Remote work has steadily become more common throughout the world, though in the field of project management, it isn’t exactly a new concept.
Employers in the United States have traditionally shied away from allowing employees to work remotely, but the COVID-19 pandemic changed all of that, forcing many organizations to adapt to the realities of remote work.
Some companies, and individuals, still insist remote work is inherently negative, despite many studies and statistics to the contrary.
Regardless of your stance on it, remote work is here to stay to some degree and in some way, shape or form.
So how can you be successful working remotely and with remote teams?
The Challenges Of Remote Work
Working remotely can be a great experience, but it presents challenges for all professions.
In a lot of ways, many experienced project managers are uniquely prepared to flourish while working remotely themselves and working with remote teams.
Professionals in other fields who are learning the ins and outs of working remotely, managing remote teams, and trying to provide leadership while working from home, can learn a lot from project managers.
Long before the pandemic began, I had already been working with multiple remote teams within my projects. In digital project management, and for freelance PMs, it’s increasingly common to work with remote teams across a multitude of timezones.
I work with teams in four different timezones nearly every day and have done so for many years, working remotely myself and connecting with stakeholders, developers, quality assurance testers and designers throughout the world.
So when the pandemic forced many others to begin working from home for the first time, I was already well-versed in the pros and cons of remote work and prepared to help others navigate their new realities.
Below is some input that has been particularly useful to me, both before and throughout the pandemic, and continues to become more relevant by the day.
Regardless of your job title or the industry in which you work, these tips can help you succeed while working from home.
Another good resource to consider is PM Results, which offers some fantastic advice and information about remote project management that I highly recommend checking out.
1. Stick To A Schedule
You must establish boundaries around your schedule, and then guard them.
This goes for all remote workers, because it can be incredibly easy to be on the clock at all times.
It can be particular difficult to unplug for project managers and others in leadership positions who deal with cross-functional teams in varying timezones.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be flexible when a situation calls for it.
An occasional meeting before or after your core work hours is certainly going to be required at times.
Just make sure that remains the exception and not the rule.
Your mental health, your relationships and your projects will ultimately suffer if you don’t unplug and get rest.
2. Communicate Mindfully
Effective communication is already arguably the most important skillset a project manager or leader in any profession can possess.
Project managers, in particular, are at the center of a project’s stakeholders and moving pieces, and it’s the PM’s job to put it all together — and keep it all together — from initiation to project closure.
Doing so requires regular and effective communication with all those involved.
The importance of communication reaches another level when you and your teams and all your stakeholders are working remotely rather than in the same office.
Incorrect assumptions and lack of visible social cues can make communicating effectively a major challenge, so make sure you focus on this area more than usual while working remotely.
Here are three communication channels to consider:
Communication Channel 1: Text
Given that nobody is hand-writing work memos to deliver through the mail, or via carrier pigeon, text communication is the most rudimentary of your options.
It’s typically also the most commonly used, with email and direct messaging systems such as those available in Slack and Google Chat often serving as the go-to for many business communications.
There’s nothing wrong with this at all; emails, text messages and DMs are incredibly useful, quick and, when done right, very efficient. Just be sure to keep the limitations of text communication in mind.
It can be difficult for many people to express themselves properly via written word, and it can be even more difficult for the receiver to interpret messages as they were intended. Remember that you’re lacking a human element in most written communication — no visual cues, no vocal inflections — so be sure to remain mindful about the messages you’re typing send and the ones you’re receiving.
And don’t hesitate to request a more personal communication channel if details are feeling complicated to explain in writing, if messages are getting garbled in any way or if emotion enters into the picture at any stage; that’s the time to ditch text communication and say “can we do a quick phone call?”
Communication Channel 2: Voice
Think of calls, through your phone or computer, as the next step up from text communications. This is where you can add a bit of human element into the conversation and potentially resolve difficult-to-explain issues much quicker than you can via email or chat messages.
That’s in part because just hearing another person’s voice can be enough to jar us out of that oftentimes dehumanizing effect of communicating in chat systems. It’s important to remember there’s another person on the other end of your communication channel, and talking can help remind us of that and promote empathy.
Voice communication is particularly useful when issues are difficult to explain or when conversations have the potential to get a bit heated.
Don’t try to resolve complex problems solely with text communications; save yourself and your stakeholders / team members time and jump on the chance to further strengthen those relationships by talking things through.
Communication Channel 3: Visual
If voice communications are a step up from text, then visual communications are yet another level above.
Even though you’re working remotely, take any opportunities you might have to meet in person and discuss things face to face periodically. There’s really no substitute for the full benefits of in-person communications, adding visual social cues to all the benefits of voice-only communications.
If in-person meetings simply aren’t an option — and working remotely, they often aren’t — then be sure to schedule regular video calls with your team members and stakeholders.
You might think you’ll be fine with chat systems and regular phone calls, and in many ways, you will, particularly if you prioritize effective communications. But keep those Zoom, Google Meet, MS Teams (etc.) video calls in regular rotation, so that nobody on your team loses sight, literally, of the fact you are all individuals working together on a common goal.
3. Utilize Project Management Software That Suits Your Needs
Project management software isn’t just for project managers anymore!
Many of the core PM concepts built into tools such as Monday and Asana are incredibly useful for remote workers in many professions.
There are project management software solutions for nearly every need you can envision, and we’ve recommended a few in the past, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll just say that it’s important to tailor your software and project management tools to suit each project’s needs.
That might seem overly obvious, but the truth is, many managers set up their preferred system and tools and never deviate.
That’s fine if it works, but keep in mind that not every tool is ideal for every task, so if you haven’t yet, it’s a good idea to experiment with different project management software periodically.
You might find that for some projects, a robust system like MS Project is exactly what you need, or a combination of JIRA, Slack and Google Docs/Sheets (which is my personal go-to setup)
Other times, Asana or Monday.com might just perfectly suit a particular project’s needs, as might Trello for certain types of projects where leveraging a Kanban Board could be the ideal solution and potentially all that’s needed to get the job done.
Point being, particularly when working as a remote project manager, don’t be afraid to utilize different tools and approaches for different projects; after all, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.