‘Remote’ has been the buzzword since the onset of the contagion that has altered the workplace paradigm, necessitating companies to primarily take the virtual route to ensure the safety and well-being of their employees. Workplaces have adopted digital hybrid and remote project management models for business continuity, eyeing health and well-being of their employees. This swift pivot toward ‘digital’ has been rather unprecedented, sweeping, genuinely global, and likely a permanent and sure-footed transition. That ‘Remote’ ways of working had gained some traction in the pre-pandemic world is stating the obvious. But since the COVID-19 pandemic, we have witnessed an unprecedented increase in its adoption. The ongoing churn in the job markets, being referred to as ‘The Great Resignation,’ has also underlined the need for adopting newer ways of working as a growing number of jobseekers now prefer to work remotely – seeking a better work-life balance.
A recent PWC survey suggests that an overwhelming 83 percent of employees believe that remote work has been successful for their company. Besides, they also link productivity to their ability to work remotely.
Can Project Management be Done Remotely?
Yes! The recent changes in the workplace ecosystem have profoundly impacted companies’ approaches to project management. They are now increasingly taking to remote project management, joining the bandwagon of a fast-growing remote universe. This guide will help you cut the clutter around a much-talked-about topic – remote project management – and provide you with a holistic overview of its constituents, advantages, challenges, workings, and some practical tips for executing it well.
What is Remote Project Management?
In this ever-changing workplace context mentioned above, remote project management has assumed mainstream currency. For the unversed, remote project management refers to the process of managing a project from its inception to delivery using virtual means. So, a team undertakes a project by conceptualizing, planning, and executing it virtually. It involves high levels of coordination among professionals, often operating from distinct locations, sometimes even countries, and time zones. Essentially, the only difference between traditional project management and remote project management is how it is carried out – the former is undertaken from a brick-and-mortar setup, with the in-person presence of all members involved in a specific project. In contrast, the latter is carried out through extensive collaboration using the Internet and robust project management software.
How Does Remote Project Management Work?
Remote project management is not an esoteric, hard-to-understand concept. It is a reasonably straightforward process and involves a series of steps or milestones. Let us understand it with an example. Let us assume that there is a remote project on developing software. Such a project would broadly involve five steps or milestones mentioned below:
1. Scoping the Project
Scoping or brainstorming means understanding the ‘what,’ ‘why,’ and ‘how’ of the project. Here, the focus is on clearly defining what needs to be done to develop the software, the steps involved in achieving the desired outcome, and why the project has been initiated. The ‘why’ here refers to the end expectations from the software and the pain points that it is slated to address. In essence, team members ascertain the feasibility of the project in consideration.
2. Planning and Creating Tasks and Allocating Them
Here, the focus shifts to breaking down the project into smaller, bite-sized deliverables. First, a detailed plan is laid out, which specifies who is expected to do what, and in what timeline. Then, the team is allocated tasks based on continuous feedback from the client and a mutually agreed-upon timeline. For managers, it is a matter of understanding the project well and the resources required to execute each step. Therefore, they must granularly analyze the skills of their resources and allocate them tasks accordingly.
3. Developing the Software
In the third step, the team designs, develops, and codes the software. Software architects and engineers create software that adheres to specific procedures and standards and involves a unique database structure and design. The development phase usually stretches the longest as it is the most critical step in the process. So, the developers must ensure that their code complies with the software requirement specifications.
4. Integrating and Testing the Software
Integrating and testing the software are the next steps in the project. Here, quality assurance teams conduct numerous tests to ensure that the code is clean and the software accomplishes the objectives or business goals for which it was designed. In colloquial parlance, the teams test whether the software is “bug-free” or not.
5. Handing the Software to the Client
The team hands over the software to the client in this final milestone of the process. However, this is done after maintaining and upgrading the software adequately. The software is upgraded and fine-tuned after inputs from beta users who test it and offer insights on improvement areas. This mechanism provides the software development team the opportunity to polish it and solidify its features before releasing it to the client.
Now that we have detailed the steps in remote project management, let us look at its other essential aspects.
Advantages of Remote Project Management
Remote project management accrues numerous advantages over its traditional counterpart. We are mentioning the most notable ones below:
1. Cost Saving
A remote project setup is resource-light and, therefore, requires little to no capital or operational expenditure. This lack of expense refers to no spending on office setups, recurring costs on refreshments, and other such overheads that are intrinsic to any brick-and-mortar establishment.
Any remote project management essentially requires good-quality project management software and a video conferencing tool. Therefore, profit margins are higher for companies involved in such projects, improving their bottomline.
2. Access to a Better Talent Pool
One of the big takeaways of the remote work culture is access to a global talent pool. Companies do not necessarily have to hire locally, which allows them to tap into the best available international talent. The best and the brightest minds, the world over, are available for hire, enhancing the quality and even rationalizing costs as remunerations vary significantly across geographies.
3. Improved Work-life Balance
We have already underlined that COVID-19 has brought about a never-before shift in employees’ outlook toward work. Now, they prioritize better work-life balance. Remote project management usually allows team members to work flexible hours. Generally, it offers a better work-life balance, as they do not need to travel for work and attend in-person meetings, saving them countless hours. They also get to spend more time with their families, all of which contribute to their improved psychological health, ultimately reflecting in their quality of work.
4. Diverse Workforce
One of the most visible advantages of remote project management is a diverse workforce because of more geographically spread-out teams. Professionals from various cultures and nations come together to brainstorm on the challenges at hand. Also, such an arrangement allows for more inputs and worldviews, lending tremendous value in addressing the challenges that teams face when undertaking projects.
