International projects are not an exception anymore, and so project teams often live in different countries or even continents. Telecommuting or “home office” is steadily on the rise. In 2015, 37% of employees said that they have already telecommuted and studies have found that people who work from home are just as productive, or sometimes work even better, at home.
Remote Project Management: How to Make it WorkLinh Tran, Thursday 03 March 2016 | Reading time: unknown
Challenges of Remote PM
A project manager who leads their team remotely faces several challenges that a ‘face-to-face’ PM doesn’t have to worry about, or at least not as much. First, it’s more difficult for them the monitor the performance of their team directly. When teams are geographically dispersed, language barriers, cultural differences, and different time zones make it difficult for the PM to communicate with the team effectively. PMs leading a global project have to take into account different legal regulations and obligations. Another challenge is that it’s more difficult to build trust between the team members who haven’t met each other face-to-face.
Advantages of remote PM
Despite all the challenges, there are a lot of advantages to remote project management. For the project manager and team members it means more flexibility in their schedule and they can save time by not having to commute to the office. Project costs can be decreased by a more efficient use of technology as well as more efficient work (for example, due to decreased travel expenses). The project manager also has a bigger, more diverse talent pool to choose from. The whole organization can benefit from this as local team members can deal with local clients better as they don’t have to worry about language barriers or cultural differences.
How to make remote PM work
Even though remote project managers face several challenges, they can make it work by being aware that they need to have a slightly different management approach with these projects. Careful planning, trust and determination are key when it comes to remote project management.
Extra time for planning
Every project manager needs to plan, but a remote project manager needs to plan even more carefully than their face-to-face counterparts, and the planning should happen as early as possible. But having a plan is not enough, actually sticking to it is important. Planning includes choosing the right team for the right jobs, but also regularly reviewing and making adjustments to the plan.
Set goals and clarify responsibilities
Remote project managers need to clearly define roles and responsibilities for each team member. Only if each team member knows exactly what the objectives of the project are and what they have to do, will they be able to do a good job. When the team has a goal they can work towards they will also feel a sense of commitment and accomplishment towards the project. Of course, this is true for all projects, but as it’s much more difficult for the remote project manager to monitor progress and work performances, it’s even more important to set clear goals from the very beginning.
Effective communication is essential, especially as project managers face additional barriers such as team members who speak different native languages or asynchronous communication due to time differences. In remote project management there is no such thing as too much communication. Poor communication is one of the biggest reasons for project failure. To facilitate effective communication you’ll need to decide on the channels through which the team communicates with each other. Some channels could be the traditional email or telephone, but also Skype and messengers.
Regular meetings and status reports
Constant communication between the project manager and the team, as well as between team members, is important to build trust between everyone. New technology has made it possible to have ‘face-to-face’ meetings without actually being in the same room. It’s much easier to feel a sense of camaraderie and to bond when you actually see each other. Schedule meetings and status reports regularly, ideally have a short daily update report and a longer weekly review/preview meeting.
Use the right technology
Technological advancement has made remote project management and telecommuting possible so it’s no wonder that if you want to make it work, you’ll need to make use of the right technology. Skype and other video conferencing tools are of course great for meetings. A project management software application can help you with project planning, including creating task lists and allocating tasks to team members, as well as getting real-time updates on the project’s progress.