Overcoming the Challenges of Online Project Management

Online Project Management for Mobile and Telecommuting Project Teams

Recent studies by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics has indicated that nearly 25% of American workers are telecommuting at least some portion of their work-hours each week.

This means that 1 out of 4 workers are spending some time at home each week on tasks that would have previously been carried out at the office or other location of employment. This type of work behavior was unheard of just a handful of years ago.

This is something that all businesses need to take seriously because once workers have been able to successfully work from home, it’s hard to get back into the office commute routine.

Take Atlanta, Georgia for example. There are a number of people who live in what is termed as ‘inside the perimeter’. This is the Interstate loop that goes around the City. The people that live inside the perimeter are fortunate enough to have relatively short commute times into the office. Those who live ‘outside the perimeter’ can expect to have at least 45 minutes to up to 1 ½ hours ONE WAY into the office! This means 1 ½ – 3 hours are spent each and every day getting back and forth to work.

Let’s just take an average of these two times and assume 2 ¼ hours are spent each day commuting. This comes up to over 11 hours per week on the road for a 40+ hour work week! This is one major reason why people are opting (and employers are allowing them) to work from home.

People in the Information Technology sector are on the forefront of this shift which has led to a unique set of challenges for online project management.

How can you effectively manage projects among people that rarely see each other face-to-face? Is this even possible, or is it something that will come to a disappointing realization that it doesn’t work?

Can Online Project Management Work?

Let’s answer this question with a resounding…YES. Online project management can be very effective.

Over a decade ago many IT projects were being outsourced to other locations outside of the US. It took creative project managers to come up with ways to figure out how to manage projects with people that are thousands of miles and multiple time zones away. Some project managers did very well in figuring this out and others are still working out the kinks.

Regardless, managing projects across multiple locations have become par for the course. Resources are typically spread across multiple offices over many States. Plus, there’s the team member that may be working from home due to sickness or other personal issues and is able to move forward with the projects they have been assigned.

Project managers and team members have become instrumental in making this new way of working…work.

Tips for Online Project Management

The Internet is something many of us take for granted. It really wasn’t that long ago when the Internet was just starting up.
Remember your first web page that displayed “hello world?” It was absolutely amazing to be able to put something as simple as “hello world” out there for everyone to see!

Now, 20-25 years later the Internet is Wide Open. Free conference calls, free video chats, enormous file transfers and the ability to control each other’s computers are the way we get things done these days. The Internet obviously paved the way for online project management. But, there are some challenges when it comes to online project management.

The following are some challenges you may encounter. Follow our tips to overcome the challenges of managing projects across different locations and time zones using online project management tools

Different Schedules

Time zones that vary by 3-6 hours can become very challenging when it comes to finding the block of time available to schedule meetings, conference calls and get collaborative project management work done.

When teams are not used to working together this way they will throw out a certain time to meet. “How about 10 AM”, one team member in South Carolina will say to another team member in California. “Sounds good” ends up in “where were you?” when one party was on the line and the other wasn’t.

Solution: Find that window of time that works for both locations. It may only be an hour in the day that the work schedule overlaps. Just know that this is the window that you will have your conference calls and opportunity to meet with the other location. Hint: Microsoft Outlook allows you to display multiple time zones next to each other on their calendar.

Select the calendar view > right click on the Times on the left side > select Time Zones to display the window “Multiple Time Zones”  Tick the box to “Show an additional time zone” select the time zone that applies and Voila! Scheduling across multiple time zones just got that little bit easier.


Multitasking is the bane of any online project management exercise. “Huh?” says the team member on the other end of the line. “Sorry, I was on mute. Can you repeat the question?” Huh? They were on mute so you have to repeat the question? You don’t have to repeat the question because they were on mute, you have to repeat the question because they didn’t hear you. They were multitasking. They may have been checking email, engrossed in an Instant Message conversation or even carrying on another phone call or stepped away from the phone. There is a host of reasons why people didn’t hear you. It’s up to you to manage this type of behavior.

Solution: There are a number of ways in online project management to make sure your team members are tuned into the conversation at hand.

  1. First, you can have them run part of the meeting. This will at the very least keep them engaged in that section and give them a feeling for how it feels when others may not be paying attention to what they are saying.
  2. Second, if you are on with a client and you know there is a question that they need to answer…you can say their name first. “Bob, I know we’ve been talking about this for some time now, what do you think we should do here?” puts them on notice that a question is coming their way and for them to snap out of whatever they were doing. Is this the best way of performing online project management? No. Ideally, they are engaged in the conversation all along the way. But, this is an alternative to give them a wake-up call that they need to tune into the conversation.
  3. Third, and I don’t like this one, you can have your conference calls on a live video chat. I don’t like this one because it implies that you don’t trust your resources and it takes some of the appeals of working from home out of the equation. Nobody wants to see you in your baseball cap and sweatshirt, but that’s what they’ll get if they video conference you in.

The bottom line is that you need to find people that are trustworthy, engaged and responsive in order to work from home and you won’t have to deal with the multitasking issue.

Bad Connections

“Sorry, can you repeat that? I have a bad connection” should not be something that is uttered in online project management. It’s an assumption that everyone has very good Internet connections, phone connections are impeccable and there are no technical obstacles to making this work.

Solution: If you are fortunate enough to work from home, set your home office up the way you would your office at work. Make sure it is quiet, private and professional. Resist the urge to take a call on the road while you are running some errands around town. People can sense when you are dialed in and engaged and you need to make this your primary focus.

Online project management is something that is very achievable. Take the time to train your team with the above guidelines and you’ll end up with happier and more productive teammates.

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