Can Project Managers Handle the Future of Distributed Teams?

Editorial Team

Can Project Managers Handle the Future of Distributed Teams

According to recent data from Gallup, two-thirds of employees in white-collar jobs (67%) work from home these days. It’s not a sign of things to come—it’s the sign of a paradigm shift that’s already here. We’re living in the remote work future, and distributed teams have become the new norm.

While every company handles remote employees differently, it’s up to project managers to establish the systems and expectations for distributed teams. It’s a tall task that requires a clear understanding of work-from-home and the ability to accommodate every person’s unique approach to working remotely.

It comes down to supporting the change in the various ways employees choose to work. That means that if working from home is more suitable and accommodating, then that’s how your business should operate. But you also want to keep an open mind to other options as well. For instance, there are different types of collaboration spaces available for team members to utilize who can actually meet in-person, and still virtually communicate with the other team members working from home

Here’s a look at a few of the ways project managers can create synergies and success across distributed teams.

Engage often, but don’t micro-manage

A hallmark of successful project managers is the ability to engage with team members, without interfering in their work. The best project managers know when to check in with the entire team, even if it’s just to see how things are going or share an update on the project.

However, too many check-ins can be an annoyance for team members working independently. Distributed team members often work differently and don’t require frequent updates. Instead, they prefer a “need-to-know” basis: managers only focus on sharing timely, pertinent information employees need, without extraneous details.

Establishing regular check-ins that happen at the same time each week or month helps keep team members on track and gives them the information they need to make progress. As far as all-hands meetings? Once a week at most for mission-critical projects; otherwise, every other week or even once a month. When in doubt, err on the side of fewer meetings and have trust in the team.

Find the right style of communication

The advantages to working remotely—like the flexibility to work when it’s best for each employee—can quickly go out the window if communication isn’t handled carefully. The best project managers know that what works onsite doesn’t always work for remote workers, and vice versa. For example, email is a common form of communication between team members who are working onsite together. But it’s not efficient when trying to reach an entire distributed team.

Instead, project managers should establish a single communication channel, like Slack or Microsoft Teams. Using the same platform for all team members keeps things simple and ensures everyone stays on the same page. Then, within this system, establish parameters for communication. When and how communication happens is critical in the effectiveness of how your team cooperates.

Emphasize personal accountability

With distributed teams, it’s easy to lose track of who’s doing what and how team members are responding to deadlines. That’s why personal accountability is so important at every phase of the project.

The most effective project managers know the best way to hold a team accountable is to lead from the front. By making personal accountability a priority from day one, distributed teams will work together seamlessly and are more likely to reach their goals—and deliver real results.

Establish each person’s deliverables from the start, with specific timelines assigned to each team member or assigned phase of the project. This way, distributed teams can hold each other accountable without feeling micromanaged.

Project managers should also take responsibility for their part in any given project, making sure that none of their own tasks fall by the wayside.

Use cloud-based, collaborative resources

While most teams have experience working in the cloud, they’ll need access to more modern tools to ensure success, like collaboration software. Project managers should be aware of how these platforms can help—from storing client files to managing projects and task lists, as well as the key features that will help distributed teams stay on track and in sync.

Collaboration software can help distributed teams complete projects faster and on time. For example, project managers can use a shared calendar tool to let the team know who’s working at any given time and communicate important deadlines and events.

The success of these distributed teams rests on how well they can communicate and collaborate—and project managers play a key role in making that happen. With the right combination of communication protocols and access to cloud-based tools, distributed teams can deliver real results, even against the most challenging goals.

Think beyond traditional work norms

One-size-fits-all project management won’t work for distributed teams. Project managers need to think beyond traditional work norms when managing remote employees—and adjust their approach to management accordingly.

With distributed teams, it’s easy for project managers to get caught up in the day-to-day. But instead of focusing on how they can best support their existing team structure and work norms, they should think about what distributed teams need to be successful—and focus on new ways to structure cohesion without traditional office frameworks. It comes down to supporting the change in the various ways employees choose to work.

Remote work is the new norm. It’s time for project managers to understand that. To truly embrace it takes work on embracing new processes and practices, and orchestrating new systems for support and success.

Are you ready to manage remote workers?

The key takeaway here is that managing a remote team means first establishing a framework for how to interact with them—and for them to interact with each other. From setting communication standards, to the modes of collaboration, to ensuring accountability, it’s up to project managers to set the standard. The good news is that once you do, managing distributed teams isn’t much different from managing in-office employees. Everyone still needs to do their part in pursuit of success, and it’s your job to help them.