How to successfully project manage distributed teams

December 10, 2018

As more teams are becoming remotely based, it can be hard for project managers to rally the troops and achieve their group goals. Between keeping track of everyone’s work to scheduling live-meetings, a lot goes into successfully managing dispersed teams. And, frankly, there are a few key ways to go about doing this.

Looking to figure out how to better manage your distributed team (or teams)? Here’s a rundown on the important things you, being a project lead, should grasp when managing a distributed team.


Create a Culture of Accountability

Admittedly, creating an environment of accountability online can be challenging. But it can be done—and you and your team will be better off for it.

Surveys and studies have shown that when teams lack accountability, be them online or in a traditional office setting, the cohort as a whole suffers greatly. Things like team member trust, productivity, and even creativity all fall to the wayside when accountability is not being upheld.

In order to create a culture of accountability in distributed teams, a few criteria need to be met. Below is a list of things to consider in order to achieve this specific type of work culture:

  • Allow no work to be submitted anonymously
  • Make sure everyone is clear on their roles and expectations within the team
  • Let your team know that mistakes happen and that owning up to them isn’t frowned upon
  • Reward practices and instances of accountability
  • Embrace an appropriate amount of vulnerability in the workplace


Encourage Collaboration and Question Asking

With distributed teams, everyone, for the most part, is working from either a home or shared office space…or a neighborhood coffee shop. However, a certain amount of collaboration and questioning is always needed to have a successful, productive team.

To do this, apply tasks to your team that demand collaboration in some way, shape or form. Perhaps the easiest way to do this is to build a feedback system between your team. This, in its most impactful form, includes making a “safe space” for asking questions and for others to request for help or insights on otherwise solo jobs.

That being said, it’s still important that collaboration isn’t confused with a “group work” mentality. Research shows that people are far more efficient working from home than, say, in an office setting, primarily due to the lack of distractions and opportunities to work in blissful privacy. Keep your distributed team in collaborative spirits—but make sure you don’t step on those introverted toes.


Have Reporting and Check-in Requirements

When team members are scattered across the country (or even world), it’s difficult to ensure everyone’s “punching in” and finishing their required tasks for the workday. Thankfully, the internet is here to help.

To make sure everyone’s checking in for their job, employ team-accessible Google Sheets and Google Forms. As a manager, you can create specific shareable sheets that have a specific column for “time in” and another for “time out,” which can also prompt a worker to mark a task complete at the end of each workday.

Also, because the “clock-in” Google Sheet is accessible, this helps foster a sense of accountability throughout your team. It’s a win-win situation.


Streamline Communication and Tasks

Like we mentioned earlier: Unilateral communication with distributed teams is an incredibly difficult thing to accomplish. However, there’s a bevy of e-tools and online project management tools to make this easy.

There’s nothing more time consuming (or unproductive) than having to bounce back-and-forth between Facebook Messenger, your ever-growing inbox, Evernote, you name it, just to communicate with all the members your team. To save you and your entire team time and future headaches, consider moving the bulk of your conversation to a project management system.

These online systems allow you and your team to all communicate in specific “channels.” Also, all these project management systems can help you both create and chart team projects through specific dashboard elements, letting you, as the project manager, delegate roles and tasks. And, to boot, using an online project tool like these will thwart the risk of messages getting lost in email inboxes.


Make an Effort to Have Face-to-Face Meetings

It’s all too easy to live behind an avatar or thumbnail picture, especially when you’re working solely online. But, alas, this isn’t ideal—or productive, for that matter.

There’s something about having real, honest face-to-face interactions that make them incredibly important. And, funny enough, research supports this. Studies show that distributed teams that use avenues like Skype and Google Hangouts to video chat have better levels of “team trustworthiness and connection” than those who don’t.

In fact, both those things—trust and connection—are associated with increased levels of work-related productivity, job fulfillment, and even employee retention. Suffice to say it’s about time to step out of the text box and into the frame of a forward-facing camera…with your team in tow.


In Summary: Managing a Successful Distributed Team Boils Down to Efficiency and Connection

If you’re to walk away from this article with only two single-word insights, here’s hoping it’s this duo: efficiency and connection.

Regardless of whatever measures you take with your distributed team, each should focus (or fulfill) one or both of these subject matters. Keep your distributed team accountable, communicative, and open to face-to-face interactions, and you’ll see all your projects to the proverbial finish line.

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