Are You a Project Manager Working with a Remote Team? Here’s how to Keep Everyone on Track
Remote working is slowly taking over the usual 9-to-5 in the office. More and more people in almost every field choose remote work instead of lengthy and exhausting commutes.
And why shouldn’t they?
The mere fact that you don’t have to waste time on the commute is an incredible benefit. Add the possibility of working from anywhere (not just your home) to that and you’ll see why remote workers are happy workers. According to the UK Office of National Statistics, non-commuters are more satisfied with their job and happier. And there are undeniable benefits for employers, too: lower taxes and wages and less money spent on huge office spaces.
The Workforce 2020 report shows that 83% of executives plan to increase their collaborations with intermittent employees or consultants in the next year.
But not everything can be perfect. Along with the myriad of benefits of working with remote teams, there are some disadvantages, too, especially if you are a project manager.
Having your entire team in the same office at the same time every day makes it easier to keep everyone informed, motivate them and keep them on track. But what can you do when your team works remotely, sometimes even across the world?
1. Email Is Not Your Friend
Yes, it’s easy to draft a quick email announcing schedule changes or project progress, then CC the entire team and forget about it. But guess what? They will forget about it, too!
Did you know that the average person gets 88 emails per day? Sure, some of those are spam and newsletters, but that still leaves a hefty chunk of correspondence to be dealt with on a daily basis. And, remember, these are average numbers. This means that, in a busy period (say right before the delivery of a project) the numbers go up.
Even if your team opens the email and reads it immediately, who’s to say they won’t forget about the information in there as soon as they get back to their busy schedule?
Luckily, there are better alternatives. If you work with tools like Primavera or Microsoft Project, you probably know it’s quite hard to keep everyone in the loop. This is where affordable project management software comes into play.
You don’t need to pay a fortune on project management software to ensure seamless communication with your team and stakeholders. You just need to choose the right tool!
2. Use Group Chats for Emergencies or Team Discussions
Simple and free tools like Skype can make your life much easier. Again, why wait for your entire team to answer your email one by one, when you can get the matter solved with a simple group chat?
You just need to group all the relevant contacts on Skype and you’re good to go! You can even forego meetings this way. No one even has to leave their desk.
Chats are not only great for group discussions. If you want to reach out to a single member of your team, you’ll get faster results and answers if you do so via chat than email.
3. Make Different Time Zones Work for You, Not Against You
When your remote team is scattered around the Globe, it can be hard to keep up. But with all the right project management and communication tools at your disposal, you can definitely make it work.
From the very beginning of your project, establish some ground rules. For instance, even if the schedule of your remote team is flexible, let them know they should be online at the same time every day for at least two hours.
This way, you’ll get the chance to speak to all of them daily. Plus, they will be able to collaborate and become more focused: if they know they only have two hours in which they can speak to all their colleagues, they’ll do their best to keep all communications short and to the point.
4. Establish Regular Meetings
There is no secret recipe of meeting scheduling that works for every project. But a good rule of thumb is that you need at least one meeting per week.
If your project methodology is different, you can even have one meeting every day. However, irrespective of the number of meeting you establish, make sure you communicate this clearly to your entire team. They need to know how they are expected to prepare for the meetings from day one.
Once you’ve set a meetings calendar, try to stick to it. Yes, emergencies can happen and that is perfectly understandable. But you shouldn’t make a habit out of cancelling or delaying these briefings.
Even if your team is a remote one, visual contact remains important. Try to schedule a face-to-face meeting at least once a week — either with all of them together or with each one individually.
5. Help out!
Remember that your remote team doesn’t have the option to go to the boss’ office whenever they run into a problem. Most often, they have to wait until the next meeting to bring it up.
Make sure to let them know that they can always reach out to you via chat, email, project management software, phone (the more communication channels the better!) and that you are 100% dedicated to helping them remove blockers. During your meetings (especially if you only have one every week), ensure that everyone has a chance to speak.
They don’t need to prepare lengthy speeches, just a few words about what they are currently working on and whether or not they need any help. Learning about colleagues’ work and problems also helps team cohesion — which has a lot to suffer due to distance.
1. Forget about Large PDFs
Project managers often work away from the project planner that updates the project schedule, so they are not in the same room or office when it happens. The planner meets with other members from the project team and receives input on the progress of various tasks and updates the schedule based on that.
This also happens on different locations, like a building site, a construction site or a project office. Once the schedule is updated the problems starts. Now the planners needs to communicate with the project manager and the rest of the project stakeholders that the current plan is updated. This is normally done through huge PDF files that no one ever opens and even fewer read and understands.
Instead of PDFs that are filled with project planning lingo, keep your team and stakeholders updated through collaborative project management tools. They will get simple, short messages letting them know about the changes that affect their work and they won’t have to spend ages browsing huge files.
Using the right project management software doesn’t just make your remote team’s life easier. It also takes some pressure off the project manager and project planner. Instead of taking time out of your busy day to make the weekly or biweekly updates to C-level execs or clients, your project management tool can send them notifications and keep them in the loop about everything they need to know — from updates to crucial moments when their input is needed.
That’s why the project manager and the rest of the project team need an easy and instant access to the project schedule. A simple Q&A error can lead to delaying the entire project if the team doesn’t learn about it in due time. The same goes for interdependent tasks i.e. one of the developers needs another one to finish his code before he can start working.
Do you really want to bet all that on how often people read their emails? You shouldn’t!
In today’s economy, missing the go to market deadline by as little as two days can mean the end of a startup or a serious blow for an established company. When time is of the essence, you need to make sure no one misses a single bit of relevant information.
This is what we had in mind when we started working on October Software, our project management solution for Oracle Primavera and Microsoft Project users. We knew that managing remote and local teams along with clients’ and stakeholders’ expectations can be challenging even for the most seasoned of project managers.
At the same time, we also knew that your typical project management software license is incredibly expensive and that very few companies can afford to pay for the whole team to have access to the entire project. When only a few people have access to such important data, deadlines are bound to be missed.
October Software was born out of real point of pain: empowering project managers with a solution that’s both easy to use and affordable. No more unread emails, no more endless meetings. Instead, the project managers that use October Software have time to focus on their core mission: making sure that the project is delivered on time and within budget!