This is a guest post from our friends over at Project Manager. Peter Landau will share his best pracitces on managing a remote team.
Work has grown too big for a cubicle. More people are making their office their home, coffee shops or shared co-working spaces. This new paradigm creates new problems managers have to solve when their team is not down the hall.
There are communication preferences, time zone differences and wildly differing work habits, to name just a few issues common to remote teams. Also, there are technical constraints to consider: It’s one thing to have a standup meeting in person, and another matter to schedule one by phone or Skype.
With all those issues remote teams face, It’s all too easy for teams to feel disconnected, but you can’t successfully run a project on excuses. You need a strategy to guide and yet not micromanage your team.
So, what do you do when you’re managing a remote team?
First, you have to be proactive. These concerns need addressing prior to assembling your team. Then you need to adjust your management style to stay relevant to the times, while not micromanaging people in their pajamas.
The following four tips are a good start to keeping your team connected, while also giving your remote teams the autonomy they need to get the work done, while not breathing down their backs and disrupting morale.
1. Decide how to work together
When your team is together under the same roof, it’s easier for them to collaborate and come together as a team. But when the team is spread out, you need to find another way.
Online project management tools can help your team collaborate and work together. Remote teams require unique features that teams at the office might take for granted. For example, you’ll need a tool that:
- Is online or cloud-based
- Has task lists & task management
- Supports collaboration & discussions
- Has timesheets or time-tracking
- Let’s you share files together online
It’s your job to connect the dots for the team. With remote teams you have to give them a clear process with good documentation, as well as a good tool, so they are not working blind.
2. Know who you’re hiring
Of course you only want to have the best people on your team – those with expertise and the skill sets to achieve the goals of the project. That’s a given.
But when the work you hire them to do is being done remotely, that’s a part of the equation you need to calculate before contracting them. Have they experienced working outside of the office in a prior role? Do they know how to work online?
If they don’t have that experience, you’ll want to weigh the decision to hire them remotely very heavily. Not every personality has the discipline required to work from home or is savvy with online file sharing and communication.
Another good option is to offer some kind of training, if you can afford the time and effort. You need to set the parameters for what is and is not acceptable behavior outside of the more structured office environment, but you also need to promote healthy productive work skills to those that don’t already have them.
3. Keep track of time
This isn’t about timesheets or punching the clock (though it’s not a bad idea to use those with remote teams). What time means here is more basic. It has to do with the simple fact that quitting time for you may be when someone on your team is having their morning coffee before tackling work.
If you have teams working in time zones different than your own, then it’s crucial that you stay aware of those discrepancies. It’s best to store that information somewhere that is easily accessible, like having a desk clock set to the team’s time zone, or better yet global team calendars as part of your project management software.
Also, use different time zones to your benefit. Having people spread throughout the day is a good way to keep the team working round the clock. It requires a little advanced planning to make sure teams in a different time zone, though, have assignments lined up when they’re ready to work. But with good planning and a good clock, you can make the most of the time.
4. Communication is key
That leads to our final tip, which is a fundamental aspect of any leadership role: communication. This is doubly so when teams are working remote and can feel out of the loop.
Teleconferencing can help, but you have to know how to reach beyond the technology to make sure remote team members feel they are being heard and hearing you.
Seek out their feedback. When you’re teleconferencing, get them engaged in the discussion. Don’t just talk at them, but give the team members a chance to have the floor.
Go around the virtual room and ask everyone to voice any concerns they may have. You can also have team members add notes in the chat function on your conferencing or project management software, so every one is sharing ideas that can be reviewed later. Finally, if they would feel more comfortable speaking in private, have a team member set up a private chat to hear their concerns.
Also encourage the use of the online project management tool for active collaboration and communication as part of the daily practice. Get your teams to create chats around relevant topics, so conversations can happen with transparency for the whole team and ideas can be captured.
This is just a start, but it’s a way to get a handle of those aspects of managing remotes teams that can give you trepidation at first. Working outside of a traditional office setting may become more than norm than the exception, but it comes with a whole new set of distractions that can pull team members off task and dangerously put a project off track.
Once you have confidence in your team and they have buy-in to the project then you’ve created a winning solution that retains good workers and leads a project to a successful end.
About the author
Peter Landau is the Content Editor at ProjectManager.com. He has worked as a writer and editor on print, digital and mobile platforms for both consumer and trade publications. His creative writing is collected on his Tumblr. You can follow him on Twitter, @PeterLandau.