Managing Remote Project Teams

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    Michelle
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    Managing a project team is difficult enough, but when you have to contend with your team members being geographically dispersed, it becomes even more difficult. Not only do you have all of the challenges that you typically face during a project, for example, scope creep and managing client expectations, but you also have a unique set of obstacles to overcome. Keeping that in mind, here are some top tips for managing remote project teams.

    Choose strong team members
    If you choose strong team members to begin with, you have already won half the battle. If your employees are unmotivated and disengaged, you are going to experience hurdles every step of the way. Of course, the way you act will impact the efficiency and productivity of remote team members, but you don’t have a magic wand, and if the incorrect team members are chosen from the outset, you have a real challenge on your hands. You need individuals that are motivated by work and proactive in nature. You cannot babysit remote team members, so you need to avoid employees that constantly require guidance from their co-workers or on-site managers.

    cross cultural project teams

    Set up a communication plan
    The main reason why managing a remote project team is so difficult is because communication is challenging, and there are many hurdles in the way, including language barriers, and time differences. The best way to combat all of this is to set up a communication plan. This plan should cover the following:

    ·    What the team must communicate
    ·    How they will communicate it
    ·    Who requires the information
    ·    When they need the information
    ·    What happens if there is a breakdown in communication

    By outlining this for everyone to see, all team members will know his or her responsibilities. They will know when they need to communicate something to you or the rest of the team, and they will know how to go about doing so. Choosing the right method of communication is critical when managing a remote team. It is not necessary to hold a phone conversation every time something needs to be communicated. For small updates, for example, instant messenger is ideal. However, make sure you schedule a video conference once a week. This makes all team members accountable, and it ensures everyone is on the right track.

    Let’s take a look at the communication options available in further depth:

    ·    Small videos – Creating a small video is a great way to introduce yourself, the team around you, and your objectives.
    ·    Video chats – Video chats are vital for important meetings, as they give you visual cues regarding what is going on with your remote workers.
    ·    Phone calls – Some topics should only be handled over the phone, such as any personal problems or emotional issues, including problems relating to the person’s performance.
    ·    Instant messenger – Chat programs are great for generating a team chat environment and sharing quick instant messages.
    ·    Email – Email offers quick communication, yet chat is better for this nowadays. This means email tends to be more suitable for instances where you are sending communications that need to be documented or which you would like to be saved for easy access.

    It is also important for your communication plan to feature a structure for meetings. This will include the following:

    ·    When meetings are required
    ·    What the purpose of the meeting will be
    ·    How the meeting will be held (i.e. teleconference, video conference, or chat)
    ·    Who will control the meeting
    ·    Who will publish the outcome of the meeting

    You also need to have strong corporate guidelines regarding phone calls, as well as sending and replying to email messages. Establish stringent procedures regarding communication, i.e. set the standards in terms of video, email, and phone etiquette.

    Finally, not only do you need to think about communication throughout the project, but also if you do not communicate a thorough project overview and timeline from the offset, you will set your project up for failure. So, make sure you establish your objectives, visions, expectations, and timeline. This will make certain that everyone is on the same page.

    The timeline or schedule will typically be broken down into a number of individual due dates for different phases of the project. This will ensure that team members are motivated to achieving their goals while also guaranteeing that they are not overwhelmed by the idea of one big project with one overriding end goal. By breaking the project down into a series of smaller activities, you make it more manageable, and you help people to schedule their work better.

    Deal with different time zones effectively
    Of course, one of the most difficult things about managing a remote team is dealing with the time difference. If members of your team are situated on the other side of the world, you may find yourself in a position where office hours do not overlap whatsoever. This can be exceptionally challenging.

    To overcome a scenario like this, you need to make sure that you vary the team that needs to meet after hours. This means that no individual or group is consistently suffering by meeting late in the evening or early in the morning. If there is a time period throughout the day when your working hours overlap, you should definitely use this to schedule meetings. You should also reiterate the importance of all team members being available during this time slot.

    It is also a good idea to set up a dashboard time zone clock so that you can easily find out information regarding different time zones. You can have different clocks on the dashboard of your computer displaying the time for where your workers are based. With the details on your dashboard, you won’t waste time calling outside of their working hours or planning meetings when they are unavailable.

