Working environments have undergone quite a transformation in recent history. One of the most prevalent illustrations of this is the remote or virtual team. Your project sponsor could be in New York City and your business analyst in Tokyo, while you manage the project from Missouri.
If you’ve ever worked as part of a remote team, you’ve probably come to appreciate the advantages remote work can offer. You have flexibility over your location, and in most cases, flexibility over working hours. You don’t have the overhead that projects or companies do who are in one physical location. You can access specialized expertise from individuals without geographical limitations. With advances in technology, there is now a broad array of communication methods at your fingertips to enable remote teams to function smoothly and cohesively.
Virtual project management; however, involves exceptional organizational skills, in addition to project management skills. At times, extra patience is required in order to create a virtual work environment that includes barrier-free communication, an in-depth hiring processes, and a positive work culture. All of these elements can make a big difference. Our ability to connect and work with others around the world certainly has its benefits, but can also present unique challenges.
Let’s have a closer look some strategies you can implement as a virtual project manager to ensure your project is successful.
1. Hire the Right People
The first step towards successful remote team management is hiring the right people for the job. The ability to hire skilled workers from around the world means access to a wider pool of talent. Look for resources who are committed, experienced, and available during the designated hours (when applicable). You’ll also want team members who have experience working remotely. Be prepared to dedicate some time and effort to helping your team learn about what is expected of them as remote workers.
If you’re not geographically remote – in other words, people on your team work from home or an office within a reasonable distance – it can help to meet in person a couple times a month.
2. Establish Effective Communication
Communication is a vitally important aspect of managing a remote team. The inability to walk over to someone’s desk or meet in person can at times present challenges. Ensure you have enough methods for both informal and formal communication. Email, instant messaging, screen-sharing, and video meetings are all effective tools. Regular use of these tools will allow your team members to keep one another updated on how their work fits into the larger picture and project.
Your project should have a detailed communication plan, outlining regular check-in’s with your remote team. Stay open to using a variety of communication methods, depending on your team members, goals, and objectives.
3. Support your Remote Team Members
Working remotely can, at times, be isolating and lonely. It is important to maintain frequent contact with your team members—both one-on-one and together as a team. This will help to find out how they are doing with their particular assigned tasks, as well as how they are feeling about the project and work in general. Support should begin from the onset. In your first meeting, begin by creating a culture that is open to feedback. Let team members know that you have an “open door” policy for giving and receiving feedback, even without a physical office.
4. Set a Standard Work Culture
Developing and maintaining a work culture can often take a back seat when working with a virtual team. Some of your time as a project manager should be spent investing on team building, which will help with instilling commitment in your team members and helping them feel like part of a team and a broader purpose. Compensate for the fact that you are not bumping into each other in the office kitchen by creating some opportunities for socializing. This can be as simple as video team meetings, or starting and maintaining non-work related conversations in order to create a sense of camaraderie. If possible, holding a retreat for your remote workers can be beneficial, not just to your team members, but your project as a whole.
5. Track and Measure Productivity
A recent study conducted by Stanford University found that working at home boosts productivity among workers. That said, at the onset of your project, establish what your metrics of productivity will be. Implement project management tools that the entire team can use to check on the status of the project and see how much work is completed at any time.
Weekly updates/meetings that outline what each team member has accomplished during the week and what their focus for the next week will be are helpful. This can also be a forum for team members to let the project manager know what specific support they need in order to push their tasks forward, explain any delays or issues they are encountering, and/or address any concerns anyone has.
Quarterly goals will also keep team members focused, productive, and accountable. While everyone has tasks to work on that must be completed regularly, quarterly goals can speak more to the success of the project overall. Each team member should have detailed goals tied to specific metrics for evaluating success.
Generally speaking, focusing on output rather than time spent is a more effective way of tracking productivity. Your team members must be aware of the fact that while there is flexibility in working remotely, they must still meet crucial deadlines and have measurable outcomes to keep the project on track.
6. Recognize Achievements Regularly
Aligning everyone’s goals through a common purpose and regularly recognizing each person’s contributions to that purpose is essential for team building, as well as the health of your project. Take the opportunity to celebrate milestones and achievements whenever possible. The benefits of these practices have been well-documented and they are particularly important when working with remote colleagues.
Managing remote teams is similar to managing regular in-person teams, but will require more effort on the part of the project manager for fostering communication, building trust, implementing your project’s processes, and utilizing available technologies. It’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of each of your team members’ work, as well as the project as a whole. With the right resources and communication, it is possible for a project with off-site resources to be successful.