Tackling The Challenges With Remote Project Management

It is quite rare to find someone who does not, at least partly, collaborate on business tasks remotely. Neither is it uncommon for teams within your own organization to be located in other parts of the country (or even the world). If you are someone like me whose clients come from across the world, remote project management is the only way to get things done.

Managing a project remotely can be tricky. No matter how articulate you are in your verbal and written communication, it is still not as good as being there in person. In his book, “Silent Messages”, Professor Albert Mehrabian argues that spoken words contribute to only seven percent in any communication. Your body language, voice and tone contribute towards the rest.

It is of course not realistic to turn back the wheel of time to go back to the way project management happened in the past. We will therefore do the next best thing which is to identify the challenges that one faces with remote project management and finding ways to fix them.

Dealing with different time zones

Working with a team member from the other side of the globe is by far the most challenging aspect of remote project management. Simple queries to your colleagues could take hours to get answered. Not only can this mess up your work schedule, but it can also sometimes be a source of frustration.

This can seem like a bad thing, but is actually not. The fact that you may not be able to catch up with your team members for another day could instead force workers towards organizing their tasks better. Invest in project management software that fits the specific needs of your organization. Also, make sure that all elements of your project are exhaustively documented by the various members in the team. This way, you reduce your dependence on individual members and instead focus on the process.

If you run an agency that deals with clients from around the world, it is important to stick to a specific work schedule. Otherwise, you could be tiring yourself out by trying to work across multiple time zones. The rules change if most of your clients or team members are based in similar time zones. In such cases, it is a good idea to tweak your schedule to fit their working hours. You could, for instance, start a couple of hours early or end your day a couple of hours late if that could help you reach out to your colleagues before one of you logs out for the day.

Dealing with communication barriers

There are several factors that can impede a good transmission of information among the various people in a remote team. The absence of body language is definitely a contributor. Besides this, communication is also affected by channel issues such as poor network reception or internet connectivity. In turn this can accentuate other relatively minor issues like the inability to grasp the accent of the other speaker, not setting a pace that is comfortable for all users, and zoning out during remote meetings.

While there are several collaboration channels available to team members, they are not suitable for all scenarios. At a basic level, your team communication may be classified into two categories – brainstorming and project updates.

Brainstorming may include weekly catch-up meetings and product demo calls as well. In each of these scenarios, the objective is to enable free exchange of thoughts and ideas among the members in your team. While online chat tools can work well in some scenarios, they are not the best option to build a cohesive team. Video conferencing makes it possible for face-to-face conversations and you can also make use of the collaboration features like whiteboard, screen-sharing and control sharing to replicate a real-world conference room.

For project updates however, it is ideal to use a collaboration channel that is type-based. This helps with documenting the efforts from all members of the team which is absolutely crucial. Any team member who has a query relating to the project could look into past conversations which cannot happen with audio/video based discussions. Asana, Basecamp, Trello and Jira are some popular tools for collaboration. Slack, or the recently launched Microsoft Teams, is a better option if documentation is not your primary concern and all your team members are placed in similar time zones.

Tracking progress

Tracking progress on a remote project shouldn’t be so hard. Yet, a significant number of such tasks fail because of improper collaboration. There are essentially two reasons why this happens. Firstly, there are often too many people meddling with the process. When your remote team has a flat hierarchy where people from various departments (like business, sales, design and development) collaborate, it leads to a ‘free for all’ where each member of the team creates their own workflow. This clutters the system and reduces the productivity of the team.

This problem can be frequently seen with project status messages. When different team members set their own status messages, it can lead to chaos where the status message itself does not carry any meaning. To fix this problem, all members of the team need to agree on who is responsible for the various processes like creating a new project, structuring the various project statuses, and who can close projects. Typically, these responsibilities fall on the service seeker. In a webpage design project, for instance, the design and development teams shall be the service providers while the business/sales team would be service seekers.

Another reason that contributes to improper collaboration is the lack of ground rules. Too often, members in a project tend to discuss casual and non-work related stuff from within the collaboration platform. This can drown out any critical project related updates shared by other members in the team. Other times, team members could share updates in the wrong section or without making the appropriate changes to the project status. Not following a protocol while collaborating online could make the whole process futile. It is important for a team to create a protocol document that underlines all the do’s and don’ts and strictly abide by it.

