Trust is the key for successful remote work

You can read a lot about the factors for remote work that actually succeeds. It is mostly about tools and technics, good remote management and the right setting at your working location. You can also read about that in my other blog posts, e.g. ‘How to prepare your company for remote workers‘ or ‘What a remote project manager needs to know‘.

But the most important point is trust!

Level of trust

I will explain the importance of trust with the help of the different levels of trust, which you can find at your corporate environment (Zero, medium or full trust). The trust is needed between employers and employees, contractors and customers, team members and project managers, so basically everyone, who is involved. It is important to note, that it is needed in both directions and everytime (not only in the good times).

Think about yourself. If you trust your boss, that he or she will treat you in a fair way and that your work is for a good purpose, you will do everything for him or her.

No trust at all

Without any trust on each side, you cannot work remotely. You cannot work in an office without trusting eachother either, but it stands out there not this fast.

I led many projects with well established trust between customers and my project teams. But there was a big one where the customer didn’t trusted us until the end of the project. This frustrated many team members and resulted in extra time and extra cost. The project has been fullfilled in this case, but this can cause project crashes with severe losses, particularly if it is a complete remote environment.

Medium trust

I think this is the common status in our corporate world. You can see it as a ‘more or less trust’, that your collegues and business partners are doing mostly a good job and are not trying to fool you. So the situation is not too bad, but most people have doubts about the work of others. This increases a lot if the workers are not colocated and includes the hords of middle managers, who still thinks they can only manage people if they see them permanently – which is however a flaw of their skills.

High portion of trust

This is the ideal situation for a successful business, project, team and remote work setting. If all participants are trusting each other deeply, you need less often and shorter discussions, you have less misunderstandings, less overhead in people and money and a much faster result – the normally needed short time-to-market.

What helps to create that:

  • give working packages with full responsibility to team members instead of small tasks
  • measure work results not worked hours
  • inform everyone about everything they need to know (better too much than not enough)
  • make decisions transparent
  • create a culture of liability
  • be fair and ethically correct
  • make sure that remotely working people get to know each other, even face-to-face if possible
  • organize off-work team activities, like outdoor events, cooking classes, attending concerts together
  • empower all participants to self-reliant and self dependent team members
  • a clear formulated business target including the general good is the best motivation

Traditional companies are often jealous of startups, because of their highly bonded, motivated teams, which are trusting each other very well (mostly). In this case it comes mainly from the companies purpose, every employee is identifying much with and rarely from morally great leaders.

While trust is needed in every work setting, it is very critical at remote work. So if you see a problem related to the remote work setting, please ask yourself if it is not rather a trust problem!

Please let us know, if trust has for you the same important meaning and write a comment. Good and bad experiences are also highly appreciated.

What a good remote project manager needs to know

What is a remote project manager? That’s easy, its a project manager of a remote team. So what is different between managing an onsite or a remote team?

Most articles about this topic are not highlighting, that most methods and approaches are the same. Time, resource and budget planning, controlling or stakeholder management are nearly the same with onsite and remote projects. But if you take the PMI methodology for example, it says that you have to adjust all methods to the specific circumstances of the project anyway. The location and composition of the team is, of course, an important characteristic.

What are the major different topics, the remote project manager has to deal with? They are:

  • Communications
  • Tools
  • Team Management
Communications

The known principle is ‘everyone has to know everything what is important to his / her work at any given time’ – not more and not less.

The diffuculties with remote teams are, that you don’t have talks from desk to desk and you don’t have the informal meetings at the water cooler or coffee maschine. According to the famous book Remote by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, are the employers of Basecamp encouraged to use their chat software Campfire as a ‘virtual water cooler’.

Instead of that you have to assure that all inforamtion will be exchanged in written (i.e. design specifications) or via chat, phone or video conference. The advantage here is, that agreements are more binding, but on the other hand, it is hard to get the mood of the participants and the reading between the lines.

Use the communication tools according to the urgency of the information:

  • urgent: make a call (but think about the time zone)
  • less urgent: reach them via messenger
  • not urgent at all: use email

Be very cautious if there is a little misunderstanding or you sense a bad mood at any form of communication. Normally that is only the tip of the iceberg. Get over this with temporarly even more communication, be it written, via phone or video or even face-to-face if needed.

Tools

We can’t do remote work without a number of tools. Remember that only the tools enabled us to work with distributed teams around the world.

The variety of tools in unbelievable. Its very hard to get a good overview or to make suggestions. Its also continuously envoling as we know the matter with software. Let’s focus on the tasks we have to address with the tools:

  • project management (schedule, resources, timetracking)
  • communication (VoIP, video, chat)
  • document management
  • source code management with version control, if you create software

Commonly you will use the tools which are in place at your company or at the client. If you have the choice, check out tool comparisons and have a close look on what will help the team while avoiding unnecessary bureaucracy.

Team management

Together with communications, managing the team is the most important topic for the remote project manager.

The great advantage of remote work, that you can hire the best talents (for the best price) worldwide, comes with the challenge that you will maybe not work in the same time zone. And even if – you should maintain a plan with the actual (remember travelling digital nomads) time zones and preferred working hours of all team members.

Get a very good overview about everyones experiences, skills, characteristics, position in the company, etc. At best you make longer one-on-ones at the beginning of the project. It is very good, if you have a face-to-face kickoff or get-togethers once or twice a year.

To enhance the collaboration, allow some time for personal conversation. So start every phone conference with some small talk and encourage the team members to exchange some information about hobbies, family situation or about the home or current city or country at other situations.

The project manager is the critical role in a distributed team. He enables all the remote work benefits, if he / she makes a good job and can destroy the project and the reputation of remote work if he / she skews it up.

Contact me if you need a remote project manager or even a coach for your project manager!