7 tips to remote project management: a Hoxby guide
THE BEST ADVICE ON HOW YOUR ORGANISATION CAN BE SUCCESSFUL AT REMOTE PROJECT MANAGEMENT
January 10, 2020
In March 2019 after a short career hiatus, I joined Hoxby and, to my great excitement, my life as a remote project manager resumed. As part of this 1,000-strong freelance community of associates from across 43 countries, we’ve been managing projects remotely for more than five years. I’ve drawn on my personal and our collective experiences to share our best advice to help your organisation achieve success in remote project management.
Read on for clear, actionable and practical advice…
1. Remote project management isn’t the same as ‘in-office’ project management.
We call our project managers ‘project leads’ to emphasise their leadership capabilities. Without ‘watercooler’ moments to informally check on your colleagues about their progress on a task, as a remote project manager you need to recognise that some of your team might need more attention than others, for example to check that they are clear with all deliverables and methodology. Although we have virtual meetings and ‘see’ people, it doesn’t replace a face-to-face meeting and the hints you get from body language and people dynamics, so you need to be a strong leader and pick up on this virtually.
2. Create a strong culture with shared values.
At Hoxby we’ve found that our shared values play a huge part in the success of our project leads. Our values are #happierworld, #playyourpart, #bettertogether, #lovewhatyoudo, #alwaysimproving and #respecttheworkstyle. This is reflected when we are aligned to a common goal on a project; there is no jostling for position or ‘politics’ because we are all only as good as our last project. We are in it together and this is really key – our values are embedded, lived, and believed in by all, not just painted on the wall and ignored.
3. Build a model around a team of people keen to work on your projects.
Our project teams are put together with associates who’ve been selected after applying via our curation process, having described their skills, experiences, passion and enthusiasm to be part of the team. Managing a project with people who **want **to be there makes a huge difference! So wherever possible, empower your people to opt in to the projects they want to work on. This also means you get the best skillset for each job and better outcomes all round.
4. Enable and empower your remote project managers by creating clear frameworks, and trusting them to do their best.
We recommend these steps:
- Design a recruitment flow that aligns to your values and requirements. About 100 of our associates are project leads (PL). To become a PL, we’ve created a process where you demonstrate your skills, experience and desire to be a PL, followed by a one-to-one with our project management director.
- Create an induction phase: Our PLs go through a list of documents and actions they need to read/complete, such as: sign PL contract, access the PL G-drive, request a Hoxby email address, get training on project management tools (for example Basecamp).
- Provide useful information and guidelines. We’ve created our ‘guide to being a great PL’ which includes all the documents, processes and FAQs they’ll need.
- Set up a closed community where they feel safe to share. We have a private Slack channel exclusively for PL’s, where they can exchange ideas, share best practice, receive relevant messages, feel part of a like-minded community, share challenges and troubleshoot (another example of how we have embedded the #bettertogether value).
- Communicate about new projects, encouraging their application. Our PLs are able to apply for project lead opportunities that are being advertised on our internal opportunities platform.
5. Pick the right tools
We’ve selected tools based on various criteria that were important for our projects, having tested them collectively as our ‘Hoxby’ tools. A coherent toolset speeds up our processes, increases our collaboration and efficiency and levels our expectations. While we stick to our default tools, we do consider new tools when there is a collective need for it or if a project has specific requirements that need to be met.
Some questions you might like to consider when choosing your own tools include:
- Are you working in an agile or waterfall manner?
- Do you need to give clients access for collaboration?
- Do you want to be able to link different tools together?
Here are some of the tools we use for our projects:
- Slack – For community messaging (read the best Slack hacks too)
- G-Suite – For all documentation and storage
- Google Meet – For video calling
- Zoom – For video calls that need to be recorded
- Basecamp – For all project management activity
- Trello – For all task management
- Mural – For whiteboarding and collaboration
- WorkflowMax – For logging project time and getting paid
- MyHoxby (our internal portal) – For applying for opportunities and updating your profile
6. Clearly define what the responsibilities of the project manager and other key roles are.
Doing this will prevent miscommunication and align expectations. We like to define responsibilities between our project leads and our business directors, including how we split them between end-client project management and other client administrative tasks, depending on the various stages of the project. For example, the business director is the overarching client contact, while the PL is the daily contact for the client.
In addition to specific responsibilities, your project manager should promote and enable support within the whole team, empowering them for effective remote working.
7. Capture, compile and share summary information and learnings for future best-practice.
As you’ve seen above, one of the responsibilities of our PLs is to gather post-project feedback from both the team and the client. We encourage you to set up systems that will allow everybody in the team to feel they can share their opinions and ideas to work better, always emphasising on constructive feedback. We link this to our values #bettertogether and #alwaysimproving. We use a typeform to gather comments, organise an end of project meeting and share any learning in our project lead Slack channel. We recommend having the summary meeting as close as possible to the end of the project, so that everything is fresh in people’s minds.
So there you have it: our 7 step guide for successful remote project management. To further support you, we’ve also set out below some helpful hints about succeeding as remote project managers.
Set expectations and ways of working at the outset.
This is important in establishing what’s expected amongst team members, in terms of professional and social behaviour and should reinforce the organisation’s values.
Never assume, always make things explicit and avoid jargon.
Ensure that everyone is aware of their responsibility for a task – send a direct message or tag them in the channel so that you reach them and receive confirmation.
Tasks, deadlines and milestones need to be clearly communicated and readily accessible to all team members. Reiterate often, as information can get missed when not relayed in person.
Keep your communication channels open
You want your team to know they can go to you for anything, whether a chat about how they feel, the project or difficulty they’re encountering. Tell them about your workstyle and how they can reach you outside of regular stand-ups.
Check in via regular or daily stand-ups (written or video), but avoid meetings for meetings’ sake
This links to points 1 and 2. Doing this will give you the confidence that the team understands what they have to deliver, that you are aware of progress and are keeping within your budget. In an office situation you can check in with people in an informal manner – it’s harder when you’re remote.
Encourage all project-related conversations to be in one place.
It prevents duplicated conversations happening in parallel via direct messages or emails. We like to create a separate channel for each project (which is archived once the project is finished) and everyone on the project is encouraged to hold their conversations here. We also only use email for client conversations and Slack for all internal conversations. Sometimes a direct message is needed and that’s ok.
Trust in the ability of people in your team to deliver on their responsibilities and let the team work. Encourage mature ways of working. Our PLs are in the background.
Compile and share the team’s ‘workstyle’.
In our community, we all have different workstyles. Being remote in other organisations doesn’t necessarily mean flexible working, but it does for us. If that’s also your case, make sure your team provides the times and days they work, compile them in a user-friendly document (see image) and pin it to your project Slack channel for easy access. We compile all workstyles in GMT regardless of where team members are based in the world.
Recognise that some colleagues might need more support than others.
Some team members might need more handholding than others due to level of experience or time in the organisation. It’s important to recognise this, offering reassurance and support to those who need it. Our collective encourages everybody to have a say, which is different from the corporate world so takes time to get used to for some. Our PLs realise this and provide the appropriate support/encouragement.
Our project team workstyle document
I hope you find this guide useful. Feel free to share, discuss and add your comments on the social channels where this article is shared. And if you need help setting up or supporting your own remote project managers, our futureproofing workshops can help remote teams to work efficiently and productively together.
Amelie Taralle is an operations project manager with more than 20 years of experience. She is part of the Hoxby community.