Businesses have grown accustomed in recent years to the concept of remote work for employees, contractors, and other collaborators. Whether a company embraced distributed teams before the pandemic or they moved more recently to work-from-home (WFH) due to COVID-19 health guidance, the infrastructure to support remote work is now available for almost every role in project management. But just because offsite work among project teams is more common today than in years past, that doesn’t mean every project professional is skilled at maintaining good project practices in a digital environment.
Project leaders are one group that may encounter hurdles when teams are dispersed. From overseeing day-to-day activities to developing workers’ project competencies to interacting with outside vendors, routine actions can still be a challenge for leaders trying to apply in-person techniques to remote teams. The result may be lower productivity, miscommunications, and a lack of commitment from project stakeholders.
If you lead a high-performing project team—or if you’re an executive worried that your project staff could use some help navigating a remote environment—watch out for these common missteps that sometimes ride in on WFH’s coattails.
Leaders have trouble maintaining a comprehensive engagement strategy
Project leaders uncomfortable with remote work frequently worry about high-level visibility, and they may focus their engagement efforts almost entirely on executives and sponsors. It’s easy to see why—senior staff help provide the necessary funding and resources to move a project to a successful completion, therefore it’s important to keep them engaged. In addition, leaders have their own desire for recognition and advancement, and keeping themselves in view as part of a strategic project can help move their career forward. This approach appeases top-level supporters, but it risks leaving other project members out in the cold.
Delegation is haphazard, overwhelming, or nonexistent
If a project leader hasn’t fine-tuned their delegation skills, gaps may appear when the team moves to a distributed work model. The leader may forget they delegated a task, or they lose track of how much they’ve delegated to each team member—people are suddenly swamped with delegated activities or tasks fall off the radar. The other risk is that leaders may worry that they don’t know how to monitor activities, so they don’t delegate anything. None of these are effective strategies, and all could lead to low productivity and missed deadlines.
Micromanagement makes a comeback
Because remote work brings a new dynamic to the way leaders and groups interact, team members might discover their normally trusting, hands-off leader has suddenly adopted the digital equivalent of the hover. Leaders may constantly follow up on delegated items or ask members of the team for updates much too soon for any meaningful news to be available. This online micromanagement has the same effects on the team as the in-person version—it’s irritating, it consumes everyone’s time unnecessarily, and it quashes morale because people don’t feel empowered to do their jobs.
Team members lose their voice
Routine meetings that happen through digital channels—where people deliver progress updates to the group, discuss problems, and brainstorm solutions—are sometimes given a little too much structure by group leaders, resulting in ineffective communications and stifled creativity. The organic nature of face-to-face sessions, where team members are accustomed to lively interactions, professional disagreements, and freeform problem solving are difficult to replicate if meeting agendas are rigidly scheduled and modern technology isn’t in place to allow multiple people to speak at once. Leaders who don’t take deliberate steps to provide the tools and time to support robust communication for everyday interactions risk losing the collective power of their team.