In today’s business world, teams are often a group of individuals who don’t work in the same office, don’t speak the same language when they are at home and perhaps don’t even work for the same employer. That’s one extreme of virtual teams. At the other end of the scale is a situation most project managers will be familiar with: project team members who are remote workers. They could be scattered around the country or based out of their home office. Here are five tips for successfully managing remote workers.
Make Sure They Have Access To The Tools
Project teams need tools: plans, timesheets, task tracking software and so on. Enterprise project management tools tend to be centrally hosted, which is fine if you are at your desk in your office, but not so helpful if you are working at home. Make sure that any team members who are not based in the main office have access to the same tools. Talk to your IT department about how to get them set up with the appropriate remote access.
Include Them In Social Events
One company we know has software developers based in multiple locations, so they organize a virtual film night. Some of the team actually watch the film during the day, due to the time difference, but everyone comes together, with the help of instant messaging and an open conference call or internet conferencing number, to watch the film and chat about it together. They have also done the same with online gaming, setting up a team online gaming environment so that the team can play with each other in multi-player games.
In another company, any individual who brought cakes into work for a special occasion would package a few up and put them in the internal mail so those in the other offices wouldn’t feel left out.
Trust on project teams is built through sharing small confidences and experiences with other team members, so try to involve the remote workers in social activities as far as you can. Organize their travel and an overnight stay for the office party. Celebrate everyone’s birthdays. Find creative ways to involve the whole project team in events.
Set Clear Objectives
Make sure that people working remotely have clear expectations of what they are supposed to be doing. They need clear objectives for the project and for their behaviour. Are they supposed to join a team conference call weekly? How will they report progress, and who needs to know? What are the standards for the task in hand?
Work with your remote team members to set clear, written goals, and hold the team members accountable with regular feedback.
Train The Whole Team
Training someone on how to work remotely seems a little bit odd. Surely it’s the same as working in an office, but just further away? Actually, remote working is different. There are different distractions and if you are based at home you may feel a sense of isolation. Remote workers may need training on the technology, such as how to access core systems remotely or how to use web conferencing effectively. Soft skills like communication become even more important, so remote workers may benefit from training in those areas.
Project managers may also need to be trained in how to manage remote team members. For example, you can’t watch someone’s performance if they aren’t there, so you need to learn to manage (and judge) by results instead. Again, communication skills are key, so project managers may like to brush up.
Finally, the rest of the team – the ones who are based together – may also benefit from some training, or at least an overview session. This could cover things like how to get in touch with remote employees, why some people are working remotely and others aren’t, how to work together to ensure the project moves forward smoothly and any technical issues like sharing files.
The most important tip for managing remote employees is to stay organized. Remember that they are there and that they have a valuable part to play in the project’s success. The remote team member still needs work planned and scheduled, and goals set. They need to be invited to team meetings so you may need to be more organized and book meeting rooms with the conferencing facilities instead of holding stand up meetings by your desks.
Using remote workers can add a great deal to a project team, not least because it widens the talent pool for picking the right people for the project. Project managers should learn to make the most of this opportunity and learning how to manage remote workers is a step in the right direction.