Agency Project Management in the Age of Remote Work: Tips and Tricks for Success

If you’re wondering, “Can project managers work remotely?” the answer is yes. The recent pandemic has propelled millions of people, including project managers, into the realm of remote work. According to the Buffer State of Remote Work 2021 report, 97% of individuals express their desire to continue working remotely in some capacity throughout their careers. Even after the pandemic, PWC reveals that 55% of employees would prefer to work away from the office for at least three days per week.

In the era of remote work, agency project management has undergone a significant shift. With teams spread across various locations and relying on virtual collaboration, traditional project management practices have been challenged. However, with the right strategies and approaches, agencies can thrive regardless of their physical locations. This article explores the benefits and downsides of managing remote teams and offers valuable tips and tricks to achieve success in agency project management during remote work.

Pros and Cons of Remote Project Management

Pros 

  • Flexibility: Remote project management allows for flexible work arrangements, accommodating individual preferences and enabling a better work-life balance for team members.
  • Cost Savings: By eliminating the need for office space and reducing overhead expenses, agencies can significantly cut costs associated with facilities, utilities, and supplies.
  • Diverse Perspectives: Remote team members may come from different backgrounds and locations, bringing a diverse range of perspectives, ideas, and expertise to the table.
  • Expanded Talent Pool: Agencies can access a larger talent pool beyond their local region to hire the most skilled professionals in the industry.
  • Reduced Commute Stress: Working from home eliminates the daily commute, reducing stress and providing more time for team members to focus on their work.

Cons 

  • Lack of Face-to-Face Interaction: Developing relationships and fostering trust can be challenging without in-person interactions, potentially affecting team cohesion and coordination.
  • Time Zone Differences: As members spread across different time zones, real-time collaboration and communication become more difficult due to limited overlapping working hours. This is a bigger problem if your agency offers flexible working hours, making scheduling meetings becomes a logistical challenge even within the same time zone. 
  • Potential for Miscommunication: Relying solely on digital communication tools can lead to misinterpretation of tone and intent, requiring extra effort to ensure clear and effective communication.
  • Workload Management: Remote project managers find it difficult to gauge team members’ workload and track who are working on what. This can lead to either underutilization or potential burnout.
  • Increased Reliance on Technology: Remote teams heavily rely on technology infrastructure; thus any technical issues or disruptions can hinder productivity and project progress.
  • Time Management: Time management can be challenging in remote work as distractions and interruptions are more prevalent, making it harder for employers to track productivity and ensure accountability.
  • Limited Job Recognition: Working remotely offers fewer opportunities for employees to receive recognition or participate in team-building activities such as lunches, gifts, or office outings, potentially leading to feelings of being overlooked.

Best Practices of Project Management for Remote Teams

As a project manager, when you shift to a work-from-home job, it’s important to encourage team unity and find ways to operate projects remotely. Here are 11 tips that can help you become a better remote project manager:

1. Establish Communication Methods

Effective communication is key to successfully leading a project team from afar. Since in-person conversations are not possible in remote work, you should utilize other online communication tools. Set clear standards and rules to ensure everyone knows when to use each platform. You can test and experiment with different tools to find the best way to communicate with your remote project team. For example, use Slack and Zoom for instant messaging and video conferencing while using traditional emails for formal communication. 

Effective communication also involves proper meeting scheduling. Make sure to note down employee locations, time zones, and work hours to identify overlapping hours for seamless collaboration. Share this information on a shared discussion board or calendar to keep everyone informed and updated.

2. Be Flexible and Trust Your Team Members 

It requires trust and confidence in your team’s capabilities to run a remote team effectively. Instead of micromanaging and constant monitoring, which can frustrate people, focus on the outcomes of your members’ work. Allow flexibility in work hours to accommodate individual circumstances and limited workspaces. 

Project managers must understand that not everyone can work during the same office hours, so you must trust your teammates to work independently and manage their own time as long as they deliver satisfactory results. Just make sure you maintain open communication for guidance when needed. By nurturing trust and freedom, you make employees feel respected and motivated, leading to increased productivity, effort, and commitment to completing tasks.

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3. Eliminate Unnecessary Meetings

When working from home, people may feel the pressure to be constantly available and attend numerous online group meetings. However, participating in continuous virtual meetings can be draining and counterproductive. It leads to excessive work hours and potential burnout, impeding team members from effectively fulfilling their roles. 

Therefore, it’s important to evaluate the necessity of these meetings to avoid them being overwhelming. Before scheduling a meeting, consider whether the issue can be resolved through email or Slack messages. If so, opt for those channels instead of burdening everyone with a meeting that could have been an email. However, for critical matters requiring team discussion, holding a meeting is warranted.

4. Set Clear Goals and Processes (and Document Them)

Establishing clear goals and processes is crucial for the success of your remote team. Without a shared understanding of the project’s objectives and strategies, you cannot manage your team effectively. 

Since communication in remote work mainly occurs through video and text, it’s prone to miscommunication if your instruction is unclear, resulting in delays and unsatisfactory results. To mitigate this risk, document your expectations and processes as handy how-to guides and distribute them to your team. In a project specification document, you should outline the project scope, deliverables, and deadline, and define the roles and responsibilities of each team member.

