For organizations unaccustomed to supporting a dispersed workforce, the lack of a single shared job location can create worries about weakness. Will communications break down if we can’t talk face to face? How can we solve problems and brainstorm if we aren’t together as a group? How will scattered team members get the latest information? Will we still compile and review performance metrics? Are critical project tasks getting done on time? Is our budget on track?
A work-from-home environment doesn’t need to have a negative impact on project management activities. With the right strategies in place and a proven methodology to guide the group’s work, PMs leading remote teams are likely to find their success rate in delivering projects on time and within the allotted budget is at least as good as those teams that work together in a single office building. One key to success is flexibility—project groups that embrace the tenets of flexibility are resilient and innovative enough to continue moving initiatives forward despite disruptions and other challenges.
Consider your communications. Team members experienced in seamlessly transitioning between in-person meetings, video conferencing sessions, instant messenger discussions, and e-mail are better at adapting to the communication preferences of stakeholders. Their flexibility enables them to understand how to present information depending on the audience, such as an executive who prefers real-time phone conversations versus a vendor traveling between jobsites who’s much more responsive to messages that come through on their mobile device.
Think about data access. Project stakeholders with multiple ways to review documentation can more quickly find the information they want and share it with others. Rather than searching through paper files in a single location or logging in using a platform that’s only available on one type of device—desktop versus mobile, for example—your team can more effectively leverage project data if they have access to a master document management system. The most flexible solutions support mobile applications, web-based access, and a desktop version, all designed to support project and portfolio management activities seamlessly across multiple devices.
Look at your stakeholder participation strategy. It doesn’t take long for project teams working remotely to learn that maintaining strong engagement with senior staff and other sponsors requires consistent and well-targeted actions. By developing some structure around your plan to keep stakeholders connected and excited about your project, you’ll have a good foundation that you can then adjust over time to suit each initiative’s various lifecycle stages and the preferences of your evolving list of stakeholder groups.
Review your employee engagement practices. Nurturing the right team culture and sense of camaraderie is a more natural process in a traditional office environment, but a few changes in thinking can enable PMs to maintain that same team atmosphere even as their group’s members shift between offsite and onsite locations. Bringing everyone into regular discussions about internal issues—workloads, recruiting activities, etc.—gives them an opportunity to tackle problems and develop solutions as a group and reinforces their shared commitments. These conversations should happen in real time, on a regular schedule that isn’t upheaved when things get busy. Video conferencing is a good platform, since it enables the team to maintain their strong connections through facial cues and other elements they’d usually find in their in-person gatherings.
By making flexibility one of your team’s core strengths and employing strategies that support day-to-day activities no matter your members’ locations, you’ll be well positioned to continue enjoying robust working relationships even if subsets of your group move to new jobsites, relocate to a different regional office, or opt for at-home work arrangements as needed.