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Maciej Szymczuk
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There is a new trend afoot: managing remote teams. For many, this marks an age of increased flexibility and connectivity, marked by digitisation and cloud computing.

Distance-based working arrangements present incredible merit, for both the worker and manager. These instances apply both to outsourcing your project, hiring freelancers, but also full-time employed workers.

Maximising this arrangement, of course, requires aptitude in the latest programmes and technologies. Overall, the predominance of data transfer, video conferencing, and cloud-based servers form an infrastructure enabling, and encouraging remote work.

Why this now matters more than ever is simple:

Office managers welcome any arrangements that seek to reduce cost. Office staff numbers, for instance, are a primary concern.

An off-hand tally of expenses determines this with energy, utilities, WIFI bandwidth, the opportunity cost of physical spaces among other factors pushing managers to embrace remote arrangements.

There are many variations of the remote working arrangement, however, in this article I will guide you through the essential aspects of how to manage a project with a remote team.

Remote Work Intro

In most digital and information technology sectors, any out-of-office employee who satisfies the function of an in-house employee passes as a remote worker.

Whilst this applies to all company structures, the lean start-up model has particularly favoured this option. Almost everywhere from cafes, to airports and libraries form the necessary infrastructure where users seek more unique working environments to achieve their ends. Co-Working spaces, however, mark the official culmination, with dedicated areas, providing catered facilities, at premium rates.

coworking remote work space
Co-working spaces become hip locations to work from. Photo by Shridhar Gupta on Unsplash

This all points to a gentle wind of change. This shift in attitudes marks a preference on the part of the worker, and acceptance on the part of management. Of course, some people also prefer to work from home.

Importantly, in-office and remote are not mutually exclusive categories. Arguably, key working aspects such as face-to-face meetings are difficult to replicate even with modern technologies. Therefore, it’s worth noting that this can also apply to a ‘hybrid’ approach to working remotely, and within the office, from time to time.

Discover more tips and checklists on managing remote teams and IT projects

What this Entails

Remote working arrangements entail working, collaborating, and fulfilling functions just like in any office, albeit without the persons physically present. Depending on the company and its structure – this may apply from an individual to a large portion of the team.

From copywriting, graphic design, to business development, and software development teams – almost all roles are suitable candidates for this sort of arrangement. What’s central to keeping these as relevant, and functional as their in-office counterparts, is the need for contact.

As a rule of thumb, many kick-off and milestone meetings continue to take place on-site, at partners’ offices. Agile Scrums, and daily updates, however, need only a Skype call.

Regular contact and connection form the backbone of these arrangements, of which frequency is varied. Some forms of communication are more frequent than others, depending on the importance of the role.

How to Make it Work for You

Planning

Manage your workflows and schedule your points of contact. And, should this be a fresh candidate for work – ensure you can verify the person for merit.

Confirm the team’s track record, whether via LinkedIn, CVs, Portfolio, or even Facebook accounts. If your working arrangement is in the digital sphere, then there should be information in the public domain, helping to verify these individuals. If it doesn’t, then create it yourself – with a writing or coding test.

Communication

Setting up clear lines of contact is as important as ever with remote working arrangements – mainly due to a lack of consistent face-to-face meetings.

Goals & Deadlines

Scheduling deadlines and setting clear goals is a given. However, the lack of face-to-face can leave words and instructions open to interpretation. For peace of mind, be as unambiguous as possible. Screen-sharing functions are popular features that help to keep everyone on the same page – I recommend them!

Clear Language

Be careful! The Achilles Heel of digital communication is the class misunderstandings otherwise avoidable in normal conversation. Refrain from typing out emails and text messages using sarcasm, or emojis, as these can misrepresent. This habit can yield double the demerit when communicating cross-culturally.

There are no safeguards against interpersonal confusions. Though, phone or video calls are prudent methods of getting points across.

Meet Face to Face Too

While boosting real contact may seem contradictory to the cases I’m making, admittedly, I encourage a personal meeting from time-to-time. The regularity of these meetings is central, as is inviting them to company retreats and integration events.

PM Tools & ‘Collaborating’

Keep abreast of matters with online project management tools like Asana, Trello, Momentum, or even native apps such as Microsoft’s To-do, or iOS’ Reminders. As for real-time collaborations, I opt for Microsoft Office or Google Docs, which offers an inexpensive commercial licence.

asana team collaboration tool
Use tools like Asana to manage remote teams.

Status Reports

Periodic updates are essential to keeping the project fire warm and bright. Keep your remote team members up-to-date as often as necessary, weekly, or even daily.

Be Inclusive

Reiterating the burning metaphor, briefing members of the team not only brings them up to speed, but it also reminds them of their relevance to the project. Timing your conferences should also consider these persons’ time zones. And while these may seem overly considerate, empathy is vital, as people can tend to feel left out.

Addressing Challenges

Remote working has its tougher moments, which, thankfully, are manageable!

Limiting Conference Times

Time discipline is a vital skill. Pay attention to the length of meetings and keep them within their allotted time. Keep these meetings concise too, inviting only relevant callers.

Technical Issues

Technical issues are common at the start of meetings. Connectivity or noisy microphones are usual suspects, prepare for them in advance, with 360-degree mics for larger teams.

Deadly Silence

Silence is the single most dangerous threat to remote working. And a lack of contact kills motivation and productivity for either side. Maintain regular contact and keep all discussions active from start to finish.

‘Hiccups’

Flexibility in work arrangements should never compromise product integrity. If deadlines are unmet, or the final product outcome differs in some way, be sure to check in with the team member just as you would on-site. As such, many issues attribute to miscommunication.

Risky Locations

Some countries pose integrity risks, potentially compromising the life of an IT project. My advice would be to play it safe and asses the political stability, and safety of certain countries before commencing a project.

Integrity of Individuals

As with countries, you should always assess companies before initiating activity. Using the likes of resources Clutch, or LinkedIn, it is relatively simple to verify partners’ merits. Additionally, publications such as the Financial Times, or consulting agencies PwC, and Deloitte, will also present significant findings.

You Decide

This approach has been both heralded, and derided, depending on the company, and region of the world. According to a finding by Owl Labs, Australian, and African companies were more amenable to remote working arrangements. In 2009, IBM boasted a 40% rate of remote employees, but by 2017, the IT giant reversed course completely.

Many companies attempt a hybrid approach, keeping some departments closer. These tactics aim to adopt mixed strategies, such as assigning the IT department to a remote team, e.g. using nearshoring.

In all, it’s important to note that some staff can, and some can’t do it. Remote work can be liberating to many team members, while it can be incredibly isolating to others.

The diligence of the team is also crucial – as such an approach works best with independent and motivated workers. Managing a remote team involves a set method, with a heightened focus on communication.

In my opinion, working with a remote team is itself a parallel approach to working on-site. The focus here is to embrace the multitude of technological options at your disposal. Combine those with excellent communications and organisational skills, and you can navigate this system easily.

Just remember to remain in touch, and from time-to-time, go that extra mile to keep team members feeling relevant.

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Project Manager

Image processing specialist and expert in machine learning technologies, Ph.D. in technical sciences. Senior Project Manager since 2011, with IT experience over 15 years. He successfully carried out and deployed several projects, including enterprise EMIS Mobile and highly-scalable Tengi and multiple technologies. He is also official movie director with screenings in national TV, and also a lecturer at the Bialystok University of Technology.

Scientific work deals with various aspects of signal processing and imaging, in particular, the recognition of live images of unstained cancer cells to be irradiated by heavy ion accelerators, real-time image analysis of flying unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) and others, mainly based on the main point descriptors.

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