Remember the “group projects” you got in school? Working with your classmates always sounded like a fun idea. And it was comforting to know that you alone were not entirely responsible for the work and grade you got on the assignment.
But despite all that, group projects always ended up being messy and stressful.
What made group projects so hard? It was the challenge of coordinating work across the team. It was deciding who was responsible for what and making sure everyone was keeping to the schedule.
At this point, you’re probably thinking: “those challenges sound a lot like the ones I deal with at work”. And you’d be right! The bottom line is that coordinating teams is tough to do well, be it in school or at your job.
And this gets especially difficult when your team is spread out across multiple geographies, or you don’t have a central place like an office where you see each other every day. Keeping track of tasks, making sure due dates are clear, following up on deliverables, the list goes on.
Fortunately, there are a some highly effective strategies we can employ to ensure things stay organized and go more smoothly.
Today, we’re going discuss a few powerful ways to manage remote teams and ensure that the absence of an office isn’t a barrier to coordinating workflows and shipping great work.
Ready to get into it?
So we know that managing remote teams is difficult to do. Let’s take a look at two ways we can make that process more reliable:
Deploy a Project Management System (that you’ll actually use)
I know, this one sounds obvious. Any team worth its salt has some kind of task management system or process.
BUT - there’s a big difference between having a system and actually using that system. The only system that works is a system you use. And the only system you use is a system that works.
A bit of a chicken-and-egg situation, perhaps. That’s okay. Let’s start with the “system that works” part.
A working project management system does three things:
- It identifies who is responsible for what (so everyone knows their role on the team)
- It establishes the order and timing for when the various components of the project are required (so everyone knows when they need to complete their part of the project)
- It provides a clear picture of how far along each team member is on completing their part of the project (so everyone can see where the bottlenecks are)
So now take a look at the current project your team is working on. Do you know which of your team members is responsible for what, and in what sequence? Do you know how far along they are toward completing their part?
If your answer is “no” to any of those questions, you might want to make some improvements to your project management system.
Now let’s talk about the “system you use” bit.
Most project management systems are way too complicated. They involve dozens of steps and take too much time to adhere to. So most teams end up abandoning their systems, which get replaced by messy email chains.
The trick here is simplicity.
You don’t need to use fancy project management software with all the bells and whistles. Instead, your system can be as simple as a shared Google Doc that gets updated at the end of each day.
And daily updates don’t need to be verbose. Use as few words as possible to communicate the essential information. If further clarification is required, do that over instant messaging or a phone call.
If your company requires you to use complicated project management software, get together with your team to figure out a way to make things simpler within the constraints that you have.
The easier and faster the system is to use, the more likely your team is to use it.
Establish Standard Operating Procedures
The term Standard Operating Procedure(s), aka “SOP”, makes people yawn. It refers to a set of guidelines for how things are done. Okay, maybe that doesn’t sound too exciting.
But SOP can be the difference between a team that stays ahead of schedule and one that falls behind.
How is that possible?
Because SOP allow teams – especially remote teams – to work in a highly productive and autonomous manner.
By agreeing ahead of time on a uniform design style, or a uniform level of polish, or a uniform way of submitting work and providing feedback, individuals can work for extended periods of time knowing that they are in sync with the rest of the team.
Think of it like building a jigsaw puzzle. If you can agree ahead of time how the pieces will fit together, using a standardized way of cutting the edges of the puzzle pieces, you know that when the time comes to actually put the puzzle together, everything will fit neatly into place.
This prevents a situation where the project manager needs to constantly micromanage the team members to ensure they are doing things in a coordinated fashion. It avoids that painful moment at the end of a project where one part of the project looks completely different than another part.
SOP can also save tons of time because no one needs to ask or guess how to do certain things. The rules are established at the beginning so that there is no confusion down the road as to whether Bob or Jane should be the one to review the first draft, or if corrections should be provided using Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat, or if assets should be shared using email or Slack.
SOP alleviates cognitive load and dramatically reduces the risk of human error.
So there you go! Two powerful, and frankly essential, components to fostering productive and effective remote teams.
Let’s quickly recap:
- You need a project management system that your team actually uses
- The system should cover the three essential aspects of coordination while remaining as simple as possible
- And that system should be complimented by a set of Standard Operating Procedures that ensures everyone is working in a coordinated fashion
Take a close look at how your team is configured. You may have a system in place, but make sure people are actually adhering to the system. If they aren’t, it’s probably time to get the team together to discuss how it can be refined and simplified so that it gets used properly.
A system that's poorly implemented provides zero benefit.
On the other hand, a system that works, built on a foundation of intuitive SOP, can transcend the barriers of physical distance to ensure high output without sacrificing quality.
And while these principles are particularly relevant to remote teams, in reality, they apply to all teams, even ones that share a physical space. So any team that aspires to be effective and productive should take them to heart!
So now that I've shared our thoughts, I’d love to hear how you manage remote teams. What have you found to be particularly effective? What challenges have you encountered? What changes have you made to address those challenges?
Share that with me and the Explearning community in the comments down below.
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Thank you so much for joining me and I’ll see you next time for your next Explearning lesson.
Happy Explearning ⚡