It's official—the modern workforce is going remote.
For many remote teams, communication remains a critical challenge they are still trying to master. Coordinating workflows can be tricky when teammates are spread across the world, but your clients still expect you to deliver their projects on schedule. The good news is that you can make remote work a practical option for your team with the right system.
In this piece, we will look at how remote project management differs from traditional methods and the steps you can take to manage your remote projects successfully.
Benefits of remote project management
If you're already managing a remote project team (or are considering it), you know there are many positives to doing so. Here are just a few:
- Lower operating costs (no office means no rent!). Research shows that U.S. companies could save $700 billion with increased adoption of remote work. With less overhead, businesses could save money.
- Improved work-life balance for your team. Remote workers in Buffer's 2022 State of Remote Work said flexibility is the most significant benefit they experience. Choosing how, when, and where you work helps people set healthy boundaries between work and life.
- Ability to attract top talent regardless of geography. Remote project teams can span across countries, allowing you to work with the most skilled people no matter where they are.
What makes remote project management different?
Managing projects and teams in different locations isn't without its challenges. Not only can it be harder to stay on top of tasks and deadlines, but it can also be harder to keep your team on the same page. Without the regular meetings, lunches, and break room chats that happen in an office environment, it can be difficult to accurately gauge how a project is going and what (if anything) your team needs help on.
That's where remote management comes in.
By controlling how your team operates and communicates, you're able to keep everyone working as if they were in the same office. Whether you need to talk about deliverables, budgets, or deadlines, communicating with your team is essential to keeping your business on track.
How do you manage a project in a remote team?
The core ingredients for delivering a successful project are the same regardless of where the project is being worked on from. Factors that can influence the success of a remote project include:
- Outlining transparent processes for each person's role
- Ensuring deadlines are agreed upon and set in advance
- Finding a project management approach that empowers your team to get the job done on time and within budget
Step 1. Create a shared vision with a project spec
The best way to set a project up for success is to lay the proper foundation.
While simple projects can often be managed with minimal effort, complex projects tend to have many moving pieces, so giving everyone a detailed rundown in a project spec before things kick off is useful. A detailed project spec can help you:
- Define assumptions
- Enable communication with your team and project stakeholders
- Document project scope and budget
- Schedule baselines
Giving your team a detailed spec allows you to set expectations for each team member from the beginning. If you're already using cross-team collaboration tools like Google Docs or Dropbox to handle project documents, you can quickly build a project spec using those tools as well.
An example of a project spec template from Dropbox Paper.
One of the best things about building your project spec in a cloud-based collaboration tool is that they are living, breathing documents. If you need to change a deadline or deliverable, you can jump into the document, make the change, and notify the necessary team members. Think of it as a digital replacement for a project whiteboard.
Your project specifications should include four key areas:
- What goals are you working towards?
What problem are you solving for your client with this project? Figure it out and include it in your project brief, which will help keep everyone on the same page from conception to delivery.
- What's the scope of the project?
What are you hoping the project will achieve? Map out deliverables that are achievable in the project's timescale. Don't squeeze everything into a project if it's not doable.
- What's the project timeline?
How long do you have to complete the project? Define the project's critical tasks as opposed to the nice-to-haves. Dates will inevitably change as the project progresses, yet it's important to highlight which parts of a project need to be completed at specific stages to keep it on track.
- Who's responsible for what?
Every critical task should be assigned to a team member before a project starts. If you don't know who to assign to what yet, at the very minimum, have a list of each task before you conduct the project kickoff call. Adding tasks after you've handed out the project spec can confuse and overwhelm your team, so the clearer you are from the start, the better.
A project planning tool like Float lets you tentatively assign tasks to team members or create tasks and mark them as unassigned to return to later. Not only does this help you get a clearer idea of how tasks can be allocated amongst team members when the project kicks off, but it also allows you to map out how far you can stretch the project's budget.
Tentative tasks in Float are displayed as a color outline on the schedule to clarify that they haven't been confirmed yet.
