Working remotely is slowly becoming the norm in workforces across the UK and around the world. In fact, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) predicts that by 2020, 50% of the UK’s workforce will be working remotely. As a project manager, you have to prepare for your company bringing in more remote working. After all, managing a remote team is not the same as managing a team situated with you in the office.
There are certain things you have to take into consideration in a remote team setup that you otherwise won’t have to in a traditional office setting. In fact, 56% of employees believe managers need to adapt their skills to manage a remote workplace, so getting your head around it can save you a lot of headaches in the future.
So what do you need to know?
1. Get the Right People on Board
First, it’s important that your remote project team are competent enough to meet the demands of the project, without supervision. Although this might seem the same wherever your team is based, it’s doubly important when a team member cannot rely on those around them, as they’re based remotely. The ability to work independently is therefore crucial – this is simply good business advice for a remote team. Working remotely demands a different level of commitment. Make sure you staff your team with people who you can trust and count on to be there when you need them. Whilst you want them to work independently, they must also be prepared to pick the phone up when you need to talk to them directly. Additionally, they must be receptive to feedback as well despite working in a remote setting.
2. Set Expectations Right Away
Lay down the expectations you have for the members of your team right away. This will ensure that despite the distance, you and your team members’ actions will still be in sync. Among the things you should discuss with them are their availability, work hours, and the company’s preferred communication methods. You should also inform them ahead of time of possible meetings and if their attendance is expected.
3. Be Clear with Their Responsibilities and Deadlines
As a project manager, it’s important that you explain clearly what their job entails. Also, let them know how their responsibilities overlap with other employees. This will raise their awareness of how important delivering their work accurately and on time is to the workflow of the company.
Also, make sure to discuss important projects and remind them of deadlines more often, just so they won’t forget.
4. Know Their Time Zones
If you’re working with people across different time zones, set up clocks that will inform you of the current time at their respective areas. This will make communicating with them easier, and allow you to synchronize deadlines and phone meetings more accurately.
Knowing the time zone differences among your team will also allow you to establish healthy work-life boundaries, which can help foster good working relationships.
5. Invest Time in Knowing Your Employees
Despite not having to see each other face-to-face, it’s still your responsibility as a project manager to know your employees. Finding out about your team and what they’re like will make you a better manager but it’s not easy to do with a remote team. If at all possible you should make the effort to get your team together, as this will help with team cohesion and loyalty immeasurably and will positively affect how they deal with other people in the team. You can also use this information to assign tasks that maximise their strengths.
Apart from time, cultural differences also come into play in a remote team setting. To avoid unnecessary conflict, be mindful of how people from different cultures give and receive feedback. Also, make sure you are aware of their national holidays and consider them when assigning work.
6. Communicate and Reach Out
Certain things can be lost in translation when you communicate online. So make sure the tone you use can easily be understood by all the parties involved. Keep your business communications simple yet thorough. You wouldn’t want to miss important details in an effort to keep your messages short.
As the project leader, you should also be mindful if a project could potentially be difficult to take on for an employee. In the event that one is having trouble with a certain project, be ready to listen and help him or her out. Knowing that they have a boss they can count on will boost the morale of your employees.
7. Use Remote Working Tools
To facilitate better workflow and track the progress of your projects better, maximise the use of remote working tools like cloud based project management software. There are several apps out there that you can use to collaborate effectively with your remote team. Aside from basic project management, these tools can help you keep tabs on an employee’s productivity, send and receive files in real time, and keep a log of time spent working on certain projects.
Being a project manager in a remote setup takes a bit of time getting used to. To do it effectively, there are some things that you should change in terms of how you handle people and where you source top talent, whether that via a freelancing platform or a traditional recruitment agency. However, all your efforts will not be in vain. For once you have mastered how to manage a remote team effectively, you’ll get to enjoy the increase in productivity and other benefits that result from this type of setup.
David Baker is marketing manager at PRINCE2 Training, who provide courses and certification in PRINCE2, Agile, Lean Six Sigma, ITIL, PMP, and Scrum project management methodologies