Managing whole projects can be daunting at the best of times – but when you’ve got a remote team, there are some extra aspects that might be tricky.
The good news is that, if you get things set up well from the start, you may find your project goes better than you’d have imagined. Your remote team members are likely to be highly motivated and productive since they’re able to arrange their workday and work environment to suit them.
By keeping these six key things in mind, you can ensure your project runs as smoothly as possible.
1) Make Sure You’ve Got the Right Team from the Start
Your team needs to be made up of the right people. That might sound obvious, but it’s easy to start assembling a team without realising that you really need to add in a person with a specific skill set early on, so they’ll be up to speed at the right moment.
If you have any control over the process, try to ensure that you have the right mix of employees in your team. That means thinking through the requirements of the project to make sure that everything’s going to be covered (e.g. maybe you need someone from marketing and someone from design to work on the final version of the brochure your team’s putting together).
It’s also important, of course, to ensure that your team members can all handle remote work well (and that if there are any issues, you’re aware of them up-front so you can provide extra support and coaching as necessary).
2) Clearly Communicate the Objectives of Your Project
Before your project gets underway, it’s important to meet with the whole team at once, so that you can explain things like the objectives and scope of the project, and ensure that everyone’s clear about timelines.
This is best done over video conference call, even if this might mean asking some team members to attend at a time they’d not normally be working. Most people will be happy to make an exception so long as it’s not a regular occurrence.
Make sure that you keep the call focused and to the point, but that you also give team members an opportunity to ask for clarity or to raise questions at this stage.
3) Understand What Makes Your Team Members Tick
How well do you know your team members? If you’ve never or rarely met them in person, you may not know much about them at all – which can make project management a challenge.
In a regular office environment, when you work in the same physical space as your team for eight hours a day, you probably have a good sense of who tends to slack off, who takes problems in their stride, who needs to leave early to get their kids from daycare, and so on.
With a remote team, it’s important to get a sense of what your team members value most and how they work well. For instance, are they motivated by their enjoyment of the work itself or by external rewards or praise? (This guide from Foundr explains the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.)
4) Use the Right Tools (And Provide Guidelines on Using Them)
There are loads of tools that can help you to manage a remote team. You’re probably already using at least some, like Slack, but there may well be others that your team would find useful: here’s a handy list of ten of the best that you might want to try.
With any new tool, it’s important to ensure that it actually serves a real need (rather than just being something you thought you’d try out because it’s got some nifty features). You also need to make sure you explain how to use it effectively within the team – otherwise you’ll find that people are circumventing the tool or using it at cross purposes.
Depending on the personality and skill set of your team members, you may also need to spend time (a) justifying why the tool is needed and (b) training team members on how to use the tool. You might want to provide both video instructions and written step by step instructions to suit differing styles of learning.
5) Make Sure Schedules Are Shared
Your remote team may well be located in different timezones or even spread across the globe. This can make it tricky for team members to co-ordinate with one another, if they need to talk to someone on the phone or if they need to figure out who can provide a speedy response by email.
Make sure you have a master schedule (perhaps in a shared Google sheet) that everyone can access. This should include people’s timezone and their standard working hours.
Try to be as flexible about working hours as you can. Some team members may want to work 8am - 4pm, but others might prefer to work 5 am - 7 am, then 9 am - 3 pm, if this allows them to easily get their kids to and from school. You may have some team members who find they’re most productive if they work 5 am - 1 pm (or 5 pm - 1 am!) Unless there’s a good reason why they shouldn’t, let them set their own schedule.
6) Encourage Feedback from Your Team
Finally, make sure your team knows that you’re keen to receive their feedback on what you could be doing differently to make their lives easier. Team members may not be very proactive about speaking up (or they may not even realize that you’re willing and able to make changes based on their preferences).
Encourage your team to tell you how you can help them. You might want to simply ask them to email you their thoughts, or you might prefer to set up a survey so they can check boxes, if you feel that will help less forthcoming team members to share their views.
Managing a project well is a crucial skill that takes time to learn. With a remote team, you have some wonderful opportunities to get the best from your team members … but you also face some extra challenges.
By following the tips above, you’ll be able to set up the right team, get a strong start, work well with your team members, and help them to work well with one another. Hopefully, you’ll meet all your objectives, and your project will be a great experience for everyone involved.
Stewart Dunlop is a full-time content marketer at Foundr and a part-time Stephen King reader, gamer & footballer.