Updated: Nov 8, 2020
Initially published on mcro.tech
I bet that every Project Manager has asked himself this question at least once in their life: would I be able to do my job from the comfort of my home? Let’s find out!
One of the key values of a good project manager is having soft skills and that’s because you need to know how to communicate with people and motivate them. From this perspective, for a very long time I was under the impression that running a project remotely, not seeing or talking to a person face-to-face on a daily basis, is going to be impossible. We all know that half of the conversations are non-verbal, so you can imagine where the preconception came from.
Since COVID-19 has emerged as a global health crisis, everyone has had to adapt and to come up with strategies for keeping their business afloat in a world ‘paused’ by lockdown. In an effort to keep their employees safe and their businesses up and running, more and more companies have started embracing a remote work culture. While this has turned out great for most IT fields, for project management the aftermath dwelled in uncertainty. Since project management is not only technical, but it also involves interacting with other people, lots of Project Managers have had to answer themselves the following question: does remote project management really work?
Spoiler alert - Yes, it works! Just keep reading to understand why and how you can tailor it to your team.
Benefits of remote project management
Working remotely can have a couple of advantages that weigh more than the disadvantages. So let’s take a look at them!
1. Improved work-life balance for all the team members
In a world where everything moves on fast-forward we tend to forget about family, friends and hobbies; very often we end up in the situation where, at the end of the work day, we are too tired to do anything extra.
At a personal level, remote work actually offers us the possibility of spending more time with the closest ones while still being able to work efficiently. By reducing commute time, you can invest that extra time in your personal projects.
At a professional level, this has proved to increase the efficiency of the team members on several levels:
Employees are more motivated due to the trust that they are offered.
They get to spend more time with their families and friends, which can greatly improve mental health and wellbeing.
More importantly, instead of spending 2 hours in traffic doing absolutely nothing, they have the possibility to convert the hours wasted on commuting, into productive hours.
2. Broader options to recruit top talent
When everyone is working remotely, there are no more limitations in regards to the location of an employee and without such constraints, the opportunities are endless. All of a sudden you realise you have access to a greater pool of talent from which you can select qualified individuals to fit your team/project.
Moreover, once you start recruiting people from other locations, you will soon realise that your company begins to acquire a vast culture, meaning that you will be more prepared to work with clients all over the world. You will be able to better understand your clients and relate to them as never before.
Everyone is winning. As you can imagine, there are absolutely no boundaries here!
3. Lower costs
When you start working remotely, you start saving money as an individual and as a company.
As an individual, you can save a significant amount of money by cutting commute costs and by replacing eating out or takeout with more home cooked meals.
As a company, you get to save on costs associated with a physical office: rent, utilities, equipment, parking fees, security systems and so on. Even if you don’t go fully remote, reducing office space still adds up to significant savings. So why not invest those money in what’s most valuable for your company: the people.
All these benefits sound very promising, but don’t get me wrong, it’s a learning curve that it can take up to 4 weeks—if you’re dedicated to it. Once you start working remotely, the whole team learns to be more flexible and thus becoming ready to overcome any challenges.
Challenges of remote project management
Challenges of remote project management All good things require time and effort. Ultimately, good things come to those who are patient. This is something that you need to accept from the very beginning of the process. But fear not, below you will find the most common challenges that you could encounter and ways to overcome them.
1. Task ownership
As a company, when you start shifting your mindset to a remote culture you need to make sure that you have the right people and the tools to support you. Working with your employees on a daily basis will usually reveal whether or not they are ready to undertake the challenge of working from home. In the end, it is the responsibility of the Project Manager to ensure that everyone takes ownership over their own work items.
If you notice that your team is dependent on you, the Project Manager, then you’re doing something wrong.
From my own personal experience, here are few of the things that proved to be effective in this situation and which I recommend as a possible solution:
Clearly define roles and responsibilities - Expecting everyone to be proactive is like shooting yourself in the leg. In order to avoid false expectations, you need to clearly define the responsibilities of your team members and help them become the owners of their corresponding pieces of the puzzle.
Define a good workflow - In software development, you need to follow the Software Development Life Cycle. Your workflow needs to support it from beginning to end. From the moment that an item is added to the backlog, to prioritizing it, working on it, testing it and delivering it. Involve your team members, explain to them the reason behind the process and always be open to receiving suggestions for improvements. Remind them that they have to work with this workflow on a daily basis and they have to be committed to following it. From this perspective it’s better for them to speak out and come with suggestions rather than accepting a bad workflow.
Trust, praise and support - A good leader will never point fingers when someone does something wrong. A good leader will support and encourage all his team members to fail and learn from their mistakes. Trust your team and praise the great work they do, but also remember to encourage the ones that are afraid of failure. Albert Einstein was saying: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. If you’re not going out of the comfort zone you’ll never learn anything new.
2. Collaboration / Time zones
Once you start working with talented people from all over the world, a new impediment comes up: managing collaboration across different time zones. Facing such challenges is normal, what really matters in the end is how you address them.
Personally, I’ve been working with team members from different continents for years and after trying all kinds of things, this is what proved to be most efficient:
Daily sync - Agile supports this part of it’s methodology, so there’s nothing new here. The challenge is to find a common time for everyone. You will have to explain to the team the importance of compromising to find the best time for syncing. This is a must. Of course, sometimes you or other members won’t be able to attend the meeting; that’s when you need to ask the person to share his/her status update in writing with the whole team. The whole purpose of the daily meeting is for your team to communicate about the progress they’ve made and any potential blockers that they might have. As a team you should unblock each other.
Transparency - Avoid discussions through direct messages. You’re a team. Teach the team members to communicate freely and to maintain transparency. Trust me, it’s going to be hard, especially with introverted people. So be patient, let them learn from their own mistakes and soon they will understand the importance of it. Ultimately, make sure that you derive the conversation from a direct message to a dedicated channel.
Constant follow-ups on the progress - It’s very important for the team to feel like they are making progress. Every once in a while, remind them of the purpose of the project, make sure they are aware of the priorities and the deadlines involved. Keep them in the loop, don’t keep all the information to yourself.
Weekly updates - There are lots of ways you can share updates. You just need to find the right one: through emails, weekly meetings, PowerPoint presentations, etc. These kinds of updates should offer information such as: what’s delaying the project, what was achieved last week, what the team is going to focus on next week. Update the format as you see best.
A common misconception that I’ve heard over and over again is that working from home is almost like being on vacation. That’s false, but you should expect a bit of drop-down in productivity until everyone gets familiar with the new way of working. This is normal, but you, as a Project Manager, must try to be the living example of what time management means.
Here’s how I usually handle this situation:
Don’t overdo it with the meetings - Trust the people, use the tools and avoid micromanagement. It’s a learning curve for everyone, but you are the main person that usually calls in a meeting, so make sure you are as efficient as possible.
Prepare for the meeting - Provide information about the meeting, send the invite well in advance and define the agenda.
Create some routines - It’s easy to stick to a routine once you get used to it, so help the team members create their own routine that works for them.
Define core hours - Talk with the team and find at least 1-2 hours when all the team members are online to discuss the challenges you face on the project. On top of that, help them get used to working with the communication tools that your company / project has (slack, emails, etc.)
To sum up, it is possible to run projects from remote locations. Work as a team, inspire each other and prepare yourselves to climb the learning curve in the first 2-4 weeks if you’re not used to it; just stick to it and you will make it work.
The above are some tips & tricks learnt along the way, but if you want to hear even more about how we manage to work with team members fully remote, drop us a line!