Managing remote project teams – 8 top tips for success

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Within any organisation remote workers have distinct communications needs. They may not be seen but they are certainly not forgotten by the well-organised project manager. He or she has to ensure that remote workers remain part of the team and are just as committed to the business objectives as local employees.

More and more professionals are working from home these days, made possible through advances in technology such as cloud computing and high-speed broadband. However, even with this progress, most project managers can still face problems when dealing with project teams or individuals working remotely.

Here are 8 top tips and suggestions for how project managers can effectively manage their team members who are working remotely:

  • Build a Strong Team From The Start. A project manager with experience managing remote teams is crucial to have in place from the outset. Their skills and experience will ensure all the team members work effectively together. But a good PM must be matched by a strong project team. Its remote members especially should have good communication and self-motivation skills. This is not always easy to achieve and project teams are often built from the resources available rather than by selecting the perfect individuals for the task, which is why the manager should always have a positive attitude and work to bring cohesion to the whole project.
  • Establish a Game Plan Early. This is so important for all project teams, but even more so when coordinating remote teams. Laying down the fundamentals of the project clearly, before it gets underway, should generate questions, the answers to which will help clarify what is expected of the team and help to resolve queries and uncertainties. This will help in avoiding problems further down the line and establish criteria for progress.
  • Hold Regular Meetings. Make sure everyone’s singing from the same hymn sheet. This can be difficult when there are different groups contributing different things to the project but holding catch-up meetings frequently during the project is necessary when dealing with remote teams. Video-conferencing and Skype are an ideal means of doing this. Such meetings don’t have to be long, but drafting an agenda and sticking to it will ensure that all points get covered. These exchanges will prevent the project mission being de-railed and adversely affecting it long-term success.
  • Effective Communication Channels.  Communication is the key to success when dealing with remote teams, not just with the manager and his ‘crew’ but in contact between individuals. There should be an instant messaging system in place within the team as well as media such as Skype, email and, where possible and practicable, the company intranet. Google Docs are a great means of getting feedback, giving everyone involved in the project the opportunity to leave comments and make amendments to documents. Make sure every member of the team has a fast broadband connection.
  • Establish Schedules. Formalise to all in writing when communication must take place. The project manager should be consistent in his/her duties – hold meetings, exchange emails and telephone calls with the team leader and/or team members, as well as provide regular updates regarding project status and issues to be discussed. This will keep all parties up-to-date on how far the project has come and what is needed for a successful completion.
  • Out of Sight, not Enthusiasm. Remote team members can be in danger of losing motivation, or diverting their attention to other work. The project manager must keep them motivated. A laid-back attitude by any team member can have a severe impact on project workflow, which will inevitably have a knock on-effect on progress and may affect other workers.
  • Time Zone Differences. If team members are working from various locations around the world, there will be those who are asleep while others are working. Schedule the workload in such a way that it fits in with worker time zones. This way you’ll avoid colleagues waiting longer than necessary for others to complete work before they can commence their own quota. Set deadlines as a time of day based on a common time zone not just as a date.
  • Performance Management. Ensure all parties understand what their own deadlines are, when these must be reached and how they are involved in achieving them. Everyone should be in on the bigger picture. Once project goals have been reached, provide a brief report on the steps taken and progress made. Also make a note of any difficulties experienced at certain stages – these could be valuable in assessing future objectives in the current project or new ones to come.
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