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Does Your Project Management System Support Your Remote Team Members

by: John Coburn
Does Your Project Management System Support Your Remote Team Members

The rapid worldwide spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 has made remote work an absolute necessity in many cases. Governments & companies around the world have begun shutting down non-essential activities, and enacting remote work policies to reduce the risk of spread. Suddenly, teams that have always operated face-to-face are finding themselves sorting out the specifics of working from home – not out of a deep belief in the benefits of the practice, but as a way to continue “business as usual” operations while minimizing the spread of potential infections.

Whether your team is new to remote work or is already onboard, chances are you use – or will use – a project management system to keep everyone on the same page. Here’s our take on how to make sure the system you’re using supports remote workers effectively, or how to choose one that will, if you’re going newly remote:

Focus First on Your Must-Have Features

focus-on-priority-project-mangement-features

Generally speaking, you’ll get the best results with a project management system that hits the sweet spot between unnecessary complication and feature availability. Something as close as possible to an all-in-one project management solution is ideal, but without the bloat of extra features you’ll never use. 

Most teams will still need specialized tools like Illustrator, Zoom, and other industry-specific software. Still, when it comes to project management, you want to avoid cobbling together 10 different platforms to keep your remote team functional. Instead, you need a blend of features that maintains a high level of accountability and transparency in order to keep everyone on the same page at all times. 

Some must-have features for most teams include:

  • A cloud-based system – Remote teams need a project management system based in the cloud so that everyone can access information from any location with an Internet connection.
  • A shared collaboration space – A central location where the team can track projects, store checklists, and communicate regarding tasks from one central location is a must for keeping team members in sync. Filtering with tags, labels, and other identifiers can be helpful as well.
  • A simple user interface (UI) – Ideally, look for a solution that’s both easy on the eyes and functional. Aesthetically pleasing software is more inviting and encourages adoption. If the software is too complex, it will create inefficiencies and make onboarding new hires more difficult.
  • Document sharing – A remote team can’t waste time fiddling through countless email attachments or waiting on a colleague to send over an updated file. Everyone needs to have access to the most up-to-date version of slides, docs, and spreadsheets in a neatly organized fashion, at all times.
  • A central calendar – Specifically, look for one that syncs with popular external calendars and shows the team relevant due dates, meeting times, and “out of office” status.

There’s no need to breathe down your team’s necks with the right project management software in place. The features above give you plenty of insight into who’s working on what, make it clear where you can find project updates, and ensure you have the right documents to perform your duties.

Make It Easy to Collaborate and Communicate

remote-work-conferencing

As a project manager, your number one priority is enabling your team to do their best work without feeling frustrated or overwhelmed – to make the remote team feel cohesive, collaborative, and that they’re part of a team. After all, the people on your team – not the software – is the most important factor in completing a successful project. 

Communication can make or break a project, which is why having the right project management system in place is so critical. Some essential collaboration and communication features to look for include:

  • Task assignment – Minimizing oversight and maximizing productivity stems from trusting your team and having the right person on the job. The ability to assign specific people or teams is a must-have feature to keep projects on track and to hold people accountable.
  • Task comments and mentions – Task comments store communication and build context around a task without the need for email, calls, or third-party messaging. @mentions notify people of relevant conversations and also reduce back-and-forth chatter.
  • Team channels and direct messaging – Fluid communication is a top priority for remote teams, so every one is one the same page and doesn’t encounter roadblocks that could derail a project’s success. The right system will have a mechanism for 1:1 direct messaging and both public and private channels for group chat as well.
  • Activity logs – This feature gives managers direct insight into what’s being done, by who, and when. It also cuts down on the need for back-and-forth status updates.

Proper communication tools ensure that everyone is kept up-to-date on key developments from the start and throughout a project’s life cycle. For project managers, they minimize the amount of oversight needed, allowing them to identify and clear bottlenecks, as well as to have a better sense of when someone’s workload has become unmanageable.

Leverage Automation to Streamline Workflows

The 4th Industrial Revolution is upon us, and with it comes workflow-disrupting concepts like automation, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. While few systems are integrated with AI yet, you can still reap the benefits of automation. Use it to start eliminating busy work so that your team can double-down on the most meaningful tasks.

Automation allows you to keep your team size small, since the remote team members aren’t performing mundane, repetitive tasks. It also allows everyone to focus on higher-impact work the majority of the time. 

Here are a few ways to automate your workflow using project management software:

  • Project templates – Chances are your scope of work doesn’t vary all that much from client to client. Creating core templates that have specific tasks, checklists, notes, and documents already ready to go can save precious time.
  • Repeat tasks – Free up mental bandwidth and cut down on admin work by creating repeating tasks for those items that need to be done at regular intervals.
  • Follow tasks – One of the fastest ways to free up team resources is to filter all the noise and cut down on back-and-forth chatter. A project management system that allows you to follow tasks gives you ongoing notifications when things change. That way, you’re only in-the-know when it’s really needed.
  • Email tasks Even though we all check email too much as it is, that’s not going away any time soon. The ability to send and receive messages directly to your system from your inbox streamlines your workflow and saves precious time.
  • Interactive dashboards, reports, and progress bars – You can’t overstate the importance of being able to quickly see at-a-glance what needs to be done and what’s complete. Being able to visualize project timelines and understand how each section of the project’s timeline and dependencies impact each other is critical to keeping a project on schedule.

Audit Your Current Project Management System

If you don’t yet have an existing project management system, use the feature descriptions above to guide your selection process, based on which elements feel most important, given the way you work. Or, if your current setup is missing any of these features, it’s time to evaluate your current system. To begin, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What does my current system do well?
  • Where does my current system fall short?
  • What features are most important to my team?
  • Which features would be nice to have, but are not a necessity?
  • Is my current system scalable?
  • If I could wave a magic wand and have my system do anything, what would it be?

 

While you reflect on your current project management software, remember that a perfect system doesn’t likely exist. There will always be trade-offs when it comes to choosing or switching platforms. 

But don’t use that as an excuse for not switching. Don’t accept, “this is the program we’ve always used, and this is how it’s always been done” as an answer. There are better project management systems out there and with a little effort, you’ll be able to find the one that’ll best support your remote team.

Performing this exercise from management’s perspective is excellent, but it’s also a good idea to get your team’s input from time to time. Consider surveying them using some of the same questions. Or, take your analysis a step further and ask about inefficiencies they see so you can bring even more insights into your decision-making process. 

What You Can Do Now

  • Make a list of all the systems and software you use – Identify which ones are really needed, and where an all-in-one solution might be the better choice. Take it a step further and determine if you’re using all the features in your current system stack, as you may be able to get more out of your current system without changing tools.
  • Find ways to automate Take a hard look at the repetitive tasks and leverage automation tools in your project management software or start connecting tools with services like Zapier.

Start surveying now – Don’t wait until a complicated project (or a worldwide pandemic) hits your plate before evaluating your project management system needs. Start evaluating your remote team’s needs today by sending them a survey regarding their role, their task load, and how they feel about the current system.

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