Sooner or later in your project management career you’re going to have to work with remotely-based resources on your project. This article will go through some of the cautions of off-site team members and what you as a project manager can do to be successful with a remote team.
Are Remote Resources the Right Decision?
Short answer to this is no. Whenever possible and in a perfect world, I always prefer physical co-location for my project teams. The amount of information sharing and knowledge transfer that occurs naturally from close physical proximity is the primary driver behind co-location. However, there are times where we are faced with the need to bring in remotely based resources to help get our projects over the finish line such as:
Time crunch on projects where crashing with more team members will help
More inexpensive resource base from remote locations
Personnel availability in your region where remote resources are more plentiful
With the right mix of attitude, personalities, supporting technology and communication skills, remotely-based resources can work, but it is a constant balancing act by the project manager to support and nurture the right environment (people and technical) to make this work. I’ve said time and time again that communications are the lifeblood of a successful project and having remote resources really complicates things so there needs to be clear expectations by the entire project team on communications.
What Should I Look for in Remote Resources?
Personality, maturity and attitude play a big part in being a successful autonomous worker who does not interact physically with others. Typically remote workers are working alone with minimal or no supervision. Email, phone and IM is typically their connection to the rest of the project team with other tools (screen sharing, etc) to support their efforts. When bringing on remotely-based resources to your team you need to ensure that they are able to work effectively on their own, provide solid verbal and written communications on progress, issues and even guidance (if they are responsible for leading any parts of your project).
What More Do I Need To Do?
As a project manager, you are responsible for the successful delivery of your project scope. Your sponsor has entrusted you with their money to deliver on your commitments by any way you see fit. This is a tough question to answer specifically since every situation is different but some basic guidelines for making remote resources work effectively on your team are:
Communicate, communicate, communicate! You need to drive home the fact that your team is responsible for being just as accessible to yourself and other team members as if they were located in the same office.
Don’t let technology be a barrier. With the advent of communications tools such as Skype and WebEx, seeing each other’s desktops and presentations is easier which helps with your project communications, however some organizations don’t support these technologies. Don’t let that stop you – your job as a project manager is to make sure your team has everything they need to be successful. You may need to put your MacGyver hat on and come up with some solutions but don’t let the technology (or lack thereof) be a barrier to you.
Set expectations and monitor progress. Let your remote team members know that they are just as accountable as anyone else on the project and that they will be measured no differently. Clearly communicated expectations will go a long way to building a successful remotely based team.
While off-site resources are typically not our first choice for building a team, they are sometimes our only choice. While far from a perfect situation, it can work given the right mix of attitude, organizational and team support as well as leadership.