Over the past decade, remote work has seen a significant increase. Whether through telecommuting or having a distributed project team, working remotely has been trending up in a variety of industries. There is no surprise in seeing this increased work style, however, as both telecommuting and a distributed project team have their advantages.
Telecommuting has become an accepted way of interacting with the workplace for many reasons. It is being used to help people avoid the cost, in both time and money, of commuting in congested areas like New York City or Boston. Telecommuting can also help employees keep their work/life balance in check. If the employee needs to stay home with a sick family member, or take an extended trip to help chaperone a child’s field trip, the ability to telecommute means they can help out their family as well as maintain a connection to the office.
Distributed Project Teams
Distributed project teams are also proving to be advantageous in many industries, most notably in the software development or marketing ones. A distributed project team means members of your project team are spread over many different areas, sometimes even globally. This type of employment works for companies of every size, as there is no longer an office footprint necessary to house the team. It also allows the project manager to pick the best talent from around the world, ensuring the most qualified team. Knowing they beat out other global candidates can be a huge motivator for an employee.
Challenges of Managing Remotely
Although there are many benefits to working remotely and to having a distributed workforce, managing such a separate team can also be challenging. The traditional ways of leading a project can no longer apply if there are some members of the team who are not on site. Keeping a team that has distributed members in sync can present some unique problems, most notably, a lack of direct communication, hindered data accessibility, and poor visibility into colleagues’ actions. These challenges are not insurmountable, however; there are some simple ways you can alleviate them.
Maintain a Balance of Style
One of the best things about having a distributed project team is that each member has their own way of working. If your team is spread globally, these can be presented in cultural or language differences, as well as variables in education. While having such a diversified group is great for creativity, it can hinder the efficacy of the team. There are a few ways a competent project manager can overcome these differences.
The first would be to establish a base “language” for how your team will operate. One of the worst aspects of coming into a new job is when the team is using a shorthand, or acronyms, that aren’t widely understood. As a project manager, creating a list or glossary of terms that are commonly used by your team is a great way to ensure everybody is on the same page.
The second way would be to create rules and guidelines for parts of the workday that would be basic in an in-person setting, but are a bit more difficult to accomplish when working remotely. While flexibility and freedom is endemic to any remote team, some structure needs to be established. As project manager, creating guidelines is imperative to help guide the team in on coherent direction. Some ways you can do this can include creating a consistent way to schedule meetings, an easy way to track hours worked, and a simple method to track the work already completed.
Finally, many project managers of a dispersed team may believe that every one of their employees is independent and a self-starter. While that may be true for the majority of them, a project manager shouldn’t fall into the trap of managing all their remote workers the same way. Just as would be the case in a traditional office environment, each person is unique, with their own personality and management requirements. Do not be afraid to create opportunities for peer review or manager oversight, if a specific employee requires that environment to thrive.
Communication is Key
Having a simple and consistent communication network is necessary to any successfully managed remote project. Oftentimes, project managers can get stuck in treating each member of their team as an individual only, not factoring in the “team” element enough. However, viewing the members as a unit, instead of just separate producers, can help more effectively facilitate the project growth.
Using a “whole of team” approach will allow innovation to occur organically, between team members themselves. This way of managing is especially significant when dealing with a team that is spread amongst various time zones. When one member suggests an idea, or presents their work, the other members then have their own time and space to add onto it, or make changes to what was presented. Working in this way can make your project have an almost 24-hour continual loop of innovation and creation.
Never underestimate the personal touch, either. Allowing your team members to bond, letting them share personal information or successes, will build a sense of trust and community throughout your team. A team that trusts each other will work more efficiently. This can be done in a few different ways, whether that’s having a weekly or monthly newsletter that is shared with the team, or by having one meeting a month that uses video conference so your team members can “meet” face to face. If possible, having a meeting in person is the best way to build this trust, although it can be cost prohibitive.
An Experienced Professional
Managing a remote team can prove challenging to even the most experienced project managers. Although the benefits of choosing a distributed team, or having a few employees telecommute, far outweigh the difficulties, having the right team leader is essential to these teams’ success. One factor to keep in mind when choosing who the manage such a project is a professional who has a PMP certification. Those who have passed PMI’s exam are often the top of their field, and know how to handle the various challenges that can arise with managing a remote team.
Christine August is an assistant for EdWel Programs, a leading provider for PMP Exam Prep and risk management training since 2002.