Once the project specifications have been figured out, send them to your team. Everyone should be on the same page about the project's goals, scope, timeline, and individual responsibilities.
2. Bring the team together before the project begins
Next, it's time to bring your team together—virtually, of course!
Just like in step 1, cloud-based collaboration tools are essential here. Tools like Zoom can provide you with a virtual meeting room for your team. Getting everyone together before a project kicks off ensures that potential issues or roadblocks are dealt with before they become more significant problems.
The Float team using Zoom for a quarterly town hall meeting.
Meeting virtually instead of in person is not without its challenges. Body language cues and objections are more difficult to pick up on in a virtual meeting (the occasional connectivity issue doesn't help either). However, you can use a few processes to ensure the meeting runs smoothly.
- Make sure you can see (and hear) everyone
Nothing kills a meeting's vibe quicker than having a team member's audio cut in and out or having a faulty video connection. Make sure you do a quick ask-around at the start of the meeting to ensure that everybody can see and hear each other.
- Make sure everyone receives the agenda before the start of the meeting
You can use templates from Google Docs or Dropbox Paper to quickly build a plan without spending hours on it. Sending out the meeting agenda beforehand helps keep things on track and lets team members prepare questions ahead of time.
- Make sure meetings don't throw off your team's schedule
People are busy, and this meeting won't be the only task on your team's calendars for the day. Just like in-person meetings have a set time limit, ensure your virtual meetings do as well. If team members want to discuss things that aren't on the agenda, let them know that you'll note them, and they'll be dealt with at the next catch-up. Otherwise, the meeting can get easily derailed.
- Make sure you record the meeting
Following on from our single source of truth talk in step 1, keeping a record of the kickoff meetings is essential. The Zoom record feature is handy for keeping meeting minutes if there are team members who can't make it.
The record feature in Zoom makes it easy for teams to keep meeting records.
- Make sure everybody is excited about the project
Sometimes it's hard for remote teams to kick off projects with the same excitement level that comes with in-house work. Building up as much enthusiasm as possible on the team call when you've got everyone together is vital. Once the kickoff call is done, it's time to begin putting processes in place for what the day-to-day life cycle of the project is going to look like.
Step 3. Keep everyone on the same page and track every task and deadline
After kicking off the project, you'll need a place to manage its day-to-day life cycle. Some teams use spreadsheets or Google Docs to do this, while others put their tasks and deadlines into a project planning tool. Let's look at how the latter can help your remote projects run more smoothly.
A project planning tool can help bring a project's single source of truth to life. Every billable hour, deadline, deliverable, and budget can be kept in one place. It keeps everybody on the same page and allows the team to see who is responsible for what and where the project should be at certain stages of its life cycle. Every billable hour and variable is tracked and accounted for, and when the budget is reached, it's easily visible to the relevant project manager.
Using a communication tool like Slack alongside a project management tool can keep your team connected no matter where they work from. We use many tools (including Slack) for day-to-day communications at Float. We have channels for #customer-success and #product for individual departments. We also have a #float team channel for anything business related, and our #general is where we talk about anything from our weekends to...basketball 🏀. Check out Float's integration with Slack here.
Get a live view of who's working from where with Float
The schedule in Float gives you a live view of who's working on what, when, and from where. For distributed remote teams, this high-level view makes it easy to see everything you need to know to plan project work confidently.Try for free
Step 4: Plan your team’s schedule
Being a remote project manager isn't just about setting deadlines and keeping budgets on track. You must also look after the most important resource within your business—your team.
Using a tool like Float, you can stay on top of things like time zone differences and regional holidays. You can tag each person with their location and set up public holidays based on location. For example, if you have a remote team member working from Brooklyn, you can import public holidays for New York and block them out on their schedule.
The days will be grayed out on their calendar, and the holiday details will display over the date at the top. Besides public holidays, you can manage your team’s time off with a view of capacity and project timelines by approving time off requests in Float.
