Challenges of remote project management and how to address them

It is quite rare to find someone who does not, at least partly, collaborate on business tasks remotely. Neither is it uncommon for teams within your own organization to be located in other parts of the country (or even the world). If you are someone like me whose clients come from across the world, remote project management is the only way to get things done.

Managing a project remotely can be tricky. No matter how articulate you are in your verbal and written communication, it is still not as good as being there in person. In his book, Silent Messages, Professor Albert Mehrabian argues that spoken words contribute to only seven percent of communication. Body language, voice, and tone contribute towards the rest.

It is, of course, not realistic to turn back the wheel of time and erase remote collaboration. Instead, we will do the next best thing – identify the challenges that come with remote project management and find ways to fix them.

Dealing with different time zones

Working with a team member from the other side of the globe is by far the most challenging aspect of remote project management. Simple queries to your colleagues could take hours to get answered. Not only can this mess up your work schedule, but it can also sometimes be a source of frustration.

This can seem like a bad thing, but it’s actually not. The fact that you may not be able to catch up with your team members for another day could instead force workers to better organise their tasks. Invest in project management software that fits the specific needs of your organization. Ensure all elements of your project are exhaustively documented by team members. This way, you reduce your dependence on individual members and instead focus on the process.

If you run an agency that deals with clients from around the world, it is important to stick to a specific work schedule. Otherwise, you could be tiring yourself out by trying to work across multiple time zones.

The rules change if most of your clients or team members are based in similar time zones. In such cases, it is a good idea to tweak your schedule to fit their working hours. You could, for instance, start a couple of hours early or end your day a couple of hours late if that could help you reach out to your colleagues before one of you logs out for the day.

Dealing with communication barriers

There are several factors that can impede an effective communication within a remote team, and the absence of body language is definitely one of them. Besides this, communication is can also be affected by external issues like poor network reception or internet connectivity. This can exacerbate other relatively minor issues, too.

While there are several collaboration options available, they are not all suitable for every scenario. At a basic level, your team communication may fall into one of two categories – brainstorming and project updates.

Brainstorming may include weekly catch-up meetings and product demo calls. In each of these scenarios, the objective is to enable a free exchange of thoughts and ideas among members of the team. In this case, are not the best option to build a free-flowing and cohesive conversation.

Video conferencing makes it possible for face-to-face conversations and if you are using a tool like GoToMeeting, you can also make use of the collaboration features like whiteboard, screen-sharing, and control sharing to replicate a real-world conference room.

For project updates however, it is more ideal to use a collaboration channel that is type-based. This helps with documenting the efforts from all members of the team, which is absolutely crucial. Any team member who has a query relating to the project can reference past conversations. Asana, Basecamp, Trello, and Jira are some popular tools for collaboration and project management. Slack, or the recently launched Microsoft Teams, is a good option for quick back-and-forth communication if team members are in relatively overlapping time zones.

Tracking progress

Tracking progress on a remote project shouldn’t be so hard. Yetprojects fail because of improper collaboration. There are a few reasons why this happens. First, there are often too many people meddling with the process.

When your remote team has a flat hierarchy where people from various departments (like business, sales, design, and development) collaborate, it leads to a free for all wherein each member of the team creates their own workflow. This clutters the system and reduces the productivity of the team.

This problem can be frequently seen with project status messages. When different team members set their own status messages, it can lead to chaos where the status message itself does not carry any meaning.

To fix this problem, all members of the team need to agree on who is responsible for the various processes like creating a new project, structuring project statuses, and who can close projects. Typically, these responsibilities fall on the service seeker. In a webpage design project, for instance, the design and development teams shall be the service providers while the business/sales team would be service seekers.

The second factor that contributes to improper collaboration is lack of ground rules. Too often, members in a project tend to discuss casual and non-work related stuff from within the collaboration platform. This can drown out any critical project related updates shared by other members in the team. Other times, team members could share updates in the wrong section or without making the appropriate changes to the project status. Not following a protocol while collaborating online could make the whole process futile. It is important for a team to create a protocol document that underlines all the do’s and don’ts and strictly abide by it.

Remote working is already mainstream and is not going away. The only way to survive in this new reality is to acknowledge the problems this comes with and work out suitable ways to fix it.

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