Managing remote project teams? How to overcome the barriers

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Business projects are increasingly becoming global as organisations seek cost-effective solutions to their needs. But working with remote project teams brings unprecedented challenges. Here we look at the main issues and how to overcome them.

Companies want the best talent at the lowest cost and in a digitally connected world it is now possible to have employees or outsourced teams working on projects from far-flung locations around the globe. The ease with which businesses can now be connected online is driving more and more organisations to outsource their projects or use internal teams based overseas. This solution has the major benefit of being highly cost-effective but for project managers it can be a real challenge to manage people who are not located in the same country. Here are the main problems and some suggestions on how to overcome them.

Language differences

Many international organisations consider English to be the global language of business with some multinational companies such as Samsung, Renault and Airbus mandating English as the corporate language to facilitate communication and performance across geographically diverse endeavours. However, that fails to recognise that statistically only 20% of the world’s population speaks English and the majority of that 20% speak it as a second language. So is forcing people to use English the best approach?

Instead why not consider nurturing your geographically remote project teams by providing native language translations of important documents, and voiceovers or subtitles on corporate videos. Not only will this ensure communications are fully understood but will motivate employees because they will feel like valued members of the company. Just remember to use a professional subtitle service or voice over agency to ensure the message is communicated in the right way.

Cultural differences

The working environment in the western world can be quite different from that in other parts of the world. The physical environment is, naturally, different but don’t under-estimate the cultural differences and how they might impact your projects. Working hours and days may vary as may holiday entitlements and expectations. What might be a working day in the UK or USA may be a religious or public holiday in other parts of the world and these need to be respected.

Even more important is the way people at different levels of seniority communicate with each other. I some countries relationships can be quite relaxed between managers and team members but in others there are formal barriers that cannot be crossed. Bear in mind too that in some cultures team members may not want to highlight problems to their seniors so issues with project progress, for instance, can go unreported until it becomes a major problem.

Time differences

Clearly there are time differences in different countries but it is essential to find at least an hour in everyone’s working day when a regular meeting can be held without impinging excessively on the personal time of any one group. Try to hold conference calls at the start of your working day and the end of the team’s day. Take it in turns to be the location arriving early or staying late for these critical meetings. Put in place a process where everyone knows the current status of all activities without having to rely on phone calls or emails. Project apps such as Trello, Asana or Basecamp can help here. you both give each other daily updates, via email or the project management software you use, for example. If regional working days never overlap the process of maintaining current status and recording issues becomes even more important to delivering a successful remote project.

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Project management has developed into a fully-fledged chartered profession since the granting of the Royal Charter in the UK to The Association for Project Management (APM) in 2017. Training courses for project managers were already available and highly popular to help people gain professional project management accreditation, but with this wider recognition of the profession it is now seen as a desirable career path for many. Whilst the APM has the coveted Royal Charter and continues to develop its APM PMQ (formerly the APMP) programmes, there are also other internationally recognised qualifications that continue to be highly regarded such as PMP and PRINCE2.

Organisations have become increasingly project-focused in this era of rapidly emerging new technologies and they value the expertise that comes with experienced and fully qualified project teams and managers. By investing in their project management capability businesses can be confident of delivering their new projects in time and on budget more often and more successfully. Many major corporation are now training their people to have the right project management qualifications as well as relevant experience, through internal Learning & Development (L&D) programmes; or by using external project management training providers.

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