A topic that comes up often these days is how to motivate remote teams on IT
projects. It comes up because teams consist of personnel that are scattered all
over the country and the globe. Technology enables people to work from home or a
combination of work-home-travel. Sometimes teams are assembled ad-hoc for
specific projects and then the people move on to other projects. Usually teams
have daily duties other than projects. Project managers find it necessary to
keep focus and timing for success. These are some techniques for project
managers to consider for remote teams:

Know your people

Take the time to meet project team and remote members either on the phone or in
person. It is only natural in one-on-one conversations to learn their
aspirations for work and personal life. This experience will allow you to speak
to them in their language and ultimately save time. Note that project team
meetings need to focus on the project not on individuals, partly to respect
everyone's time.

A consistent heartbeat

Do what you do on a project on a consistent basis because more than anything
else people want stability and structure in their lives. People come to expect
your status reports and queries and notifications of looming deadlines.

Responsibilities and Estimates

Project managers should almost never estimate time for others; they should shift
the burden of estimation to those responsible for actually doing the work.This
principle is necessary when the work is to be performed by IT professionals; it
may not apply to all types of projects. The people doing to work take ownership
and responsibility for the estimate and for the work itself. They recognize that
they have only themselves to blame for delays on their part of the project. This
principle may be obvious but it is necessary as a pre-condition to success.
Ideally all estimates come from the functional manager to the project manager.
IT personnel tend to underestimate their work and duration because of complexity
and because any system change must fit into a larger whole. For IT and software
development PERT estimation makes schedules more realistic.

Peer pressure and accountability

Remote teams need to be aware of the effect they have on the project and the
consequences of not meeting their responsibilities. Project managers should make
team expectations agreed and visible to the larger organization. Project
managers also need to celebrate team contributions. There is nothing like
accountability for motivation on projects. That is why it is so important to
document roles and responsibilities in a project plan. The Wikipedia definition
of accountability is instructive here:

"Accountability is the acknowledgment and assumption of responsibility for
actions, products, decisions, and policies including the administration,
governance, and implementation within the scope of the role or employment
position and encompassing the obligation to report, explain and be answerable
for resulting consequences."

Communications

Take advantage of modern communications like videoconferencing, intranet chat
rooms, a virtual team rooms, and systems like SharePoint. Research by the
Project Management Institute has demonstrated that project managers spend 90% of
their time communicating. That is why some project managers come home and do not
want to talk…they are tired of talking. There is nothing more important to
project success than clear concise communications.

Matrix Organizations

 In a matrix organization, a worker's allegiance will be oriented primarily to the
functional manager and not to the project manager. As a project manager, who do
you turn to for updates as a project progresses; do you turn to the professional
actually doing the work or to the functional manager. In most cases you want
project updates to come from the functional manager. You may get technical
updates from subject matter experts and others that report to functional
managers; do not get schedule updates from staff unless the functional manager
is not available. Functional managers should report progress weekly in
conference to the larger organization so that they seek to avoid the
embarrassment factor. The organization should have reports weekly from project
managers and functional managers in weekly all hands calls. Project managers can
make projects visible via dashboards on internal websites and via status reports
on emails and via project management software and project servers. The objective
is to maintain a focus on the positive, a focus on the destination.

Project Success

 Organizations do not undertake projects unless the project will remove a pain
point for the organization. Therefore any project is important; there are no
unimportant projects. Yes, some projects have higher priority than others. And
there is a natural best sequence of projects. The point is that remote teams
need to understand the importance of the project to their own financial and
career success. It is the job of the project manager to maintain the vision of
project success for the team by words, tone of voice, and body language. Normal
people want to be associated with successful projects. Successful projects are a
cause for celebration, can provide financial rewards, and at a minimum provide
something to add to a resume. Successful projects attract people to associate
with the project manager; a series of successful projects become the resume of
the organization which in turn attracts people to the organization.

Metrics

 Usually project managers measure success on the three dimensions of schedule,
cost, and quality. However there may be other measures that are important to the
project sponsors and to those affected by the project. For example a series of
changes to an application software may meet schedule, cost, and quality metrics,
but the Information Assurance group has an interest in whether the changes
advance or retard the security posture of the software. So make sure you know
what metrics you will need to monitor. Metrics are a way of keeping score. No
one wants to be deluded that a project is proceeding successfully only to find
that they have been following a mirage.

Rewards

 Some organizations underestimate the value of non-financial rewards to their
staff. A highly regarded award can mean as much to a remote team worker as a
financial incentive because resumes are about status and stronger resumes equal
stronger salaries. Encourage autonomy, an under-rated incentive. Use carrots and
sticks wisely.

Cultures

 Much has been written about the differences between cultures and how management
can get things done internationally. For example, humor can attract or divide
depending on how it is handled. Not all humor is universal. Some humor may be
offensive. Project managers like all managers need to acquire sensitivity to
peoples of other cultures and maintain respect and focus on the project. The
project is universal; not everything else is universal.

The international project

If you manage people on different continents and time zones, consider setting up
"office hours" (an opt-in conference call) three times a week for an hour. Thus
you all know that staff can always count on those times – those heartbeats – to
talk with the team and handle any major problems that have come up. Use a chat
room every single day to stay in touch and encourage employees to share any
great content they find. Email is great, but not necessarily for keeping up with
day-to-day operations.

Time zones

 When you have a deadline, be sure everyone knows when it's due in their time zone,
as well as your own. Perhaps "all times Eastern" would work. Make sure your
customers and clients are aware of the time differences, as well, so you can
schedule meetings and launches accordingly.

Giving credit

 You're in a meeting or phone call and giving status. Should you give credit for
completed work to the individual or to the team. This can be debated but in
reality it depends. If the work can be attributed to an individual say the name
of the individual person and thank them for their contribution.

Praisy people

 Project Managers need to praise people whenever possible, particularly when
"bringing someone back from the brink." If you have a remote worker that is
displaying signs of weakening, you need be firm about it but also let them know
that they are not isolated from the team in spirit even if by location. As they
work their way back you need to take every opportunity to praise them and give
credit on a team conference call.

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