Project management has evolved a long way from tracking down assignments at different desks in an office. As technology makes it easier and more effective to collaborate online, even co-located teams may use software like project management tools to stay organized. However, thanks to the introduction of remote work, it becomes important for all leaders to master effective remote PM.
A shift in focus to automation and efficiency means that remote project management may not be too different from what you’re used to with in-office PM. Traditional project management has already evolved to follow technological advances that a remote PM just needs to build upon.
After 5 years of managing and collaborating with remote teams in SaaS, eCommerce, and B2B industries, I’ve been able to see effective project management from both contractor and manager roles.
In this article, I’ll go over the best practices of being an effective remote PM. Much of my focus has been around marketing initiatives, such as content strategy and website builds, so this article may reflect that.
6 Crucial elements of effective remote PM
Get the right team
Every successful project has a talented team behind it. If you work with a number of independent contractors, you need to understand their strengths and weaknesses to get the best fit for a specific project.
For example, there are articles that I had to get written for SaaS partners, and others that would go out to eCommerce partners.
Depending on the industry, topic, and research needed, I assign the project to different writers. Some writers were great at writing well-researched, long-form pieces, and others were good at short but hyper-engaging articles.
If you have an in-house team with a go-to developer/designer/writer, then this gets a little easier since you can assign roles by job title. But remote teams are getting increasingly complex. In most of the remote projects I’ve managed, I had to make a choice between different copywriters, designers, and developers.
Rob from TimeDoctor also recommends looking at your team members’ environments at home. Pay attention to whether they have a quiet place to work, or if they live alone and aren’t able to step away from their desks. “Both distractions and isolation can be issues and it’s important to make sure that your team is happy & productive working from home.”
Even if everyone on your team speaks perfect English, different departments tend to have their own “professional language.” Every role wants different things, and uses different terminology. One of the most important roles for a remote project manager is to bridge the language barrier between tech and non-tech roles.
As a simple example;
- Marketers want certain features on a website (email capture, navigation, case studies)
- Designers want a specific design for different webpages (hero image, layouts, fonts)
- Developers want to build the website for performance (fast loading, clean back-end, flexible for adjustments)
A developer might not agree with something a marketer wants, because it might slow down the website. A marketer might think a design is too simple, since it doesn’t incorporate enough features. A designer might want a hero image with 5 words of text, but a writer might want to add a full paragraph as the CTA. A developer might not like a designer’s layout because it won’t work across all interfaces.
A remote project manager must be able to synchronize everyone’s wants and needs, then prioritize what needs to get done. In complex projects like building a new website, not every role gets exactly what they want the way they envisioned it. But your job is to make sure the end product fulfills the requirements of each department as effectively as possible (and they all understand why allowances have to be made, where relevant).
Everything should be transparent and always open to questions. It takes guts to ask about something that may be seen as obvious in a channel where it’s recorded (ie. Trello). So, if someone asks a question, make it a point to thank them for their diligence (especially if you just started working together).
Tip: I like Trello and Asana for their kanban boards, which allow me to separate freelancers and clients to avoid any confusion. These boards also provide private platforms for questions, should there be any.
Determine timelines and expectations
Set and share what success will look like in a project early on. By setting expectations early, you make it clear what each team member should focus on and how they should prioritize.
If you don’t know what a reasonable timeline for a project is yet, I’ve found that asking for an expected timeline is a good way to go. In my experience, remote workers have a good understanding of their own capabilities, and are happy to share realistic timelines for tasks.
Ideally, you’re hiring/managing people who are smarter or better than you at their specialty, so they will have a good understanding of how long something will take. For my writers, I assign 1 to 2 long articles per week to give them time to work on quality, do research, etc.
If you’re managing remote [insert profession here], you’ll get the hang of timelines after doing it for a while.
Give autonomy and accountability
A remote PM needs to set clearly defined responsibilities for every member of the team. Let them know what they are and aren’t responsible for, and keep them accountable throughout.
For complicated projects, I check in once a few days before the due date. For straightforward tasks, I only check in if someone misses a due date or to send feedback.
Don’t forget to have a system set up where your team can send in updates and questions (as mentioned above). But after equipping everyone with what they need to do their job (ie. project briefs, creative assets, etc.) then let them do it.
This tip is for remote employee retention and motivation. It can be difficult to keep remote workers engaged.
Since everything is virtual, there are no quick thank-yous or watercooler talk. I recommend finding small sustainable ways to show appreciation when someone does a good job.
I hope these tips help you manage your projects, no matter what timezone your team members are on. If you have any questions or want to add some advice, please find me on Twitter @rgo_go.