Here’s a situation most project managers are familiar with: Your team prefers to work remotely and wants flexibility. However, you’re unable to strike a balance between the demands of your team and building an agile, collaborative work environment that facilitates good project performance. As a result, your team members are unhappy and disengaged at work, which hurts their performance.
No matter what fancy project management software or style you use, it’s a "no-win" situation.
The solution? Project managers should customize their project management styles so that they are able to effectively manage remote workers and keep them engaged.
Your team members will be 29% happier if they are allowed to work from home at least once a month, compared with those who don’t. You’ll also gain trust, lower employee absenteeism, increase retention, improve your brand image, and gain access to a larger talent pool that’s more diverse and highly skilled.
All these factors will make your workforce feel appreciated, which ultimately benefits the business. Happy workers will be more productive and diligent, which translates to more revenue.
As a project manager, it’s crucial to trust your remote team members and believe they will responsibly fulfill their work. It’s equally important for team members to believe that their manager will allow remote work and facilitate the smooth execution of their tasks.
Here are a few things that project managers can do to ensure the effective management of remote workers by building a foundation of trust:
Tell your team members that you trust them. As a project manager handling a hybrid team of onsite and remote workers, show equal and unbiased trust in your team members. Tell them that they are valued and trusted; that there are equal opportunities for learning and similar benefits, irrespective of the mode of work. Assure them that performance measurement will be fair and transparent so that it fosters trust in your business processes.
Don’t over-monitor remote teams; encourage self-management. In a remote team, you need to coach the workers, not micromanage them. Ensure that remote workers are accountable for their work. Brief them about the tasks and assign delivery dates, but avoid hourly/daily tracking so that they don’t feel like they’re being heavily monitored. This will show remote workers your trust and help them be engaged in their work.
Be an enabler for your remote workers. Schedule weekly and monthly meetings to discuss challenges that remote workers face in projects. Integrate their ideas and address their concerns so that they feel heard. They should see you as an enabler who focuses on project progress, not the location of their team. It’s the right strategy to motivate remote workers and get their support. You should also ensure that they’re visible to your company’s senior executives.
Having the right technology to collaborate and stay agile will help your remote workers perform better. You can integrate new software to allow remote work in your existing technology ecosystem, or establish rules for effective use of remote working capabilities.
Here are a few tips for project managers to make sure that their remote workers have the right tools:
Assess tech to identify must-have PM software features. Conduct an audit of past projects and analyze what went wrong from a technological standpoint. Discuss with your teams and get their opinion. Try to identify the top software features that would have made remote work easier. Based on these findings, upgrade your current tools or invest in new ones.
Invest in multiple tools for collaboration, project management. If you’re introducing remote work capability, you can purchase collaboration tools that have video conferencing, document sharing, instant messaging, and chat. You’ll also need an easy-to-use project management tool that offers built-in collaboration and communication features. The tool should have task scheduling, task management, time tracking, document sharing etc., to help you manage remote workers with minimum intervention.
Reserve onsite space for offsite workers. If you offer both remote and in-office options, like many companies, you need designated office space for your remote workers. This way, they can comfortably work whenever they are onsite. To save infrastructure costs, create a roster for onsite days that allows employees to be onsite, but not all at once. They can coordinate with their peers and choose onsite days to effectively manage interdependencies without overcrowding the office space.
For things to run smoothly, set some ground rules for remote workers and inform them about your expectations such as having a dedicated space for work at home that prevents distractions and a fast internet connection to maintain productivity. You could also set policies to reimburse for internet, as you’ll save the infrastructure costs of renting an office space.
The metrics to track the performance of your remote workers shouldn’t be the same as those for onsite workers. However, have the same goals for both sets of employees to ensure that no project suffers.
Here is how project managers can customize performance measurement metrics for remote workers:
Seek feedback on employee interactions. Set up a peer feedback mechanism where they evaluate and analyze each other on communication and collaboration skills. This way, you’ll get to learn about your remote workers’ interpersonal and communication skills. It’ll improve your remote work processes and project performance.
Set fair assessments for remote workers. You may need a separate project performance management system for remote workers that lets you focus on the task and project outcomes rather than the number of activities or time spent doing the tasks. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2022, more than a third of organizations will abandon a one-size-fits-all performance management process, in favor of assessments tailored to specific team or individual objectives—for remote workers, this can focus on goals met instead of simply hours worked. Make sure your onsite and remote workers are aware of the different performance evaluation systems (full content available to Gartner clients).
Offer rewards and recognition to remote workers. Don’t forget to praise your remote workers for their efforts. Set up web meetings to recognize top-performing remote workers and keep them motivated. It will make them feel valued and they will continue to strive for better performance.
To recap, you can more effectively manage your remote workers by establishing trust, providing them tools to get work done, and assessing their performance fairly.
Before you get started, it’s important to do some preliminary work:
Evaluate which projects and tasks can be performed remotely without losing time or quality.
Consider a trial period to understand if remote workers are producing the required level of work.
Provide your remote workers a “virtual water cooler” so they can have a place to discuss challenges and share wins. This is important so that they can feel connected to on-site employees and other remote team members.
Whether you invest in collaboration tools to maintain clear communication or a full project management system to track tasks, it’s good to keep in mind that remote workers require a slightly different set of rules and tools to boost their productivity.
Above all, remember that you hired your workers because they are capable, adaptable, and trustworthy. Structure your remote work policy around the three tips we discuss above and allow your employees to thrive no matter where they work.