According to the most recent figures released by the Office of National Statistics, 13.6% of the UK’s workforce are now home workers. It’s a figure that’s increased year-on-year for a decade and looks set to keep growing. Research by YouGov found 54% of office workers can now work remotely at least part of the time.

The Benefits of Working Remotely

It’s probably no surprise that companies are letting increased numbers of their employees work remotely given the benefits, which have been proven to include:

  • Reduced overheads
  • Reduced employee turnover rates
  • Increased productivity
  • Increased staff morale
  • Reduced environmental impact

Unfortunately, there are downsides to remote working too, especially if the process of managing teams isn’t done well. Staff can feel disconnected from the business, for example, reducing productivity and increasing the likelihood that they might leave the organisation. Teamwork can suffer too if people aren’t communicating with each other, leading to a duplication of work and impacting productivity.

You can mitigate these potential downsides by putting in place robust project management processes, ideally based on the PRINCE2 methodology, that provide your remote workers with a clear and easy to follow structure for the work they’re doing. What else can project managers do to manage a remote team effectively?

1. Identify potential issues

Before your team begins work, it’s a good idea to sit down and identify any potential issues you might face, for example:

  • Where your team are based: do they all live in the UK or across the globe, which could mean they are working in different time zones and so at different times of the day?
  • When will your team work: will you adhere to standard 9 to 5 hours or let your team work flexibly, which could improve morale?
  • How will your team communicate: how and how often will your team talk to each other?
  • How will your role as a manager be affected: how will you handle supervision, for example?

2. Put in place a clear structure

Once you’ve identified any issues, you can build your solutions into a structure that will make sure your team know what they need to do and when they need to do it. This will ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to carrying out and completing tasks. You should include roles, responsibilities, working hours, working practices and a clear project plan with deliverables, key dates and milestones.

3. Create a culture of self-reliance

Teams who work remotely generally need to be more self-sufficient than those that are office-based (where it’s much easier to pop into the manager’s office to ask a question). As a project manager, you’re responsible for creating this culture by letting your staff know what you expect of them / their role within the project team and then trusting them to get their work done. This is especially important if you’re managing a team that works across several countries or time zones; you won’t always be at the end of the phone or able to respond instantly to emails so it’s essential that they can understand the tasks they need to complete and can get on with them.

4. Communicate clearly

With remote teams, it’s important to have a clear strategy as to how you will all communicate. An agile-based communication plan works well with remote teams because it puts in place a clear structure for sharing knowledge through regular team updates. Think about the best ways to use technology too. Go beyond the traditional communication tools (phone and email) and look at whether instant messaging, video-conferencing or integrated communication platforms such as Facebook Workspace or Sling will work for you. Once you’ve decided which tools you’ll use, make sure everyone understands how they work and then stick to the agreed communication protocols; otherwise, vital information could get lost and productivity could slip.

5. Make sure you work as a team

When people work remotely, it’s very easy for them to get lost in their tasks and forget about the bigger picture – or not worry about it because they don’t have a connection to the other people in the team. It’s important that they maintain their sense of collective responsibility in making sure every part of a project is a success, not just their own. The best way to do this is to make sure they feel part of a team.

When employees don’t see their co-workers every day, this can be hard. Make sure you set up regular face-to-face meetings; if that’s not possible, hold meetings via video-conferencing, so your team get to see each other as people, not just the name on the end of an email. Encourage people to get to know each other by working together on projects; reinforce this through weekly (virtual) team meetings. This way, you will always know if your project is on track.

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