But even after we’ve all had a vaccine, it’s likely that our ways of working won’t go back to exactly how they were before – remote working is here to stay. For project managers (PMs) that means being on top of what it takes to manage a project remotely.
So how can you deliver a project successfully when your team is working remotely? What are the pitfalls you need to look out for? And what strategies can you adopt to achieve the best possible outcomes?
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Interaction between team members can falter when everyone is working remotely. To tackle that, you might be tempted to schedule in more virtual meetings and conference calls. And that can help. But the same rules apply here as to any project meeting. Avoid getting together for the sake of it. Talking shops don’t help teams stay focused. Schedule short calls, have a clear agenda – and share it before the meeting so no-one’s caught off guard – agree actions and focus on results.
As the PM, you can also help improve virtual communications by modelling the behaviour you want to see. If you don’t switch your webcam on during virtual calls, don’t expect anyone else to. Encouraging face-to-face communications, if only virtually, can help remove barriers and provides greater transparency about how people are feeling.
But don’t just focus on virtual calls. Try to avoid defaulting to one communication tool and instead consider the audience, purpose and tone of your communication. Then select the most suitable method for what you’re trying to achieve.
Getting past the blockers
Every project encounters its fair share of blockers (for example, on my current project we’ve had unforeseen upgrade requirements shared with us at the last minute). Removing them as quickly as possible is key to hitting deadlines. When you’re managing a remote project, scheduling short, frequent ‘keep in touch calls’ to manage blockers can be effective.
You might also try creating an informal discussion forum on your virtual platform of choice – Slack or Microsoft Teams, for example – just for blockers. You can then monitor progress and project team members can easily contribute their solutions in a live environment. This encourages your teams to raise any blockers as soon as they come up against them and resolve them as a team.
Project progress can be hindered by a lack of motivation. So, how do you motivate a team you never meet with face to face?
Consider starting your project by identifying what makes your teammates tick. That could involve working through a model of motivation with each individual team member. The 4-Drive model of motivation – a holistic model that looks beyond financial motivators to the impact of bonding and belonging – is a good example. This can prove especially useful if you’re never going to meet your colleagues in person. Getting to know your colleagues earlier will help build stronger relationships and should lead to better delivery.
The ‘softer’ side of motivation is also crucial – making your team feel valued will help to maintain momentum. Think of new ways to emotionally support your team to help them deliver the best results for themselves and the project. For example, you could find time to meet and discuss topics outside of work, like favourite TV shows or plans for the weekend. That can help build stronger personal connections and give you a greater insight into what drives your team.
Trust is vital to the success of any project. It’s key to people enjoying projects and embracing them as developmental experiences. But some people may struggle to trust that their teammates are pulling their weight when they’re out of sight.
Building in a sense of individual accountability for the outcome of a project can help to combat this. At the start of your project, and when each new project team member joins, spend time setting the scene and helping every individual on the project to understand where their piece of the puzzle fits in. Then, throughout the project, make a habit of sending regular, encouraging communications that help everyone understand progress and remind them of the bigger picture.