Remote project management – that is, project managers who are tasked with the management of a remote team – are becoming ever more common in the business world today. With the increasing popularity of the Virtual Office business model, tools and strategies for the effective management and coordination of remote teams are continually being developed to serve this need. As the latest research revealed by the Workforce 2020 survey reports: "Businesses must understand the workforce of the future and its importance to bottom-line success.
- The 2020 Workforce will be increasingly flexible.
- 83% of executives surveyed said they plan to increase use of contingent, intermittent, or consultant employees in the next 3 years forcing change on companies."
In highlighting the increasing flexibility and diversity of the workforce, the survey also reports that "many companies lack the structure, strategy, culture, solutions and resources to manage employees effectively." To help address this situation, this article will identify and answer the three questions most relevant to it:
- What are the most fundamental principles to learn in order to manage projects with remote teams?
- What are the logistical advantages of having a virtual office—especially one nearby?
- Which tools and best practices (including management style) can a remote work project manager use to create a clear vision that leads to a successful project?
Firstly, we shall address the fundamentals of remote project management.
The Fundamental Principles of Remote Project Management
Clearly Defined Procedures
An inherent characteristic of the remote team is that it is composed of more individualistic workers; and therefore, a greater diversity of working methods and styles. And, as effective teamwork is an essential goal in management, it is important to recognize that the clear setting of work standards by the project manager will create the basis for this teamwork: Via a standardized system of well-defined and repeatable procedures, each worker will be able to more quickly understand and focus on the tasks of their remote job; which will substantially reduce the amount of time required to complete successful projects. It is also important to remember that from within this procedural foundation, a degree of flexibility should also be allowed, in order that each remote worker has the freedom to perform to the best of their ability.
Various Mediums of Communication
Communication is an integral part of any work team: it can result in a bottleneck to collective performance; and it can be a primary determinant of a business’ success. This principle is, of course, even more significant for the effective coordination of a Virtual Office, in that it is composed of a remote team, i.e. a workforce who, by necessity, must constantly telecommute with each other. By providing the ability to telecommute via a variety of mediums – two at the very minimum, which is easily achievable in today’s online society – the Virtual Office project manager can ensure that the worker of each remote job will be able to telecommute an urgent message to any other member of the remote team, with the immediacy that it needs. Of further importance is a feature indispensable to the effective coordination of the remote team; and which is common to most mediums of online communication: that of conferencing. Conferencing – be it by voice call or video – affords people the means to quickly, easily, and affordably telecommute with multiple persons simultaneously. Therefore, options to conference via multiple mediums (and platforms) ensure that members of the remote team can easily participate in a truly collaborative process; and which thus allows for the natural development of the remote team into a remote TEAM.
Careful Selection of Workers
The nature and demands of remote work are distinctly different than those of the traditional forms of working—and this should be an important consideration for the proprietor of a Virtual Office and the project manager of a remote team, with regards to selecting his staff. In fact, it should be considered as an extension of effective management style, in that the project manager aims to avoid hiring anyone who is unsuitable for remote work, thus saving himself and his remote team the wasted efforts in coming to realise the fact. Better still, the project manager should, as well as he can, proactively seek candidates who will be especially suitable for his management style—meaning that he should make the effort to learn how to assess personality (e.g. personality tests, which are easy to obtain), and to check a person’s references thoroughly.
Next, we look at the advantages of having a nearby Virtual Office as one of the best practices of effective management.
Logistical Advantages of Having a Virtual Office—Especially One Nearby
Whilst remote work and remote project management has become an inherently advantageous model in the business world of today, the importance of supplementing your Virtual Office with physical office facilities should not be overlooked.
As the project manager of a remote team, you will of course enjoy the intrinsic benefits of the management style afforded by the remote work model—namely, the coordination and management of your remote team via the various tools to telecommute with and to manage them online. The hiring of a virtual office assistant is also one of the best practices for a project manager to employ. However, the benefits – if not necessity – of having access to suitable meeting rooms is also one of the best practices for effective Virtual Office management.
The Importance Incorporating Face-to-Face Meetings into your Management Style
Although online communication and various tools to telecommute are indispensable for business management, it must be appreciated that there is no substitute for in person, face-to-face contact. The act of a physical meeting allows for a deeper and more personal interaction – and thus connection – between two people, than does virtual communication, in which the presence and physical aspects of a person’s communication are mostly lost.
For this reason, one of the best practices of successful Virtual Office management is to make the first meeting with someone a face-to-face meeting, which gives you the opportunity to make the best first impression possible. It can also be beneficial to arrange a regular event or gathering for the members of your remote team, which will allow them to bond better by ensuring that they meet each other in person at least once a year.
Advantages for the Virtual Office Executive
As a project manager you need to leverage the full potential of a Virtual Office by taking on the role of an executive of a Virtual Office. Arranging to meet with your customers, clients, or business partners – both acquired and potential – is still an essential aspect of management in the remote work model—and the management style you adopt in facilitating such meetings can have a substantial effect on your long-term business performance.
For some Virtual Office executives, conducting such meetings at informal or public places is considered to be a good enough solution—but this is not one of the best practices of Virtual Office management. Anytime you have an important meeting to conduct – be it to begin a new relationship or for an update on an existing one – the ability to arrange it at a professional meeting room is one of the best practices of an effective and professional management style.
Not only in terms of functionality but also in terms of credibility, having a Virtual Office meeting room affords the executive with both the professional facilities and environment in which to conduct his business meetings in person. And with many prestigious Virtual Office locations available, the hosting of clients and business partners in such an atmosphere has an immeasurable impact on the image of your Virtual Office. Further, this advantage can also apply to sales calls, for which the setting of a professional establishment using the best VoIP software available helps to enhance the image of your Virtual Office.
