Managing a remote project and team is easily achieved once we ensure the tools and processes we employ are designed for remote access. Whilst a lot of the tools and processes referenced in this article are core parts of technical teams, they are smoothly adopted by non-technical teams to provide the same benefits. One of the most common mistakes people make when moving to a remote team is to attempt to completely replicate the onsite experience and cadence. As remote teams differ from onsite, so must our managerial approach.
A common fear I hear from onsite managers, when faced with moving to a remote team, is their perceived lack of visibility into what their team is doing. How do I know if they’re even working? How can I prepare my stakeholders for delays or alterations? How can I see what the team is currently working on? Most managers will experience apprehension and fear at the prospect of such a lack of control and visibility. It is entirely possible to obtain better control, communication and collaboration as a remote team. My first step in achieving this is to break the challenge into 2 complimentary objectives: 1. Manage the work and 2. Take care of the people
Managing a remote project
I very much advocate for monitoring the work completed and in progress in order to determine how effectively the individuals on your team are working. The amount of hours they commit each day; or the time of day at which they wish to complete the work, is not as relevant as the actual output. There are numerous processes and tools available to assist with this so I simply cover my top 3 recommendations here.
Task Management Software
Online software tooling for managing your tasks which gives you a collaborative space for entering tasks to be completed, assigning tasks to individuals and updating/monitoring the progress of those tasks. This gives your team members a place to easily view their own tasks, add new tasks to the backlog and update other team members on the progress of their work. Managers can easily get an overview of what work is currently “In Progress”, what has recently been “Completed” and to assess/update the priority of the queued tasks. If you don’t have a software solution for this then be creative and try using a shared sheet or document to track tasks that everyone can access and update.
Example systems are: Trello, Jira and Asana.
Daily standup Video Call
While most of our teams follow some form of Agile process with weekly sprints encompassing grooming, planning and demo’ing work; I’ve highlighted the daily Standup call as one of the most important elements of this process. The daily Standup occurs at the start of each day and is joined by all team members via video link. During the call, each individual provides the group with an update to address the following questions:
- What I did yesterday
- What I plan on doing today
- Any blockers, risks, major changes to the planned work
This daily touchpoint provides you with a clear and up to date picture of how your team is progressing through their work so you can assign work or update stakeholders accordingly.
Having this Standup at a time that suits everyone may seem obvious but be mindful of different timezones and clock changes! Making it first thing in the morning can also be a good motivation to get everyone up and online.
Work In Progress Demo Video Call
This call is an addition to the standard Agile process. This is a weekly call joined by all team members and stakeholders via video link. The call enables each team member to share the work they are currently doing by sharing their screen and walking the team through their code or outputs. This provides their colleagues with a clear view of their implementation approach and assures stakeholders that progress is being made and their requirements have been understood correctly. I found this call to be a great collaboration tool across the team, it helps to reduce the amount of rework required and increases stakeholder trust in the team.
Taking care of the people
When a team operates fully remotely it can be difficult to ascertain the mood of individuals, their level of engagement, their satisfaction in their work. All of these things have a significant impact on team dynamics and throughput, just as they would in an onsite environment. There are a number of tools and processes available to assist with managing these things but I’ll highlight my top 3:
Daily Standup Video Call
This item was already mentioned above as a powerful tool for managing the work but it also enables you to check in on your team members on a daily basis. Ensure all participants are joining the call on video and audio. Being able to see each other helps to improve the quality of the communication, builds trust across the team and makes for a more natural interaction. The Daily standup is a great opportunity to check how your team is feeling and assess if you need to check-in directly with individuals.
1-to-1 Video Call
Having regular 1 to 1 video calls with your team members lets you check in with them directly and ensure they are getting what they need from you and their fellow team members. Some individuals may not be comfortable raising issues on the general team calls so this gives them the opportunity to voice concerns in a safe environment. It also allows you to address their own personal and professional goals and objectives.
Knowledge Sharing Video Calls
We run regular (once a fortnight) Knowledge Sharing calls amongst the team whereby a team member presents a topic they are knowledgeable on, with the view to improving the knowledge of other team members. This helps to prevent knowledge silo’s on the team, encourages collaboration across the team and gives individuals presentation opportunities.
In general, I feel Remote Team Management is very similar to Onsite Team Management in that the best approach is the one most suited to the individuals and the objectives at hand. All processes and tools must be reviewed by the team on a regular basis with an openness to change and trialling new ideas.