One of the frequent challenges my clients who work remotely raise with me is that it feels harder to keep everyone in the team aligned on projects and other complex work when you are not seeing each other day-to-day. It is not the lack of formal meetings that is making this hard – we still have plenty of these, albeit via a screen. It is the informal chats and discussions that we used to have before meetings, or in the hallway, or around the coffee maker.
To keep everyone focused on the work that needs to be done in a project requires alignment across the team. When everyone is aligned on the purpose of the project, we are all clear about why we are doing it. When everyone is aligned on the outcomes, it is clear to all what needs to be achieved and what success would look like. When we are clear about who needs to be involved in a piece of work, we gain alignment on the stakeholders, thus making communication and stakeholder management more effective. And when we plan out what needs to be done, and update the status of work as we go, we create alignment on the activities and progress.
For many of you, this is project management 101, and no big news. And of course, the requirement to create alignment on these things is present whether you are working remotely or not. The current challenge though is creating alignment when you cannot come together around a whiteboard to get the team on the same page, or you cannot quickly grab a colleague to work through an issue.
I believe there are two key ingredients required to create alignment on project work in a remote situation – Visibility and Accountability.
It is too hard to manage complex work if you cannot see it. If the work is buried in people’s inboxes, in files on SharePoint, or even worse, in their head, it is very hard to keep track of what needs to be done, who is doing what, where you are up to, or what issues may need to be anticipated. That is why I firmly believe we need to learn how to leverage collaboration tools like MS Teams, Planner and OneNote. Along with MS Outlook, these are the tools that can make our work and progress visible across remote teams. I talked in more detail about this in a recent blog.
There was much trepidation for many organisations before the pandemic about allowing staff to work from home. But COVID forced our hands and the result is that most organisations have successfully moved to a remote working model, or at least a mix of office and remote working. This has required trust from leadership, as well as from the staff themselves. Leaders need to trust that people will stay focused and productive, and staff need to trust that they will be allowed to do their work without being micromanaged. Teams that do this well have a healthy culture of accountability.
One of the tools that can help your team to build a more accountable culture is what we call Team Agreements. Not just a set of rules about how people should work that needs to be policed by management, but a set of agreed behaviours focused on how we will work and collaborate, which are created and policed by the team themselves.
Visibility and accountability are like two rails that keep us aligned and productive. Running through the centre like a backbone are the collaboration tools we use to create the visibility and accountability.
Does your team fully utilise the productivity and collaboration tools at your fingertips to stay aligned on projects and complex initiatives?
Have you made the time to discuss how you will work and collaborate remotely with your team?
Maybe you should – the productive alignment of your team could be at risk.