Ensure the documents are easily accessible to team members. This empowers them to find answers independently and enhances efficiency. By creating process documents, you boost transparency, centralize vital information, ensure alignment, and facilitate informed decision-making among team members.

5. Track Progress Regularly

To streamline your distributed team’s work and avoid missing deadlines, you must track progress regularly. Integrate time tracking and project management software to get valuable insights for project management work from home. 

Another way is to schedule weekly team meetings to address any obstacles, ask questions, and share progress, while fostering inspiration among team members. These quick touches let you know if projects are on track or if you need to offer help. To make these meetings productive, establish a prep system where participants can propose discussion topics and report challenges in advance. This prevents wasting time when everyone has little to contribute during the meeting.

Besides regular meetings and check-ins, maintain ongoing communication through calls or emails to provide status updates. This keeps everyone aligned with their daily or weekly goals and responsibilities.

6. Invest In The Right Software

When it comes to remote project management, utilizing the right software can greatly enhance your workflow and coordination. Here are some must-have software for remote project managers:

Communication Tools:

  • Messaging and video conference software: Create a central workspace for communication and conduct virtual meetings with your team.
  • Storage cloud tools: Simplify file sharing and collaboration on documents, promoting seamless teamwork.

Project Management System:

  • Task management: Assign tasks to members and monitor progress to ensure efficient project execution.
  • Workflow management: Facilitate collaboration, streamline processes, automate tasks, and optimize team productivity.
  • Project reporting: Gain visibility into the project’s status, identify obstacles, and stay ahead of deadlines with real-time reporting.
  • Time tracking: Gain insights into how team members spend their work hours, identify billable vs. non-billable hours, and improve project estimates.

Among these software tools, Function Point stands out as an all-in-one project management solution to streamline remote projects. It acts as a centralized platform to effectively manage workflow, collaborate seamlessly, and assign tasks to team members. Function Point also has a client portal that allows clients to track project deliverables in real time for transparency. In addition, the software provides time-tracking capabilities, resource management, and project reporting to optimize productivity and manage profitability. With enhanced communication features, Function Point empowers remote teams to work efficiently together and achieve successful project outputs.

7. Give Direct and Constructive Feedback

Providing feedback is essential in remote project management as it enables employees to understand their performance and make improvements. Here are some tips for managers to effectively deliver feedback:

  • Be specific: Instead of blaming individuals, offer solution-oriented feedback. Focus on your members’ behaviour and performance rather than criticizing their personalities. Clearly communicate the problem and guide them through potential ways to resolve it.
  • Ensure privacy: Deliver feedback to each employee in a private setting, as nobody likes public humiliation. Consider using written formats to enhance clarity of thoughts or conduct one-on-one meetings with each team member. Make sure you create a safe space for discussion to encourage open communication without the fear of judgment. These individual interactions will help strengthen relationships with your fellows.
  • Follow up: Remember to follow up and stay updated on the progress made based on the feedback. Regularly check in with employees to provide support, answer questions, and track their development.

8. Improve the Company’s Culture

Remote workers thrive in an environment that promotes positivity and support, directly impacting their productivity. To enhance your company culture for remote work context, consider implementing the following strategies:

  • Create a culture deck: Develop a document that outlines your company’s values, mission, and desired team interactions. This provides a deeper understanding of the company’s culture and helps attract like-minded talents.
  • Schedule social time: Leverage non-work-related Slack channels, organize virtual lunch breaks and encourage one-on-one conversations. Informal meetups can create a friendly atmosphere where employees can freely discuss their accomplishments and difficulties.
  • Design virtual team-building activities: Engage the team with weekly gaming sessions, movie nights, trivia quizzes, and book clubs. These activities enable better understanding and social bonding.
  • Allocate time for informal chats: Begin and end meetings with small talks to replicate water cooler interactions and maintain a sense of connection in the remote work environment.
  • Collect and act on feedback: Regularly gather employee feedback through surveys and suggestion boxes, and use the insights to improve company culture.
  • Promote a culture of learning from mistakes: Create a safe environment where mistakes are seen as part of the learning process. Focus on refining the decision-making process rather than dwelling on personal errors.
  • Recognize and reward success: Establish systems that acknowledge individual and team efforts in a remote setting, and consider tangible awards for the staff. Publicly recognize outstanding employees through social media posts and consider non-monetary rewards to celebrate achievements.

9. Hire the Right Teammates

Leading a remote team can be easier if your team comprises individuals with the right mindset, work ethic, proficiency, and personal qualities. Since a great staff in the office may not be a good fit to work from home, it’s essential to recruit the right people to ensure productivity for your agency’s remote team. 

To do this, collaborate with HR to establish the qualities to look for when screening candidates. During interviews, assess how candidates would handle the challenges of remote work. Key qualities to consider include:

  • Proactive and self-regulating behaviour
  • Ability to combat isolation
  • Willingness to over-communicate
  • Readiness to clarify information
  • Comfort with technology reliance for communication

Final thoughts

As remote work continues to shape the modern workplace, agency project management must adapt and evolve to ensure success. By implementing the 9 tips and tricks discussed in this article, agencies can overcome distance barriers, maximize team potential, and deliver exceptional outcomes in the age of remote work. With the right approach, agencies can thrive in this evolving landscape and set new standards for project management excellence.

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