The digital revolution has reshaped the way we work. There’s no doubt about it. For example, project management no longer consists of whiteboards and workflow charts. Nearly everything is done online.
But an even more poignant change in today’s connected world is that your project team doesn’t need to be in the same place. Remote work is rapidly becoming the norm, and the gig economy means that currently more than 1 in 3 workers are freelancing, making it more likely than ever for your team to be made up of independent contractors. In fact, 66% of larger businesses are using freelancers to keep hiring and labor costs down and around 58% of mid-sized companies are struggling to find the skilled workers they need so they’re turning to freelancers.
Because of these big changes, you need to change the way you manage. You can’t simply do what you would normally in a digital way. It won’t work. And this is why there are a right and a wrong way to manage a remote team.
The Wrong Way
Here are some of the things you should avoid doing to make sure your remote team works smoothly.
Expecting Immediate Responses
Remote workers tend to keep their own schedules. Night owls might power through the late hours, whereas some may work long hours Monday through Wednesday and then take off Thursday and Friday. You can’t blame them for doing this, as it’s a key feature of working remotely. But you do need to adapt.
Sending an email to someone and expecting an immediate response might not work, and if the work is urgent, this could cause some problems. Instead, try to identify when you can reach this person, and make sure to make the most of this time to clear up any problems.
This is one of the less-than-ideal aspects of working with remote workers, but a slight adjustment in your strategy will help you make the most of these relationships.
Open Ended Time-Tracking
People want to get paid, and you don’t want to pay for time people aren’t working. As a result, unless you are paying people on a per-task basis, make sure to use an accurate time-tracking software like Time Doctor
Relying on people to enter their hours, or doing all of it at the end of the week is risky, especially when your relationship with this person exists only over the phone or through a computer screen. Consider using and all-in-one project management software like Celoxis which allows remote workers to track their time and integrates workflow, timelines, time tracking and reporting in a single, easy to use software program.
Management tactics that seem normal in an office setting may not be perceived this way in a remote working arrangement. For example, in the office, if you have a question about something, or if you simply want a status update, all you need to do is walk down to someone’s desk and talk to them.
However, the digital equivalent of this would be to ping someone a message every time something crosses your mind. And many remote workers will interpret this as micromanagement. Again, remote workers value their flexibility, and if you impede on this, then there will be trouble.
It’s better to establish set times when you will meet and discuss the project, or maybe open up a document or a channel for these types of communications. This way, you can still ask people what’s important, but you can do so in a more hands-off manner, which will help make the relationship smoother and more productive.
The Right Way
Here are some of the things you should be doing to help you effectively manage a remote project team.
When dealing with contractors or freelancers, it’s important to make the relationship as professional as possible. This helps to increase the commitment you get from your remote workers, and it also helps you keep everything in line, such as payroll.
As a result, it’s a smart move to get some official contracts with remote workers before you begin your project. In these documents, outline what’s expected of remote workers, such as the amount of hours they’re expected to work, the deadlines they’ll be expected to meet and when they need to be available. Doing all of this helps to make your workflow more predictable, which allows for a smoother project management process.
However, getting the language of these contracts right can sometimes be a challenge, and if you happen to be working with people from other countries, then there are some logistical issues you’ll need to work out. A professional employer organization can help you work through these and come up with sound contracts that will allow for a better working relationship between you and your remote team.
Despite all the technology we have at our fingertips, communication amongst remote teams is often a challenge, especially when working with people located in different time zones.
The way to avoid this becoming a major problem is to become a proactive communicator. This means outlining very specifically what it is you want from your remote team right from the beginning. Provide them with all the resources they may need to do a job, or tell them where they can find them. Also, give a secondary contact so that people can get help if you’re not around.
This differs significantly with how you might manage in-office teams. When people are located just down the hall, you can give more open-ended guidance since all people need to do to ask a question is to walk a few steps. However, with remote teams, this isn’t a possibility, so you need to adapt and be proactive so that this isn’t an issue.
Use the Right Tools
Again, we have a lot of technology that can help us be better at what we do. But in the end, it’s how we use that technology that defines us. Make sure you’re employing all the right tools to work with remote teams.
For example, don’t rely on email as a communication tool. People get too many emails, email threads are long and confusing, and most of our phones make the same noise for an email notification as an Instagram alert. So instead, use things such as Slack so that you can have a dedicated place to communicate with people.
Other productivity tools, such as Trello and Asana, help you organize tasks and assign them to different team members. You can also set deadlines, upload resources and write comments, making it really easy to get everyone on the same page. Video conference software, such as Zoom or Podio, are also really useful, as they make it easier for you to jump on a call with your team and talk out some of the bigger issues you are facing.
If you are part of a project team, then using best project management software such as Celoxis, Clarizen, Asana, Trello etc. will help keep things on track, keep project communication organized and ensure the project runs smoothly and efficiently. It will also allow you to plan and track all aspects of the project including resource allocation and the project budget.
Make the Most of Your Remote Teams
Remote teams represent an exciting opportunity for project managers. They can tap into a global talent pool and also offer exciting perks to employees and contractors. Plus, some research indicates that remote workers are actually more engaged, and therefore more productive, than in-office employees. To implement some of the strategies discussed above and make the most of your remote teams.
Jock Purtle is the founder of Digital Exits, an online brokerage specializing in the buying/selling and appraisal of online business. All his projects are entirely digital, which means he has a huge amount of experience working with remote project teams. He likes to share his knowledge with other entrepreneurs and business leaders whenever he can. Connect with Jock on LinkedIn or Twitter.