CXO

5 key considerations in managing remote project teams

Working with geographically distributed teams is common, but managing these teams can create significant challenges that leaders need to address. Here are five key considerations.

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Image: iStock/monsitj

The cloud is making it easier than ever before for businesses to adopt application delivery platforms that allow teams to work remotely. Working with geographically-dispersed teams can provide numerous benefits, such as access top talent that's unavailable locally, decreased general and administrative costs, a diverse culture, improved employee satisfaction, and higher retention levels. Ultimately, this also has the potential to translate back to increased customer satisfaction levels.

In 2014, a group at the London Business School's Global Leadership Summit estimated that 34% of the full-time workforce will be working remotely by 2020. As the workforce is increasingly moving toward a distributed model, organizations gain the flexibility to build and run a team of experts without being limited to physical presence and geography, but challenges remain.

Managing remote teams can create issues with communication, collaboration, and productivity, file sharing, document management, privacy and security, existing infrastructure. If your business is considering a distributed model for functional or project teams, here are a few considerations for ensuring they work effectively.

1. Better managing distributed teams using secured platforms

The security and integrity of your data are paramount when you are working with remote teams or when your employees are at co-working spaces. There is always an added risk when employees connect through unsecured, public, or shared wireless networks.

The aim here should be to make connections faster and more secure without sacrificing the integrity of the data. When it comes to performance, a content delivery network (CDN) can reduce the time it takes for data to reach an intended user and help improve performance while not sacrificing on security. For increased security, a web application firewall can more actively protect against threats like hacks and breaches. These basically prevent unwanted access which may compromise the system or its contents. Organizations should be using secure and encrypted connections through SSL/TLS in both client-facing and internal applications. Any latency-caused communication inefficiencies can be optimized through a CDN. Optimizing SSL connections this way can also ensure high-grade SSL implementation. For more on CDNs, here are a few guides to explain what they are and how they work.

SEE: Remote access policy (Tech Pro Research)

2. Proper security platform onboarding

Once you have determined the best solution for your business, team preparedness is next. Make sure the service provider is ready, willing and prepared to provide sufficient onboarding for your teams. This may seem like it's not a big deal, but ask any company about the impact and cost of insufficient onboarding. It can be a drain on time, resources and finances, not to mention down right frustrating. Top-notch solution providers understand the value of providing timely and thorough onboarding, including training to ensure there is a smooth transition.

Once your company is ready to start and complete the onboarding process, make sure to follow at least the next steps.

  1. Remember, you are responsible for how smoothly onboarding goes. Vendors may not always be able to anticipate all of your business onboarding needs.
  2. Put together a checklist of all the things you and your team may need to cover. It may be easy for vendors to forget that while the onboarding process is intuitive to them, it's brand new to your business;
  3. Take stock of tools and processes to make sure your teams and the vendor are ready for onboarding.
  4. Spell everything out in writing well in advance whenever possible.
  5. Slow things down. Don't rush this process and miss important steps; rework can be costly.
  6. Document issues and address them thoroughly before moving on to the next stage.
  7. Follow through with any outstanding issues, and get a commitment from vendors that they will address issues (including a timeline).
  8. Get consensus from all business stakeholders before onboarding is declared complete.

3. Managing finances

Odds are, budgets are always a factor, no matter how large your business. Moving to a distributed model has the potential to create significant cost savings through outsourcing infrastructure. Consider using an as-a-service option to take advantage of expertise, as well as moving to an operating expense-based structure vs. taking on lofty capital expenditures that take many years to depreciate. This removes the burden of dealing with return on investment issues.

4. Maintaining a close-knit company culture

When it comes to company culture, some may be concerned about the impact on company culture and whether team cohesion will be at risk as a result of physical distance. Having a distributed team environment doesn't mean a close-knit team isn't possible. Remote teams have to learn to rely on the strengths of their teammates, develop trust, and respect the diversity of thought and approach of other team members. What may be surprising is office politics may even lessen as individuals become more focused on the work and not internal employee issues that typically arise from day-to-day internal distraction.

If you are managing a remote team, it's important to consider limitations that may complicate work and collaboration for your remote team members and to do what you can to alleviate their stress.

  • Factor in some of the limitations like time zones, limited communication forms and styles, and motivational factors, among others.
  • Think about how to leverage the highest-level skills of each team member
  • It can be very difficult for remote workers to feel connected and part of the culture. Encourage and consider individual ideas and solutions to help create a more inclusive and collaborative team environment instead of the traditional 'boss' or 'subordinates' feel.
  • Share as much about projects and goals with team members to give them the best chance at meeting objectives. The more they know, the better they can anticipate issues and prepare for success.

SEE: 10 signs that you aren't cut out to be a telecommuter (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

5. Ensuring scalability

Scalability is another big consideration for companies and team effectiveness. Having the bandwidth in place to handle abnormal web traffic at all levels is another key consideration. The best functioning distributed teams can only perform as well as the infrastructure that's in place. In order to maximize team performance, there must be a robust network architecture capable of handling network-sized amounts of traffic, processing huge amounts of data at every turn.

The need to embrace distributed teams is rapidly becoming the norm as millennials opt for remote work over the traditional in-house environment. As a business leader, make it your mission to be prepared to manage this new workforce. Ensure you have the people, processes and the right technology in place to create and lead your new world workforce to create a sustainable competitive advantage.

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About Moira Alexander

Moira Alexander is the author of "LEAD or LAG: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership" and Founder & President of Lead-Her-Ship Group. She's also a project management and IT freelance columnist for various publications, and a contr...

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