Today’s workplace looks nothing like it did 20, even 10, years ago. The numbers of corporations that allow telecommuting, and employees who expect the option, have been on a steady climb for years now. Telecommuting is no longer a luxury offered by a few forward-thinking organizations. It has become a key strategy to cut costs, recruit and retain top talent, encourage growth and development, and more.
Beyond the average occasional or even full-time telecommuter, freelancers and contract workers are infiltrating the workplace. In the U.S. alone, 34 percent of workers are officially freelancing now, and PeoplePerHour projects by the year 2020, one in two people in both the UK and the U.S. will be working as freelancers.
The rise in telecommuting and freelancing certainly benefits organizations, who can access a more expansive pool of highly skilled professionals as either full-time workers or to take on short-term projects. Organizations can become more agile and productive, while better serving clients and customers.
This new-look workforce has many advantages. However, managing a dynamic team isn’t always easy. As a project manager or team lead, you could have employees dispersed across the globe, working in different time zones. Some will be full-time employees, others will be part-time, and some may not even work for you at all, but they play a key role on your team at any given time. Other team members may split their time between your team and another, or they work on multiple projects for you at once.
With so many moving parts, it can become challenging from a management perspective. Here’s why:
Work allocation is complex
You have to ensure that full-time and part-time team members have enough to do, without overloading them with too much work. When it comes to freelance and contract workers, you have to be careful not to exceed the budget you have allocated for them. In both cases, careful monitoring of all team members’ hours is critical.
You need the visibility to view every team member’s schedule, availability, and work allocation in real-time. More than that, you need the ability to manage their time, adjust assignments and request some team members’ time from another manager, as needed. Luckily, cloud-based project and task management applications and collaboration tools can take much of the pain out of the process for all kinds of teams.
Problems go unnoticed until it is too late
You can be moving along, oblivious to the fact that you have not allotted enough time to a project or that phases of the project have taken far longer than expected.
Without the ability to easily assess project scope, review team members’ schedule, check progress on tasks and more, you are operating blindly, and that puts the entire project at risk of failing.
Any time you lose face-to-face interaction and you must rely on email or text to connect with team members, you increase the chances of misunderstandings and conflict. Not only that, but key information may be lost in the shuffle and not passed on to all the stakeholders, which can result in mistakes and missed opportunities.
Every member of the team needs a big-picture view of the scope of the project, who is working on it and when, and where everything stands in regards to your progress. Effective project management and collaboration tools offer you the ability to easily share documents, post updates, send messages and track progress.
While those tools shouldn’t completely replace in-person or phone conversations altogether, they do make it possible to keep everyone on the same page.
Accountability and problem ownership is often lacking
There’s something about the lack of face-to-face conversation that makes it a little easier for some people to shirk their responsibilities. When called on it, they’ll claim “I didn’t know I was suppose to do it” or “No one told me to do that.”
Counter that problem by being very clear about who you assign work to, set expectations and ensure that the entire team knows who is responsible for what. It will be much harder for a teammate to point fingers or deny responsibility when the entire group is aware of how work has been delegated.
Productivity and efficiency take a hit
Both suffer predominantly because of poor communication and collaboration. People are off in their own world, doing their own thing. Revisions and rework are often necessary because people haven’t shared new information with all of the project’s stakeholders. Problems tend to be resolved much slower as everyone tries to get back on the same page after a setback.
Offering every team member full transparency to a project through effective project planning software tools can prevent many problems and actually improve the productivity and efficiency of the team.
All of those issues can be truly problematic, causing teams to miss deadlines, delay product launches, produce subpar work, anger clients and more. The good news is that the right technology simplifies the process so that team leaders can focus less on the tedious aspect of resource and capacity planning, and focus more on the quality of the team’s efforts.