Project Management

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Topics: Leadership, Organizational Project Management, Teams
What recommendations would you make for a new project manager of a remote team if they're concerned about collaborating effectively?
Collaboration is more difficult for remote teams. What recommendations would you make for a new project manager? I'd love to hear specific suggestions, recommendations, and techniques? Thanks
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If teams are not huge, schedule 1:1 meetings frequently. Schedule a team strategy meeting and allow for everyone's input.
In meetings, brainstorm ideas (there is always more than 1 solution), ask for everyone's input (go down the list b/c not everyone will speak up) and allow for joint decision making.
Ice breakers actually work! Share a list of questions beforehand and they can choose which ones to answer. Not all cultures/personalities feel free to share and some people need to think about what they would like to say.
Dana -

1. Have an in-person kick off so there's an opportunity for everyone to meet at least once in person

2. Use web cameras to (re)introduce body language into the equation and to ensure folks are actually present when participating in calls

3. Use tools like Slack or MS Teams to encourage live or near-live collaboration rather than e-mail

4. Use multiplayer online gaming (strategy NOT first person shooter) as a virtual means of team building

5. While working agreements or team charters are valuable for all projects, they are more crucial with remote teams

I find that managing your project information in a simple and well organized fashion is critical.

With so many tool options today, like group emails, servers, SharePoints, message boards, and custom collaboration tools, information can get too scattered. People miss new information because there are too many places to forget to look. When someone needs one basic piece of information, they can waste excessive time looking for it in many places.

I try to keep most information in a central location to 1) make it easier to find and 2) avoid too many situations where someone needs info quickly and they permissions to the right tool. A road map of what information is where like a table of contents is very useful.

There are some great tools out there for collaboration, but sometimes they work better for sub-teams and specific functions than for the larger team.
There are many tools that you can use to create a collaborative working environment for your team; a few names as Workplace, Yammer, Zoho, Bitrix24... These tools help to connect team members and provide a very convenient place for them to work together.
#1 on Kiron's list is the key in my personal experience. A face to face kick-off is vital because:

1) It puts a face to the name. Now when you communicate remotely you are communicating with a human being
2) Gives a bit of context about personality. Without this, it is easy to misconstrued something being said and then you have conflicts flaring up quickly.
3) It reveals the bigger picture. Who does what reports to whom etc. While an organigram can do this the first two points make it 'real'

The cost associated with flying people from different corners of the world to get together for a few days is well worth it in the long run.
I do no agree about collaboration is more difficult on remote teams. Mainly if you are talking about collaboration that adds value to project activities (while we can debate about all collaboration adds value in a sense). First thing to do as project manager is put the ground rules clear at the very begining of the project. Second is to have confidence on the project team. About tools, we use skype and outlook emails as our mean of communication. The problem in geneal is people use a lot of electronic devices and media each day but if you ask them if somebody teached them have to use it in terms of communications I think they will answer "never". That´s a big problem.
Sergio brings up an interesting notion - does distance really affect a team's ability to collaborate? There are enough virtual collaboration tools that, unless such tools are not available to you, time difference seems like the most impacting factor in a remote team's ability to collaborate. I would add "availability" as a compounding factor to time zones, and it probably is for some people, but in my case, I don't have dedicated teams, so availability is just as significant a factor for the person sitting next to me as for the person sitting overseas.

Yes, having meetings at both 6am and 10pm on the same day kind of sucks - this is where time zone and availability compound the challenge - but it has not been a regular occurrence for me.

It has been my experience that most collaboration between remote team members does not, or does not need, to occur in team meetings. It is not often that the entire team needs to collaborate on a single issue. Sometimes this has to happen because the team members are not connecting on their own outside the meeting, but I push on this because the other team members have their work to do, and I am not compelled to have a meeting for every discussion that needs to take place.

My recommendations would be to:
- obtain the collaboration tools you need to work effectively
- set ground rules for meetings and collaboration, with the team
- build a "return and report" mentality with the team, so that team members don't wait until the meeting to have conversations about important topics
- As a project manager, you do not need to be part of every discussion or set up a meeting to facilitate every conversation that needs to take place
I would recommend the following:
1. Encourage frequent and direct communication with the remote team leads and monitoring its effectiveness and efficiency.
2. Establish the Shared Execution Plan between the main office and the remote team. It must clearly state the communication path and how to implement it, project organization including the remote team, and also the scope of work of the remote team, project procedures they might need, and project goals.
3. Internalize the project commitments and schedule on the remote team and encourage accountability.
Create a project team register. In this register you will list their time zone, preferred method of communication and contact info.

This will help you organize and assign tasks, communicate and plan meetings more efficiently, and help you keep track of progress.
I would recommend at least meeting face to face once if a disparate team is collaborating together on a project remotely. This one interaction can remove a lot of barriers that can exist when you have never met a person before and are having to work with them. Also an independent hierarchy should exist on each site so that people know who the can escalate an issue to that can be death with face to face instead of by emails, video conferencing or phone calls. Roles and responsibilities should be clearly defined especial in the absence of a team member and when tasks have to be shared across multiple sites and multiple persons.
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