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How to Effectively Manage Distributed Projects

The remote work trend has been steadily on the rise year after year, and given the state of the world right now, more and more people are working remotely than ever before. 

This brings in a new set of challenges regarding the best ways to manage a distributed team, and companies are still experimenting with the right balance of what tasks to do in house vs what can be outsourced.

In this guide, we’ll help you embrace the many advantages that distributed teams can add to your business. Furthermore, we’ll walk you through some of the crucial principles upon which you can effectively and effortlessly manage remote employees across different time zones and geographical boundaries.


{Tips for Managing a Distributed Team}

Let’s address the elephant in the room right away! The biggest challenge of managing remote teams is to find a way to compensate for the lost face-to-face interaction element. As a manager, you’ll be responsible for ensuring your team members are connected and can coordinate with one another as if they’re working in the same office environment.

1. Training Should Start Right from The Onboarding Process

When adding new members to your distributed team, you’ll be looking into ways to make the new hires feel right at home and start taking on the tasks they’re brought in for. In order to make the onboarding stage as productive as possible, start training your new recruits early on.

In physical workplaces, shadowing can help new employees learn from their more experienced colleagues and quickly feel like part of the team.

This won’t be as easy to pull off with remote employees, as everyone is working from home on their computers. Nevertheless, you can still assign mentors to work closely with the new recruits and answer all their questions.

Furthermore, you need to start building up some training materials that your new hire can go through at their own pace. The goal here is to put together a comprehensive guide that eases your remote employee into understanding your company culture, services, and products.

Developing such materials from scratch might sound like a lot of work. That’s why you can use your team’s previous projects for inspiration and compile the relevant information from your team member’s past contributions.

This way, you’re not making up some hypothetical situations just for the sake of creating a training program, as all the materials will be based on real-life projects. Your remote employees should be better prepared now to embark on similar projects in no time.

2. Set a Schedule for Structured Meetings

When managing a distributed team, you don’t want your remote employees to live inside their own separate bubbles and not know how the project as a whole is shaping up. So, here comes the role of regular weekly or monthly meetings.

Such meetings can be a great opportunity for your remote workers to share their progress, pitch new ideas, and ask questions. However, you need to draw a fine line so that team engagement doesn’t end up becoming a random flight of ideas that kills productivity and makes everyone lose focus.

That’s why you need to make sure your meeting agenda is planned ahead with enough time allocated for each point of discussion.

It’s also worth noting that choosing the right technology is key for the success of your structured meetings. The main takeaway from the meeting and the number of participants can nudge you to use one platform over another.

For example, video conferencing apps like Zoom are great for big teams, while Skype can come in handy for quick one-on-one inquiries among team members.

Furthermore, if you choose to outsource one part of your operations, like developing new software for your company, you need to coordinate with your service providers to join your team meetings and brief everyone on the new system.

As you can see, distributed teams aren’t bounded by just your own employees, other agencies working on side projects for your company are technically part of your big team as well.

3. Use the Right Collaboration and Communication Tools

The scheduled meetings shouldn’t, by any means, be the sole communication opportunity among your remote workers. Your team members should have multi-channel communication platforms at their disposal, so no matter which device they’re currently on, they can reach out to other members for inspiration and guidance.

Platforms like Slack, Google Hangouts, and Skype can help you build an effective communication strategy for your team. So, each sub-team or department can have its own communication channels, with relevant milestones shared across the board.

It’s worth noting that communication and collaboration aren’t always two faces of the same coin. In other words, remote employees working on the same task need dedicated collaboration tools to streamline the process.

For instance, working on a shared document with all team members being able to see the updates made by other people and do edits of their own is a completely different story from everyone working on their own version of the same documents and sending emails back and forth.

Virtual desktops are another means by which your new hires can get to see how a particular task is executed. Instead of searching for this one button your fellow employee told you about in a chat or via email, he or she can take over your desktop and show you exactly how it’s done.

4. Outsourcing Some Tasks Is Always a Viable Option

We’ve touched already on how outsourcing some of your business’ operations can fit nicely in the setting of a distributed team. Outsourcing can help you reach out to remote workers with very specific skill sets, so you can save yourself a lot of time and resources.

You won’t have to go through the whole process of onboarding and training your new hire when an already existing professional team out there can take on your specialized project and give you the results you’re looking for.

For instance, services like {SD:UK} connect you to certified software providers who can help with web development, graphics design, internet marketing, and more.

Some tasks are economically viable to be outsourced, while others are better done in house through your already existing team, so as a project manager, you’ll get to learn when to resort to each route.

5. Outsourcing Some Tasks Is Always a Viable Option

You’ve probably heard the concern that daunts managers operating remote teams, which is the difficulty in assessing the progress of different team members. We’re here to debunk such a myth; you can easily keep track of your team’s productivity through reviewing the results.

Results speak louder than the number of hours your team members spend connected, so as long as there is no necessity for setting fixed work hours, let your remote employees set their own schedule and feel comfortable.