5. Improved Productivity
Spirited debates have ensued on how remote work helps or hinders productivity. Those for and against this fairly recent work culture have listed numerous arguments, substantiating why it works and does not, pillorying or vaunting it. However, the PWC survey conclusively establishes that both employers and employees believe remote work to be more productive, which underlines why remote project management bodes well for companies and their workforce.
6. More Hands-on Reporting and Feedback
Connecting with and updating team members on project deliverables allows managers to exercise greater control over the project and provide real-time feedback on the work done. Besides, it helps professionals address mistakes faster, lending agility to the project. This agility saves time that they could have lost in convening in-person meetings.
Challenges in Remote Project Management
Despite the heady advantages listed above, remote project management has also created a new set of challenges that managers and companies did not need to address in traditional project management. They range from coordination, setting clear expectations, and building trust among team members who have likely never worked together before. Let us understand some pertinent challenges.
Communication has rightly emerged as one of the most critical soft skills in the post-pandemic world. Managers need to communicate their expectations from their teams, clients, partners, and suppliers clearly and effectively. Managing the expectations of the client, and the team together, equally and efficiently, is an art that ensures the successful delivery of any project, which hinges on robust communication.
In the absence of unambiguous communication, there is a high likelihood of misunderstanding that can mar a project’s viability and output. Also, a course correction in such circumstances can cost precious time, causing loss of billable hours. Operating in a remote environment can make communication further challenging, and managers need to put additional effort into communicating clearly and effectively.
2. Challenges in Scheduling
One of the challenges in any remote project is finding a suitable time that works well for team members operating from different time zones. Managers can find scheduling meetings and brainstorming sessions even more difficult if team members work flexible shifts. Therefore, finding the ‘right’ time that works well for all stakeholders can be tricky. Understanding their work preferences and availability also assume significance, especially for those leading the projects.
3. Creating a Team Culture
Any team culture takes time to nurture. More so, it requires a comprehensive understanding and appreciation of the core values and ethics that a team wishes to imbibe. Lack of in-person meetings, no knowledge of each other’s personal preferences, style of work, and likes and dislikes, can delay the process of establishing a team culture. Besides, a motley group of professionals from diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds can further complicate establishing a culture to which everyone identifies and adheres.
4. Building Trust
Nurturing an environment where team members trust one another is one of the most critical prerequisites to ensuring a seamless and enabling work culture. However, managers can find it challenging to build trust among team members as individuals may not know each other or have conflicting professional views. Besides, the absence of in-person meetings can impede the process of fostering trust, which can negatively impact a project’s output.
5. Understanding What Works Well for Whom
Not all employees require extensive hand-holding; others can work independently, while some professionals need to be monitored closely. Therefore, managers need to identify the team members upon whom they must focus. Also, skills mapping is an important aspect that mandates their utmost attention.
Managers need to allocate tasks based on team members’ ability to get the job done. Assigning work is unlikely to yield the desired outcomes without accounting for skill sets. This particular challenge is also true for traditional project management; however, remote working makes it more difficult for managers to zero in on their team members’ skill sets.
Remote Project Management Tips to Help You Ace Your Next Project
1. Set the Team’s Expectations Right
Managers must set clear expectations – whether it is about timelines, allocation of work, or schedules. Team members must understand the goals and how they can achieve them. Remote work means communication is driven via chats, emails, and virtual meetings. Therefore, the chances of misinterpretation are high. Thus, managers must communicate effectively and leave no room for ambiguity. Also, they must encourage team members to ask as many questions as possible. Institutionalizing a rewards and recognition mechanism will also make team members feel valued and appreciated for the good work done.
2. Offer Direct Feedback
Managing team members and project deliverables can be tricky when working remotely, mandating a more proactive feedback mechanism. Be direct, to the point, and offer constructive feedback on improvement areas. This mechanism enables team members to rectify their mistakes quickly and saves several billable hours and, consequently, cost escalation.
3. Onboard a Project Management Tool
The market is replete with tools that can help you save time and track project deliverables, timelines, and milestones. Besides, these tools can enable you to allocate work, streamline and automate business processes, simplify communication channels and offer team members all the necessary information required to accomplish daily tasks. Such tools are a one-time investment whose benefits far outweigh their cost.
4. Trust Your Team Members and Empower Them
Legendary Ex-CEO of General Electric, Jack Welsh, once said, “Leadership is the relentless pursuit of truth and ceaseless creation of trust.” The statement rings true, especially in a remote-first work environment. Managers must trust their team to get the work done. They are experienced professionals who know their craft, why managers hired them in the first place. Managers should empower their team members and let them choose their work hours unless necessary. Such small acts of faith can work wonders on a team’s morale and performance.
Remote project management is a vast subject. However, this concise summation should help you get started and taste considerable success.
Streamline Remote Project Management With Polaris PSA
Polaris PSA brings a wealth of intelligent capabilities to power your organization and support critical project management functions. As a global cloud-ready platform, Polaris PSA is capable of capturing and gathering data from across your organization no matter where your employees are located. Whether they are working from the office or working remotely anywhere in the world, our platform brings your entire organization together.
Polaris does the heavy-lifting for you by tracking and analyzing all data in real-time to deliver smart recommendations for keeping your projects, resources, timelines, and finances on track. Through the live view of your business, you can proactively adapt to changes to ensure successful project executions.
Managing projects remotely can be a daunting prospect but it can be sufficiently streamlined with the right tools. With a self-driving professional services automation (PSA) software like Polaris PSA, it can even become extremely simple.