The term Remote Project Management is not a new one. It has been coined to describe managing teams where at least one of the members is working remotely. However, as the pandemic happened this year, the need for remote project management skills reached a new high. And even now as most are returning to the offices, we already know remote work will be a much larger piece of the puzzle. Meaning project managers will have to learn new skills to ensure their projects are successful.
For some virtual project management is a completely new term, but the industry has been moving in this direction for quite some time now. Thus, once the offices were closed this year, we had a variety of communication and management tools ready to go. However, just having the tools does not mean you have the skills to manage a virtual project. As there are specific nuances to working remotely versus working from the same space.
Benefits of Virtual Projects
Before we dive into the pain points and how to solve them, let’s look why remote work became so popular. There are several reasons for this:
First – better work-life balance. Employees today want to create routines that work for their life. And sitting in an office 9-5 is no longer something most are happy to do. Instead, people are looking for opportunities where they can work on their own schedule and accommodate hobbies, family and personal lives. Many offices have introduced flexible working hours already, some are shortening the work week and remote teams are simply the next step.
Second – improved productivity. Let’s be honest, we are not productive all day every day. And there are times when you are sitting in the office scrolling though social media or drinking coffee with your teammates to pass the time. When working remotely, it is you that chooses when you will be doing the work and thus you can work when you feel the most productive. Delivering the required results in a shorter overall time.
Third – reduced cost and larger pool of candidates. Lastly, virtual teams can be great for the company as well. As people are working remotely, you do not need as much office space, thus reducing your operating costs. Also, the pool of candidates to choose from grows exponentially. And with a better work-life balance your retention rate is most likely going up as well.
Remote Project Management Issues
These are great benefits that will make most consider introducing virtual projects into their operation. You simply choose the tools, set up the communication channels and are ready to go, right? Well, almost.
The biggest change and task here lie on the head of a project manager. As working remotely brings new challenges and pain points that must be monitored and solved.
A survey carried out by Dr. Penny Pullan in 2016 lists these 5 points as the main challenges facing virtual projects:
- Engaging remote participants (76%)
- Missing out on dynamics and nuances of conversation (58%)
- Working across time zones (56%)
- Working across different cultures (56%)
- Building trust (55%)
Most of these occur due to the change in the way a team communicates and thus it is up to the project manager or team leader to set up new and effective communication channels. The survey also lists monitoring work (47%), detecting and dealing with conflict (42%) and getting to know your teammates (42%) as issues that most remote teams must deal with. And thus, they should not be overlooked as well.
Making Virtual Projects Work
So how can you make sure these pain points are not prominent in your team? The key is introducing a new level of communication into most of your remote practices. Since your team no longer meets face to face, there are no more verbal or facial cues to go off of. Thus, it is up to the manager to find a way of substituting them with meetings and tools and make sure nothing is lost in translation.
You may think, this is easy to do – we simply set up video meetings, a project management solution and a file sharing system, right? Well it might work, but in most cases just this much is not enough in the long term. Instead you need to look into setting up new practices for your team.
Curious to know more? Here are the best practices for you to consider.
1. Make Sure Everyone Is on The Same Page
When we talk about remote project management, the first thing you should set up is a way of sharing information. Every one of your team members must have access to the same data to make sure there are no miscommunications and the operation continues smoothly.
This can be done locally, where the team manager holds all the project plans, tasks, assignments and then distributes them to the team on the need basis. However, using some sort of a project management solution is much more effective. As the team members can acquire actual information at any time. Which is especially usefull when the team is spread out across several time zones.
Here the manager plans out the project, assigns tasks and tracks the progress. While the remote team members log in and immediately see what they have to do, and how the project is moving along. They can even help their colleagues complete difficult tasks. Remote project management tools like Teamhood, simplify the virtual collaboration, by visualizing the process and helping the team understand progress status even when working remotely.
2. Communicate Overall Goals
It is easy to get lost in the day to day management even when working in the same office. But working with virtual teams it becomes especially important to communicate not only the daily tasks, but also the overall goals.
Any team performs much better when they know why the work is being done. Virtual projects are just the same. So, make sure to set up a meeting before the project begins and then repeat meetings to make sure the team is still on track and up to date with the changes.
3. Choose Video
Another aspect of working with virtual projects is the loss of face-to-face communication. It may not seem like a big deal at first – simply write a message or shoot an e-mail. But over time it will amount to trouble. Face-to-face communication is 34 times more accurate than an e-mail. Thus, eliminating the non-verbal cues altogether will cost you time and money when tasks are redone time and time again.
To avoid this, urge your team to communicate over video. The communication will be clearer and quicker. Even better – set up regular meetings to catch up and discuss progress. This will create a way of staying up to date on what everyone is doing and may even bring up new ideas.
4. Don’t Overdo Meetings
Talking about meetings, you should be careful to not overdo it. A study by owl labs, found that most virtual project managers compensate the loss of face-to-face communication by scheduling more meetings. While this may seem like a great idea, the reality is most of these meetings are not effective. And overloading your remote team with attending meetings will only result in lost productivity.
It is very important to set the right balance and for that you should really know your team. For some, you will only need to have one progress report meeting per week and for others, a daily meeting might be crucial. Look into the way your team works, how often do issues arise and set up a schedule that is helpful, not disturbing.
5. Open communication
Since all the project participants are working on their own schedules, getting a hold of someone can be challenging. To make sure questions get answered and the work does not stall, you should allow open communication.
All of the team members should be able to easily reach other people in the team or company. This way, if a particular person is not responding, they can easily ask the same question someone else, get a response and continue working. While it may seem against efficiency at first, being able to contact anyone and not going through your manager for questions, can get things done faster.
6. Take Time to Know Your Team
Lastly, even though you are a virtual project manager, this does not mean you should not get to know the team. These are regular people doing the best they can, and it will be much easier to manage them if you know who they are.
Set up informal video chats for the team, where you share a beer or play an online game. Catch up on what has been going on in their personal lives and introduce the new hires. This will somewhat substitute the informal communication that goes on in the office and help you find the best management style. While the team will get to know each other and will be able to collaborate better.
Find more remote working tips here – 7 Tips for Managing Remote Teams.
On paper managing a virtual project is very similar to a regular project. You still must gather requirements, plan, assign tasks and monitor results. However, when it comes to it, not seeing the people and communicating over the project management tools can become quite a big strain. To avoid this – encourage video meetings, share information, keep everyone on track and preserve the informal meetings to get to know your team. Your remotely managed project will be a success in no time!