With employees now working from home and an increasing number of distractions or inexperience of working remotely long-term, it is important for project managers to be prepared and meet your employees halfway.
It doesn’t matter if you are a small, medium, or big business, managing your employees remotely may be completely new to you, and working remotely may be entirely new to your employees. So, here are five strategies you can try to be a more effective remote project manager for your team and company.
Check in on your employees to help provide resources they need
As a manager, if you haven’t sat down with your employees to discuss the future, how they feel about this “new normal” or what they feel they need in order to succeed, you need to. Knowing your employees’ needs allows you to put resources in place to help meet them. Based on those conversations, you or your company can help provide resources through one-on-one support, virtual town halls, consultation sessions, and webinars.
It is important to recognize employees and colleagues that you know or see are struggling, but remember to give grace. Check in and help brainstorm ways they can still be productive. Have an honest dialogue about what they can and can't accomplish, then adjust plans and schedules accordingly. An example of this could be employees that have kids quarantining at home, which may add stress to their day, so reaching out and asking what you can do to help them succeed will go a long way. It could be as simple as allowing them to set an hour during the day to be with their child with no meetings. Another example of providing resources to your employees is guiding employees who may be struggling with time management or focusing on work throughout the day. Reaching out to see how they are doing with their workload or schedule can help identify any issues so you can work toward a solution.
Maintain constant communication
During uncertain times, it is important for your employees to feel secure, informed and involved in the company. Scheduling regular video or phone check-ins with your employees, colleagues and teams can help eliminate any doubt around work and the company.
One of the most important jobs for project managers is that you need to be virtually available for your team members. Before the pandemic, I tried to be present in meetings and really listen to what employees and coworkers were saying and feeling. I also allot specific blocks of time to talk to team members, whether it is over instant message, email or phone. Holding face-to-face video meetings has become an important asset for leaders and companies now more than ever before, so aim to speak live consistently with your teams. When we went completely remote it became more important for my employees and colleagues to know that I am still available even if they can't physically stop by my desk.
When it comes to maintaining communication, there is a risk of taking it too far and losing focus or becoming constantly distracted, so try to establish norms. Let your employees and colleagues know what are the best times and methods of communication. For instance, a norm my boss and I established when we went remote is that if my boss sends me a text message it is urgent, but when they send an instant messageI know they don’t expect an immediate reply. I’ve also established a timeline with my boss, that if I want an ad-hoc meeting or advice I know to try to set a time for early in the morning.
Lead by example
Being in a manager role, you should strive to lead by example. Be transparent with your teams about the information you’re getting and what work you’re doing. If everyone has access to the same information, data and metrics it helps to establish trust with your team and business. You are all working toward the same goals so be open about the things you don't know and communicate any changes timely and regularly.
Other important skills to remember are to be authentic and vulnerable. You are still a leader and are required to maintain certain professionalism and standards so this doesn't mean be unfiltered, but given the chance, lend emotional support to your team members when needed. This goes both ways. Let your team know where you're struggling and be open to their advice if you've hit a wall or roadblock.
Strike a healthy work/life balance, and encourage employees to do the same
The new norm has made homes become home offices, making the line between personal and professional life more blurred than ever before. Offer tips and advice to your employees on how they can strike a healthy balance to separate work and home life.
Inform your employees about the company's policy around paid time off and encourage the team to still take days off. Remind them to step away from the computer while on lunch, encourage them to try to be active like exercising, meditating, taking a walk, reading, or cooking. If employees are struggling to be active, share recommendations on how to find something that forces them to disconnect and not think about work after hours. Share what you're doing to maintain the separation and involve other team members so they can share what they’re doing; this is also a great way to create a team discussion.
Don’t forget to keep it light
The pandemic has created so much uncertainty in the world; as a leader, be a positive and a consistent voice to and for your employees. This could be sharing an uplifting video, inspiring words, or a piece of good news. As I’ve mentioned before, you are human and so are your employees. During dark times shining a little light on some good moments can help boost team members’ moods.
During uncertain times we need to be sure to over-communicate and be the support system our teams need. Being there for your employees, leading them, communicating with them, listening to them and understanding them will make these difficult times a lot easier for them, you and your company.