Learn to create more streamlined remote management workflows for your agency in our latest blog post.
As many project managers have learned by now, managing a remote team is distinctly different than managing a team on-premises.
The communication cadence is completely different. There is no popping into the office next door to resolve an issue, nor are there chance encounters at the watercooler.
Collaboration takes on a new hue as well. Digital whiteboards replace physical ones and video calls take the place of casual conversations.
The creative management workflow, complicated as it already was, is now even more challenging. There is no clear handoff from Team A to Team B. The fluid nature of online-only, remote work means that your workflows have to be fluid as well.
What are some of the biggest challenges in building a remote team management workflow? How do you resolve them effectively?
I’ll do a deep dive into all the problems - and their solutions - below.
The Process for Creating a Remote Management Workflow
A remote management workflow is nothing but your existing workflow modified for remote work.
It’s not a 1:1 replica of your offline workflow - remote work has specific challenges that need tailor-made solutions. But by and large, it follows the same rhythms and routines as your existing workflows.
The key issues you need to watch out for are bottlenecks that hold back remote teams from being effective.
For instance, if a mission-critical tool doesn’t integrate with your newly acquired collaboration software, your remote team can’t operate at 100% efficiency.
Thus, to develop a remote management workflow, you need to:
- Map your existing workflows
- Identify and remove bottlenecks in personnel, software, etc.
- Streamline communication and collaboration issues
Let’s take a closer look at each of these processes below.
Step #1: Map how you currently work
Workflows are omnipresent in project management, even if you don’t call them that. Whatever steps you follow when a new project comes in essentially describe your “workflow”.
Some of you reading this might already have fixed workflows. In case you don’t, now is a good time to map them out.
Work down from the moment you’re handed a project to the final moment of delivery. How do you break down the project? What tools do you use to create the schedule? How do you monitor deadlines and budgets?
As we wrote in an earlier article on project workflows, every activity that follows some conditional argument (i.e. its start/end depends on a condition being fulfilled) can be described as part of a workflow.
Keep in mind that a workflow is not a process. A process is a broader term that describes how different activities are handled within a project. A workflow, on the other hand, covers specific tools and resources necessary to complete a task.
Every project will have dozens, even hundreds of project workflows. A digital marketing project might have one workflow for creating blog posts, another for identifying Instagram influencers, and another for starting a Facebook ad campaign.
As an example, let’s take a closer look at a sample workflow to create a blog post. Notice how it describes the specific resources for each task (“freelancer”, “editor”, etc.)
If you were creating a process for creating blog posts, you would only cover broad activities such as “content ideation”, “draft creation”, etc.
We’ve covered the process of creating workflows (which, ironically, is a process!) in this article.
If you’re going to map your workflows, there are a few things you need to remember:
- Focus only on documenting workflows right now - we’ll focus on resolving issues later
- Identify specific tools used for each stage of every workflow
- If you know the specific resources involved in a workflow stage, identify them clearly (say, “John Doe, graphics designer”). Else, just mention their skill and seniority level (such as “senior graphics designer”)
In the next step, we’ll figure out how to identify bottlenecks in each workflow to make them “remote ready”.
Step #2: Identify bottlenecks
In all likelihood, your current workflows are designed for on-premises work. These workflows usually have several bottlenecks that impede remote teams.
For instance, a location-independent remote team will likely be spread across multiple time zones. If your project management tool doesn’t factor in time differences when sending reminders (or doesn’t have automated reminders at all), your project performance will suffer.
Your goal should be to identify these bottlenecks and minimize their impact.
Specifically, look for bottlenecks in two key areas:
Data - or rather, the lack of it - is usually the biggest culprit in holding back remote projects. If the entire team doesn’t have access to the same sources of data, documents, and institutional knowledge, their output will suffer.
Think of a situation where accessing the company wiki requires a login from the company’s own intranet. Or a situation where project documents are stored on on-premises servers, not the Cloud (and hence, aren’t accessible to everyone at all times).
Go through your existing workflows. At each step, ask yourself three questions:
- Where is the data generated through this step stored? Is it easily accessible to everyone on the team at all times?
- Can the entire team remotely access the latest institutional knowledge, data, and resources necessary to complete this step?
- Does this step require any specific resource (individual or material)? Is this resource available remotely?
In agencies, you also have to worry about data coming in from the client’s side. Requirements can change over the course of a project. Your team should have access to the latest requirements, requests, and directions from the client.
There is a two-step antidote to the data problem:
- Move all your data to the cloud, and make it easily accessible to everyone (with user permissions, of course).
- Use better software that makes it easier for teams to store and search for data.
The two steps are interconnected. Remote-friendly software will invariably be cloud-first. This will make it easier for teams to access key data whenever they want.
