How to Manage Remote Teams

ProjectManager.com

Working remotely requires a different mindset. You need to be motivated, self-disciplined and focused. You also need to be able to compartmentalize your life. It’s too easy to pop down to the kitchen to make a cup of tea and get distracted chopping vegetables for dinner or putting in a load of laundry. Before you know it, you’ve missed your 11 a.m. conference call, but you have made a killer salad.

According to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, there are more and more people working remotely and therefore part of remote teams. Remote working grew by nearly 80% between 2005 and 2012 (which is the most recent data they have – I’d posit that it’s grown more since then too). They estimate that if everyone who had a desire to work from home and a job that lent itself to working from home, like a lot of project management jobs, then the average U.S. business would save $11,000 per employee per year. And that’s based on those people working from their home office for only half the week.

The Water Cooler Is Dead

For all the “normal” of remote working, it still requires a different approach to managing an off-site team to one where you all meet up round the water cooler and can quickly pop into your project meeting room for a stand-up. Remote teams are different, and if you are one of the many project leaders managing remote workers then you’ll need to adopt certain strategies to help keep everyone on the same page.

Whether your team members work from their kitchen tables or an office halfway round the world, they are still remote workers. In fact, if they don’t sit in the same office as you I’d class them as remote workers, even if their office is just down the street.

how to manage remote teams

Hire the Best (aka Experienced in Remote Working)

Getting the right people on your remote project team is essential. You can’t supervise them closely, and while they shouldn’t need micromanaging, you run a greater risk of people not delivering on time because they can’t manage their workload effectively.

Look for team members who have experience of working remotely or be prepared to put the time in helping new colleagues learn about what is expected of them as a remote worker. If you’re not too geographically remote – in other words, people in the team work from home or another close by office – it can help to get everyone together a couple of times a week.

Get In the Zone

When I worked with an Indian team we had a clock in the office showing us what time it was in Bengaluru. Old school, but essential, because we needed to schedule calls at a time that suited us all. I’d like to say that my mental arithmetic was good enough to be able to account for our daylight savings, add the pesky extra half an hour for Indian Standard Time and work it out in my head but that’s hard when you’ve got someone complaining on the phone and your manager standing over your shoulder asking when the problem is going to be fixed and you just want to know if you can call them to get them to look at it.

If your remote project team works over several countries, keep a tab open on your browser to show the various times where your team is working. You’ll save time (and headaches) with missed calls and confused deadlines.

Move Beyond The Role Matrix

When you start a project you should define the roles and responsibilities of each person on the team. That’s important on remote teams too, as there’s none of the chat around the water cooler that helps teams work out who does what and create an informal team hierarchy. However, the role matrix defines individual responsibilities. You need to go beyond it and look at how you work together as well.

As Michael Watkins writes in Harvard Business Review, “coordination is inherently more of a challenge because people are not co-located. So it’s important to focus more attention on the details of task design and the processes that will be used to complete them.”

Set up your project management software to help you by creating workflows and processes that let tasks pass from one member of the team to another. Create clarity of process by documenting and explaining what needs to happen and who does what when.

Communicate Proactively

Finally, never stop communicating. I was in a meeting room with a wide team recently and there was one attendee on the phone. At the beginning of the meeting we chatted to him, but by the end of the meeting he’d slipped from consciousness, even though the lights on the phone were clearly on and the phone took pride of place on the meeting room table. The chair worked round all the attendees asking for their final points before he closed the meeting. He didn’t ask the attendee on the phone and no one else reminded him. We had all forgotten he was there until he asked if he could raise his final point. Oops.

Your project should have a communications plan and that should also cover the work you are doing to communicate regularly with your own remote team. Outside of that you’ll have informal conversations. Try a few different techniques and find out what works best for your team. Maybe you’ll get better results with instant messaging from within your project management tools. Test out online discussions and 1:1 phone calls. Using a variety of methods, tailored to the preferences of the person you are talking to, is likely to improve your communications beyond sticking solely with email.

For more field-tested tactics to get the most out of your remote teams, and learn how software can help you better manage your resources, watch project management expert Devin Deen in the video below.

Working remotely has its challenges, but with the right tools those hurdles are easily cleared. ProjectManager.com offers an online collaborative tool that not only connects distributed team members, but offers a dashboard view of the project’s progress in real time, so everyone can stay on top of the overall project progress. Take a moment to test it out for yourself with our free 30-day trial.

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