Managing Remote Teams: Challenges, Best Practices & Tools

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As technology advanced, so did the workforce and how teams work. No longer were organizations tied to dipping into the local talent pool. With broadband, mobile devices and software solutions, teams could be recruited anywhere and work remotely.

While this widened the net in terms of capturing skilled workers, it creates a whole new set of problems for managers. How can you manage someone when they’re not there?

Of course, you must trust your remote team to do its job. Yet, if you’re unable to monitor their work then you’re not able to balance that workload or know if they’ve gone off-track.

It might feel a bit like driving blind, but it doesn’t have to be. Managing remote teams is possible with online project management software to assign, monitor and report on remote teams, no matter where they are or when they’re working.

What Is a Remote Team?

A team is just another way to say a group of people who are working together to solve a common goal. A remote team, also referred to as a distributed team, is no different than any other team, except in one very important way.

A remote team is a group of people who are working together to solve a common goal who are working in different offices, cities or countries.

Related: Coronoavirus: Work From Home Software & Tips

Managing Remote Teams

Remote teams, like any team, report to the same manager. That means the manager must be able to administer and coordinate the team, as if they were all in the same room. The manager must assign their tasks, monitor their progress and report back to stakeholders.

As noted, remote teams are more popular than ever: as there are some serious perks to working from home. That trend looks as if it will continue, so it’s important that managers learn how to manage remotely. Whether remote teams are reducing overhead costs, giving projects a 24-hour work cycle or just giving organizations the opportunity to hire more talent, managers still must manage them. This creates challenges.

Challenges for Remote Teams

Communication is the most obvious challenge when managing remote teams. Being able to clearly direct tasks and keep a channel open between manager and team is key to successful execution.

Tracking work and productivity, as noted earlier, is also essential to know if the project is aligned with the plan. Of course, there is corporate culture to consider, as some companies will be slow to accept a new paradigm.

There are issues for the team, too. If they are working remotely, but others are in the office, the distributed team member can feel as if they’re not part of the team and their contributions are not noticed or appreciated. There can be unnecessary downtime as they wait instructions. And, worse, they may not buy-in, which negatively impacts their work and morale.

5 Tips for Better Remote Team Management

While nothing replaces face-to-face dialogue, there are ways to resolve these inherent challenges when managing remote teams:

1. Video Conferencing

It’s a bit awkward, but there are plenty of tools out there to connect people no matter where they are. Having either daily standup meetings or, for deeper discussions, a whiteboard session is a great way to communicate, get feedback and see one another’s faces.

Don’t underestimate the power of even a virtual conference. Putting faces to the names builds trust and develops bonds that are critical for teams to work well together. Although it wouldn’t hurt to allocate some time and money in the budget for in-person summits.

2. Be Clear in Your Instructions

When you’re in the same office and managers and teams are in constant communications, the need to be precise is still important but not as essential as it is when managing remote teams. Don’t use fuzzy language like “fast” or “good.” Those terms are up for personal interpretation.

Show an example of what you want, use deadlines and set milestones. Share your calendar, so everyone can see when what is due. Set clear expectations.

Related: How to Make a Work from Home Policy (with Examples)

3. Stay Engaged

It’s easy to neglect remote teams. They’re not in the office with you. They don’t see you arrive in the morning, get invited to have lunch or just pass you in the hall. These casual connections slowly build up trust, while remote teams can feel more abstract, like a name without a face.

Therefore, as manager, it’s important for you to reach out and stay in touch with the remote team. Invite them into meetings through some teleconferencing tool and set up weekly check-ins, so you can get a feel for how they’re doing and if they need anything from you to do their job better.

4. Focus on Goals

Micromanagement is a dangerous road for managers. It can make teams feel as if you don’t trust them or their ability to do the job they were hired to do. It can be difficult to not micromanage when you’re managing remote teams.

This speaks to a trust issue, of course, but if you can track the progress of the remote team’s goals rather than what they’re doing every minute of the day, then you are tracking their performance without making teams feel like they’re just worker monkeys. If you’re meeting your goals that means your remote teams are managing their workload.

5. Get the Right Software

Before you employ remote teams make sure you have the tools you need to keep them in the loop. If your teams are cut off from the rest of the organization, if they can’t communicate, share files and collaborate, then they’re never going to work productively.

For that matter, if managers aren’t able to monitor and track their progress and have tools to get reports to evaluate their performance and the performance of the project writ large, that’s a recipe for disaster. So, find an online tool that has a full spectrum of project management features that connect teams and managers.

ProjectManager.com Helps You Manage Remote Teams

Segueing off that last tip, you’ll want an online project management software that has a full suite of features to help managers and teams manage work together—no matter where they’re located. ProjectManager.com is an award-winning software that keeps projects organized and remote teams productive.

Getting teams assigned tasks when they’re distributed is difficult, but not with ProjectManager.com. When team members are invited to the project, the manager can assign them tasks.

