Eight Ways Remote Workers Have Changed the Project Management Landscape

  • 21 January, 2022

Remote workers have brought major changes to the field of project management. In this article, I will review some of those major changes as well as benefits and drawbacks to each. Regardless of opinions on the shift to virtual work, companies are utilizing remote workers more often to complete projects, transforming the way that work is completed on time, on budget, and on schedule. Out of both necessity and cultural transformation, the workforce is becoming increasingly virtual, and the need for remote project management skills will continue to be exponential. In fact, project managers are essential to forming successful remote teams and ensuring that work still gets completed to expectations.

There are many existing tools used to ensure that project managers can continue to manage remote workers effectively. As a project manager, even if you are not a remote worker, it is likely that at least one person on your team will be working remotely. The freelancing platform Upwork estimates that over 36 million Americans - 22% of the workforce - will transition into permanent remote work by 2025. As the next generation enters the "office" for the first time, they are more likely to invest in a high-quality webcam than they are a well-fitting suit.

This may, at first glance, foster feelings of anxiety. You may think that remote workers are much more difficult to manage effectively. While there are new challenges inherent in managing remote workers, the notion that remote work is always more difficult to manage is not necessarily true. While the shift in the workforce has inevitably changed the way that project managers conduct some day-to-day activities, the ways in which teams collaborate and communicate are more streamlined than ever. Throughout all phases of a project, from initiating to closing, remote work can empower a team to complete tasks more efficiently and with minimal interruption. There are, of course, challenges to remote work as well, which makes it ever more important for good leaders to tap into their emotional intelligence and organizational skills to stay "in tune" with the pulse of their project.

Eight Ways Remote Workers Have Changed the Project Management Landscape

Initiating

Building trust with your stakeholders may feel more transactional. Let's face it: no matter how many years of experience you have as a project manager, no matter how competent you are at your job, at the end of the day your remote stakeholders will initially see you as "just another face in the screen." Breaking down social barriers to trust with your team may seem more difficult to do remotely, but it is possible! Project managers around the world build successful remote teams every day, and consistency is the key. In a remote environment, it is essential that project managers appear organized, reliable, and competent from the beginning of the project. The ability to "hit the ground running" and follow through on commitments will serve to build trust quickly.

Increased cultural diversity results in more successful projects. The rise of global remote workers and teams inevitably means that diverse individuals with unique points of view can form successful teams. By encouraging and embracing diversity, project managers can more clearly identify the scope and feasibility of a project early. Diverse teams who feel empowered to share their own thoughts and ideas problem solve more effectively, are more engaged, and are more likely to decide on realistic goals for a project.

Planning

Virtual Group Planning sessions require a unique set of facilitation techniques. In the early days of project management (and by that, I mean before COVID-19), it was normal to set aside time with the entire project team to conduct group planning. These group planning sessions ranged from a half day to multiple days. In a remote environment, especially if your team is located across multiple time zones, it can be more difficult to get everyone to maintain concentration on a zoom call for eight hours a day. It goes without saying that keeping a group of people engaged during an all-day meeting is a lot easier to do in person.

Project managers should ensure that they use facilitation techniques to keep teams engaged and give team members ample opportunity to voice their opinions. This may have to done in a very deliberate manner, more so than if your team were physically present together. Using round-robin or brainstorming can help give your team members who are more on the quiet side a platform.

You'll also need to make sure that you have the right collaborative tools necessary for fostering productivity. As a rule of thumb, if your project team consists of more than ten people, your team should use video conferencing that allows for breakout rooms. This allows for smaller group discussion. You may also want to consider collaborative whiteboard software like Mural.

Remote workers are allowed increased flexibility to get their jobs done and should be encouraged to set boundaries. Teams can now plan their work and home lives in an integrated manner, meaning that not everyone will want to work standard "eight to five" hours. That flexibility should be honored, but you should also have discussions with your team about work boundaries. Allowing your team to set their own reasonable boundaries around work hours, expectations, and styles are key to building trust early. In a remote environment, deliberately setting boundaries during the initiation of a new project will build trust and create mutual respect amongst your team members. During those first few critical planning meetings with your team, take some time to deliberately establish boundaries as a way to gain trust. This also sets you up for success; when letting your team define their own work boundaries, you as the project manager now have a framework with which to engage with your teammates about work expectations and productivity.

Execution

It may be more difficult to include all stakeholders in one check-in meeting. When your team is scattered around the country or even around the globe, lines of communication tend to be a little more complicated than if everyone were in the same room. While it may be beneficial to have a team located in Austria to help understand new accessibility laws in the E.U, it also means that there are a set of workers who will work considerably different hours than the rest of your project team. Ensuring both that a) all stakeholders are up to date with the latest information, and b) you as the project manager will not be repeating said information more than is necessary, it may be expected that team members are flexible towards the occasional late night or early morning meeting.

Maintaining established expectations must be a deliberate task. Documenting and distributing expectations at the beginning of a new project is essential to success, and always has been. However, maintaining those expectations throughout the life of the project becomes a major point of focus when working remotely. Setting clear expectations from the very beginning of your project will solidify the work in the minds of your stakeholders, making them feel invested in the project's success. In addition, setting regular check ins to review how expectations are comparing to the plan will foster engagement amongst the key players in the project.

Ensuring that expectations are both realistic and productive requires expert judgement on the project manager's part. Project expectations will set the stage for your team, helping to guide the project roadmap. Expectations provide a north star for your team to focus on when they become overwhelmed, or you don't have a change to meet with them for extended periods of time. This also serves you as a project manager, as it your job to ensure that stakeholders do not develop unrealistic expectations as the project goes on.

Monitoring & Controlling

Planning regular engagement with "difficult" stakeholders is easier. It is always best practices as a project manager to schedule regular meetings with your stakeholders, but I'm sure we've all been there: you have one incredibly busy stakeholder that you see around the office from time to time, and they don't want to put any more meetings on their calendar. They insist that you'll inevitably "see each other around" and you can meet ad-hoc to discuss the status or the project or any major issues that may come up. Well, how often does that work out well for everyone? For me, it always ended in a session where I was reprimanded for not updating that person regularly enough. When everyone is remote, it is the perfect opportunity to insist upon formal check-ins and one-on-one meetings with important stakeholders.

Closing

Fostering a collaborative sense of accomplishment can be more difficult. When the last i is dotted and the last t is crossed, your team should feel proud of what they have accomplished! At times, this sense of accomplishment can be diminished in a remote environment, but it's the responsibility of the project manager to reward their team! Setting aside time or budget to ensure that your team feels appreciated is well worth it and will leave employees invigorated as they move onto new work. You could celebrate your project completion through a scheduled remote "happy hour" or even by sending handwritten thank you notes in the mail.

Remote work environments enable project teams to work more flexibly, communicate in established ways, and obtain unique points of view across the globe. However, none of these benefits can truly be realized without the guidance of expert project managers to ensure that teams are engaging effectively, and projects remain on track. As expert organizers and communicators, project management skills are crucial to the success of any project involving remote teams. They ensure that the business and the project team have the tools they need to get things done, act as a bridge of communication for global teams, and are the glue that holds a remote team together while they complete a successful project.
About the Author: Madison Florian

Madison Florian is a content writer for EduMind, certified PMP and PMI-ACP. She received her BA in Economics from the University of Colorado and has experience as a project manager for a wide range of corporations, ranging from start-ups to Fortune 100 companies. In her spare time, she enjoys reading novels by the fire, baking for her family and friends, and traveling to new places in her converted van.

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