Managing Remote Project Teams – Key Ingredient for Success during the Pandemic
By Ardian Jashari, CMC®
If you are a Management Consultant, you had to adopt your work during the pandemic. Your clients asked you to work remotely whether you liked it or not. For most of us, it was the only way to continue working as a consultant. And, once we were forced to do it, we realized that maybe we could achieve the same results or even better, if we do it right!
This topic was part of the series of EBRD masterclasses for consultants that I delivered online to hundreds of consultants from various countries. Here are some of the takeaways from that webinar.
Here are some of the skills that are crucial to being successful as a manager of remote project teams:
1. Create clear communication guidelines
2. Understand clearly the struggle
3. Delegate responsibility effectively
4. Utilize the right tools and make sure they are available and accessible
5. Gather feedback regularly
6. Provide emotional support.
First, we must set clear communication guidelines for our remote project teams. That means, defining clearly how and when do we communicate. Do we use email messages, text messages, chat, phone calls, videoconferencing, etc. or combination of them? We also need to determine the turnaround times for responses to communication requests. Additionally, we need to set clearly the heads-down days or times, which are periods where we have no meetings so that we can focus on strategic tasks of high importance without any interruptions. Communication guidelines should also define how different types of decisions are made within our team.
Second, we need to understand the struggle of managing a remote team. As a remote manager, you will lose direct supervision which must be substituted with team building exercises, setting clear deadlines, finding ways to provide autonomy of work to your team members, organizing regular informal check-ins and establishing a system for regular reporting. Make sure you have provided your employees access to institutional information and technical support as well. Try to limit employee isolation by using collaboration tools, providing recognition and appreciation, encouraging physical meetups where possible and make sure no one feels “left out.” Other suggestions include virtual coffee breaks, virtual walks outside, virtual water cooler and anything else that sparks engagement and conversation.
Third, we need to delegate responsibility effectively. That means, find the work that needs to be done and break it down into smaller pieces, tasks or jobs that are easier to delegate. Then, make sure you have set goals about when and the standards with which the tasks should be completed. Identify the team members to delegate to and utilize a software or task management tool to delegate the tasks accordingly. Keep a healthy discussion with your team and communicate through regular conference calls to monitor progress. Analyze analytics and measure KPIs. Don’t forget to provide incentives.
Fourth, keep in mind that remote employees may not have access to all the tools available at the office. Ask yourself, what tools are necessary to complete the work? Different tools may be needed for different industries. Different tools may be needed for different responsibilities. Define clearly what the tools are and provide access to all your team members.
Fifth, as a remote manager, you want to make sure that you gather feedback regularly. This can be done through one on one virtual calls where you ask your team members if the current working practices are appropriate, what can be changes or improved. Welcome their suggestions and take them seriously. Anonymous polls or surveys can be organized as well. And my favorite, physical or virtual workshops where you engage your team members so that the provide you with fresh ideas how to work better as a team, whether it is being more productive or more fun or whatever makes them happier.
Last but not least, you want to provide emotional support to your team members. Keep in mind that team members who work remotely suffer from employee isolation and lack of interaction. This is why it is important to ask them questions and listen actively, practice empathy by hearing their problems and understanding them. Focus on values by reminding team members about company values and using them to support and inspire them. Establish support networks through informal online meeting groups where team members can talk or let off bad feelings.
Managing project teams is a difficult task. Managing them remotely is even more difficult. But the pandemic has proved to all of us, that it can be done. In fact, if you are good at it, or if you looking to get better, you can achieve even better results than before. Trust the process and look for continuous improvement.