Remote working is already mainstream and is not going away. The only way to survive in this new reality is to acknowledge the problems this comes with and work out suitable ways to fix it.

How To Attract New Customers

A business ceases to be one if it doesn’t have customers. Overnight business successes are hard to come by. But if you approach customer acquisition like a science, it is very easy to build a steady stream of incoming visitors who then convert into leads and eventually into paying customers. Here are a few ideas to start acquiring new customers for your business.

Target the right customers

Every business has a niche set of customers who are extremely passionate about the product or service you are offering. When you are just starting your business, it is important to target these customers and bring them into your fold. Yelp did this right when they launched. The company offers a platform for customers to rate and review businesses. By encouraging regular Joes who had an impactful experience with a business to review them on the site, Yelp hit the initial traction to grow their business into what it is today.

Word of mouth marketing

No marketing strategy can bring the kind of high value customers that word of mouth marketing does. Between 2009 and 2011, Uber had acquired all of 6000 users for their chauffeur service. But these users loved the service so much that they spread the word about the business within the San Francisco circle where the company first began its operations. Word of mouth marketing does truly pay off.

Create a sense of exclusivity

There is no way your customers are going to love and stay loyal to your business if they believe you are just one of the many businesses they engage with. To build exceptionally loyal customers, it is important to make them feel exclusive. It is common knowledge that when Facebook launched, they restricted access to just the Harvard network. This strategy paid off in setting off the traction that led to what Facebook eventually came to be.

Packaging

Do not underestimate the value of good packaging. Premium products need premium packaging regardless of how good the product is. Packaging does not necessarily refer to just the carton your product comes with. Airbnb discovered it very soon after they launched their business when they discovered people were not really booking stays as much as they would have liked. To fix this, they set out to take professional photographs of the rooms that were put up for lease on their website. Soon enough, visitors noticed the ‘good looking’ rooms for lease and started booking on Airbnb.

Influencers

Influencer marketing is a big deal in social media marketing where businesses make use of accounts with thousands or millions of followers to write about their product to the followers. But wait, that is not what we are talking about here. When LinkedIn first launched, CEO Reed Hoffman ‘seeded’ the product in the hands of influential friends and connections – people at the top of the pyramid who were CXOs at their respective organizations. When these people sent invitations to connect with people in their organization, the recipients could not actually refuse. This set the ball rolling for what became the largest professional social networking tool in the world.

Business Planning For The Holidays

Winter is coming, and the holiday season is upon us very soon. As a business, this is either the busiest time of the year, or one when you go into hibernation mode. But networking never stops and this is also a good time to connect with old clients and meet new ones. Here are a few ways your business can plan for the upcoming holiday season.

Start early

As a business owner, you are obligated to make your employees and customers feel special. What better time than now to send them gifts for the holidays. But beware of the price gouging that is so rampant during this season. Prices of many gift items shoot through the roof during the holidays. Just know this – if you have not purchased gifts for your employees and customers yet, get ready to buy some really expensive pens. Lesson learnt. For the next season, start planning much in advance. A good time to start shopping for employee gifts is around June-July.

Personalize your gifts

Are you really getting that expensive pen for your employees? It better be darn good. Nobody likes a gift that is purchased in bulk and delivered like in a clearance sale. Gifting during the holidays is not just to mark this item off your holiday checklist, but to actually make your employees feel special and cared for. Find out what your employees like and buy them personalized gifts that they will truly love and cherish. Bear in mind that the value of the item is not on its price tag but what the gift means to your employee or customer.

Plan your workers

The holidays are a time of intense activity for many retail businesses. But it is also the time of the year when absenteeism and worker leaves are at their maximum. You will need to plan your resources extremely carefully. In fact, you should have started planning for them already. Hire temp workers and plan your wage increase or profit sharing agreement with your existing workers so that you are absolutely sure that your human resources are completely taken care of well before the deluge of shoppers arrive at your door step.

Notify your customers

Good for you if you are one of those businesses that is shutting down for the holidays. What happens to client support requests when you are out of town spending time with your family? It is extremely important that you share all the details about your shutdown and also notify your customers about the support and resources available with them during the shutdown. It is important to keep your customers happy and confident while you are away.