Business teams are now forced to reevaluate protocols and adjust to the current landscape of being unable to gather employees in office spaces to coordinate and manage work. While there are some jobs which need to happen on site, much of the coordination and support services can be done by a decentralised team. This is of course not without significant challenges. There is a reason companies have and continue to invest a lot in physical office spaces. These spaces provide many benefits to both managers and their teams that no project management tool or app can replace. Attempting to do so by adopting any of the project management tools discussed in this article without adjusting your organization's culture, the KPIs for your managers and the guidelines for your employees will be time consuming and most likely fail. The entire leadership of the organisation needs to recognise the challenges faced in getting work done remotely and lay down necessary protocols and guidelines to ensure that teams can do it successfully. To find out more about these guidelines check out our previous article here.
Working from home while it may sound more laid back actually requires more planning and a second, deeper look into your operational processes and workflow. This is because in a physical office where entire teams are present, ambiguities in your process as it develops and grows can be resolved as work is being carried out by having everyone present to address them. As such the onboarding process of teams to distributed project management tools is multiple fold. Organisations and managers must take a deep dive into the processes of their teams and strive to remove all ambiguity such that these processes can be mapped onto a project management (PM) framework if this is not already done. Managers and all team members also have to adjust their working patterns, develop the necessary protocols and guidelines to push work through their pipeline, while learning the tools necessary to do this remotely.
Remote working teams have the option of using multiple online tools to help them do this which include; video conferencing and messenger apps, project management apps, and file management services. Depending on the requirements many teams use multiple project management apps to handle; ideation and conceptualisation, project workflow, team and asset utilization, and the organization of knowledge resources. Many project management apps offer a combination of these requirements but depending on which you deem critical to your operation, and based on the nature of your business you may need to select more than one. SMEs need to make the decision of which combinations of these tools are vital for their operations as many of them are around the price point of $10/user/month. Which when being multiplied by the number of people in your organisation can get very expensive. For large enterprises Microsoft Project and Portfolio Management offers many of these tools bundled together at a price point which makes sense at scale.
Smart phones and messaging apps bring the power information and collaboration right into your hands but how do you make this stream of information actionable? (P2)
Communication Management Apps
As a business team you may already be used to communicating over a number of different platforms including email, whatsapp and other chat messengers. However communication over multiple unsynced mediums can result in work being duplicated, not getting to the right people, or being delayed. In a remote working arrangement it is extra important that updates regarding the work being done are shown to all those it should be. Using multiple communication apps is possible but that will require you to also assign someone to reenter updates discussed on these different communication platforms onto your project management application. The alternative is to use a communication app like Slack which has integrations with most project management apps. The goal of slack is to replace both emails and messenger apps for your internal teams. Ensuring that everyone is always updated allowing you to easily turn messages and feedback into new tasks and ways forward. If you are a small team that mostly communicates with clients or teams outside your organisation that do not use slack this may not be the right application for you but if you are a larger team with alot of internal communication, this may help your team significantly. Additionally slack has video conferencing inbuilt which is essential to remote working teams as we discuss at below.
Video conferencing is an essential part of remote working (P3)
With the implementation of 4G and Fibre communication networks, gone are the days of painfully glitchy video calls with migrain inducing lag, and it is important that businesses take advantage of this. Highlighted in our previous article, Developing a Remote Working Culture, issues with members in a remote working team tend to go unnoticed unless good communication protocols are set up to ensure that concerns and challenges are discussed and addressed as soon as possible. Additionally, with remote working teams, members can feel isolated and disconnected from the team and the organisation as a whole. Utilizing video conferencing applications such as Zoom and Hangouts, which support multiple participants is highly beneficial to address both these problems. Make sure to have daily meetings but limit the time for each meeting to 15-30, more time is not always good, but make sure everyone is able to have a turn speaking to voice out their concerns and get clarity on their tasks to be completed.
Collaborating on a single document removes the hassle of version control and ensures everyone is looking at the right information (P4)
Sharing and Collaborating on Documents
When developing a central repository for your teams files you must adhere to the best file management practices, which mean keeping the most updated versions of documents categorized in a meaningful, searchable manner. If not followed properly your team can be sure to experience considerable delays when attempting to work remotely. This is because while adhoc, sub par file management is workable in a regular office environment where when a team member cannot locate a file they can simply ask it from another member right in front of them. In remote working this is not possible and can lead to unnecessary stress and time wastage that will significantly impact both the efficiency and morale of the team.
The key benefit to adopting a service like Gsuite or Office 365 is that you can be assured that everyone is looking at the same version of the document while having a history of all the changes that have been made to it. Additionally commenting features allow team members to tag each other to specific locations in your document, spreadsheet, or powerpoint to coordinate easily while still being apart.
Project Management tools such as Kanban boards and Gantt charts are built into most Project Management tools to help teams estimate and track their work. (P5)
Project Management Apps
There are a myriad of project management applications, all with a slew of features and integrations with common workplace applications such as your outlook or gmail, which allow you to create tasks on the Project Management App from emails received or sent. To identify which application is suitable for your business you need to answer important questions about your processes and what you want the project management app to do for you.
To onboard an entire business to a remote project management framework, you will probably need to use multiple project management apps and tools based on the requirements of each team but it is important to have a base app upon which the other apps can be integrated onto.
As mentioned before if you are a large corporation you may want to look at Microsoft Project and Portfolio Manager which bundles many of the required features into one offering at a more competitive price point when compared to paying separately for each.
Many project management (PM) applications that focus on workflow management are malleable enough to be used by all business divisions. Among the list are; Jira Core, Asana, Mavenlink, Clickup, Bitrix24, Basecamp, and Notion. Each can be modified by teams to create a process structure suitable for them. Many of them also offer integrations to project management apps designed for specialized teams; including apps designed to help ideation and collaborative design such as Miro and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) apps such as Salesforce. For smaller teams Basecamp might be the right app for you as it combines communication app features with workflow management. Bitrix also gives businesses a very competitve offering by bundling communication app features, with workflow management frameworks for each business division even including templates for different industries.
To coordinate a team successfully managers need to ensure that each member's work is clearly communicated to them along with the definitions of what it means to have completed each particular task. This can be a checklist of; what specifically to ask when making a client call, requirements to adhere to in a design, and approvals to be obtained to move the project to the next stage of the process. Additionally, information on the completed task such as the time taken and the costs incurred to complete it may need to also be captured. It is important to understand that a project management app is just a tool. What will manage your team’s work is the process structure you set up to ensure that work moves down the pipeline. You can use a project management app as a tool to craft this structure but you need to account for contingencies, allow for failures and accept changes to the process you initially layout to allow it to improve.