With the growing shift to remote work, many project managers find themselves leading a group of people who are scattered across the country (or even the world).
There are some clear advantages to this new way of doing things. But online project management comes with a host of new challenges, too.
How can you maintain communication and engagement with remote team members? What are the best ways to run meetings and track projects online?
Basically: how can you adapt traditional project management techniques for the virtual world?
This post is here to help. We break down 7 simple ways to more effectively manage projects and people online.
Let's dive in.
1. SET CLEAR EXPECTATIONS
In online project management, it's important to clarify goals, priorities, roles, and responsibilities, right from day one.
And you must make yourself visible and accessible to all team members. Let team members know that you're there to provide ongoing guidance and clarity.
☑️ Make it easy to get in touch with you. With tools like Skype, Slack, and Microsoft Teams, you can advertise when you're available and when you shouldn't be disturbed.
☑️ Establish clear expectations around hours and availability when you have team members in different time zones.
☑️ Make sure everyone understands when they need to be reachable.
☑️ Consider setting a certain time or block of hours in which the entire team must be available.
2. BE SPECIFIC ABOUT WHO DOES WHAT
Don't send group messages about outstanding tasks and expect someone to step up and take ownership.
Tools like responsibility matrices and process maps become even more important when team members aren't all together in one office.
Peter Mesh is an expert in distributed learning who has taught hundreds of project management professionals.
He says keeping tabs on what remote workers are doing is a big challenge.
"The area where people struggle most when managing projects and teams online is knowing what is getting done by whom. Are people even working?
But using basic project methodologies helps managers better break down the work, assign it to specific individuals, and track progress."
3. CHECK IN REGULARLY (BUT DON'T MICROMANAGE!)
Virtual team members can easily feel disconnected, so having regular contact with each employee is crucial. That could mean a daily text, email, phone call, or video chat.
☑️ Provide a forum for people to ask questions, raise concerns, and bounce ideas around.
☑️ Have regular conversations to stay in tune with how the work is progressing and offer support and feedback.
☑️ Don't bombard your team with messages. You need to strike a balance between maintaining communication and being overbearing and annoying.
Peter says some project managers find it difficult to trust remote workers to do their jobs effectively without supervision.
"Old-school leaders have struggled to let go of their traditional line-of-sight management model for a more empowered model that focuses on ownership, accountability, and the deliverables being produced."
Bottom line: If you use a good model for assigning tasks, checking on progress, and specifying regular deliverables, you won't have a problem with trust.
4. PROVIDE MULTIPLE COMMUNICATION CHANNELS
Virtual teams need a range of tools to communicate effectively. One of the most important is video.
Talking with someone face-to-face feels more personal than an email or phone call. It's also easier to understand how they're really feeling when you can see and interpret their body language.
But sometimes you just need to ask a quick question or share a bit of time-sensitive information. In those cases, instant messaging tools like Slack and Teams can fit the bill.
Tip: Keep in mind that it's easy to misinterpret a written message. Gifs and emoticons can provide important clues to tone or context, so don't be afraid to use them.
5. CHOOSE APPROPRIATE COLLABORATION TOOLS
There are plenty of online project management tools out there. The main challenge is sorting through them all and finding the right solution for your needs.
Here are a few points to consider:
☑️ How big is your team?
☑️ What are your specific challenges (communication, file sharing, progress tracking)?
☑️ Will the tool integrate into your current technical infrastructure?
☑️ How user-friendly is the tool? (How long will it take to get your team up and running on the new platform?)
A basic online project management course will teach you how to evaluate the various options and choose the best one for your team.
6. RUN EFFECTIVE ONLINE MEETINGS
Bringing people together online is very different from having them in the same room. That's why organizing meetings is often a major focus of virtual project management training.
There are a few things you can do to make online meetings more productive.
☑️ Meetings don't work when people talk over each other. Send out a detailed agenda and structure the meeting so that everyone knows when they can comment or ask questions.
☑️ If it's a voice-only meeting with many participants, have each person identify themselves when they speak.
☑️ Require or encourage participants to be on camera. Everyone will benefit from non-verbal clues, and you'll avoid people tuning out and working on other things during the meeting.
7. DON'T NEGLECT TEAM BUILDING
Just because people aren't all in the same location doesn't mean you can't make them feel like a cohesive unit.
Recognizing achievements and celebrating successes builds trust and engagement. It also leads to higher productivity.
Here are a few team building ideas:
☑️ Host a fun video chat with drinks and snacks (no work talk!)
☑️ Send team member gift cards from Door Dash or Uber Eats so they can order in their favourite lunch.
☑️ Send project-branded T-shirts or other swag to each member of the team.
Get more ideas with ONLINE PROJECT MANAGEMENT TRAINING
Struggling to adapt to the "new normal" of online people and project management? Need some practical tools and skills to make life easier?
Explore the Virtual Project Management Certificate from Kompass Professional Development.
You can spread the course over 14 to 28 weeks, and it's delivered entirely online for maximum flexibility.
Learn from seasoned project management professionals and build skills you can apply immediately to your remote work challenges.
Click below for more information and to chat live with an Admissions Advisor. We're here to help.