We live in a connected world. Such a connected world, that even with a project manager in New York City, a front-end developer in San Diego, and a content manager in Canada, it is still possible to conduct efficient business...if you adjust accordingly.
The old business landscape consisted of project teams assembled within individual companies. Employees and partners would work together within the walls of the physical business location to complete a project.
Today, the reality of the new independent workforce requires teams to operate remotely. Project managers need to adapt to this modern business structure and have the necessary skills to manage remote teams, or they risk the possibility of project failure.
Here are 5 actionable steps you can take, as a project manager of remote teams, to ensure timelines are met, goals are achieved, and success is reported to the appropriate business leaders.
1. Communicate a Thorough Project Overview and Timeline
For a successful project, it is essential to have a preliminary meeting to establish expectations, timeline, objectives and visions.
Project overview is arguably the key factor in determining the success or failure of a project, especially for remote project teams. Since fluid communication can be difficult when your team doesn’t share a physical location, it’s important to be as thorough as possible in the project overview phase. An effective project overview will include the goals and objectives, the role of each of the team members, and the timeline.
A schedule or timeline is usually broken down into individual due dates, so project team members aren’t overwhelmed by the idea of one big project. Present the large project as a series of tasks with each having its own deadline. Breaking projects into mini projects allows people to better understand the schedule and when they are responsible for delivering work.
It's crucial for everyone to understand the crux of the project but also how the deliverables of the project will move the company forward. A vision creates a mental goal for each person involved to achieve. If project team members see a purpose and value in what they are working on, they will approach it with more rigor, enthusiasm, and productivity.
Once the overview, timeline and vision are communicated, it’s constructive to ask for feedback from the team to see if there are concerns about the timeline and tasks. Changes should be made if appropriate. The project team will feel more involved and participatory in the project if they feel they were a key factor in the creation.
2. Establish Roles and Responsibilities
With any project it’s important to define roles. An extra step that is important, especially with remote teams, is to make sure each team member understands how the work of others is impacted by their work.
For example, if you were the project manager for a website design project. You need to make sure the designer has all content for the website, which usually needs to be complete before the designer can even begin. So if you have a remote team working on your website project, you will want to make sure the copywriter understands that their deadline will be early in the overall project timeline.
When people are not working together in the same office there might be a need for the leader to communicate deadlines more often to ensure the project can move without delay.
3. Set Up a Dashboard Time Zone Clock
Often, your remote project team will span over different time zones, which can slow the process. Put time zone clocks on your computer dashboard for your partners’ time zones so you can compare them quickly. With the information readily available, you are less likely to plan meetings or make calls outside of their working hours. Communicating with your remote project team during times you can expect to find them ready can streamline the process.
4. Integrate Project Management Software to Empower Remote Teams
You may employ business apps to streamline your project, but without an umbrella to organize them all, your work may be scattered and disorganized. Project management software that integrates with your other business apps can serve as that umbrella.
Although your team’s physical locations may vary, project management systems allow partners to work in one virtual location to keep items organized and visible to the entire team. There are often messaging systems where members can comment on the project feed. Notifications can be set to make sure each team member receives an email confirming a new message is available or a new task has been assigned. Timeline management tools ensure the project is being completed on time.Finding a project management software system can save your team time, which saves everyone money in the long run.
5. Ensure Frequent Communication
Remote project teams are at a disadvantage because project managers can’t just stroll over to the cubicle down the hall to check in on their project team members. As project manager, you have to be rigid in promoting fluid communication.
Talk to your project team as a group and individually. Provide updates on where the project is and how that aligns with expectations. Compliment members when they do something well. Encourage them to continue as the project moves along the scheduled timeline.
These brief conversations can provide the necessary feedback to make changes and improvements. Just a little bit of time and energy can enhance productivity and team morale immensely, while keeping your remote team focused and motivated.
Once the project is accepted as complete and satisfactory, it is important to thank each person for their hard work. Everybody contributes to a successful project in various ways. It may be true that one team member does more work than another, but each contributes and that collaboration ultimately leads to the success of the project. Talk about how the project is succeeding and helping your company. Explain how their contributions helped the project become successful.
Communicating the feedback from the leaders and the role the person played in the business makes them feel ownership of their work and makes them more willing to contribute to the best of their ability on the next project.
This post was originally published on 3/15/12 and has been updated for accuracy.