5 Tips for Managing Remote Project Teams in the Time of COVID-19

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May 5, 2020
This article is part of a series called Remote Work.

In today’s age of globalization and technical advancement, many organizations have seen considerable success giving some employees the option to work remotely – but what happens when it’s no longer an option? With the rise of COVID-19 forcing entire teams to continue their work remotely, many project leads and employees alike are entering new territory. For organizations moving to total telecommunication until further notice, here are some key tips to effectively manage a remote project team:

  1. Set Expectations Early And Often. Managing productivity effectively is perhaps the biggest challenge businesses are facing today. Providing guidelines, setting boundaries, and reviewing the basics are among the most important steps to take when setting out on your project. Just the same as managing a project face-to-face within an office, setting both unambiguous and realistic expectations are the only way to ensure your project’s success. There will, of course, be questions, so you will need to be accessible to provide clarity on priorities, milestones, performance goals, and more. Outline each team member’s availability and ensure you or others can reach them when needed. Reviewing team member roles and responsibilities is a good starting point; everyone should be clear about what projects and tasks they are working on, and propose realistic expectations for effort and completion. One way to accomplish this is by setting specific targets and maintaining open communication throughout the process, including when things inevitably require modification and understand how they affect the project timeline.
  2. Ensure Everyone Has The Tools They Need. From a comfy desk chair to a unified system of metrics, everyone should be equipped with whatever tools they need to succeed and communicate effectively. Relevant to nearly every point here, technology is your friend – and that goes beyond ensuring everyone has access to IT, chat, or a stable wifi connection. The tools needed to standardize project execution, time tracking, costing, billing, and other related processes across an organization are necessary for maximizing all critical metrics. With cloud-based and mobile-enabled platforms, you also get the benefit of real-time visibility that legacy systems and manual processes fail to provide, a capability now needed more than ever.
  3. Stay Aligned With Client Requirements. Just as you would with your team, stakeholders and clients should also have access to transparent and open communication. Their requirements define your work, and as a project-based organization, your goal is to understand what their priorities are and what that translates into for you. You may not be able to take your customer out to lunch, but there are other ways to show them how important it is that they remain satisfied. Provide all stakeholders and clients with regular updates and progress and proactively consider any questions or concerns they may have. Offer them better context on internal decisions by integrating them into your workflows. Last but certainly not least, maintaining fast and timely communications with your clients regarding billing, work-in-progress, and pending invoices play a critical role in sustaining the cash flows that keep your business operating – and a remote project team should never get in the way of that.
  4. Don’t Be A Stranger. At the outset, you may find it makes more sense to over-communicate with team members rather than risk missing critical information. With shelter-in-place and social distancing guidelines affecting much of the globe, employees may begin to feel isolated and disconnected from each other while stuck at home. Keeping your team engaged and motivated could easily become one of the biggest challenges project managers face while adjusting to the new normal. Be careful to avoid micromanaging your team members as you schedule daily huddles and utilize other available forms of communication. As your team enters a more comfortable cadence, you can adjust updates, video calls, and more.
  5. Build Genuine Connections. We’re all in this together, and humanizing the work experience is more important than ever as many people may feel disoriented with these new processes. Share positive feedback, open a fun chat channel, or try and “grab coffee” together – whatever helps maintain a sense of normality, solidarity and reminds everyone they’re not an island working alone.

While the current crisis is thankfully not permanent, employees and businesses alike should be prepared to accept this new normal for a while yet. Fortunately, today’s technologies have shown that we already have the infrastructure in place to take businesses remote effectively – and when business leaders in project-based organizations make thoughtful choices, they can enable everyone to all work together to stay safe, smart, and productive.

This article is part of a series called Remote Work.