May 14, 2020 Last updated May 14th, 2020 2,119 Reads share

Key Lessons In Organizing Your Distributed Team: Tips For Project Managers

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Managing a project and the required team members is an opportunity that many look forward to and even strive hard to achieve. But while it is a very rewarding experience, it can be exhausting and challenging at the same time. A project manager is required to initiate, plan, execute, control, and close the work of a team to ensure that the project is completed successfully within the desired time frame.

And if you are handled with the responsibility of managing teams whom you have neither met nor are expected to share physical proximity any time soon, you are up for a more challenging time. You are responsible for managing distributed teams and managing them is a task in itself. But don’t worry!

It’s challenges like these that make you better workers and this write-up will help you if you are faced with any challenge.

What Are The Challenges In Managing Distributed Teams?

Imagine you are not meeting the team members who are working for you. You do not know how their learning curve. You do not know how dedicated they are. You know very less about them except the things they tell you in the interview. So, it is obvious that you would be faced with some challenges in such a working environment. Here are some challenges that come to the fore when you ditch the traditional approach of working and adopt the distributed team approach.

  • Finding the right distributed team members
  • Miscommunication with the team
  • Lack of accountability within the team
  • Not tracking or difficulty in tracking each employee’s performance
  • Setting team culture and making everyone feel part of a team
  • Complete knowledge transfer with the team members

However, despite all these challenges, there are benefits like cost savings, diversity and innovation, better employee retention, increased productivity, global talent pool, and much more when you choose a distributed team.

How Do I Manage A Distributed Team?

One of the first questions that hover over project managers’ minds when they are asked to manage a distributed team is ‘how do I manage them?’ Well, here are some hacks and tips that you can follow to ensure productivity and quick delivery while also keeping their motivation high.

Set Clear Ground Rules

When you are working with distributed teams, it is imperative that you establish some clear ground rules. These could be the same as the ones that you follow with your in-house team with just some slight tweaks. Setting ground rules help in ensuring smooth collaboration between teams and enhancing productivity. Some of the common ground rules that you can put forth could be:

  • Clarifying the role of each of the team members and what responsibilities they are playing in the project.
  • Informing and familiarizing them with the required communication channels, collaboration tools, project tools, technologies, and all else.
  • They should be told about the company policy, the culture, and all else so that they can be a true part of the company even though they are sitting in remote locations.
  • Tell them about the complete tech stack and have presentations or video tutorials in place to explain everything initially.
  • Communication and reporting about daily work progress or daily meetings should be set in the first place to ensure smooth communication.

Create An Organizational Template

Once you have established the required ground rules, an important step in this is to have an organizational template. These templates should have the essentials like your organization’s history, storyline, team members, reporting managers, heads of all departments, and all else so that they know whom to contact and when. Apart from that, you are also requested to have a template for all your projects that can include things like the summary, client briefs, target audience, targeted problems, goals, project timeline, deliverables, and all else.

Maintain Transparency

Transparency is at the heart of project management and this is where the biggest challenge lies as well. When you are able to boost transparency, you get to make your distributed teams more accountable and satisfied with their work. With transparency comes a feeling of security which in turn, enables the team members to be more open in sharing their ideas and contribute creatively to the project. There are some simple things that can help you add transparency in work while also giving them the freedom to work without getting pestered by questions.

  • Daily check-ins where the distributed teams members can enter what they are working on for the day and what they have on their plate
  • Virtual stand-up meets where you bring together all the team members to know what they are up to
  • Shared project boards where each team member knows his/her responsibilities while also understanding their role in the bigger picture

Have KPIs To Measure Progress

Measuring is very important in knowing how your distributed team members are performing. It is important that you have key performance indicators set for each team member individually based on their profile, experience, work assigned, and the project criticality. You cannot control and manage your teams, let alone improve their working performances if you are not analyzing their progress. There are several KPIs that you can set like their CSAT or Customer Satisfaction score, NPS or Net Promoter Score, CPI or Cost Performance Index, and many more. Apart from these quantifiable metrics, you can also put in some general KPIs like the accountability of the members when handling projects, involvement in the project, ability to work on different projects, eagerness to learn and perform, ability to tackle new challenges, etc.

Utilize The Best Tools

Just ask Siri about the best remote working tools and you will be flooded with names like Slack, Trello, JIRA, Zapier, BaseCamp, DropBox, Zoom, and many more. There are so many tools that you can use for your distributed teams and ensure a smooth workflow. Some of these are:

  • For Communication: Slack, Skype, Google Hangouts, Workplace by Facebook.
  • For Virtual Meetings & Conferences: Zoom, Skype, Hangout, GoToMeeting
  • For Project Management: Basecamp, Atlassian Jira, Zoho
  • For Culture: Zoho, Slack
  • For Time Management: WebWork Tracker, DeskTime, Google Calendar, Toggle
  • For Reporting: iDone This, Basecamp, Jira
  • For Design & Development: GitHub, Chrome Dev Tools, Adobe Creative Cloud
  • For Document Sharing: Google Suit (Drive), DropBox, OneDrive
  • For Taking & Sharing Notes: EverNote, OneNote

Get Everything Documented

Effective documentation is very important for all project managers when managing distributed teams. Process and project documentation is important if you want to have a smooth working. As your teams are not working in your physical proximity, you might not be able to go right to them with any question. Moreover, the time difference or their working time might not collide with yours and you might be left with nothing but waiting to get any update.

The best way to avoid such wastage of time or missing out on any information is by documenting everything. As a project manager, you are required to document everything from the project charter and management plan created in the beginning to the work breakdown structures, risk management, change request, and progress report.

However, You are also required to encourage documentation among your teams. This will help them remember their goals, focus on the details, and measure their personal progress as well. It also allows you to highlight any important event and be prepared for any unwanted situation as you will have everything documented if the client comes up with any questions.

Trust the Team

It is important that you build trust with your team members and let them know that they are trusted with their work. You can give separate responsibilities with the team members yet stay in the loop. Delegate the tasks to your team members while ensuring that you have a complete watch on the progress.

This way, you would give the members the freedom they need to work creatively and also ensure that the tasks are being performed to the best of their efforts. Like in Basecamp, you can add To-Do or action items for your teammates and add yourself as the notified person to be informed of every task being done or assigned.

Have 1:1s At Least Twice A Month

While there is no hard and fast rule here, it is important you get in touch with each distributed team member at least once for an individual chat. This need not be around your regular meetings and talks, it could be light chat, asking them about their work and if they have any other issues with the working. You can increase or decrease the frequency of these one-on-one meetings with your remote developers as per your schedule.

Organize Fun Sessions For Culture Building

Like you would organize monthly birthday celebrations, quarterly chit-chats, anything else with your in-house team, it is important to set the same vibe with the distributed team. While these could be monthly or quarterly events, you also should ensure to have virtual coffee meets with the team members.

You can also have some Slack groups as coolers where you only talk about fun stuff, share jokes, or other such things.

Don’t Forget To Appreciate & Reward Them

While managing distributed teams, a challenge comes when you are expected to appreciate the members for their good work. You need to be very swift in appreciating the hard work done by your distributed team members. They also need to see the good numbers and any positive feedback from the client to keep them motivated. You can even use a tool called WooBoard where you can add the employees or create reward programs so that they would be rewarded once the milestone is achieved.

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Swati Sharma

Swati Sharma

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