One of the biggest challenges I face as a remote project manager is that of instant gratification in communication. I’m an extroverted people-person and also happen to be a verbal linguistic learner. Solving a problem that requires others’ input works best for me when it’s done on a voice or video call, which isn’t always possible when working remotely.
Everyone works at their own pace and signs on at their own time in remote work. Whether the company sets general “in-office” hours to check in online, or if you (like me) work with contractors or people across the globe, not everyone is online and working at the same time. Communication is frequently asynchronous and I am not always afforded the luxury of a real-time conversation.
That means I need to have the patience or the foresight to know that my questions will not be answered right away. Similar to working in-person at an agency, not everyone is going to be working on the same thing I am, or at the same time. But being freelance and remote adds a totally different factor. If someone is working in Italy or NYC or Alberta, their schedule and time zone might be very different than mine, and I need to remember that in order to get things properly scheduled for a client in yet another timezone. Keeping one pulse on my own timezone, another on my teams’ timezones/work hours, and yet another on my clients’ timezones is quite the balancing act.
Couple that with my natural tendency to be impatient, extroverted, and a bit reactive in my workflow, and it can be difficult to reconcile the need for instant gratification. I’ve adopted a few “strategies” over the years to help myself cope with the reactive instinct I often feel when communicating asynchronously with my team.
Draft, read, and edit my communications: When I’m communicating with someone in real-time, I can easily correct myself as I’m speaking, or reword what I’m saying in multiple ways if it’s not clear to the person I’m speaking to. In general, real-time communication can be a lot “messier” in that way than asynchronous communication, and thus, a lot lazier at times—I might not say the most clear, meaningful thing on the first try, but as we communicate, it becomes more clear.
It’s a very different story when communicating over email, chat, or message to a coworker who’s not immediately available. This is something I’m especially aware of working remotely, since a coworker might not be reading my message when I’m available for more questions—so if I’m not clear on the first try, a simple question or task might not be answered for several business days.
I draft, read through, and edit my messages multiple times when communicating asynchronously. While editing, I look for unclear or vague phrasing, places where I can add more context or links for reference, actionables, clear next steps or a question, and an ideal follow-up time if I need to set deadline expectations. Then, and only then, do I hit send.
Always offer context: Since I rarely work in consistent environments as a remote contractor, I’ve encountered my fair share of obstacles dealing with organization-specific jargon, missing files, references to work I don’t have access to, and the like. It’s made me hyper-aware of the context I provide when requesting things from coworkers or bringing them onto a project. When we communicate in transactionally over longer periods of time, I want to provide the most context possible for what I’m communicating—without dumping info arbitrarily on someone, relying on them to sort through a mess.
Things that are typically important to include in a communication: the name of the project you’re referring to, references to login info or file paths, a link to the project or website you’re talking about (especially if it’s on a specific page – even if this seems obvious to you), a screenshot of an issue or error if appropriate, steps on how to replicate the issue or replicate the question you have, the goals you or the client are generally trying to achieve in asking your question (such as “I’m hoping to find a quicker way to achieve this than our original plan of x,y,z, but I need to know the answer to this one question first”), and any timeframe you need or expect a response within.
Provide multiple communication channels on complex issues: Always offer options in communication if you’re discussing something complex—rather than locking a more difficult conversation into one communication channel or forcing reactive communication onto your coworkers. Offer (and utilize yourself!) video calls, screenshares, recorded messages, group chats, or private chats if needed to better express your needs. Suggest that if your communication is not easily answered within your own parameters that you can sign on at a time more convenient to your coworker to connect in real time. Link to or mention other team tools that will allow alternate forms of communication if needed, such as sending screenshots via email, or recording yourselves on Hangouts. Just as we might change our communication channel in an office based on the most appropriate medium, we can reflect and act on this need remotely.