Gone but not Forgotten

When a project assignment takes you away from HQ — whether across town or across an ocean — it’s easy to become an office afterthought. But in an era of instant and visual communication, you don’t have to be out of mind when you’re out of sight. Whether your goal is to maintain influence with the C-suite or keep team members in line, practitioners can stay on the office radar by following these three tips from project professionals.

1. Plan your outreach.

Know how you want to connect with executives or team members while you’re away. Consider time, responsibilities and personalities to help determine what type of outreach resonates with each person. For instance, you can build a deeper connection by asking them for feedback on project challenges or by floating other project ideas you’d like to work.

“Figure out early who are those folks that move the organization and use all available methods to stay connected with them,” says Jeffrey Lovelace, PMP, PgMP, launch readiness program manager at Eli Lilly, a pharmaceutical company in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA.

“I will call them and talk live, I will instant message them and I will adapt to whatever schedule I need to so that I align with theirs,” he says. “Manage your network overall, because you never know who someday will say, ‘I really want that person on my team.’”

2. Hold the team accountable.

Just because you’re not there doesn’t mean you can’t keep teams on their toes. Holding weekly video meetings keeps you in the thick of the action — and establishes your authority, says Gary Paaren, PMP, healthcare systems analyst and senior project manager, Ninestone Corp., a consulting firm in Lexington, Massachusetts, USA.

“Holding people accountable for status updates also ensures that while the project manager is gone or out of the office, they don’t neglect their responsibilities,” he says. “When the team knows that their opinions and work will be discussed openly among team members, their thought process coming into the meetings is that they want to look good to their peers and to the project manager.”

3. Command attention.

Make them miss you well before you leave on assignment by building a strong network and showing that your leadership is indispensable — wherever you might be. Start by making yourself easily available to executives and other top decision-makers to increase the likelihood that seeking your feedback will become a habit they can’t break even after you leave for assignment.

Then maintain that connection with “regular, concise, to-the-point communications” that are easy for team members and executives to read on any device, says Marna Schoeman, PMP, strategic program manager, COO finance, Barclays Africa Group, Johannesburg, South Africa. Use weekly highlight reports and regular countdown messages that add a sense of anticipation for completing a project.

“What is most critical is to ensure there is a purpose or ‘heart beat,’ ” Ms. Schoeman says. “This can be established by a certain culture or event that occurs on a regular basis and bring everyone together.”

Maintaining remote control requires planning, persuasion and a personal touch, and will maintain — or even bolster — your reputation when you return.