Today we have a guest post on project management from Max Benz. He is a content marketing manager at Filestage and has been working remotely for more than 3 years. He’s even running a German remote job board on the side.
Project managers have the huge responsibility of keeping things moving on various tasks and projects while keeping all stakeholders happy and on the same page.
This is only amplified when you take away the physical presence of working in person and, instead, deliver results in a remote environment. In this post, we're going to look at 13 project management best practices for remote work.
Challenges Remote Project Management is Facing
While the benefits of working remotely have been well documented, it doesn't come without its challenges.
Research says that 55% of communication is body language, while another 38% is the tone of voice—all of which is necessary to create a communal atmosphere.
It's a bit difficult to achieve the full experience of communication when you're sending animated GIFs to each other on 50 slack channels.
Not only that, but some companies are stuck in the ice age, refusing to adapt to remote work, or at least kicking and screaming as they're forced to change-making life difficult for everyone.
These are just a couple of many challenges project managers of distributed teams are facing today.
Let's look at some more examples.
Have you sent a message to a friend who responds typically straightaway, only to be met with silence?
You find yourself sweating over every word (and emoji) in the text, even getting your partner to read over it to make sure you didn't come across as rude or insensitive.
The fact is, your message can be interpreted in so many different ways, even with close friends!
Yet, as remote teams, this is how we communicate with each other every day often with people we don't know that well.
Furthermore, think about how much support team members need when you work with them in-person. We've all had an experience where we've helped one of our peers for two hours on how to use an internal tool.
Now take away that element of working side-by-side, and the task developing competence and confidence becomes exponentially more challenging.
Project Management Best Practices for Remote Teams
Even though there are challenges with remote project management for startups, this can all be mitigated or also improved by applying the 13 tips for remote work below.
1. Transparent objectives and processes
According to a survey conducted by Kelton Global in 2018, 87% of workers want their future employer to be transparent.
Teams are more motivated when they're not left in the dark and understand the commercial benefits of projects they're working on.
- Take the time to explain the "why" behind each project. Explain the business objectives, as well as the technical.
- Prioritize tasks and ensure they are visible to all team members.
- Don't overstep privacy boundaries by gossiping or sharing personal information.
2. (Over) Communicating project progress on a regular basis
A report by the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) claims that 88 percent of remote workers struggle with inconsistent working practices and miscommunication.
Unfortunately, poor project communication is common amongst remote teams, killing productivity, engagement, and ultimately results.
- Create detailed project plans that outline what results expected and guidelines your remote team needs to follow.
- Over-inform each team member about role clarity, project goals, and milestones, then communicate that information to the rest of the team.
- Send weekly email updates with general information everyone should be aware of.
3. Clear instructions
The founders of successful SaaS Company Basecamp suggest in their New York Times Best Selling Book, Rework, to hire great writers. It doesn't matter what their role is, but clear writing is a sign of clear thinking, which then translates to excellent communication, written or verbal.
Instructions quickly get confusing when communication is long-winded, unfocused, and lacks empathy. Project managers need to master communicating when managing remote teams.
- Don't just tell, also show. Show examples of what you want. This is especially important for visual learners in your team.
- Be precise in the words that you use. Try to avoid vague language like "good" and "nice."
- Focus on one task, one action at a time.
- Use SOPs and keep them updated with granular step-by-step instructions.
4. Staying in touch with the team
"Employee communication is ongoing and, while mostly informal, is essential to keep needed information and direction flowing smoothly," says strategic consultant Jeff Skipper. "Remote employees are cut off from many critical details. They need interruptions and serendipitous conversations as much as anyone else."
While we're all employed to deliver results, we can't lose sight of the fact that we're human, and getting to knowing and caring for each other is essential for team building and performance.
- Make time for a weekly virtual happy hour for team members to merely catch up, talk about life, and have fun. Think of it as a virtual water cooler session.
- Check-in with your team members regularly on one-on-one calls and ask them how they're doing and what support you can offer them. Here are ten questions you can ask your team today.
- Team connections can get demanding, so you need to have sound time management skills to balance team development with operations.
5. Access to internal knowledge
In 2004, Forbes conducted a study revealing that Fortune 500 companies lose approximately $31.5 billion a year by failing to share knowledge!
Remote environments create even more barriers for companies to share knowledge with their teams and encourage peer-to-peer learning.
- Identify subject matter experts and make their skills known to the rest of the team.
- Use your retrospective and document postpartum sessions after each project and get the team to present their learnings.
