Project management is a broad discipline filled with countless details and touching every corner of a project. Keeping on top of all those details, tasks, and people can feel overwhelming even in ideal circumstances!
As more and more teams have gone remote these days, many project managers are experiencing a new layer of complexity as they delve into a new type of project management: remote project management.
While the core principles are the same, the details sometimes aren’t — leaving even those with years of project management experience unsure of the best approach to remote models.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll show you what remote project management looks like, the benefits and drawbacks of this approach, and a step-by-step guide for managing remote teams. We’ll finish out with some recommendations, showing you a few of the top tools remote project managers use.
What is remote project management?
Remote project management is the discipline of planning and managing a project (and ensuring goals are met on budget and on time) while some or all team members do most or all of their work remotely. The project manager may also work remotely in the remote project management model.
In other words, remote project management is just project management done in remote and hybrid environments.
Still, the discipline is more than simply slapping existing PM processes and strategies onto a remote team. There are certain key differences in how a remote project manager operates and the challenges a remote project manager is likely to face. These differences practically require that remote project managers use some form of project management software, among other digital tools.
What are the benefits of remote project management?
While managing a remote team has its challenges, it also provides numerous benefits for businesses and team members alike, including:
Enables simple planning and task delegation
Implementing project management allows organizations to understand the scope and schedule of projects and more efficiently assign tasks to individuals. None of this relies on being in the same room, so using the right tools enables relatively simple planning and task delegation — regardless of where your team is.
Saves your company money in the long run
Commercial real estate isn’t cheap, so needing less of it is usually a good thing for a company’s bottom line. There are other costs associated with remote work, but these tend to be significantly lower than the costs of traditional in-office employment.
Fortune reports that businesses could save as much as $11,000 per employee who switches to a remote or hybrid work model.
Your employees save money, too: around $423 per month on average.
Helps create a healthy work-life balance
Many employees enjoy working from home because it means spending more time at home with the people they love. Simply deleting commute time from people’s lives is a huge net increase in family or negotiable time. And when someone needs to step away from work for a minute, a stroll through the neighborhood beats meandering through sterile gray hallways any day of the week.
Offers transparent reporting and feedback
With a remote model, there’s simply no way to succeed without providing clear reporting. As a result, project managers managing remote teams rely even more heavily on tracking and feedback than traditional PMs. With the right systems in place, workers and leaders alike can have a clearer, more transparent picture of how things are going.
What are the cons of remote project management?
While remote teams and remote project management are both attractive for many businesses, be aware of these cons or challenges.
Collaborating is different: Depending on what your team does, collaboration may be harder or less synergistic in a remote environment. Even when it isn’t harder, it happens differently when you’re remote.
Solving certain problems is harder: Before, most project managers could walk over to the next department and check on that stuck task or frustrated team member. It can be challenging — especially for project managers used to in-person teams — to solve some of these issues as easily with remote and hybrid teams.
Developing employees requires a different approach: Aspects of employee development work better in person. There’s no remote analog to watching how an experienced employee reacts well to a difficult client or solves a business challenge with emotional intelligence.
Building trust can be challenging: Remote teams can and do build trust, but most managers agree this happens faster and more naturally when everyone works together on site. These five tactics for keeping your remote project team on track can help.
For many of these cons, better project planning tools and collaboration tools are major difference-makers. Learn how Teamwork empowers better project management for remote work.
Step-by-step guide for managing a remote project team
Follow these steps if you’re managing a remote project team for the first time (or if you’re looking to achieve better results this time around).
Step 1: Define the team structure and work expectations
In-office teams usually have clear work expectations: show up at 8, have lunch at 12, and leave at 5. That traditional pattern was already growing more flexible, but the shift toward hybrid and remote teams has reshaped priorities and expectations.
So, your first step is defining and understanding your team's structure and what everyone is expected to do. Are at-home employees locked into specific hours, or are they given the flexibility to work when they want? What’s the protocol for contacting those employees when they aren’t “in”?
Project managers can save loads of frustration by defining these elements before engaging in a project.
Step 2: Define communication expectations
Your team members likely have numerous questions surrounding communication expectations.
How will you structure check-ins?
What about reporting tasks?
How will you measure efficiency? Will you use time tracking?
Are remote employees expected to check in or report proactively? Where and how?
Who is responsible for communicating with senior stakeholders?
Especially if this is your or a team member’s first remote project, make sure to define your expectations early and gently intervene when you encounter people failing to communicate adequately.
