Things can get pretty tricky for those of us who manage remote workers. The distributed team manager has unique challenges. You don’t have the “privileges” of the conventional manager stereotype — breathing down employee’s necks, meeting face-to-face in the conference room, chatting it up by the coffee maker, etc. But you do have the responsibility to manage your workers, distances and time zones notwithstanding. Thankfully, there are methods and strategies that can help any remote manager save his sanity. Here’s what you need to know about being an awesome project manager, regardless of where you or your workers reside.This article is for remote managers.
Having been a remote worker for six years, and working as a remote manager for much of that time, there are a few tricks of the trade I’ve learned. What follows in this article isn’t your typical manager blather. This is for the remote managers only, and will give you straightforward advice to improve your game.
Remote managers are a different breed in the world today. As such, we get to write the manual, redefine the rules, and rearrange the boundaries about location-independent team management.
Remote work is becoming a lot more common. Many startups are hiring exclusively remote workers. Digital consulting companies, content marketing agencies, social media businesses, and SEO consulting firms are shifting towards the remote approach. Even traditional brick-and-mortar companies with a physical office may hire a remote content marketer or social media manager. Many managers must juggle the dual approach of remote management and in-office management.
This article deals with the issue of remote management at a deeper level — the level of management strategy. Remote management is an awesome thing, but it can get a little hairy at times. Thankfully, here are six tips for the remote manager that will save your sanity.
“Overlap time” is any period during the day that you are working online at the same time as your team members.
For some jobs, overlap time is not necessary. For other tasks, it’s a critical component of getting things done in the business.
Overlap time allows you to focus on any real time tasks that need to be dealt with. I’ve consulted for companies who insist on a three-hour minimum overlap time. Some companies are flexible with this approach, suggesting a wide breadth of time zones or schedules that they prefer the worker to keep.
One of my colleagues works from the Philippines. She works late nights. I work early mornings. Together, we have a few hours of overlap, and it works perfectly. All told, I have daily interaction with people in five time zones. I’m able to overlap with most of them during my non-traditional workday.
The overlap time requirement shouldn’t be too hard to achieve. I know of managers who live in Chicago, but have full-time employees in Eastern Europe. If the Chicago manager starts work at a traditional 8am opening time, the employee in Ukraine is just hitting 5pm traditional clockout time, thus providing a brief overlap time during traditional work hours.
But who says that remote workers are traditional? Perhaps the Chicago manager enjoys early-morning productivity. Or, perhaps the Ukrainian employee prefers working late. Because remote workers are non-traditionalists when it comes to their working hours, overlap time is seldom a hurdle.
For a great way to juggle your time zone issues, try TimeandDate.com. By plugging in your date and location, you can instantly find a time that will work for everyone.
The cloud is the name of the game for remote workers. I make constant use of Google Drive, Skype, Gmail, Evernote, Dropbox, ConvertKit, Leadpages, and other cloud-based tools.
Cloud collaboration is critical. Working together means looking at the same stuff online. Email doesn’t always cut it. Besides, there are usually a lot of documents, designs, templates, or code that a business must maintain. All of this information needs to be stored in a way that all employees can access it, regardless of their physical locale.
Make use of cloud software, and settle only for those products that are second to none in security, performance, and functionality.
In order to pick up and work productively, all I need is an Internet connection. The same is true for all the members of my remote team. That’s because we use the best cloud based tools available today.
You may not purchase physical office space, but you should still provide for your worker’s needs. Remote workers need tools. By providing them with the right tools, you can increase their productivity and profitability.
Here are a few managerial purchases that can improve productivity for the remote worker.
Larger displays or multiple displays usually improve productivity. The investment of a new flat screen monitor is miniscule in comparison to buying office space or office furniture. However, this comparatively small purchase can drive up the ability of your remote employee to do great work.
I’m a standing-desk guy myself, but a lot of people can improve their productivity just by using the right office chair. One company I know of hires remote workers, and ships them an Aeron chair. It’s not the cheapest thing to sit on, but it can improve work.
Some businesses purchase their remote employees a new Macbook Air. The only requirement for the new machine? It’s for work only. Not a bad perk, and it’s one that will definitely help the new employee get things done.
As a remote manager, it’s your responsibility to see to it that your employees are well-provided for. Give them what they need, even if they don’t share office space with you.
One of the most helpful things that I’ve done in my remote work experience is weekly phone calls. Again, you may or may not need such interaction, depending on what type of remote work you have going on.
