Since its outbreak, the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted businesses and workplaces across the globe. Mandated lockdown led to the closure of physical workspaces, which compelled organizations to foster a “work-from-home model”. The project management model also needed to be adjusted to include multi-location and remote team policy.
Remote project management is similar to in-office project management, but there are certain restrictions. For instance, project managers have to keep track of every project and resource metric from a remote location.
Moreover, they have to manage a remote team and guide them towards reaching the project goals. Thus, playing multiple roles while coping with an ongoing crisis can be extremely daunting.
Multiple challenges make remote project management arduous. This blog highlights all the challenges that project managers may face while managing remote teams, along with the ways to combat them.
But first, let’s start with the definition.
What are Remote Project Teams?
A remote project team is a group of professionals working on a project from different locations and time zones. For example, there may be a project in Los Angeles, USA, but the team members can be working from other states within the US or even from different countries at the same time.
There are several types of remote teams based on organizational structure and policies. These are.
- Fully remote teams: As the name suggests, these teams comprise members working on the projects remotely.
- Hybrid teams: Hybrid teams comprise a mix of members, some of who work in-office and the others from remote locations.
- Flex teams: Flex team members can come to the office or work from anywhere for a certain number of days in the year.
Now that the definition and types of remote project teams are clear, let’s focus on the challenges in managing remote teams.
Challenges of Project Management with Remote Teams
Indeed, remote project teams provide various benefits to organizations. Some of which are increased productivity, lower costs, etc. But managing these remote teams puts forth specific challenges.
Here is a rundown of the most common challenges of remote project team management.
Communicating with a dispersed team
Communication is at the forefront of challenges a project manager faces when every team member is dispersed across different boundaries and time zones. For instance, a project is going on in Portland, USA, and you have team members located in India.
As these two countries fall under different time zones, finding a suitable time for a meeting can be tricky. Moreover, with most communication being asynchronous, it can be time-consuming and may cause potential delays.
Besides, ineffective communication can also cause team conflicts and missed task deadlines. It may also result in a vague understanding of responsibilities, goals, and expectations, etc.
Tracking resource capacity, availability, and utilization
It is convenient for managers to check in on resources’ progress in co-located offices, wherein tracking their capacity or utilization is relatively easy. However, tracking these attributes can be challenging when people are working in a remote work model.
For example, let’s consider there is a project in the pipeline, and you have requested the resource manager for a certain number of resources.
Without a proper remote resource management tool, he/she cannot have complete visibility of all the resources. Due to a lack of real-time updates on the resources, he/she cannot see if a particular person is currently working on a project or is on the bench.
Resultantly, it may lead to resource double-booking or hiring of new resources. The former will cause overutilization, and the latter may sky-rocket the project budget.
Inadequate infrastructure for effective remote work
Inadequate remote infrastructure is one of the most common challenges of remote project work. Let us consider the example of a software development project.
When the developers worked in the office, they had access to high-speed internet, updated and modern software development facilities, proper office setup, etc.
But when working from home, there may be internet issues as everyone will have a home setup. Also, a resource’s computer may freeze during high-profile development work or a critical conference call if it’s not fully updated.
Inadequate infrastructure can also pose challenges for managers as they may not have access to the right tools to collaborate or manage resources and projects.
Lack of bonding between the team members
With everyone working from home, loneliness amongst remote workers has increased. According to a Gartner Inc. survey of more than 5,000 employees, more than one-quarter of the workforce (29%) described remote work as depressing. The main reasons being lack of human interaction, poor employee recognition, excessive work stress, etc.
Poor socialization has also resulted in the employees getting burned out from workload. Team members are confined within their apartments and work, and there is no chance of having a physical conversation with any other member. This has increased stress on the workers.
As per a Deloitte survey of 1000 employees, 64% say they are burnt out and constantly stressed due to remote work. Extreme burnout can lead to unplanned leaves or sudden attritions, lowered productivity and performance. It will, in turn, derail the project’s progress and, eventually, client dissatisfaction.
Best Practices to Manage Remote Teams
Here is a detailed description of the ways to eliminate the challenges and manage remote project teams effectively.
Invest in the right tools and technology
To keep the project on track, managers should form the proper technology repository encapsulating collaboration, project management, resource management software, and others as per business requirements. These tools can help ensure the remote team has a centralized platform to coordinate and access work-related data in real-time.
Moreover, these tools streamline the project management process by allowing project managers to track project metrics in real-time. He/she can then take corrective action ahead of the curve. At the time, he/she can track resources and team’s productivity to secure the project’s progress.
Have regular virtual communication with the team
As everyone is working remotely, virtual communication is the only way to collaborate with the team members. With the help of different digital communication tools, you can have necessary meetings with the team members. Moreover, it will help you express the goals and objectives clearly to every member.
Besides, you can avoid team conflicts, provide one-on-one support and feedback, and ensure everyone is on the same page. These tools can also be used as status update platforms. Everyone can update their progress via asynchronous or synchronous communication.
Supply adequate infrastructure to remote members
Providing the necessary infrastructure can help ensure that your team members are equipped with suitable office setups.
For instance, if you can issue office laptops with the latest software updates and project-related data, it will ensure that all the members have what they need. Additionally, companies can provide a Wifi hotspot for frequent travelers or modem and router with a 4G network pack/ monthly subscription.
For employees who indulge in prolonged hours at desks, such as programmers or writers, providing full-time home office kits helps. These kits could include essentials such as a comfortable desk, ergonomic chair, a desk lamp to avoid eye strain, a high-resolution webcam for interactive virtual meetings, etc.
Thus, providing adequate infrastructure and creating a conducive environment to work will improve employee productivity and efficiency. Moreover, you can equip the team with the right cloud platform to form a centralized data repository. All these will help ensure that the project remains on track.
Organize virtual team-building activities
Team-building activities can be a great way to motivate team members. However, since everyone is working alone, team morale can downgrade after some time. As the project manager, you should understand that only highly motivated members will perform at their best and stay productive.
To ensure that, you can organize virtual fun meetups or have icebreakers before every meeting. Besides, you may also arrange weekly remote games, virtual coffee meets, etc. It will also enhance a sense of belonging and keep the team connected.
Whether team members are working remotely or from the office, the principles for successful project management are mostly the same.
But while managing remote team members, you need to travel a mile further to keep them connected and ensure the project’s progress. In a nutshell, as a remote project manager, you must keep your resources motivated, updated, and engaged during the whole process.
We hope that these practices will help you manage remote teams better and deliver projects successfully.