A common communication pitfall of remote project management

by Brad Curtright

As project managers, we are often faced with unique challenges not found in other professions. This couldn’t be truer for remote project managers. As project managers, we spend most of our time on project communications. Effective communication is vital to completing projects successfully, but effective communication is not easy and even harder for the remote project manager. One of the communication pitfalls that occurs most often is relying too much on email as the method of communication.

Why do we become reliant on email? Accessibility and convenience. Email is, for the most part, always at our fingertips. We can write an email from our laptop, tablet, phone, or watch. We can use these devices to send emails all day, every day. We are not constrained by the schedules of those we are communicating with, especially when our team is spread across different time zones. So why is using email a communication pitfall?

One issue with reliance on email is miscommunication. When using email, we can’t use vital communication factors. Factors such as para lingual (pitch or tone), active listening (receiver responds to the feedback or seeks clarity), and nonverbal (facial expressions and body language) used when communicating are critical to effective communication but is lost when communicating via email. This can lead to the tone of an email being misunderstood or not fully understanding the content being delivered.   

Another reason for miscommunication is distraction. Distraction often occurs when trying to hold an ongoing conversation using email. When we receive an email and we need to seek clarification or provide feedback, it is easy for us to just use email to have a conversation resulting in several emails being exchanged. However, as we wait for a response, it is easy for us to bounce between other emails and tasks to fill the time. The bouncing between topics is not only inefficient but also causes us to continually shift our focus. This often leads to not clearly reading and digesting the topic leading to missing critical information and misunderstanding the content.  

Another concern with reliance on email is efficiency. Have you ever had a conversation using email and later thought to yourself that the same conversation that took thirty minutes of your time could have been conducted in five minutes if you had the conversation via phone or in-person? You aren’t alone. When you work remotely, it is easy to become reliant on email for your primary method of communication, but it is important not to forget about other methods of communication.

What is the best method of communication? That is a question that can’t be covered in detail here, but the best method is the one that effectively communicates the message in the best manner that will get the desired results. If you are simply delivering information like a status report, email, or leveraging a project site to post your update to are great options. If you are seeking feedback and need collaboration, email is likely not the ideal choice.

One of our favorite ways to communicate with remote teams is to leverage web conferencing technology. A couple of our favorite tools are Slack and Skype for Business. These tools provide the ability to have VoIP calls as well as add video, allowing you to hear not only the tone and pitch of the words being spoken but also see the nonverbal cues.

The next time you need to communicate something, take a moment to think about what the content you want to communicate is, what is the purpose of communicating the information and then ask yourself what the best way to communicate the information is. If you are looking for feedback and need to have a conversation about the content, email is may not the best option for effective communication.


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