Project management is a challenging task even in the best of situations, but it can be extremely daunting to manage teams in a remote environment. We know how hard it is to estimate project costs and timelines accurately, and there are a lot of factors that come into play, especially when the processes involved are long term.
It is no secret that remote work has numerous benefits which go above and beyond the flexibility, reduced costs, and increased independence it provides to employees. According to Forbes magazine, it has improved the health and well-being of workforces all over the globe as 80% of employees prefer flexible work environments.
Unsurprisingly, however, the pandemic and the drastic shift towards remote work has tested the ability of organizations to operate efficiently and deliver successful projects and programs. According to a 2020 report from Wellingtone, 11.4% of investments from organizations are wasted due to poor project performance, and the number has likely risen due to the unprecedented transition to remote work.
Hence, as a result, increasing pressures on project managers and project management teams responsible for the deliverables, productivity and deadlines of many other workers collaborating and working from homes either entirely or on a flexible basis.
Project managers can encounter numerous challenges managing remote teams.
There are a number of difficulties and issues that can arise, especially when it comes to a pivotal aspect of business, such as management when teams have to collaborate, meet deadlines and achieve goals while being physically present in different locations.
1. Fewer opportunities for spontaneous communication
In a physical work environment, when a team member has a question or needs to discuss or inquire regarding a project, he can simply walk up to the manager and get clear instructions. More importantly, small talk is a usual norm in an office, and according to HBR, workers often state that small conversations with their fellow team members can energize them, and they can also transition into productive collaborations as people can learn more about each other’s work habits. Spontaneous communication is close to impossible between colleagues when they work from home, and this can often lead to the inadequate circulation of information.
2. The need to track much more information
One of the things project managers struggle with is that they have to track much more information and assign roles and responsibilities much more tightly than in a traditional, on-site team. As there is no tight flow of communication and accountability surrounding team members in terms of assignment status, job progress, or issues that may arise, keeping track of things can be a laborious task. Nowadays, Project managers have to account for not only emails, phone calls, and text messages but also video meeting, one on one sessions and numerous other interactive channels into their tracking mechanisms. Hence, keeping tabs on the details of each person’s daily tasks and assignments becomes very difficult but necessary as it is an essential aspect of gaining a clear picture of where the project team is in relation to their deadlines.
3. Difficultly of recognizing and tackling issues
An essential skill for all project managers is observing their teams and recognizing any potential issues relating to performance, productivity, or the overall technicalities of teamwork. In a standard office setting, project managers often depend on visual cues such as noticing any distractions or arguments within their team, which becomes impossible in a remote environment. Work and time alignment of different team members also become an arduous task, and project managers also fail to provide any necessary emotional support to their teams when they work from separate locations. All these issues not only become more difficult to handle but even recognizing them becomes close to impossible for managers.
4. Technical hiccups and work delays
Remote work entirely depends on technology, but the smallest of issues like a Wifi problem can ruin the entire work schedule and deliverability of projects. Collaboration is an essential element of project management as different members of a teamwork on different aspects of a project. Hence, if one section is delayed due to a technical hiccup, the entire process slows down, which can reflect poorly on the manager and the overall capabilities of the project teams.
5. Issues with fostering culture and encouraging relationships
Maintaining healthy relationships and fostering a consistent work culture are needed for successful project management. Harboring and supporting successful collaboration is the heart of project management, and it comes from fostering a community-mindedness where everyone’s success aligns with one another. Interpersonal relationships become impossible in a remote environment, and people become more self-involved. There is also no access to gathering places like meeting rooms and lounges, which work as conversational places to encourage and build community. There are also no informal meetings like going for lunches and attending events together, leading to a very dispersed mindset among team members.
Strategies to improve remote project management practices
There are a number of ways project managers, whether experienced with remote work or new to it, can improve their practices and the overall quality of remote project management.