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{How to Build a Distributed Team}

The great thing about distributed teams is that your workforce can be “distributed” between your traditional office workers and your remote employees from all around the world. As long as you have the right project management tool in place, you can get out of your virtual and office space and boost your company’s productivity.

You don’t need to go fully remote with your team management strategy. So, let’s explore some ways by which you can expand your team and add new team members working remotely in the mix.

Hire Freelancers

If you have a smaller scale project with not many moving pieces, putting a freelancer on the helm is a great way to get the job done in a timely manner. Given the sheer number of freelancers out there, finding a skilled person with the right tools to take on your project requires thorough research.

Luckily, most online freelancing platforms like Fiverr and UpWork do a great job in highlighting the biggest talents on the platform. Furthermore, the number of delivered projects, customer satisfaction, and reviews are all useful decision-makers before opting for one freelancer over another.

It’s worth noting that there are some drawbacks to hiring freelancers. For instance, the lack of supervision can give you an unpredictable quality of work. Also, freelancers aren’t invested in your company, so they can bail on you if they already have other tasks in hand.

Partner With an Outsourcing Agency

On the other hand, relying on professional teams provided by outsourcing agencies comes with its own set of merits. If you’re looking for ways to boost your company’s expertise in one specialized area in a short time frame, a remote team through a staff augmentation service can be your best bet.

Furthermore, startups can also benefit from partnering with outsourcing agencies early on, so they have the right talent they need to land a steady footing in a competitive market.

It’s also worth noting that outsourcing agencies can help relieve you from some of your administrative duties as a project manager. You won’t have to bother about the internal operations of the remote workforce moderated by the outsourcing company, so you can direct all your attention to planning out the project and promoting a productive feedback loop.

Outsourcing agencies address all the inconveniences of hiring freelancers. For a team to gain the backup of an outsourcing agency, it needs to exceed specific standards. This means you’ll be getting consistent work quality each and every time you outsource a project.
Moreover, outsourcing agencies can be a long term partner for your company, making them an integral part of your distributed team, instead of just delivering one project and that’s it.

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{Advantages of a Distributed Team}

Foster a Diverse Company Culture

By removing geographical boundaries from the equation, you can scout for team members from all around the world. Different backgrounds and talents can be the spark of creativity your company needs.

Furthermore, your company as a whole can expand its working hours by relying on a distributed team spanning across a different number of countries. There’s always someone on your remote team available all the time, allowing you to offer better services like 24-hour customer support, for example.

Also, your remote team members can help you expand to different markets down the line. You can get accurate insight from an insider before considering to broaden the reach of your services overseas.

Cost-Effective Operation

The United States is known to offer the most salaries for some jobs, including software development. So, getting proficient employees willing to work remotely from countries with more affordable salaries like the United Kingdom can help you keep your expenses in check.

Better Employee Retention

As we’ve mentioned before, to efficiently manage a distributed team, you need to focus on results rather than the working hours and physical availability of your remote team. For these reasons, individuals prefer the remote work model, as they can set their working hours and have the work-life balance employees aspire for.

Companies operating from a virtual workplace have shown fewer stress levels among its remote employees, explaining why a remote team scores higher on employee satisfaction ratings.


{Drawbacks of a Distributed Team}

Communication Issues

Video conferencing has narrowed the miscommunication gap significantly, as remote workers can now hop on a video chat and meet up with their teammates.

As internet speeds are getting higher and video conferencing tools are getting better, there is no excuse to put up with a remote work environment that completely lacks any sort of face-to-face interaction or body language cues.

Nevertheless, even with such convenient technologies at our disposal, there is still room for miscommunication that can halt the workflow and cause companies to waste time and resources.

For this reason, you have to make your instructions as a manager very clear and always provide a written version of the key points and deadlines that your team settled on in the meeting.

Stakeholders Might Be Skeptical

The stock market can have a significant impact on the project management strategy of your company, and stakeholders have shown some skepticism to operating through remote teams.

Given how working remotely has helped cut some company expenses like office costs, more and more investors are getting on board with the idea, especially as our technology advances and remote managers are reporting the same KPIs or even higher than their traditional office-based counterparts.

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{In Conclusion}

Managing remote teams is no longer the hassle it used to be, thanks to the variety of powerful communication tools like Slack and video conferencing platforms like Zoom. You can add valuable assets to your company by hiring freelancers or partnering with outsourcing companies to make sure you have the right talent that boosts your company’s growth.

We always pick outsourcing companies over freelancers whenever we have the chance, as the former option removes the guesswork when it comes to quality. You can’t be quite sure about whether the one freelancer that you pick has what it takes to get the job done, and you can find yourself wasting time and money till you find one who fits into your company culture.

On the other hand, outsourcing agencies work with professional teams who are highly specialized in the job description you’re looking for. So, you’ll be getting the same high quality each and every time without too much back and forth.


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