Project client issues line up pretty similarly to remote project management challenges. Read on to find out how these relate and what practices you can consider to help set up your clients for success.
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Issue #20

Client Issues and Remote Project Management

This week I had the chance to be a part of a few interesting conversations discussing the aspects of working remotely as a PM. One of my conversations regarded a change I made on a project where I'm a remote project manager and my team is mostly co-located. I had recently asked my team to start calling into our biweekly client meetings remotely instead of gathering together in a conference room while our client and I called in from individual workspaces. It was a small detail but has made a big difference in our project relationship.

During our initial meetings, the distance between my client (located across the country from the project team) and our team was palpable—our client was literally physically excluded from the meeting because they were video conferencing into a room full of co-located team members. This often felt awkward and created many small pains (for example: technical difficulties on the call often left our client alone on the video link while we resolved our  issues). I happened to experience several of these pains as well as a remote member of the team. This made me realize how alienating the client experience was on these calls, and that it made much more sense to treat our client's remote position as the foundation of how we should run our meetings.

Project clients and remote work bring similar challenges

This experience was not new to me as a remote PM—I often work on teams that are in one location, and I'm the only remote team member. Sharing this experience with the project client made me me realize that being a remote PM is similar in many ways to the project client's position. Most project clients are not in the same office or cities as project teams. Our clients might have access to project teams in a limited way (meetings and communication tools instead of being able to walk over to a teammate's desk), and they often lack context into the methods we use on a project (until we help explain these!).

As a remote PM, I face similar challenges: I'm physically located across cities, countries, and timezones from my teammates. Our communication takes place over multiple platforms and methods, and I don't always have insight into conversations or meetings going on if I'm not a part of them. I can't walk over to a colleague's desk to ask them a question or clarify a point with them. My challenges on a remote project are similar to a project client's because of all of the constraints in working on a project remotely—and I think that's a good thing.

A remote-first mindset makes for a better client experience

In my experience, clients are most often in another city or location from my project team—and that should be the largest communication consideration on a project. I think this is often overlooked, because there are always more pressing considerations (like frequency of communication and who is a stakeholder on the project). But if we consider that our clients are all working off-site and therefore remote from our teams, that can feed into communication decisions in a more meaningful way.

The "remote-first" philosophy is more than just considering remote work as location-based: this article describes some of those differences very well. Treating a project as remote-first means a cultural shift in communication, expectation setting, documentation, and overall intention on a project. I've written about the importance of communicating deliberately on remote teams before—thinking through client expectations before and during communication can help create a richer, more contextual experience on a project.

Treat small details with as much intention as the whole project

As a remote project manager, I regularly find certain details make all the difference to my ability to run a team remotely. Applying this same idea to details that affect a client's ability to understand the communication and process going into their project makes sense. We should treat the small details—like consideration for meeting platforms—with as much intention as project planning and management throughout a project.

Most of us use multiple channels for communication with our clients: email, Slack channels, project management tools, and phone or video calls, etc. Being mindful of details surrounding these platforms can make the usage of those platforms far more meaningful: prepping a client on a communication platform and providing easily available documentation helps lessen the friction of being thrown into a new or busy platform outside of our client's normal workflow. When using a conferencing platform, indicating when a call requires video usage well ahead of time can make a client feel more comfortable and set their expectations appropriately. Considering back-up platforms in case of technical issues and providing dial-in numbers for clients who might travel frequently (and thus have unreliable internet access) also provides a flexible, inclusive level of detail to a project client. 

The intention behind actions and communications on a project is much more obvious when working remotely versus working in-office. By accommodating some of the same principles I follow when working remotely, regardless of my team's location on a project, I think clients can have an overall better and more thoughtful experience on our projects—which leads to a stronger foundation of trust and collaboration overall. 


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