These are strange times, and, while many companies have gotten used to remote teams a long time ago, some businesses are still getting used to the idea of their staff working from home instead of from a central office.
While working from home has its own advantages (less overhead for companies, more freedom and flexibility for workers, and less commuting for everyone), project managers that are still getting used to how to manage teams remotely have their own unique challenges. Here are just a few things to consider to help you manage your teams in order to keep productivity high, even when everyone is working from everywhere but the office.
Plan super-awesome project kick-offs
Getting a project off the ground productively in the best of circumstances is critical. Everyone from teams to stakeholders needs to be on the same page at the outset. Repeat clients, especially those who have gotten used to certain processes or procedures, may need a bit of hand-holding. Be sure to explain any new processes that are in place now that projects are remote, and be clear with stakeholders as to how deadlines will be met and if any contingencies have been entrenched to help put everyone at ease. At the end of the day, whether the kickoff is in person or remote, the goal stays the same: make sure everyone knows their roles, outline all risks and assumptions, and be clear on how communication will be handled.
Schedule regular team meetings (and have more of them)
Since working face to face will often not be possible, team meetings take on a new set of importance and should happen more often. While holding weekly status meetings and internal team meetings should continue as usual (albeit remotely, on platforms like Microsoft Teams or Zoom), it may be wise to add a monthly project review meeting on longer projects to increase virtual communication with project customers who can get a good overview of a project’s progression. Be sure to provide lots of status updates, project health updates, and general discussions to keep clients informed and help them feel more engaged with the stakes of the end result.
The same is true of your project team. They, too, will need to be kept engaged int he stakes at hand, and more frequent meetings will strengthen your team’s cohesion and collaborative habits.
Keep Communication Easy
A project should always have a dedicated communication channel, whether a team is remote or working shoulder to shoulder. However, with dispersed team members, constant communication is more integral than ever to delivering a project. Choose a communication channel (like Slack) and encourage team members to use it in order to communicate with each other and share project updates.
By creating easy instant communication channels, team members feel more connected and are easier to reach during office hours.
It may seem that, now that everyone is working from home, anyone can jump on something at any time at the drop of the hat. A good project manager will respect the boundaries of their team and keep off-hours communication to a minimum. Your team members shouldn’t feel like they are on call at any hour day or night just because their work is so close in proximity to them at all times. Respect everyone’s “business hours” and you are less likely to have teams burn out on you. Keep in mind that many team members may be stressed about the transition to working from home and may need a bit more flexibility to the way they work. Keep open lines of communication with everyone to figure out how to best navigate everyone’s new work reality and stay respectful of the fact that some may transition easier than others.
Keep goals realistic
Along the lines of respecting boundaries is keeping goals realistic. Project managers may have to take into account that timeframes may be disrupted a bit in the early days of transitioning to remote work. They should also refrain from being overly ambitious about the availability of their team. While the place of work may have shifted, the amount of time team members can dedicate to the job at hand probably hasn’t, so, once again, make sure you are not trying to fast track a deadline by trying to pressure your team into spending more hours of their days or weekends on a project – unless they’re agreeing to the extra work, of course.
Don’t wait for due dates to fly by before checking in on your team members. It’s important, as a project manager, to check in from time to time to make sure tasks are dispersed fairly and no one feels like they are underwater and trying to keep up. While it may be easier to “check-in” with individuals in an office setting, project managers need to make sure that every team member knows how to get a hold of them and communicate directly to them if they are facing any issues with workloads or timeframes. Make a point of touching base with every member of the team at least once a week, even if it’s just a quick hello via Slack, to make sure they know you’re there to help even if you’re three time zones away.
Tie everything together
Where possible, try to tie together your project management platforms together to make the experience of completing tasks and internally communicating goals seamless. If you are an organization that uses Jira, for example, linking it to your Slack channel can help everyone get on the same page in terms of who’s working on what. By tying everything together, project managers can ensure that those not even using Jira can be updated on all aspects of the project. Senior management and stakeholders, for example, can be added to Slack channels to get updated without ever having to log into Jira or look for a specific instance.
At the end of the day, effective project management of remote teams comes down to how successful you as a project manager are at communicating with your team and encouraging your team to communicate amongst themselves. By being available, keeping goals clear, and utilizing technology (like Slack and Zoom) that makes remote workers continue to feel connected to a common goal, your project will continue to roll out on time. That means less likelihood of deadlines being missed and less stress for project stakeholders in the long run.
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