Advantageous for the Remote Project Manager
The facility of a Virtual Office meeting room also has a particular advantage for the remote project manager. As an example, one of the best practices a project manager can incorporate into his management style is to conduct a project post-mortem in person, i.e. by having a physical meeting with members of his remote team. Occasional or periodical meetings with your remote team can greatly enhance the coordination required by remote project management, in that it complements the regular online interaction with opportunities for a more personal one.
The Advantage of Having a Virtual Office Nearby
When obtaining a meeting room for your Virtual Office, the location is also an important consideration. For both the Virtual Office executive and the remote project manager, having a meeting room at a location nearby will further enhance the advantages of this facility: anytime you need to host an executive meeting, or need to conduct a meeting with your remote team, you know that you can comfortably be there in a short amount of time.
If you would like to know more about virtual offices, read our Definitive Guide to Virtual Offices.
Now, we shall explore the tools and best practices to help build upon the fundamentals of remote project management.
Tools and Best Practises for Successful Management of a Remote Team
Tools for Remote Project Management
Todoist (app for Management of tasks)
The app Todoist is one of the most user-friendly and effective tools a project manager can find; and, one that can provide the basis for the effective management of a remote team.
Providing a clear overview of tasks; dynamic prioritization, including various forms of labelling key tasks; and convenient organization, by creating sections and subtasks—Todoist has the tools which can afford the project manager and his remote team the confidence to comfortably maintain progress on the collective tasks of their remote work.
Twist (app for the remote team to Telecommute)
The app Twist is one of the most popular tools a remote team can use to telecommute between each other. In providing an organized method of communication that helps to avoid distractions, Twist affords effective coordination whilst empowering the remote team to perform to the best of their abilities. Thus, Twist can greatly facilitate the task of remote project management.
Hubstaff Tasks (software for Remote Project Management)
Using the Hubstaff Tasks computer software, a remote team can collaborate with each other most efficiently, as this is what it is designed to achieve. Aiming to simplify the management of tasks whilst ensuring that each member of the remote team is kept up-to-date, Hubstaff Tasks is one of the best remote project management tools a Virtual Office business can use to ensure continuous productivity in its remote work.
Incorporated into its design as visual project management tool, Hubstaff Tasks utilizes what is known as a Kanban board, which facilitates the Kanban method of human systems management. The Kanban method for work management is to balance demands with capacity; and to alleviate if not remove bottlenecks within the management system.
The Kanban methodology is based on the Agile philosophy of software development, which describes itself as “the ability to create and respond to change. It is a way of dealing with, and ultimately succeeding in, an uncertain and turbulent environment.”—a philosophy that should resonate with anyone involved in a Virtual Office enterprise or remote project management.
Best Practices for Remote Project Management
For a project manager of a remote work team, it is ever more important to recognize that too much flexibility will inevitably have an entropic effect on productivity. Whilst the Virtual Office model affords workers much freedom to perform their remote job to suit their own convenience, the lack of an established collective routine is an oversight the project manager should avoid.
In order not only to pre-empt this potential chaos, but to enhance the unity and thus effectiveness of the remote team, one of the best practices of remote project management is to ensure that regular meetings are scheduled—primarily for the purpose of management briefings. The establishment of routine briefings – i.e. an arrangement for the remote team to telecommute on an assigned weekday – is a management style that provides familiarity, which engenders both efficiency and professionalism in the remote team. And with the common availability of video conferencing, the remote team can regularly experience the social atmosphere of a traditional office, thus enhancing the advantages of a remote job.
Know When to Decide that it’s Time to Decide
One of the best practices in being a successful project manager is to ensure that decisions are made when needed. And for the project manager of a remote team, this principle can be particularly tricky to consistently adhere to.
Aside from the easier situations, in which the best course of action is quite clear and can be agreed upon quickly; the occasions of which the remote team is in disagreement (regarding the correct decision) can lead to excessive discussion that is increasingly unproductive. And although the project manager is not necessarily required to have final say on the decision, it is imperative that he or she enforces their initiative to decide when it’s time for a decision to be made—in effect, to ensure that the integrity of the decision-making process is maintained.
One effective management style to employ in a disagreement is to allow ample opportunity for debate before intervening. Depending on the nature of the decision to be made, including its context in overarching business aims and circumstances, the project manager should assess the situation on an ongoing basis; perhaps even allowing the decision to be worked out in the timeframe of weeks.
The key sign to be attentive to is that discussion amongst the remote team has become unproductive: in such cases, one of the best practices a project manager can adopt is to identify the person most suited to making that particular decision; and, in such cases where this is not clear, the project manager should take the decision upon him or herself—but with a management style of tactfulness in decisiveness.
Employ a Personable Management Style
As a valuable corollary to equipping the Virtual Office with multiple means of communication, one of the best practices of an effective project manager involves the regular personal interaction with each member of the remote team. Indeed, Dr. Penny Pullan’s global survey of virtual office and remote work professionals reports that “‘Engaging remote participants’ stood out as the main challenge [of a remote job], ticked by 76% of the survey takers.”
This unmet need of remote job workers is a highly relevant consideration in the effective management of a Virtual Office. In order to address it, the project manager should involve him or herself in any concerns individuals may have relating to the tasks of their remote work, so as to offer helpful suggestions or solutions to any problems they may be having. By employing this management style, the project manager encourages his workers to become personally involved in the project; which both helps to maximize productivity and to create a pleasant working relationship based on trust.
A project manager would do well to remember that having a personal touch goes a long way to interpersonal relations: indeed, even the smallest gestures of thoughtfulness and appreciation will often prove itself to be one of the best practices of remote work management.