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Critical Shortcuts To Manage A Project Team From A Distance

Category: B2B News

With globalization taking over the planet, competition in any employment sphere has skyrocketed. The traditional 9 to 5 working days in a closed office space are losing their weight. Companies are orienting towards remote workforce and that is slowly becoming the standard for any market. Such development, however, leads to various different problems and complaints such as how would the employees be properly managed and how to involve them in the overall decision-making process. It’s particularly important to take some of the following in proper consideration.

Long-distance leadership is manageable as long as the person adapts effectively to the measures that need to be taken. Here is a review of some key points regarding the topic:

1. Means of Communication

Regardless of whether it’s a traditional or remote working relationship, communication is always the biggest challenge when it comes to teamwork. Distanced communication introduces new obstacles as the workforce does not operate In the same space. The initial priority, in order to overcome such issues, should be setting up and establishing a main method of communication. Advancement in technology has allowed us to communicate via different means in a matter of seconds, whether it would be by e-mail, phone or a various instant messaging service. Picking the right solution comes down to the people you are managing.

Another critical factor is the regular communication. Long distance managers often keep their relationship tight by holding at least one digital conference per week with their teams. Everyone should be included in such meetings including the on-site workforce.

Complaints about the inability to reach off-site colleagues will often rise by employees. To avoid such occurrences, a standard should be set, considering the checking and responding via the means of communication. A clear schedule with working hours should be established, which does not necessarily mean, that it cannot be flexible, however, it plays a big factor when it comes to easing up the work process. You don’t want to stretch out the work schedule to a point where there is no shared collaboration window, however, as that would leave members of the team out of the loop with no one to turn to. Adding into that is the organization between team members in different time zones. Most companies choose their workforce to at least be in the same time zone so they won’t have to bother with such issues, but in case you do have members spread throughout the planet, it’s essential to keep time zones into consideration when building the work schedule.

As a manager, you should always keep track of messages and deliver responses on time even when overwhelmed. Staff members need to be given an evaluation of their projects. Your responses are the key to making an employee feel isolated or involved. On-site workers can pressure you in the workplace, while distanced staff does not have this privilege. I often hear stories about people waiting to hear back from their bosses about a project since weeks. Don’t be that kind of a manager.

Another good approach is opening a chat room for each team in the company. This way anyone could leave a message for their respective team. It’s important to keep such chats alive, but not distracting. Small talk or funny talk should be allowed, but only to a certain extent. Working by yourself at home could become a lonely existence, but such things could help with the feeling of a social connection.

Choosing a proper project management system is essential to the workflow of a distance based manager. While handling everything via email with a smaller team could be possible, it’s also dangerous and could quickly turn into an unmanageable, disorganized mess. Project management systems are a powerful tool to help keep everything organized. What’s even better, modern PM systems and tools are synchronized with cloud storage services such as Google Drive or DropBox, which support online collaboration and make it easier to find them later.

2. Focus on Results, not the Means to it

The biggest question that long distance leaders have is “How do I know that my staff is working?” I’m going to be blatantly honest with you on this one – you won’t know.

It might not be the answer you are looking for but that’s reality. There are various means of long distances staff work process tracking. And all of them can be worked around if the employee is smart enough. Realistically speaking, you won’t be able to know if your staff is working even in an office based position. Therefore you should focus on results. Activity should not be confused with effectiveness.

Efficient managers focus on setting up clear priorities and plans of actions. They establish strategies and the direction the team would have to go and most importantly – hold their employees accountable. To retain authority, that’s a factor even more critical when working from distance. Accountability does not mean to be critical of employees when failures arise, praise should also be delivered on good results.

Develop distinctive, attainable goals and means of their measurement together with your staff members. It’s important to set them high, but not out of reach. Unattainable goals often lead to demotivation of the entire team. This could be established through different ways, for example, you could create a checklist on a monthly or weekly basis including the activities and reports regarding your field of work i.e. make a certain amount of calls or handle a certain amount of support tickets etc.  The key is the find the balance between productivity and effectiveness to reach your desired results.

In order to keep the whole team on the same page objectives for communication and professional development should be set. For example contact frequency, goals-related reporting, project document sharing, and training should be included. Keep the goals realistic to attain the team’s commitment, which is a result of a jointly established delivery timetable with your employees.

3. Be present and establish strong bond with the Team

Make yourself approachable and this is meant on various different levels. You don’t want to be too judgemental and put your employees in a position where they fear the contact with you. On another level, you should make yourself accessible. This could be achieved through different ways. The one I’ve found to work best is setting up specific “office” hours – in other words, those would be distinctive periods of time which you would be available to talk with the staff members. It could be a fixed time on a daily basis or once a week, whatever works best for you and your team. It’s important that you stick to this schedule or preliminarily inform others if the agenda would not be met in a concrete instance.

As a manager would do in any other situation, you should still schedule regular performance reviews.  They won’t be as effective or beneficial as face to face meetings, but holding a call or a chat is better than doing nothing at all.

The technique of giving on-going feedback is even more important when it comes to long-distance leadership. While on site managers could deliver it informally on a daily basis in the office as they bump into each other, remote workers don’t have such opportunities. That will demand more efforts than you – an e-mail or a call, but as a manager, you should be the one setting the example.

One of the main responsibilities you have as a leader is to make sure all remote employees feel as a part of a team. In addition to regularly scheduled means of communication like teleconferences or calls, be sure to send out notes and memos to working staff at all available times. Invite them to lunches and social events when presented with such opportunity. Face to face communication will establish a strong bond and arouse a sense of familiarity throughout all employees. Of course,  meetings don’t always have to be face to face and there are still ways of making the team feel as if it’s in an office in a positive environment. Just hold a combination of web conferences, video- and teleconferences in real time between all members of the staff.

Traditionally employers hold two team building events per year for an in-person meeting for all employees. That’s something you want to do even more often in a distance based workflow. While it would raise the expenses of the company, the productivity it leads to will surely make it worth your while. Such events help ease up any built tension between the staff and help them build personal relationships with each other. This also presents a good opportunity to discuss the quarterly or early results, review them in depth and make changes accordingly.

Most importantly, remote-based employees need to believe that they are not alone, that you and the whole team is behind them and you will support them through the whole path including any challenges it brings. Sticking to those three points will enable you to develop a first class virtual team and becoming a respected manager.

By Louie Andre

B2B & SaaS market analyst and senior writer for FinancesOnline. He is most interested in project management solutions, believing all businesses are a work in progress. No stranger to small business hiccups and drama, having been involved in a few internet startups. Prior to his for-profit ventures, he has had managed corporate communications for a Kansas City-based Children International unit.

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