They days of the 9-5 office job are largely fading in the rear view mirror for the project management professional. We all work on different schedules and even locations. In spite of this huge shift, those who find themselves working remotely often are not prepared to be separated from the rest of the team. The following article will give you some insight into what you should, and should NOT do when you find yourself in this position.
In a recent article I asked the question, “Are you Present as a Project Manager Even When You’re Gone?” The gist of it was that a project manager’s presence and influence need to be felt by the team even if they are not physically present. That awareness is primarily based on what you do when you are present. But, what if you are rarely, if ever, with the team in a physical location? Can you still exert control and influence over the team? In other words, can you be a remote control project manager?
A colleague of mine worked as a project manager for a number of years. He woke before the sun rose to make the hour-long trek into the office, and returned home well after sunset. Day after day, year after year, he was on the road travelling to and from the office no less than ten hours per week. Each month, he spent the equivalent of a full work week in his car!
He received some bad news one day. His office was closing down, and sadly, many of his friends were going to be out of work. However, the silver lining was that the company decided to keep him on as a remote project manager. He got those forty hours back, but another wave of despair came over him. All of his resources were moved to another location a few states away! Remote workers had a certain reputation, in his experience. Two women at a former company worked at home for a couple of days, and at the office for the remainder of the week. The only problem? They brought their remote casualness into the office, literally walking around in their pink fuzzy slippers and pajama-ish garb to keep that homey feel at all times.
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His experience dealing with people who worked remotely wasn’t much better. He could be on a conference call with them, and the front door bell would ring. They’d walk away from the call to answer the door, stop by the bathroom, make themselves a snack in the kitchen and sit down at their desk just in time enough to say, “Uh-huh, that sounds good to me. Talk to you next week.”
He didn’t want to be the ineffective fuzzy slipper-wearing, conference call-skipping, remote project manager. He was going to have remote control. The following are four things you can do to make your presence known as a project manager even if you’re not onsite with the team:
1. Be Overly-Accessible
Your availability needs to overcompensate for not being there in person. Sure, you have more flexibility while working remotely, but be mindful to not take advantage of this flexibility. Someone from your team calling? Answer it immediately. Make sure you have the instant messaging app for the system your company uses, and answer texts and email promptly. Even if you’re not in front of your screen or sitting at your desk, you need to be plugged in and responsive 110% of the time.
The reality is that you may be more digitally tethered to your team than you were at the office. You may have to take a call in the wee hours of the morning or late at night. That’s OK. Flexibility is a benefit of being a remote project manager that far outweighs these minor inconveniences.
2. Be Very Present During Online Meetings
Remember the example of the remote worker who answers the door and stops in other rooms on the way back to the call? Don’t do that! You need to be even more focused and diligent about listening and engaging than ever before. Treat a conference call just as if you were attending in person. No—even better, if, when you were there in person, you checked your phone for emails, texts, and were otherwise distracted. Don’t even do that. You need to ask questions, answer questions, and be an active participant.
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I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been on remote calls with people who forget to hit the mute button on the phone. They blabber away about a dispute on a bill, talk to their spouse, or the kids are screaming in the background. You can’t disconnect them fast enough! It’s extremely unprofessional and something you can’t afford to do as a remote control project manager.
3. Make Sure Out of Sight is Not Out of Mind
Let’s face it, there is some truth to the saying that out of sight is out of mind. When you are a remote project manager you aren’t going to bump into the president of the company in the hallway and have a quick chat. You can’t just drop by your boss’s office and see if she’s up for lunch. You need to make and take opportunities to let others know what you’re working on.
Strategically include the right people on pivotal or milestone email threads, and don’t inundate the president or your boss with a lot of unnecessary email. But, they will appreciate knowing when key deliverables have been accomplished. This also prepares them to answer, “What is he working on again?” whenever it comes up.
Be sure to have an agenda and plan for what you would like to accomplish when you arrive, to maximize your time on site. Help team members troubleshoot any issues they may have or clear obstacles out of their way. Take the team out for lunch if possible. Everyone will appreciate the extra time you spend with them while you are there.
Here’s what you DON’T do when you visit. Don’t hole yourself up in an office, check email, make phone calls, or do all the other stuff normally done remotely. Save this precious office time for face-to-face meetings and working directly with the team.
4. Make Trips to the Home Office
A fourth way you can be effective as a remote project manager is to make regular trips to wherever the team is located. It could be weekly, monthly, quarterly, or whatever your company’s budget and circumstances allow for. At that time, reconnect with the team and infuse into them the fact that you are just as committed to this project as ever. Your passion and excitement will go along way during those times that you are not present.
Remote managers are becoming more commonplace as our work force is changing. Oh yeah, one more thing. Please don’t wear your pink fuzzy slippers and pajama-ish garb when you do make it into the office. Any credibility you may have had up to this point will vanish instantly!