Building a remote-based team allows Project Managers to hire the best person for the job regardless of geography. That said, managing an international project with workers all over the globe comes with many challenges. Once you have hired your superstars it is important to leverage your global team’s time and talent – as well as minimize the risks associated with the challenges of a disparate work environment. In this post, I list 7 tips and tricks to make the most of your team’s time and talent.
“Don’t Meet Deadlines – Achieve Goals Instead”
Provide Context to Your Team
A team working without context (an understanding of why the project exists in the first place) is a team working to meet a deadline – not a goal. Don’t treat your team members like mercenaries or surgeons, brought on simply to complete singular tasks – only to have their efforts forgotten about the minute these tasks are done. This global project management style is not exactly inspiring. Instead, ensure that your team understands the value of what you are delivering to the client as a collective, and keep referring to that value throughout the lifecycle of your project. This prevents individuals from working in silos – it also enables collaboration across the team to work towards a common goal. More importantly, when your team has a strong sense of context they are able to think more creatively to design stronger solutions, problem solve and face challenges.
Understanding the bigger picture will motivate your team, keep them engaged, and inspire them to grow professionally. They will also feel valued and willing to go the extra mile to achieve success for the team, themselves and the client.
Leverage Your Tools
Being able to screen-share using a tool such as GoTo Meeting, WebEx, or Skype enables your team to be on the same page. Literally. Having a visual that everyone can rally behind, understand, ask questions about, etc., ensures that the time you spend together reviewing key documents and deliverables is productive – and enables you to make changes, document next steps, and send out these products after the session so that everyone then has a record and mutual understanding of what was said and decided.
Collaborative tools such as Asana, Google Drive, Slack and Dropbox allow teams to share documents, information, conversations/comments, activity status and schedules in an easy-to-use interface. More importantly, these tools can be used on the individual team member’s own time – and the effective use of notification options ensures that you can be updated as you need or want to be when activity is posted.
Many tools such as Asana allow you to test-drive their product for free to assess if it is really the right tool for your team. I found Asana very useful for working through multiple, simultaneous small projects, such as website development and video creation projects.
Take a fresh look at how you can better use your good ol’ fashioned online calendar. Rather than using it just to book meetings with your team, consider blocking out time in your calendar (by creating a re-occurring appointment with yourself) to catch up on administrative work, review the project schedule/budget and plan for the following week. This works best when it’s set at a time when you wouldn’t normally have a high amount of team activity anyway – such very early Monday morning, Friday afternoons, etc. Setting timed reminders to check in on key deliverables, regular check-ins with your client or vendor, and other such reminders can alleviate the stress of having to remember to do all of these tasks each week – and more importantly, allows you to load-balance your work and communication across weekdays. Step back and look at your week – is your work (and that of your team) evenly distributed? Should it be? How and when do you work most effectively? How can you leverage your calendar (and therefore, your time) to do just that?
There is a myriad of tools and apps that offer this type of functionality – there’s no right or wrong way to organize yourself and your team. What is important is that you and your team work consistently and systematically – and that you continue to improve your ways and systems of working through the effective use of time, planning and tools to enable everyone to work most efficiently and effectively – so you can all better focus on what matters most – delivering value to your customer.
Focus on Accountability…
But don’t be a vile human being about it – no one likes to feel like they are under attack. When responsible for global project management, as a team leader, it is your responsibility to ensure that your team understands:
- What they need to do
- How they need to do it
- When they need to do it
- Where (hopefully remotely!) and/or with what tools/environment
And most importantly, why they need to do it (context).
If there is a loss of productivity because a team member is not delivering, you need to find out why – as soon as possible to minimize the impact. Ask questions in an open-minded and inquisitive way – but more importantly, listen. Find out and keep tabs on your team’s challenges. Think creatively to help them overcome these – consider bringing other folks to bring input and value to the conversation. After all, you’ve hired the best brains in the world for your team – why not leverage it at every opportunity?
