Have you started working remotely in the past couple weeks? 

Welcome to our world. It’s good to have the company — but we think it’s even better to clue you into some of the communication issues you’re likely to face. Project management software can solve a surprising number of them.

Thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak, we can’t simply cross the hall or pop into the next cubicle with a question. We’re still learning who prefers calls to emails, figuring out our favorite Slack GIFs, and understanding what clear written instructions look like.

Project management software may not be able to find your new favorite Shrek GIF for you. But it can go a surprisingly long way in improving team communication.  

Project management software for communication

New workflows can make communication more difficult. Implementing project management software can close gaps in a few key areas:

1. Role definition

Even if your team’s titles are clear as day, misunderstandings happen: Should your marketing team’s editor be responsible for coming up with blog topics, or should that be the writer’s job?

Knowing who’s in charge of each piece of a project is critical to its execution. Other contributors need to know who to go to with questions. Leadership needs to know who makes decisions and disseminates details to the rest of the project team.  

What role-related features should you look for in project management software? Project management software makes it easy to associate specific users and tasks. Look for a solution that includes a project charter tool to show where each user fits into the greater hierarchy of a project. 

2. Accountability

Deadlines are among the most important project information to communicate. Everyone on the team needs to know when something is due and who else depends on it being done on time. Project management software provides a platform where people can check in on a daily basis. Whether it’s reporting hours or marking off a checklist, it’s important that workers can give supervisors frequent updates in a non-confrontational way. Even the most agreeable managers need to enforce deadlines consistently and follow up regularly.  

Don’t force individual managers to text or email every team member every day. A project management platform acts as a hub from which they can check in, point out missed deadlines, and show how mistakes affect other team members. 

3. Accuracy

When you’re working in the office, it’s easy to sit down with someone for five minutes, tell them what you’re expecting, and show an example or two. They can ask questions for you to clarify on the spot. Without project management software to fill the gap, mistakes are easy to make. Email chains can be tough to follow and harder to find weeks later. Making a phone call requires scheduling to make sure the time works on both ends; if you forget to ask something, your callback might interrupt another meeting.

Of all the business consequences of poor communication, unmet needs and expectations may do the most damage to team relationships. Missing key details can slow projects down, and backtracking to rework a project is money lost. 

To minimize errors, project management software lets you:

  • Outline the specific requirements of a project or assignment

  • Lay out steps in the order they should be tackled

  • Store files and documents that the project requires

  • Check on progress to meet the project’s deadline

  • Give and ask for feedback from other team members, leaders, and clients

Although there’s nothing wrong with making a quick phone call to check in on someone, it shouldn’t be the team’s default mode of working. Most communication should be handled within the project management software. 

4. Schedule alignment

Remote work is an opportunity for people to establish their own schedule. Barring any rigid deadlines, work hours can be tailored to personal preferences. The user profiles in project management software can store that information, ensuring everyone can find it. 

With that said, there needs to be consistency in two areas:

  • Individual “on” hours  All members of the team need to know when someone will be available. Unless noted in advance, this should be static from week to week. 

  • Team core hours Certain project needs, such as brainstorms, require multiple members of the team to be present. That’s why core hours are important: If everyone is working from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., then meetings should be scheduled during that window. Team members should be responsible for filling in the remaining hours elsewhere. 

Remember to factor in time zones. If a member of your team who’s typically in the office is working from a relative’s house in order to care for her, for instance, she may need a reminder. 

Project management software can’t fix every communication problem, but it’s a great place to start. What communication challenges has your company faced since going remote?