1. Start with creating a solid foundation for the entire project work and the team involved
Putting in the groundwork at the start of any project is the best practice. As the manager, make sure the entire team thoroughly understands the whole process and all the intricacies of working remotely. The goals, objectives, timelines, deliverables, and work exceptions from each team member should be made clear as Peppybiz reports that unspecific and clouded duties are responsible for 12% of project failures. Set up a preliminary meeting using Zoom, Google hangouts, or Microsoft Teams to establish all the aspects and expectations. Then begin breaking down the process and dividing tasks with the team members once they are clear about the role they need to play.
2. Remember that trust is important
A significant element that attracts people towards remote work is the independence it brings. Project managers should realize this and trust their employees to manage their time while scheduling regular check-ins on everyone. It is necessary that the team members feel trusted and understood. If instantaneous communication is not possible, the best way to move forward is to allow the team to develop their preferred working styles. As long as the project team is dependable, disciplined, and self-motivated, working remotely should not be a problem. Managers can also incorporate Work Operating Systems (Work OS) like monday.com; they are great tools to keep track of team progress and work schedules without being too intrusive as everyone can update their progress by themselves.
3. Keep a lookout for new ways of communicating and collaborating
Approximately 31% of enterprises have reported that the first reason for project failures is uneven communication. The growing necessity of remote work has also improved the quality of interactive and collaborative digital platforms. They can be a great source of support for remote project management. Video conference services like zoom offer feature like breakout rooms and digital gestures to improve communication. Platforms like Slack are a great way to create direct channels of communication, and they can also make keeping track of everything a lot easier with built-in scheduling features and reminders. They even provide access to team member’s birthdays and upcoming events, which are a great way of keeping and encouraging healthy communication among workmates. Such platforms also make it easy to keep track of information and are much more efficient than sending fifty emails and making ten calls to each team member every week.
4. Encourage New Social Rituals
It is important to remember that the lines between work and personal lives have become quite blurry due to the ‘work from home’ norm. Managers should encourage, if not daily, weakly rituals that put people in the mindset of working and finishing their responsibilities. Perhaps daily interactions between team members could begin with a short video call where the manager motivates discussion around the project process and what tasks everyone will be working on throughout the day. Creating ‘Virtual Lounges’ in Slack or Teamwork can help team members socialize, exchange ideas, hold trivia nights and happy hours through the digital space. A study from INSEAD of more than 500 remote professionals all over the globe revealed that virtual teams that regularly planned and participated in social gatherings like virtual teas, quizzes, and book recommendations thrived in the virtual environment.
Encouraging such social rituals can also help maintain a sense of belonging and promote the company and team culture in the virtual environment.
5. Be mindful of technical issues at the very beginning
An important rule for deciding task deadlines is making sure technology-related issues are kept under consideration. Expect a few delays, glitches, or technical problems at the very start, so it is easy to respond when they actually happened. It would be a good practice to have a set plan already in place when a technical issue occurs and make sure there is enough time to complete each task with the possibility of minor problems with technology.
6. Emphasize the benefits of working remotely to increase motivation
A lot of employees struggle working remotely due to a lack of motivation and availability of distractions. It is an excellent practice to emphasize the benefits of remote work like comfort, avoiding everyday traveling hassles, and completing tasks through flexible schedules. When workers are reminded of the positive impact of working from home, they become more motivated to modify their behaviors and working habits to achieve productivity.
The challenges and strategies discussed in this article are relevant for both traditional project managers as well as experienced freelance project managers. It is without any doubt that freelance project managers hired as contingent employees have many more strategies to deal with the challenges they face. Moreover, it is quite noticeable that more and more enterprises regularly employ freelance experts to manage projects. This is due to their diverse backgrounds, quick adaptability, and experiences in agile project management practices. Hiring such independent professionals comes with many benefits, and this is the reason why freelance marketplaces like ConsultXperts work hard to provide access to such experts. Since access to the best available talent regardless of their physical location is one of the biggest benefits of remote work in the first place.
The project managers available on ConsultXperts have decades of experience in numerous industries, and many of them have witnessed multiple transitions in the business environment. The platform gives access to these experts free of cost to help businesses achieve their goals and succeed through this time of digital transitions and transformation.