Tasks assigned to your team are automatically adjusted to their local time zone, to ensure that your team is completing the right tasks on the right day. For example, if a Melbourne-based project manager assigns a task to a London-based designer at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, that task will display at 2 p.m. on Wednesday on your designer’s schedule as well (despite the 11-hour time difference).
Manage your team's availability on autopilot
Float has powerful capacity planning features that help automate managing team availability. Set custom work days and hours, add time off, import public holidays, schedule future point-in-time availability, and sync with Google or Outlook Calendar.Try for free
Step 5: Keep team members motivated and engaged
Sometimes working remotely can get lonely when team members are far away. It is common for remote employees to find it hard to unplug and feel burned out. According to the Buffer 2022 State of Remote Work report, 16% of remote workers said they were lonely, and 27% say they have trouble unplugging from work.
If left unchecked, your team might become less engaged and productive. You can help your team navigate remote work by:
- Keeping an eye out for personal issues and blockers. Not everyone will be willing to share, but you can pick up on signals in their mood, tone, and facial expressions.
- Sharing personal tips for productivity and work-life balance. Don’t hesitate to tell your team what works for you!
- Being mindful of time zone differences and regional holidays while planning. For example, in Float, if you have remote team members working from Brooklyn, you can import public holidays for New York and block them out on their schedule.
- Encouraging calls and informal chats. We use the Slack extension Donut to pair team members randomly once a month for video chats. It’s a great way to get to know each other better outside of a work context.
- Meeting in real life. If the project lasts long enough and you have the funds, you can organize a team meetup.
- Celebrating all wins, both big and small. It helps your team to know the work they do is impactful. Praise them for a job well done, and when a milestone is reached or the project ends, hold a virtual celebration.
What remote project management tools should you use?
It’s impossible to manage projects remotely without technology. Your tool stack will vary according to your needs, but you’d need tools to communicate, manage projects, and share information.
You can start with the basics and then add more tools. Here are some recommendations based on our tool stack at Float:
What remote project management looks like in real life
When Bristol-based brand agency Halo launched, the company didn't have a single client on its books.
They've since earned a spot as a Design Week Top 100 consultancy, working alongside household names and challenger brands in FMCG, lifestyle, music, and entertainment. Working remotely is a big part of their culture.
Nick and Vern, co-founders of Halo.
Halo uses remote project management tools to enable them to have flexible working hours and to collaborate.
"We believe it's important to keep the working process as fluid as possible, which often means enabling a flexible approach, engaging with technology, and keeping an open mind," founders Nick Ellis and Vern Edmonds say. "It's performance that matters, not geography."
Whether you've got a virtual team of 25 or 250, managing projects remotely (and successfully) relies on the same core principles. With a project planning tool like Float, you can plan your projects and assign tasks to team members' schedules. You can set different lengths for tasks to let your team know how long they have to complete each one.
Assigning tasks like this helps your team members focus on one thing at a time by time blocking their schedules and gives a clear outline of how projects will progress toward the finish line.
To keep your project on track, each task is accounted for within your overall project budget, which can be measured in dollars spent or hours exhausted. Directing projects like this gives managers more control and puts things like budget control on autopilot.
Manage remote projects like a pro using Float
Managing projects remotely isn't all that different from managing them in a high-rise office somewhere. Keeping a remote team on track requires setting guidelines and laying a new foundation at the beginning of every project.
Remote project managers must still compile a detailed project spec, hold a kickoff meeting, and track the project vigilantly until it's in the hands of the client. The real challenge is ensuring that a team spread across the globe can come together to get the job done.
Remote project management tools help teams stay on the same page, even when they aren't in the same building. A tool like Float gives you a centralized view of your people and projects to see who's working on what and when. With a single source of truth for people and their time, you can plan more effectively, ensuring that assigned work matches their capacity. And with the right arsenal, you can deliver your projects on time (every time) no matter where your team is!