protocols in place can help keep you and your team in defense when it comes to cyber hackers, and mitigates the costly risks associated with data breaches.
#4: Organize Your Space
Learning to work from home rather than in an office setting can often be a major adjustment, especially for project managers who rely heavily on their strong sense of organization. Most project managers know what they need to have in place to feel organized, whether it be a couple of whiteboards, a stack of sticky notes, or just the right lighting.
When working from home, don’t compromise these amenities or you could quickly find yourself distracted about feeling disorganized.
Because your team relies on you as the lead person to keep projects, tasks, and deadlines on time, organization is key. As Redbooth states in their guide on organization:
“To be a successful project manager, you need to be able to balance deadlines, a budget, and the quality of work. This can be very stressful even for the simplest of projects, and this is where organizational skills come into play. Lack of organization is detrimental to any project, but there are many ways to ensure you achieve what you set out to do.”
Be sure to structure your at-home workspace in order to keep yourself best organized. Find a space in your home you can utilize as a dedicated working area and set yourself up for success—add a second computer monitor, hang a calendar with important dates and information, or bring in additional light fixtures. Don’t let your organization slip because your space doesn’t meet your needs.
#5: Trust Your Team
As remote work becomes more and more common, and many members of the workforce begin their own transition to this style of work, it’s important to develop trust among your team and their capabilities. This is especially valuable for hands-on project leaders, who may struggle with not having instantaneous communication with their team members.
So long as you have dependable, disciplined, and self-motivated employees, transitioning to a remote team dynamic shouldn’t be too great of a challenge. Allow your team members to independently do their work (without a close watch and constant need for check-ins), but be sure to readily communicate to provide any needed direction.
#6: Regularly Evaluate Success or Areas of Improvement
Just like any new business strategy, remote work will certainly require some fine tuning before it’s running at full capacity. Don’t be afraid to modify your workflows, processes, and communication styles in order to best meet your new remote dynamic. As a project manager, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your team is running as smoothly as possible.
One helpful method is to host retrospective meetings on a regular cadence, which allows your team to address and discuss what’s working, what’s not working, and what they’d like to change. This is a great way to crowdsource feedback on your remote processes and find what works best for you and your team.
Research indicates that remote work is here to stay, even after the pandemic ends. Fortunately, with these six tips, you can help set your project teams up for success in this new work environment.