Step 3: Select a methodology
Before you can start planning your project fully, you’ll need to settle on a project management methodology. Will this project and team benefit from an agile approach, or will you stick with something more traditional? Make sure your team knows your chosen methodology and that everyone understands how that methodology functions.
Your choice of methodology will also inform the types, frequency, and pace of meetings you’ll need to schedule.
Step 4: Plan and schedule the project using a project planning tool
Next up is laying out the project timelines, including milestones, phases, deliverables, and more. At this point, you’ll need a project management tool in which to lay out those elements.
The right project management tools make the biggest difference for remote teams, allowing them to see at a glance what needs to happen in a given day, week, or month. Project managers gain better insights into project progress, better tracking tools, and a better overall handle on the project.
Step 5: Communicate and problem-solve using collaboration tools
Once your project is scheduled and launched, your job as a remote project manager shifts somewhat from planner and architect to tracker and coach.
You’ll need to communicate frequently with your project team so you can keep your finger on the pulse of the project. (Or, even better, have your team communicate with you by marking tasks complete in your project management software.)
You’ll also be doing plenty of problem-solving and maybe a bit of refereeing. You’re working with people, after all.
The difference with all of this is the lack of ability to just get up, walk around, and collect the information you need (or solve the problem you can overhear from your desk!).
Here’s where the right collaboration tools come into play. You need the ability to communicate instantly, effectively, and clearly, and the right tools make all the difference.
Best tools for remote project management
We’ve said it a couple of times already: For remote project management to succeed, you need the right set of tools. Whether you’re in software development, manufacturing, creative work, or just about anything else, here are three indispensable tools that empower remote workers to succeed in initiatives and projects.
Teamwork is a full-service project management platform that’s perfect for remote teams. It provides all the tools you’ll need for project planning, project scheduling, and project and task management, all in a friendly interface that’s both easy to learn and insanely powerful.
Teamwork is cloud-based, so team members across time zones can update project status, track and log time, and keep themselves oriented to who’s doing what and when.
Our project management platform is a massive upgrade to tracking projects in a spreadsheet, and it’s an essential part of succeeding with remote project management.
Gives teams access to powerful project management, task planning, time tracking, and more
Lets remote and hybrid project teams collaborate seamlessly
Simplifies complex projects with multiple views, subtasks, dependencies, and more
Advanced capabilities may be overkill for simple workflows
Works best when a full-time project manager can mind projects
2) Google Workspace
No matter what you do or make, you’ll need an office productivity suite for things like document creation, spreadsheets, presentations, and more. For remote teams, Google Workspace is hard to beat. Google’s collaboration features work seamlessly and in real time, far outpacing what Microsoft delivers in Office 365. Google Workspace includes numerous other tools, including Meet (a Zoom alternative for video calls), Calendar, Forms, and Keep.
The trade-offs? Advanced or robust features. If you’re a power user of Word or Excel or PowerPoint, Google’s alternatives may not be able to do some of those power-user things. Also, many businesses love the way Microsoft Teams (included in Office 365) enhances collaboration. Google doesn’t have a serious alternative to that app.
Best mainstream file/document collaboration features anywhere
Widely used and easy to adopt
Web apps integrate with virtually every SaaS tool in existence (including Teamwork)
Feature set is less robust than Office 365
Drive (cloud file storage) is less intuitive
No Microsoft Teams
Slack is the OG grassroots collaboration tool. Countless teams started using it unofficially because it was better than anything else at the time. It pulls in collaboration across teams (called channels), direct messaging (one-to-one chat), and video calling (with the premium business tier, that is). It’s an ideal place for remote teams to get quick answers to project questions or notify the next team member in the workflow — without creating complicated email threads.
Slack works extremely well for many use cases, but it’s worth noting that virtually all its functions (and many more) now exist in Microsoft Teams.
Quick, easy collaboration and chat tool
Vastly superior to email-based communication in certain contexts
Easy to implement and integrate widely
Not as tight as Teams + the rest of Office (although Slack and Workspace can integrate)
Channels and teams can become strained in complex environments
File sharing functionality needs work
Manage your remote team better with Teamwork
Managing teams and projects via spreadsheet is hard enough. Managing remote projects without a purpose-built tool? Nearly impossible.
It’s time to ditch the spreadsheets and upgrade to a better tool.
Teamwork is the project management platform of choice for thousands of remote and hybrid teams. It’s far more robust than simple PM tools like Asana and Trello, yet the interface is easy to use and can be implemented quickly. It’s full of tools, templates, and automations that help you retake control of your projects rather than letting them control you.
Take control of remote project management by switching to the tool built for it. Sign up for Teamwork today.