Remote Control

Use these three tips to ensure that working from home doesn’t sideline your career.

6 August 2013

Managing projects from the comforts of home sounds great to many people. And an April 2013 global survey by Korn/Ferry International found that nearly 80 percent of organizations offer some form of telecommuting option. Yet given recent bans by Best Buy and Yahoo, many project managers may think working part-time or full-time from home could hurt their careers.

It can be done, but before you trade in the cubicle, you need to establish ground rules:

Keep in Touch

Just because you’re out of the office doesn’t mean you can go missing-in-action. A project with a virtual project manager should run as smoothly as those with an in-office leader, says Janus Schmidt-Sørensen, advisory project manager at IBM, a PMI Global Executive Council member in Beijing, China.

Working remotely is no excuse for not meeting project milestones or a lack of communication, adds Mr. Schmidt-Sørensen, a telecommuter who sometimes spends months away from the office on projects.

And the best practices aren’t all that different from those used in the office.

Lindsay Mas, for example, uses a private chat room so team members see she’s readily available, just like an in-office project manager would be. Ms. Mas is a project director for digital product design/development company Servo, Chicago, Illinois, USA. But she lives in Seattle, Washington, USA, more than 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers) from her team. Not only does the chat room encourage collaboration, it also lets her address issues without leaving behind an unwieldy chain of emails.

Know Your Team Inside and Out

While technology allows virtual teams to communicate regularly, face-to-face meetings provide the most valuable insight into a team member’s work style, says Mr. Schmidt-Sørensen. Knowing these nuances goes a long way in getting along with team members — and getting the best work out of them.

“It’s very difficult to interpret emotions via emails, so the more you know about a worker’s way of expressing themselves, the less miscommunication there will be when they’re working remotely,” he says. “That helps a project run more smoothly.”

To kick things off right and develop rapport with his team, Mr. Schmidt-Sørensen brings team members together at one location for a week or even a month at launch. “If you have dinners and share a good laugh and common interests, it gets easier to handle day-to-day issues,” he says.

To continue building rapport after the launch, he recommends monthly face-to-face meetings.

Stop by the C-suite

A presence at the office can help build the kind of visibility that can lead to career advancement. Project managers who go into work, for example, often have more opportunities for unplanned discussions with management to promote their projects and ideas, says Seema Abdullah, project manager, University of Melbourne, Shepparton, Victoria, Australia.

Even if an organization has an established career path, it’s easier for virtual employees to be out of sight and out of mind to executives.

A virtual vet herself, Ms. Abdullah suggests establishing in-person meetings with upper management to discuss career achievements and goals. And if budget limitations prevent visits, Ms. Abdullah recommends dialing up senior management for a video conference.

By keeping in touch, understanding team members’ communications styles and maintaining visibility with senior management, telecommuting project practitioners can have careers to rival those of their in-office counterparts.

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