The challenge of working in a virtual environment is my biggest source of inspiration of project management resolutions for 2014. In addition to learning new tools and techniques for working effectively across time and space, I intend to redouble my efforts to engage and connect with others, especially those I seldom or never see in person. My top three resolutions for 2014:
1. Look Up and Get Out
Few of us work in 100% virtual environments. Most of us work in environments in which people are virtual to some extent. When we are in the same place at the same time, we need to take advantage of that time to connect in a way that only face-to-face communication allows.
I am not suggesting squandering excessive amounts of organizational time and money with water cooler small talk, but it is darned easy to stay in your cube and lose touch with people. It is critical to look up from your computer screen and get out and talk to those around you. That sense of engagement and caring is what makes our work not only pleasant, but it makes us more valuable. People who work in environments with people they care about, and in which they feel others care about them, care more about the work they do. Everyone wins.
2. Communicate Synchronously
For those folks with whom we do not have face time, make more use of the phone, video calls, or other synchronous mediums for getting business done. Some organizations have lots of options for tools that facilitate this easily. Many still do not. Everyone at least has a phone, yet think about how much you use it. Actually, when was the last time you picked it up?
In the last year, I found myself embracing this idea of actually talking to people instead of using email on many occasions. Talking on the phone was usually more expeditious, helped build connections and, as often as not, eliminated misunderstandings or addressed concerns only tangentially related to the purpose of my call. Other topics would typically come up and other business got done in a way that would not have happened with email.
We tend to use email by default for communicating for a variety of reasons, including habit. Also, we may feel the need to document what we’re communicating in case we forget or in case we need evidence. It may also be that we don’t feel comfortable talking to some people – probably because we don’t know them very well! That may be just the clue that it would be a good idea to use a synchronous communication method and get to know them a little better.
3. Reach Out with a Virtual “Drive-by”
Think of the last time someone just happened to wander by your cube and stopped to chat about something, perhaps work-related or perhaps not. What if that never happened? Initially, the idea of never getting interrupted with unexpected and unsolicited visitors might sound dreamy. However, if your only interactions with others are time-boxed, scheduled, and include an agenda, how are you likely to feel after a while? I would suggest that it would leave most of us feeling at the very least disconnected and perhaps somewhat disposable.
When working virtually, it’s pretty hard to accidentally “run into” people or have occasion to just stop and chat. Things are inevitably more intentional in virtual environments. However, don’t let this dissuade you from calling someone without them expecting it, just to say “Hello, how are things going for you?” Think of it as a virtual drive-by. It doesn’t need to take a lot of time and it may feel awkward, but try it and see if you don’t experience a greater sense of connection to that person. And see if that connection doesn’t come back to benefit you both in some way.
As we continue to figure out better and smarter ways to work in a physically disconnected world, we owe it to ourselves to be at least as earnest in our efforts to stay personally and socially connected. It’s good for us and it’s good for our organizations.
So in the interest of project success, let’s make 2014 be the year we look up, pick up, and reach out!