It’s a well-known saying that no plan survives the first contact with the enemy. Not that your remote team is the enemy, but the idea is the same: having a process in place doesn’t mean people will use it, the results will be what you think they’ll be, or that you won’t have to constantly adjust and adapt.
Surely most project managers would agree. So, we have come up with guidelines for putting a team communication plan in place that will survive in the real world. After all, business communication is not just about how the organisation talks to external sources, it is also about team communication within the organisation.
Have the team build a communication plan and commit to it. Top-down plans are doomed for failure. Getting the team to talk about what’s important to them and then gaining their commitment is critical to building trust and making sure what’s really important gets covered. A great example is response time. It’s one thing to say ‘all messages returned within 12 hours’, it’s quite another to say ‘when you leave a message, state what’s important so that people can prioritize their responses’. This way, the important things get handled first – that’s a good thing in any plan.
Post it where they can see it and refer to it constantly
The communication plan needs to be properly built and launched. But it also needs to be the way you work as a team. If people use it well, broadcast that success with the team. If it failed in an instance, ask the team why and find out if it was a one-time problem or there’s a bigger problem. If people aren’t using it, find out why, now.
There are plenty of reasons why communication planning fails in a specific instance. Maybe the person got distracted and forgot to answer that question. Maybe they were out of town and forgot to post their status. Maybe that fancy SharePoint system is such a pain they can’t be bothered. Track your team’s performance against the plan from the beginning. If it’s a ‘people’ issue, coach them right away. If it’s a system or equipment problem, fix it and show your commitment to the team’s success. Enforcing rules that are counterproductive or defy the laws of physics can damage team morale. Maybe it’s the plan that needs fixing, not the people.
When choosing technology, think of the outcome
Technology is critical to remote teams, but only if it helps get the work done. When deciding on the tools you’ll build into your plan, start with what work needs to be done. ‘We need to have quick access to the latest version of that document, so use the shared files’ is a good idea. ‘We have this new shared file system, so learn to use it for version control’ is the same idea, but sounds like IT jargon to people out in the field. If a tool isn’t getting the job done, find out why it’s not working.
- Does it not do the job?
- Are people not using it because there’s a technical problem?
- Do they need more training or do you just have to enforce the rules?
Revisit the policy
Periodically (depends on whether it seems to be working or not) the whole team should honestly discuss what’s working and what needs to be tweaked/ changed or scrapped. Technology changes, team members change and the demands of the job (especially in project work) change. The communication plan and team communication needs to evolve to meet the job at hand, not the other way around.
Strong communication plan among the leaders and team keeps them updated regarding the important news and decision. This will help you not to overlook the whole process of positive business communication.