In a piece for Fast Company, Capterra’s CEO, Mike Ortner, argued, “Telecommuting can be dangerous for your company culture.” He says that while it gives him the opportunity to balance time at home with his kids and his growing business, he uses it in moderation, ensuring the company itself has him and its employees on-location most of the time to have the highest productivity possible.
Of course, having everyone on-site is not always possible. This is a problem that project managers are consistently struggling with. There may be an IT team in Dubai, a manufacturer in Shanghai, and a main office in London or New York. Dealing with these dispersed teams is a tough problem—but it doesn’t have to be.
When dealing with employees that are not local to your office, follow these five steps to improve communication with your remote teams.
Set clear and consistent expectations
Your time zones might be different, affecting when different teams are working and able to meet. Leo von Wendorff, owner and CEO of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Virtual Knowledge Workers, tells Western Union, “Business owners should establish expectations early regarding their employees’ work hours… My tip is to be clear about which hours [employees should] work before you hire them.”
Yes, expectations are important for employees, but they are also key for project managers and their remote teams. Get a handle on when everyone is working and how each deadline applies to each region. Set clear times when everyone should meet.
Use Universal Time
Universal Time, otherwise known as Greenwich Mean Time, is a set time at the Prime Meridian at Greenwich. It was originally invented for rail travel, but has been carried over into the business world as a useful tool to help manage teams on different time zones.
Instead of designating EST, CST, IST, or PDT, base your scheduling communication around one standardized time set.
Establish times that work for everyone
Remote team issues are most apparent when trying to schedule meetings. SmallBusiness.com offers a few solutions. Try to make your scheduling decisions as fair as possible to all parties—what might be a morning meeting to you may be an evening meeting to another party, and vice-versa. Because it’s not fair to consistently have one team with the less-desired meeting time, rotate meeting times semi-monthly. If you’re managing multiple teams, do your best to accommodate even the smallest teams to keep up their morale.
Try some of these project management software solutions to maximize communication
Our research on project management shows that project management software improves workplace communication 52%—it’s the area where project management software excels the most. I’ve picked out six different options that specifically help with remote team management.
Want a system that limits users’ permissions, provides real-time updates, tracks time, has an all-in-one calendar, and offers collaborative writing? activeCollab offers all of these features along with email updates and collaboration, perfect for teams that struggle with updates and communication emails.
Price: Scales up from five members for $25 a month with 5GB of space.
Want to ditch your email completely? Asana is the project management software for you. It integrates with a number of storage options like Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive, but has a strict 100MB upload cap for individual documents. You can see tasks from a birds’ eye view so all teams can be on the same page. The collaboration features take a little longer to learn, but there probably isn’t a better collaboration option out there.
Price: Free for up to 15 users and scales up from 20 users to $83 a month.
Reviewers love Basecamp. It’s highest rated on “ease of use” out of every other category. For keeping track of your remote teams, you can scroll through what’s been done on the Daily Progress timeline. It also automatically saves your work, so if there are any internet outages your work isn’t entirely lost.
As I said when I reviewed Basecamp earlier, it’s “easy to use, easy to learn, and keeps things simple.”
Price: Scales up by projects. The cheapest option offers unlimited users, 3GB of storage space, and ten active projects for $20 a month.
Redbooth offers a unified information platform based on tasks. Chat with your team members right in the program and track project process as you move toward success. The software syncs with many common apps, like Evernote, Gmail, Dropbox, and Zendesk, and uses all of this information to create beautiful reports, reflecting your projects’ productivity and timeline.
Price: Scales up by features; the cheapest option is $5 a user for ten to twenty users, unlimited projects, and twenty hours of HD video calls.
In a recent blog post for Capterra, Trello highlighted how they use their system to manage remote teams. Trello is, at first glance, a simple Kanban board. But when editing the cards, project managers find that they have ample opportunity to assign tasks, comment on cards, and create checklists, due dates, and add attachments.
Never forget that culture is important
The best project managers have a personality that facilitates team building. Use the chat and communication features in your project management software to encourage everyone to get to know and chat with each other—even if informally. Host a weekly video meeting with all teams so that they can get a sense of how the project is going, of each other, and of the great culture I’m sure your company has.
And, as noted before, be considerate of differing time zones. Everyone needs to sleep at some point.
Project management software is a great way to help remote teams be more productive. But that’s not enough—be consistent with your expectations, use available tools and times to show respect for your team, and always emphasize culture and collaboration in your regular meetings.
I’m sure that there’s a lot more that goes into managing a remote team. What did I miss? What have your experiences been? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
Header image by Abby Kahler.
Looking for Project Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Project Management software solutions.