How to successfully manage remote teams

How to successfully manage remote teams

How to Successfully Manage a remote team

We’ve been a distributed team since just about the inception of our company. We’ve always had a small core group that are colocated together, but the rest of the team is widely distributed, from Canada to Argentina. How do we keep everything running smoothly? It isn’t that hard, but you must be disciplined and have a consistent process in place for project management and operations and good project leadership.

The key components in working with remote or distributed teams are:

  • Setup / Expectation Setting / Building Trust
  • Collaboration and Communication
  • Motivation
  • Autonomy

Project manager working on Gantt chart schedule to create planning with tasks and milestones to plan activities, person working with management tools on computer in office

1. set-up / Expectation setting / building trust

When setting up a remote team you need to consider the key components of working with a remote resource

 – How do I communicate needs and requirements?

 – How do I establish priorities?

 – How do I expect my team members to communicate status and risks?

The answer to most of these questions is your Project Management workspace.  The configuration can be as simple or as complex as necessary, but always start simple and only add complexity as needed.  The foundational pieces you will need to be successful are:

 A ticketing system

which allows you to define goals, break them into tasks, prioritize and assign tasks, and monitor ongoing status

  • Jira
  • Assembla
  • Monday
  • SmartSheet
  • Trello

 A messaging system

which allows team members to escalate risks, concerns or needs related to their work streams.  This could be within your workspace or a complimentary tool such as Slack, Teams, etc.  These tools offer great integrations with numerous PM systems nowadays so keeping communication focused and transparent has become easier than ever.

  • Slack
  • Skype
  • MS Teams
  • Zoom

 A repository

which houses work completed from the team, and allows other members of the team to interact with the completed components (for code reviews, QA evaluations, client demos, etc.)

  • Github
  • BitBucket
  • Assembla

2. stay on top of risks, pain points, disconnects

Once you have tools in place it’s important to follow up with the team regularly to identify any pain/chokepoints, technical risks, or disconnects within the team.  This can be managed a few different ways:

 Scrum

A process which brings all team members together for a brief check-in on a frequent basis.  This meeting serves as a forum to escalate blockers, risks, and needs.  The purpose is to quickly identify if or where risks exist, and to assign a risk mitigation team.  The management of the details for the risk will be taken offline and reflected back into the ticketing system.

 StandUp Reports

If aligning schedules proves difficult for a scrum process, StandUp reports are a similar alternative which outline the same scope of information, but in written form.  These reports would be completed by contributing team members at the start or end of every day, and reviewed by the Project Manager daily.

 Daily Comms

In addition to the escalation process, it’s important to ensure all team members have a direct link to one another to ask design or technical questions, to seek support, or to communicate detailed updates.  Having a cohesive team is important to maintaining focus and momentum, and is critical for those operating with an Agile methodology.  

Regardless of which approach you choose, always make sure to carve out time for face-to-face interactions.  This can be done by making Scrum meetings video conferences, scheduling co-located time for the team at key milestones, etc.  It’s important for team cohesion to break down the social barriers and work towards a more personalized and slightly informal relationship with your team.

Business team giving group high five, celebrating successful project, copy space

3. MOTIVATION

It’s also important to understand what motivates your team as you look to keep them focused, engaged, and productive.  With some team members acknowledging their contributions is more than enough, but not all team members are the same.  Take the time to get to know each of your team members on a personal level and learn what makes them tic.  What types of projects do they like working on the most, what types of technologies or focuses do they want to expand into, etc.  It’s important that your team has room for growth to ensure their passion remains at the core of everything they do, and to ensure they feel appreciated and integral to the team structure.

Confident young business woman with crossed arms in glasses pink shirt on white isolated background.

4. AUTONOMY

Autonomy is a very important part of working with distributed teams as well.  No one likes to be micro managed, and in environments where you have limited or no face-to-face interactions micro managing a resource can be a demoralizing experience.  As your team works together for longer you will want to take the time to identify when resources are performing at a higher level and can be managed with a lighter touch.  Acknowledging these improvements and iterating into more lightweight processes with key resources can make them feel more appreciated and instill more of a sense of ownership in your team.

1 Comment
  • Brianres
    Posted at 12:23h, 25 March Reply

    Thanks with regard to supplying many of these great information.

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