Projects no longer in office? How to lead a remote project management team.

Projects no longer in office? How to lead a remote project management team.

Image of project management tools in dark pink over pink background
Chris Locher
Thought byChris Locher
VP of Delivery
April 02, 2020

Is your company one of the many who’ve needed to pivot into an entirely remote environment, due to the recent Coronavirus pandemic? 

Project management is one of the functions most typically done in an in-office environment, and can be difficult to translate into a remote setting.

FFW was built to exist in a global and remote environment, and we’ve learned over the years how to make this work effectively, and even use it to our advantage -- providing services like 24 hour continuous development for clients.

Here are some best practices to successfully lead a project management team in a newly remote environment. 

Challenges of leading a remote project management team

Each day in the office consists of millions of micro-interactions. Small talk at the water cooler. A friendly ,”Good morning,” to a fellow coworker. All these seemingly small and humble communications build up over time to create a solid working relationship.

A big problem with remote work? The opportunity and space for these important interactions doesn't exist and you have to create them.

To effectively lead a remote project management team, where relationships are such a key piece of moving projects forward, compensating for these lost interactions is vital. 

Here are some best practices to help bridge the distance.

Talk about nothing for the first ten minutes of meetings

Start the conversation like you would with a close friend; nothing work related for the first ten minutes. This might feel counterproductive at first, but it helps build those connections that are lost working remotely.

Image of Tiger King in pink speaking bubble

Solely having work interactions feels too prescriptive and forced, especially if you don’t have an established relationship with the person. Leading with work makes it feel more like a doctor visit rather than a real human interaction. 

This is one of the few chances you have to establish a human connection and make up for lost micro-interactions. Use it wisely.

Apply basic tenets of communication

Workplace communication can be seen as a tiered system. At the top of the pyramid is the infrequent updates from the CEO, the middle tier consists of formal weekly or monthly meetings, and the bottom (maybe most important) tier is basic, ongoing communication that exists on a daily basis.

This level is where the work really gets done, and it’s critical to create structure within this communication level. In particular, remote work requires much more forethought and planning for everyday processes and functions

Be wary of time zones

This may not be a huge concern to you if you’ve temporarily moved to a remote work space and your team is all in the same state. However, if you’re across the globe, or even across the country, this can be a major pain point.

Image of metal alarm clock

There was one standing meeting here at FFW that took place at a great time for the US team. However, for our team in Moldova, it took place after 9:00 on a Friday night. Obviously an oversight that needed to be addressed. The meeting was fixed so that our friends in Moldova could join at a reasonable hour, and the US team just needed to get up earlier. 

It required adapting and a little more consideration on our end, but the problem was easily solved.

Have a healthy rhythm to get into the work mindset

When you work at the same computer you check Facebook, shop for new shoes, and read the news at, it’s all too easy for the lines of work and play to blur. One way to counteract this is to have a healthy rhythm that your brain can connect with working.

Starting off your morning with exercise, walking your dog, or a simple meditation can help you switch into the work mindset. Have an added ‘going to work’ routine and stick with it.

Another aspect to a healthy routine is being aware of your routine throughout the entire day. When you work remotely your work day isn’t broken up with lunch breaks or walking to or from meetings. Block off time to eat and add several small breaks throughout the day.  Breaking up your day with some stretching or a quick stroll around the neighborhood can do wonders for your productivity and your health.

Find tools to connect, then stick with them

Finding the right collaboration tools is one of the first steps to a successful remote work environment, but sticking with them might be even more important. Keep it simple and focused.

Consolidating the tools you use into as few as necessary will keep information from getting lost and employees from getting frustrated. You don’t need two or three chat tools. Using an overabundance of tools and systems is wasteful, costly, and confusing. Whether you use Jira, Microsoft 365, and Slack or some other bundle, plan to stick with it.

Have and promote frequent interactions

Remember those micro-interactions we talked about? Here’s where the lost quality of socializing from remote work can start to be recouped. 

Frequent check-ins are a necessity. Plan to meet even more than you would in an office environment. But not only should you do this with your peers and team, you should encourage them to do it too.

Buddy systems can be an effective way to help build bonds for your team, and can be especially useful for new employees trying to learn the ropes. Providing a peer to help new team members on board will give them additional support and a feeling of connectivity. 

Increasing interactions may not be enough; we also need to adapt the way we interact as well. Asking specific questions can better help gauge understanding. For example, rather than just asking, “Do you get how the metrics billing works?”, try asking them to explain to you how the metric billing works so you can pick up on any gaps.

Relationships don’t have to be lost in a remote environment

Though we can’t regain the millions of micro-interactions that are lost in a remote setting, we can still build genuine and prosperous relationships that help us achieve our best possible work. Putting in the extra effort, setting healthy rhythms, and being diligent and intentional with our interactions is the way to get there. 
 

FFW is here to help you navigate any uncertain territory

FFW was built to exist and thrive in a remote, global environment. The ability to coexist and function as one core team across cultural differences and millions of miles is part of our company’s core DNA. If you find yourself needing help adapting to a remote or digital environment, give us a call. We’re happy to help in any way we can.

Insights by Chris Locher

Image of Chris Locher

Chris has nearly 20 years of experience in product development, professional services, and delivery for enterprise organizations. As Vice President of Delivery, he leads FFW’s delivery team, and manages project managers across the world in a remote environment. Chris started his professional career as an officer in the U.S. Navy and previously worked in offices, and has experienced firsthand the unique challenges and opportunities of learning to work in a global and remote setting.

 

Topics:
Remote work
Remote project management

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