There is nothing worse than trying to express concern about an important topic while someone is typing, texting or shuffling mysterious objects on the other end. You know you are not being heard, and that the information is only being half-absorbed. You know that you will likely have to explain yourself again later – most likely to the detriment of the project or activity.
If you’re meeting with someone, give the person and the subject the time and attention it deserves – otherwise, you shouldn’t be meeting to begin with. If you multi-task because you feel a great deal of pressure to do so much in one day you likely have a capacity problem – which is best resolved sooner rather than later. New research shows that multi-tasking doesn’t save time, or make you productive. In fact, quite the opposite, it contributes to chronic stress and problems with memory – it can even be life-threatening if you find yourself walking into traffic. Perhaps you need the help of a project administrator, another analyst or developer – or maybe you simply need to de-prioritize unimportant tasks, extend a milestone deadline, or more effectively use technology tools as noted above to better organize your time. If you are multi-tasking, ask yourself WHY you are doing so, and how you can make healthy, effective changes to the way you are working for the benefit of yourself, your team and your client.
Make the Clock Work for You
Getting team members in Boston, Bangalore, and Sacramento on a conference call at the same time is a huge challenge. Rather than trying to force a working method that poses such challenges, see how you can find a better way to leverage the time difference to everyone’s benefit. Again, consider the effective use of collaboration tools like those mentioned above, or meeting in smaller groups then effectively communicating across the team – or something a bit more innovative, like creating videos and/or online courses to communicate information and knowledge in a more succinct, organized and effective fashion (potentially producing a re-usable product to train or communicate to future team members from wherever they are located). Discussing ways to use time and tools within the context of your team’s situation is a great start in finding ways together to work with the clock rather than against it.
It is easy to get swept up with “the new shiny thing” of the day that comes across our desk – or even become overly focused on the more fun or important tasks that add great, immediate and the most visible value to the project. However, fall behind on your administrivia, and you could find yourself dealing with great and very visible emergencies later: fixing revenue recognition problems, over or underspending, or missed milestones because the project plan hasn’t been updated and/or reviewed in weeks/months.
Set aside time each week (put a reminder in an app or calendar!) to work on a set list of necessary admin – even if that means you have to put down more pressing things – to keep up with your expenses, project budget, client and vendor invoices, etc. You’ll be saving time and energy in the long run by preventing yourself from having to do a great deal of painful clean-up later.
No one wants to work for an apathetic robot. Managing people and projects isn’t just about the outcome, but also about the method and how you treat your team. Working remotely can be lonely, and when team members find themselves stuck with a major challenge or issue with no one nearby with whom they can discuss the problem, it can be difficult for them to take the initiative to get themselves back on track – especially if they are intimidated by their manager.
There are many ways to overcome the omnipresent challenge of not working together in a shared space. The most effective method to combat this is simply by building relationships. Talk – truly talk – to your team. More importantly, listen – truly listen. Understand the challenges they face in their work, acknowledge them. As much as possible, give them space, opportunity and the ability to voice their concerns. Put your team’s top talent together to come up with creative solutions to overcome challenges. Most importantly, remind your team regularly that you have their back when facing other similar challenges – and acknowledge their efforts.
If at all possible, set aside time to meet your team in person. One company that I have worked with organizes an annual meeting of their remote teams, choosing a different location each year. It gives us a unique opportunity to learn about each other – not just in collaborative sessions, but during meals and end of the day drinks. While video conferencing tools are extremely effective in screen-sharing, communicating and collaborating on work issues, the best way to build relationships and learn about your team is to meet them in person. While the project budget may feel the pinch of such an endeavor, the intangible upside and its effects (team morale and retention, stronger communication and relationships, more effective collaboration, trust, etc.) is a strong benefit that will be realized in everything you do afterward – not just to work together more effectively and meet milestone dates, but to achieve goals and get results for your organization and your client.
Tracey is a technology consultant, helping global organizations deploy new business application solutions and change processes to transform their business. She is also an entrepreneur, and a coach in career change and international job/life transition.
Contact Tracey here to learn more about working together.