However, I can say that weekly meeting with my employees or managers is beneficial for working through important decisions, collaborating on key processes, and ironing out any delays or problems in the business.
Sure, you can get by without it. Email works. But email is only one method of communication. As a manager, there are other ways of becoming invested in your worker’s lives, and helping to improve their work. It’s definitely worth a try.
How should you meet? It’s up to you, but there’s always phone, Skype, and a variety of online meeting platforms.
Managers work on timelines. They have deadlines. There are moving parts, contributing members, and concurrent tasks. It gets complicated. Toss into the equation the fact that you never see any the contributing workers, and the job can get messy quickly.
Unless you have the right software. Again, the cloud-based component is critical. This is where I shamelessly recommend TeamGantt’s pure Gantt chart awesomeness for a powerful solution.
In my line of work, deadlines are everything. At any given point in time, I have up to 80 client projects going on concurrently. This requires that every ounce of mental energy and is poured into maintaining those deadlines.
Here’s what I’ve learned about maintaining deadlines with remote workers.
Remote management is not for the faint of heart. If you’re accustomed to traditional project management methods, then remote project management will come as a total surprise.
The tools, approach, communication, style, oversight, and complexity can be bewildering, frustrating, and shocking.
But there are ways to surmount and succeed. Now you know.
Milestones make it easier to keep projects on track by calling out major events, dates, decisions, and deliverables. Here are a few examples of project milestones you might include in your plan:
Let’s dig a little deeper and explore 3 specific examples of how using project milestones can benefit your projects.
No plan is ever complete without a list of deadlines! The best way to make them noticeable is to use the project management milestones and deliverables technique. What does this mean? Make the deliverables project milestones!
Why do this? Well, it’s no secret that not everyone wants to pore over your beautiful project plan to find key dates. Most people—your teammates included—want a top-level view of key dates and events. Milestones are great for this purpose because they’re called out in a special way—usually with a diamond—in project plans.
While you should list the tasks and effort leading up to a project milestone, be sure to present the milestone at the end of those tasks to signify a delivery, or even a presentation of, the deliverable.
Here's an example of how Washington Hyperloop uses milestones to track an important deadline in their project.
Are there days from now until the end of your project that could impact your project in some way? Maybe your team will need to be out of the office for a mandatory training. Maybe there’s a board meeting you’re expected to attend.
It’s important to keep all of these important events in mind when you’re planning a project because they could possibly impact your project schedule. So why not include them as project milestones so you can track them all in one place?
In this example, the team’s off-site strat-op meeting has been added to the project plan as a milestone so work can be scheduled around it.
Many projects rely on the work produced by external teams or partners to make forward progress. If you’re not tracking those external factors somewhere, there’s a great chance you’ll forget to follow-up on it.
That’s why it’s important to list these deliverables as project milestones if you’re working on a project that depends on someone or something outside of your project. Here’s an example of what that might look like for a client approval.
We’ve got a free class to help you get everyone on board with your plan! Register for Plan Up: How to Create and Sell a Winning Project Plan to see why planning sets the stage for project success, and get a free Guide to Project Planning when you sign up.
Creating milestones for your project plan can be simple, especially with TeamGantt. Once you’ve mapped out your overall process and plan with your team, you can easily add tasks, identify gantt chart milestones, and determine task owners. Adding a milestone (or converting a task to a milestone) is very easy in TeamGantt.
Once you’ve signed up for a TeamGantt account, here’s a quick video on how to create milestones:
Project milestones are easy to create and even easier to track because you’ve called out the most important points in your project.
Want to give clients and stakeholders a high-level view of the project? Simply follow these steps to share a PDF of key project milestones in your gantt chart.
From your gantt chart view, click the All Dates menu at the top of your gantt chart, and select Only Milestones from the drop-down.
Navigate to your project's Menu, and select Print/Export PDF from the drop-down.
Customize your PDF settings, then click View PDF to complete the export. From there, you can download and/or print your PDF to share with clients and stakeholders.
Who would have thought such a critical step could be so easy?
TeamGantt makes it easy to create, track, and collaborate on all your project milestones so nothing slips through the cracks.
You’ll have all the features you need to ensure projects finish on time and under budget—from drag and drop simplicity and team collaboration to customizable views and workload management.
Best of all, it’s all wrapped up in a simple and intuitive interface your whole team will love. 😍