How Project Managers Can Work Remote Efficiently

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A remote working revolution is on the horizon and we are seeing more companies shift to partial or complete remote working models, but working from home presents both challenges and opportunities. Every business and even the individual teams within those businesses are different and will benefit from unique working methods, practices and tools to operate remotely. For those in project management roles, they must plan meticulously, stay organised, communicate effectively and manage their time, but can all of this be done remotely?

At Exposure Ninja, we’re total advocates of remote working and have been operating a 100% remote model for over eight years. We’ve asked our masters of communication — our Project Managers — who are on the front line day in, day out, keeping clients happy and creating kick-ass results, for their top tips for efficiently working remote.

1. Communicating Productively: Beware of Instant Messaging

A large part of the role of a Project Manager is centred around communication, be it briefing internal teams on client requests and new projects or updating clients on the progress of their campaigns. Communicating effectively is not just about the clarity of your messages or building good relationships; it is also about prioritising when, what and how much information you share with both your client and your teams.

If you’re working remotely, the majority of your internal comms likely take place over email and an instant messaging platform. These can be fantastic for keeping in touch with your teams and staying up to date on the progress of their work, if used correctly. But instant messaging platforms especially can quickly go from an effective tool to a distracting time-suck that dominates your day.

When communicating by message rather than in person or on a call, the clarity of your communication is even more important. It’s useful to consider the tone and frequency of your messages — experiment with condensing client feedback into a weekly update to avoid spamming group channels and consider whether a call is more (or less) efficient for the information you need to convey.

If you don’t have time to action messages that come through, don’t open them! If you can’t resist, make a note of the message quickly, assess its urgency and return to the task at hand. We use Slack, which features a handy way to set reminders on messages that you have received so that you can act on them in an hour, tomorrow or next week. It may also be worth snoozing notifications when you’re doing a specific task or on a call. Not only will this prevent notifications from popping up, distracting you and tempting you to check-in, but it will also signal to your colleagues that you’re currently not available to chat. Setting regular intervals when you check your messages and catch up — even putting these in your calendar — can boost your productivity by letting you focus on other tasks without risking missing important updates.

2. Planning Your Day: Work in Blocks

One of the huge advantages of working remotely is having the flexibility to plan out your day and perhaps start or finish slightly earlier or later than you would in an office. While this can be great for some, for others, switching off can be challenging. It’s all too easy for your working day to seep into your evening as you check a few emails after dinner, reply to a non-urgent request (even if it takes you just a couple of minutes) or work longer hours than usual because there’s no need to commute.

Planning out your week carefully can help you switch off and be more productive. Many of our Project Managers (PMs) segment their time into blocks, with each dedicated to a different client or task. It can also be useful to allow for the inevitable but unpredictable tasks that will pop up during the week, either by adding a buffer either side of your time blocks or creating additional blocks for unexpected requests, which will allow you to stick to your schedule even when last-minute issues crop up that require your attention. Blocking out specific slots is a great way to ensure you maximise the working week, and it gives you peace of mind that you will dedicate enough time to each client or project.

Finally, keeping a work-life balance when you are working remotely can be a challenge for the best of us. Try planning some “lighter” admin tasks for the last 30 minutes of your day — this may help you to unwind. If you’re a Project Manager, you probably love lists and planning, so try writing down anything work-related that comes into your head during the evening on your phone or a notepad rather than popping back on your laptop to action it. Many of our PM Ninjas find blocking out time for some exercise or a hobby immediately after work is a great way to transition into their downtime and have a hard cut-off at the end of their working day.

3. Bossing Virtual Meetings: It’s All in the Prep

When working remotely, meetings tend to happen less frequently than they would in an office — this can help individuals and businesses to really consider the purpose and value of their meetings and make sure they are as efficient as possible. We try to stick to 30-minute slots to avoid open-ended, long discussions that could have been condensed into half the time — we’re all familiar with meetings that drag on and go off-track, along with the old principle that work expands to fill the time available. If you’re leading the call, try to limit the amount of small talk that takes place at the beginning. It’s important to catch up with clients and team members, but after a minute or two, gently remind attendees of the purpose of the call and get started on your agenda.

To make sure meetings are productive, share your notes or an agenda with other attendees ahead of the call, make the purpose of the meeting clear and encourage others to prepare properly ahead of the meeting. Whether you’re using video-conferencing software, Skype or your mobile, make sure you have a backup. We’ve all been there when technical issues disrupt the call at the worst possible time, but if this happens during a client call, it is not only unprofessional, but it can waste time too. Ahead of meetings, check your mic is working and that you can gain access to any virtual meeting room you may be using. Always have the client’s phone number handy just in case.

4. Setting up Your Workstation: It’s Worth the Effort

Whether you’re working at home for a day, a week or indefinitely, setting up your space to work for you is essential. As a Project Manager, you are likely having many calls throughout the week, so a good-quality camera and microphone are vital. Consider (and check!) your surroundings before joining calls — we’ve all seen the remote work fails where a pair of pants lies on the floor or rogue children wander into the room… If possible, create a dedicated space for work that is free from clutter and distractions. This will keep you focused and able to switch more easily between work and your personal time.

Ultimately, most office jobs can be carried out just as efficiently, if not more efficiently, remotely. The skills required for effective project management remain the same and those individuals attracted to project management are organised and independent, which are the perfect traits for not just surviving but thriving when working remote.

If you’re struggling to make the transition from the office to your home, the Remote Work Revolution can help you adapt, providing you with all the tools, techniques and tricks our Project Managers use to effectively manage their teams and work with clients. Switch from office to remote with Exposure Ninja and make your client and colleague relationships better than ever.

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