John Wierenga notes from "Leading Remote Projects and Virtual Teams" LinkedIn Learning Course - John Wierenga

John Wierenga notes from “Leading Remote Projects and Virtual Teams” LinkedIn Learning Course

I decided to try the course “Leading Remote Projects and Virtual Teams” lead by Cyndi Snyder Dionisio. My first job in the digital marketing industry was as a remote web developer. One of my early project management positions was remote, company in one state, myself in another, and a developer overseas. Remote work is not new for me. But with the obvious focus on remote work in 2020 I thought that quick course might be a good brush up.

Challenges of remote work

Cyndi briefly talks about some of the challenges of remote work such as:

  • Space is an issue
  • Less social interaction
  • Motivation
  • Time management
  • Technology

As somebody who has a lot of experience with remote work I can testify to all of these remote work issues.

Space for remote work

At one point in my life I lived alone in a 2 bedroom apartment. I set up an office in the smaller room and had a pretty nice dedicated setup. A few years later I was living with my wife and oldest son and my wife had a friend and her entire family come stay with us for 2 weeks. We slept on an air mattress on the floor of my office. It was cramped to say the least.

If you don’t have space you just don’t have space unfortunately. But even if you are working in your bedroom or a busy common living space, I think a portable divider can help shield you from distractions and also allow you to designate a “work” space that helps keep you on track. Good noise canceling headphones can help drown out the noise from other people. Video chats may still be a bit of a problem… But the divider can help give you a disturbance free background, the headphones can help you hear, and some of the software options now have noise canceling to help minimize the background noise picked up from your microphone.

Handling the reduced social interaction with remote work

This is maybe the WORST aspect of remote work. I can remember being excited for the weekend or a holiday, then actually being excited to go back to work to see my coworkers. Unfortunately when you are remote all or most of the time, you don’t have this to to look forward too.

Online communication tools help a little. But it’s just not the same… FIND SOMETHING TO USE HERE.

Motivating yourself for remote work

This can be a tough one too. You aren’t at work, you are at home. You want to do personal things that you do at home. I think that dedicated office space (even if it is a portable divider in your bedroom) can really help put you in the work mindset here.

I’m not a real big structured guy when it comes to personal scheduling. My motivation levels vary and I like to work when I feel like working. But scheduling a designated work time where you make yourself go sit in your work area can be beneficial to putting you in a work state of mind. Don’t wait till you feel like working, I make myself go to my office and start with some easy repetitive tasks like checking emails and simple reports. Often once I get started working I go on a roll.

Time management for remote work

Like I said previously. You want to do personal things when you are at home, if you live with others then they may not respect your work time and constantly interrupt you. If I had a 100% effective cure for this then I wouldn’t still suffer from it… But having that designated place and time to work can help you focus on work. Let the people around you know that this is important and you must focus, and drown out the noise and movement of others (with you room, divider, headphones, whatever you are using).

Technology for remote work

Cyndi mentions that your equipment like phones and computers will be supplied by your employer, which means she has worked for a lot bigger companies then most of my experience is with… But your technologically needs and what you have available, is going to differ by the individual and I’m not going to expound on this.

She does make a great point about getting yourself a good office chair. As someone who has been kept up all night from back pain I can confirm that a good office chair is essential. Don’t try to skimp here. She recommends a stand up desk if possible. Personally I have an adjustable desk in the office and would love to get one for my home office so I can alternate between sitting or standing.

Cyndi talks about living in the mountains with limited internet options and now having multiple internet and hotspot options available to her to ensure she can connect. As someone who has had some internet trouble in the past I second having the ability to use your phone as an emergency hot spot if the main internet goes down.

There is also a section on work from home equipment, which I think can just go under this technology section.

  • Good lighting to reduce eye strain and for video calls
  • Make sure you have all the necessary office supplies (pens, paper, files and folders etc)
  • Multiple screens are very helpful (THIS)

Remote project management

That is all standard stuff that applies to all people working from home. Now lets talk a little more specifically about leadership and project management.

I think most of us communicate less when we are working remote. But due to the fact that there are so many other distractions, the difficulty of staying motivated when remote, and the fact that you can’t pick up on the visual cues of your co workers, you should be making an effort to communicate more when managing remote and in someways provide more structure then normal.

You need to keep the project front and center and prevent work from being out of site out of mind. When a person is at work they probably feel like they should be working. That can disappear when working from home. If possible it’s nice to let people set their own work schedule. Personally I am an extreme night person. I start to feel more energized and motivated right before bed. So it’s great when I can work nights. But a regular meeting time help keep everyone on task. If possible let people work when they want to, but keep a steady stream on communication and set expectations so they know what they should be doing.

One thing Cyndi recommended and I think is a great idea, is a virtual open office time where you are available on a video or voice chat and anyone can join in and communicate with you.

She also recommends providing all relevant project documents to people before a meeting, so they can read and review them a head of time. Then they will be ready with any relevant questions when the meeting starts.

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