    Encourage team members to get to know each other
    Encouraging a geographically disperse team to get to know one and other is not easy. However, there are some steps you can take. Most project managers will have a centralised software solution in place, allowing all project members the ability to share documents, files, and such like. If you have one of these programs, encourage all users to make a profile. This will include the basics, such as a photograph, their name, and their job title. People can put a face to the name of the person they are talking to, and this helps them to forge a connection.

    Also, don’t discourage small talk. While you may feel that a small five-minute chat is five minutes wasted, it is often the opposite. It can help to strengthen ties between members of your team, which will benefit the efficiency and productivity of the project in the long run.

    Establish roles and responsibilities
    It is important for all project managers to establish roles and responsibilities, but this is even more critical when it comes to remote teams. You need to make an effort to ensure that all members of your team know what their role is, and also how their work impacts other roles within the team. When people are not working together in the same office, it is easy for lines to be blurred. This is why clear communication regarding roles and responsibilities needs to be implemented from the outset. It is also advisable to identify a leader who can communicate the likes of deadlines. This may be you or you may appoint someone else depending on the size of the project team.

    Hold team members accountable
    People often feel like they can get away with more when they are working remotely, as no one is watching over them. It is your job to ensure that they are accountable for their work. This is one of the greatest challenges you will face, but there are different approaches that can be used to improve accountability, including:

    ·    Hold weekly video conferences – As mentioned, this makes employees accountable for their work, as they cannot shy away from the weekly face-to-face meeting. If they do not put in the hours during the week, it will show during the meeting.
    ·    Establish goals and expectations – If you do not put objectives and expectations in place, you will have nothing to measure the employee’s efforts against.
    ·    Collaborate on tasks – Make sure that members of your project team in the UK are collaborating with overseas project members. This will eliminate gaps in workflow, and it will also ensure the remote workers are accountable, as they know they play a critical role in what is going on in your offices.
    ·    Use a core messaging app – You should use an instant online messaging application whereby you can communicate with all of your team members. By doing this, remote workers know they need to be online and available during the hours they have said they would be.
    ·    Be available – If you are rarely available, workers will soon pick up on this, and they will use it as an opportunity to slack off. You need to make it evident that you are around. Don’t do this in the sense that you are always checking up on them, but make all remote workers feel like you are about and able to help them out.
    ·    Schedule daily check-ins – Weekly meetings are important, but you should also have a daily check-in. Whenever team members start work, they should communicate information regarding the accomplishments from the day before, the status of current tasks, and what they are intending to work on for the day ahead.
    ·    Transparency – Transparency works both ways. Not only should you expect it from your remote workers, but they should receive it from you as well. When it comes to the decisions you make on projects, make sure you keep all workers in the loop. This will make them feel more engaged, and this will encourage them to be more active in their role. They will also be able to do a more thorough job, as they can anticipate your needs and expectations better.
    ·    Track productivity – You can track productivity, which in turn enhances accountability. There are tools to do this whereby you can track the likes of attendance, hours worked, and other basic measures of productivity. This will allow you to understand exactly what is going on and how often team members are really working.

    Invest in project management training
    It does not matter whether you are new on the scene or you have been a project manager for many years, you can benefit from taking one of the available project management training courses. Project management courses will provide you with a fresh perspective regarding how to deal with issues relating to the management of your team members.

    Considering the fact that business is increasingly conducted on a global scale, you can expect project management training to also cover different strategies that can be used to manage remote teams. Not only this, but by taking a course that is internationally recognised you will immediately gain credibility no matter where your team members are based.
    Respect cultural differences
    Nothing can cause relationships to breakdown faster than disrespecting cultural differences or merely pushing the cultural values of overseas team members to the side. You cannot and should not expect team members to follow UK bank holidays and the British way of working. How we do things here in the UK may be entirely different to how things are done in Hong Kong or the Philippines. It is important to respect the working culture of the country your team members are based in. Moreover, don’t try to overrule public holidays or religious events.
    There are many challenges to contend with when managing a remote project team. Not only do you have language barriers, cultural differences, and different time zones, but you also need to ensure that everyone is motivated and pulling their weight, and that the project flows smoothly. By following the tips that have been mentioned above, you should be able to put strategies in place that will ensure your project team thrives and that you meet the objectives on time and budget.
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