Thanks to technology, it is now easier than ever to work remotely. Companies of all sizes realize the benefits of this arrangement and add remote work as a core part of their arsenal.
If you are a project manager, you need to keep your team members safe and productive. With the coronavirus pandemic, employing remote workers to maintain business operations and avoid unnecessary physical proximity makes even more sense.
However, project management already has its own set of challenges. Considering the unique nature of remote work, you need special tools and strategies to overcome the potential loss of motivation, productivity, and other potential issues.
In this article, we will discuss how to manage some of the challenges of remote project management.
1. Time Zone Differences
If you have a team that spans different continents, you’ll notice this issue right away. This is especially challenging once the time difference becomes larger than 8 hours. In other words, your team might be working on entirely different business days.
This makes scheduling meetings, responding to customer inquiries, and other mission-critical business tasks quite difficult. You might consider scheduling employees outside of their regular business hours for such things, but this could cause resentment.
Let’s look at some ways you can address the time zones issue for your remote project management:
i). Break Tasks Up
Try to group tasks of the same project so that employees in similar time zones can collaborate on them. That way, communication can stay synced up, and team members aren’t waiting too long on others if there are certain task dependencies.
A secondary benefit is reducing the amount of phone or video conferences necessary. This lightens the load on the whole team. If they are less stressed, their productivity will improve. It also shows that you care about their schedules and life balance.
ii). Compromise on Meeting Times
If you don’t have employees in similar time zones, you might need to resort to scheduling meetings at odd times. Try to meet all your employees in the middle. You won’t be able to please everybody, but it’s your best chance to avoid favouritism and bias.
Here are some other things to keep in mind regarding time zones differences:
- Keep consistent meeting times – once you decide on the best time, stick to the schedule, so you don’t disrupt your team’s lives too much.
- Record meetings – use video or audio recording to send copies to team members who couldn’t attend. This will keep them up to date and prevent communication lags.
- Use scheduling tools – choose from various apps that allow you to schedule meetings across multiple time zones automatically, so people don’t need to think in terms of other time zones. This prevents confusion and wasted time.
You can use video, phone, and online technologies to keep your team members in touch while working from miles apart. However, any project manager who has overseen remote teams will tell you that there is a potential caveat.
Miscommunication happens in any organization, regardless of size. However, when employees work in the same location, they can resolve communication issues much faster and easier. This means you need to make up for the lack of a physical workplace.
Here are some ways to tackle miscommunication in your remote teams:
i). Encourage Open Communication
As the team leader or project manager, you’re responsible for fostering a culture of open communication. You can do this by keeping things informal and light.
If employees have fun talking to each other, they won’t always feel like it’s “work” to communicate outside of typical business hours. This can speed up communication and resolve issues faster.
Ensure that employees can easily reach other team members to quickly resolve potential issues, either by phone, email, or chat.
ii). Use Technology
Technology can play an important role in preventing miscommunication. You can use group chat apps like Slack to provide rapid communication channels. They also let you send images, videos, Google files, and more. Nowadays, it’s easier than ever to find the right tool to support all of your remote teams’ needs.
iii). Have Dedicated Channels
Regardless of which technology you use to improve team communication, you want to avoid “information overload.” Separate different teams into threads or channels. They can read and respond to relevant information and tasks instead of browsing endlessly in a company-wide chat.
With the tips above, your communication cycles will improve, and you can isolate issues to solve them before they get out of hand.
3. Loss of Productivity
Despite the tremendous benefits of remote teams, a loss of productivity is a great possibility. As a remote project manager, you need to find ways to boost productivity to keep up with competitors who are still using traditional offices.
Even with the best intentions, your employees could slack off if they are not in an office with oversight. It’s simply human nature. If they know a manager won’t be there to physically require their presence, they can be tempted to procrastinate.
So how do you handle this as a project manager? There are a handful of actions you can take to maintain optimal productivity:
i). Set clear expectations
If employees know exactly what you expect of them, there is no excuse for not delivering those results. Vague tasks, goals, and no deadlines leave room for slacking off. When you have clear expectations, you can gauge their performance easily and spot problems right away.
ii). Break tasks into reasonable chunks
Seeing a mountain of work in front of you can be demoralizing. This certainly won’t help your team members stay on track. Instead, use bite-sized tasks that they can quickly complete. Bit by bit, they’ll complete the project without feeling overwhelmed.
iii). Don’t try for perfection
There is no such thing as perfection, especially in the business world. Think of all the creative assets that your business needs. It often comes down to a subjective opinion. Get into the habit of signing off on work when it meets your standard so you can move on to bigger and better things.
iv). Provide stipends for home offices
Some people can be just as productive in a coffee shop as in an office. But finding these remote workers is a rare feat. Instead, consider investing a certain amount to help your employees pay for home office equipment to recreate an office atmosphere at home.
4. Poor Data Management
Your data is the digital fuel that runs your business. From your customer database to banking information and trade secrets, you must protect and manage this data as a top priority.
If your data is lost or falls into the wrong hands, it could upend your entire business. You’ll have to delay projects, you could lose customers, and your team will be stressed in the process.
Remote teams need to pay special attention to what devices they use and what networks they connect to.
It is easier to establish safety protocols in an office, but out there, it is every employee’s responsibility to avoid potentially hazardous behaviour. Train your team on keeping their laptops safe and identifying major cybersecurity threats.
Ensure you have a solid data recovery plan in place so that if the worst-case scenario occurs, you can get back online fast.
Working in the cloud ensures some level of safety. However, its accessibility can be a double edged-sword if employees tinker with each other’s files. They might unwittingly delete or change crucial data.
You can prevent this by granting access to only authorized staff and regularly creating backups or copies.
If you use some custom or company-specific software, make sure your employees are fully trained on its functions to minimize the possibility of human error.
Challenges of Remote Project Management and Solutions
In this article, we have addressed the common issues that project managers face when dealing with remote teams. While remote work offers incredible opportunities for companies to cut costs and leverage global currency differences, it also brings unprecedented challenges.
The good news is that you can use a proactive management strategy to overcome these obstacles in advance. And with the other strategies mentioned above, you can curb issues as they arise to keep business running smoothly.
That way, remote teams become a huge advantage for your company during this pandemic and beyond.
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Heather Redding is a part-time assistant manager, solopreneur, and writer based in Aurora, Illinois. She is also an avid reader and a tech enthusiast. When Heather is not working or writing, she enjoys her Kindle library and a hot coffee. Reach out to her on Twitter.