Software issues cause a surprisingly large number of bottlenecks in remote team workflows. Something as simple as having to turn to IT to change user-access permissions can hold back projects.
As you did before, go through each step in your existing workflows. For each step, identify the key software tools used in completing the step. Include every tool used in the step, including both technical (such as Photoshop) and communication/collaboration tools (such as Skype).
Next, ask the following questions:
- Do the tools integrate with each other or your other remote work focused tools (such as Slack or Zoom)?
- How much support is required to use the tool(s) or onboard a new user? You shouldn’t have to turn to IT every time you have to give a freelancer partial access to some data.
- Is the software completely online or does it have an on-premise component?
Most software-related bottlenecks are caused by improper integration or partial adoption of the cloud. If a key tool stores a part of its data on-premises, your remote teams can’t really access it easily.
Similarly, if your tools don’t “talk” to each other, you essentially end up doing double work or walking into projects half-blind.
For instance, if clients leave feedback on deliverables on Tool A, but your remote team uses Tool B, you have to copy-paste the feedback from one tool to another to share it with your team (hence all those endless email threads).
As with data issues, the solution to these problems is to adopt cloud-first tools. The more data you store in the cloud, the easier it is to share access with anyone regardless of location.
Also, try to centralize operations as much as possible. If a single software can help you manage project budgets and client feedback, you’ll have far greater visibility into your work.
For example, Workamajig includes a proofing tool. This makes it easy for clients to leave feedback (and for remote teams to access it) without switching tools.
Once you’ve identified and fixed bottlenecks, you can start smoothening the biggest hurdles to effective remote team management: collaboration and communication.
Step #3: Streamline Communication and Collaboration
All work relies on effective collaboration.
Remote work relies on it even more.
As a project manager, it’s your responsibility to create workflows that facilitate collaboration. One part of this is picking good tools - which we covered earlier. Another part is organizing your work in such a way that makes collaboration easier.
Take, for instance, the way you pick project teams. A distributed project team might be spread across multiple time zones. If there is little overlap between their productive hours, the team’s ability to collaborate will suffer.
Your workflows should also be organized in such a way that team members have sufficient insight for successful collaboration. If you’re still collecting requirements from the client while your team is working together, the results, like your requirements documents, will be half-baked.
I like to break down individual steps in each workflow into three categories:
- Collecting Insight: These are steps where you’re mostly busy collecting insight - from clients, team members, other stakeholders, etc. Little to no collaboration takes place during this stage. An example would be an editor learning about a client’s content strategy before creating a blog post outline.
- Individual Creation: These are steps where the bulk of activity is handled by individuals with little or no input from other team members. An example would be a writer creating a blog post based on an editor’s outline. The writer might seek advice from other team members, but the bulk of the writing work will be done solo.
- Collaborative Creation: These are steps where two or more people need to jump in and work together. An example would be the editor, writer, and brand manager working together to make sure that a blog post is “on-brand” before it goes live.
Your goal should be to make sure that the ‘Collaborative Creation’ moves as seamlessly as possible.
You can do this through:
- Team selection: Pick team members who work well together. Ideally, they should also be in the same time zone, or at least have a large number of productive hours at the same time. It’s hard to collaborate if it’s 9pm in one country and 6am in another.
- Task organization: Collaboration works best when team members have some data to work with. Scheduling a collaboration-heavy activity (such as brainstorming a brand logo) while you’re still collecting requirements is a recipe for disaster. Organize your tasks in such a way that the ‘Collecting Insight’ stage always comes before the collaboration stage.
- Leaving room for individual creation: Collaboration might be important, but you still need room for individuals. Schedule your tasks in such a way that there’s ample room for Individual Creation.
I can’t stress the last part enough. Too many workflows suffer because they over-prioritize collaboration. In an agency setting, you need to give people enough space to create on their own. If you’re setting aside three days for the design team to brainstorm a logo, also set aside at least one day for each team member to come up with ideas individually.
Comb through your workflows and ask yourself: Is there enough room for collaboration? Do my team members get “breathing room” to handle their individual tasks? Does my team have enough information about the task to actually collaborate well?
If you can do this successfully and adopt better software - as we discussed earlier - your remote team collaboration will thrive.
Over to You
Remote team management is still an evolving field. A lot of us have been thrust into the deep end of remote management with little to no guidelines or experiences.
While there is no “guaranteed” approach to creating a better remote workflow, the three steps I’ve outlined above will definitely help. If you can find bottlenecks, ease collaboration, and pick better tools, your remote teams will run as smoothly as your offline teams.
Speaking of better tools, did you know that Workamajig is completely cloud-first and is built from scratch to meet the needs of agencies and distributed creative teams?
You don’t have to take my word for it - just tap the button below to get a free demo and see for yourself.