- Create a remote intranet in the form of a knowledge base or wiki page as a resource for all team members
6. Suitable software set up
According to a survey conducted by GoTo, 54% of remote workers have five or more computer programs open at any given time. This multi-tasking culture increases easily avoided mistakes due to distractions.
It's more important than ever to be selective with project tools to avoid app fatigue and confusion.
- Research new tools thoroughly before introducing them to the team. Here's a list of project management tools, to get started.
- Where possible, consolidate collaboration tools. A comprehensive platform with more features can reduce the need for team members to toggle between multiple apps.
7. Set agenda's before every meeting
According to online meeting provider Fuze, ineffective meetings waste an estimated $37 billion a year.
Mastering the art of setting clear agendas for virtual meetings is essential to the success of any remote team.
- Get feedback in advance from participants as to what they want to cover in the meeting.
- Send a written overview of the upcoming meeting with time stamps and presenters for each section. Use all communication tools e.g., calendar invite, email, chat, etc.
- Conclude every meeting with a clear call to action of tasks to be completed before the next meeting.
8. Set project goals or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
The software company, Zonka Feedback, set project goals and KPIs for every team member in a project. This helps project managers measure the productivity level for each team member and take corrective actions to maintain a high level of output.
- Don't get into the trap of micromanaging. This is time-consuming for project managers, and deflating for team members.
- Look for a measurable goal and align it with the overall project. Make the purpose transparent across the rest of the team, and get your team to update you on their progress.
9. Develop an efficient process for feedback
Companies that implement regular employee feedback see an average of 15% lower turnover rate.
Giving feedback, both constructive and positive, is a must for any successful team. If you fail to recognize team members, they feel under-appreciated, and if you don't deliver feedback on mistakes, they'll continue to make mistakes.
- Lead by example, by asking for constructive feedback from your team. This shows humility and sets a tone that seeking feedback shouldn't be scary.
- Look for opportunities to give specific positive feedback to your team. Do it both publicly and in private. But only give feedback when it's warranted.
- Assign team members in advance to be critical of a task for other team members. This will set the expectation of feedback before the project or task has even started.
10. Video conferencing
Here are some interesting results from a survey conducted by video conferencing tool Zoom:
- 95% say video communications will have a positive impact on performance
- 95% believe video creates a greater sense of trust
- 93% agree that video enhances the engagement and effectiveness of remote workers
In the absence of non-verbal queues you get from in-person communication, video conferencing is one of the most critical tools for any remote team.
- Conduct daily standup meetings to align the team with the project purpose
- Hold whiteboard discussions where a specific skill or topic is taught
- Get different team members to lead video calls as this often leads to more creative ideas for presentations.
11. Encourage effective collaboration
A study from the Institute for Corporate Productivity found that companies who promote collaborative working were five times as likely to be high performing.
Effective collaboration leverages the strengths of each team member, drives innovative solutions, and builds trust amongst remote teams.
- Create strategic partnerships within each project. For example, if you have data from getting customer feedback, pair a Marketing Lead with the Product Lead to develop new customer personas.
- Hold group brainstorming sessions where all ideas are welcomed and not criticized to inspire excitement and creativity amongst your team.
- Use Gantt charts to help team members to work together.
12. Lead with trust
A study by Interaction Associates shows that high-trust companies "are more than 2½ times more likely to be high performing revenue organizations" than low-trust companies.
Trust is often built from consistent in-person interactions one-on-one and in a group environment. This is not the case for distributed teams as everyone sits at home behind their devices, naturally more focused on work than building relationships.
- Assume positive intent until proven otherwise. While being skeptical can be valuable, it's essential to give all team members a fair chance, which in turn makes them feel trusted.
- Respect the cultural norms of your team. Whether it's acknowledging religious beliefs, personal values, or language, makes inclusion a top priority.
- Own your mistakes quickly. Showing humility to your team makes you more approachable and trustworthy.
13. Master project onboarding
According to a survey conducted by Geneca, 75% of employees say they believe their projects are doomed from the start.
Alarming levels of team wariness of projects come down to poor project onboarding. Project onboarding is the process of introducing a team member to a project and giving them the tools needed to succeed.
- Create a checklist of all the materials your team member needs to understand the project. This could be a list of deliverables, status reports, user feedback, and a project timeline.
- Setup tools for your team members. This could mean inviting them to use specific software for communication, granting access, or signing them up to training for the program.
- Hold onboarding sessions to help team members get early wins in the project and build their confidence.
Whether it's in a remote or in-person environment, the principles for successful project management are mostly the same. If anything, distributed teams mean more focus, autonomy, and trust to get on with the job.
We hope this list of project management best practices has given you some ideas on how to build high performing remote teams.