Communication Tips to Strengthen Program Management During COVID-19

By Sovany Van, Deputy Chief Operating Officer

Organizations across the globe have had to quickly adjust to the new normal of mass telework, increased reliance on collaboration tools, and navigating through the unknown with the COVID-19 pandemic early this spring. Well into summer, what started as interim, temporary, or crisis solutions look like they will need to be in place for the foreseeable future or longer.

Effective communication has always been key to running a successful program. The reliance on different methods of communication is heightened in telework situations, especially so during this pandemic. Teams that are used to face-to-face interaction may be completely remote. Clients you could previously drop in to see are often hard to even reach. And, Program Managers must determine how to disseminate information to teams and stakeholders as quickly as possible within the new paradigm.

A Program Manager’s ability to adapt communication style could be the difference between efficacy, progress, and innovation—or simply keeping the train on the tracks. A pivot during COVID-19 may be significant—like giving up the need to see people in person and instead embracing technology and virtual collaboration. It doesn’t mean a manager should deprive the team of fruitful interactions and connections, but it does mean they may all have to work differently. As a leader, it’s important to set the tone and example of how communication should work in your organization and within your team.

Here are some communication tips for adjusting programs, clients, and teams to the new normal:

1. Maximize New Tools and Resources 

  • Utilize modern collaboration tools to their fullest and become a power user. Don’t rely on other people to explain the available features and push adoption.
  • Show your face in meetings. Be on the video chat—don’t just dial in via phone—so that your team can see and engage with you.
  • Work with your HR/communications department to curate messages about the pandemic, employee safety/welfare, and other topics specific to your program.

2. Make Meetings a Priority – Formal and Informal

  • Establish quick stand-up meetings in the mornings with your direct reports for an agile approach to program management.
  • Conduct ad-hoc virtual check-ins with your client in addition to routine meetings.
  • Evaluate, iterate and improve—you can’t expect the same methods, no matter how tried and true, to continue to be effective, especially as things are changing so quickly.

3. Manage Expectations and Change

  • What you may know to be true of your clients’ expectations are pre-COVID. His or her expectations have likely changed dramatically. Review your contract and explore what you can and can’t do and what recent legal changes may be in place to help.
  • If you didn’t already have a Continuity Of Operations Plan (COOP) for your program before the pandemic, use this time to create one.
  • Get your clients buy-in and negotiate how requirements and services will be managed with realistic expectations for at least a temporary basis. The effects of the COVID-19 stay-at-home order and remote work are still part of the current reality.
  • Communicate with your employees about expectations and shifts in roles and responsibilities.

Now more than ever, with limited in-person interaction, effective communication is critical for program management. Realize that what once worked well for you, your team, and your client may not work at all now or in the future. Be proactive with communication, concise with messages, and intentional with your flexibility on channels and methods.

For help with your program management needs, contact us for more information.

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