Those tasks can have detailed instructions and unlimited attachments. Once the duration of each task is set, they populate a Gantt chart, or project timeline. This way everyone can track deadlines and stay motivated.

Gantt chart screenshot for scheduling work
Make plans, schedule work and assign tasks with online Gantt charts.

But sending out assignments into the void is not going to work. That’s why ProjectManager.com keeps managers and remote teams connected.

Comments can be added at the task level, which keeps managers and team members talking, but also creates a collaborative platform for the whole team to work better together.

If they need to pull someone else in from the project team who isn’t assigned to the task, simply tag them in a comment and they’ll be alerted by email.

Task list screenshot featuring team collaboration
ProjectManager.com has multiple views for managing work and collaborating.

Assignments are made, teams are collaborating, but managers are still in the dark about progress and performance. But not with ProjectManager.com, which has a real-time dashboard to track progress as it happens and automated project reports that get into the details.

The last thing a manager wants is to overburden a team member while others are not doing anything. But when managing remote teams it can be hard to know who is doing what and when.

ProjectManager.com solves that problem by having resource allocation tools that show when team members are working and when they have holidays, vacation or sick days. A workload page is color-coded, so you can see at a glance if your team’s workload is balanced. If not, then reallocate right from that page.

Managing team resources in the Workload view
See availability, workload, holidays and more with our resource management tools.

ProjectManager.com is a key component to any remote management methodology. Managers have the tools to keep their teams working and monitor their progress, while teams get the collaborative features they need to work better together. Start your free 30-day trial and start managing your remote teams better.

Watch a Training Video on Managing Remote Teams

As remote teams become more the norm, Jennifer Bridges, PMP, relates additional ways of using project management software to manage them. She talks about managing external vendors as well.

Here’s a shot of the whiteboard for your reference!

3 New Tips for Managing Remote Teams whiteboard graphic

In Review: 3 New Tips for Managing Remote Teams

First, Jennifer noted the variety of distributed teams that can be working together on a project from different locations. There are:

That’s just three, but each project could have more or less, so it’s crucial that you have a strategy to that ensures everyone is working together.

Next, she outlined some potential issues when teams are working remotely:

  • Not feeling part of the team
  • Not contributing
  • Waiting for instructions
  • Feel work is directive
  • Don’t have buy-in

While nothing replaces face-to-face dialogue, Jennifer offered these three ways to resolve the inherent problems of remote teams:

  • Video conferencing with whiteboard
  • Two-way collaboration and input

Allocate budget/time for some in-person summits

The talent pool has expanded, and you can now tap expertise from all over the globe, so it’s worth the extra-effort to learn remote managing skills.

Pro-Tip: Before you manage your remote team, you need to hire them. This is really the first phase of your management strategy. You want to employ team members who have experience working remotely and have proved themselves disciplined to complete tasks with autonomy.

Thanks for watching!

Transcription:

Today, we’re talking about three new tips to manage remote teams. Well, the truth is remote teams have been around for a long time, but we’re constantly looking for new ways to manage those teams more effectively. Let’s take a look at what some off the remote teams may look like.

So you, as a project manager, may be on-site with a few team members but you may also have some of your vendor partners on different locations. You may have your sales teams on planes, trains, or automobiles. You may have a product development team co-located together, or even in different areas.

And then you may have people on-site. You know, this is a construction site or, you know, wherever they are. So, as you can see, with the distribution of those team members, you wanna think of ways to have them collaborate more effectively.

There are some potential issues that happen with remote team members. Sometimes it could be, just due to the set-up, that some of the team members don’t feel part of the team because, maybe, the meetings, we may be having calls, or doing things by email, and so it makes people feel disengaged.

And with that, they pull back some and they don’t contribute. And when they don’t contribute, they sit there and they wait for the project manager or other team members to provide instructions on what to do.

And then, therefore, they feel like their work is being directive and then at that point they don’t buy in. So the net of that is that you’re missing valuable insights from those team members and, more importantly, their input.

So the three new tips are…the old adage goes, “that nothing can replace face-to-face,” and that’s true for projects as well. So we literally wanna go back to the drawing board with something as simple as a whiteboard.

So if you use whiteboards and then add in the videoconferencing, that’s so easy to do today with tools like Zoom or GoToWebinar. There are other tools that allow that as well, but we wanna move from the one-way communication or directives to more of a two-way collaboration.

So by being able to add the face-to-face component in, really helps people to feel more engaged and give them the safety and security to contribute.

We also wanna force in some in-person summits. And so some people say, “Well, we can’t do that, because we don’t have the money,” or “We don’t have the time.”

So, as the project manager, that’s one important part that you have to incorporate into not only your budget, but into your schedule, block off certain times not just in the planning phase, but all throughout the project.

And then that way, again, it gets back to providing the opportunity for the other team members to feel a part, to contribute, so you can get their insights and their input.

So, if you need a tool that can help you manage your remote teams, then sign up for our software now at ProjectManager.com.

(This post was updated March 2020)

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