By Kevin G. Coleman
The concept of project management began to take shape in the 1950s. Management recognized the need for these practices while executing highly complex engineering projects. In the 1960s the foundation of modern project management was laid and has continued to evolve, and in 1969 the Project Management Institute (PMI) was established in the United States.
Agile, lean, and extreme projects are examples of the continued evolution of project management techniques, and keeping up the continuing evolution is a growing challenge. With every challenge, practicing professionals are called upon to rise to the occasion and answer they did. In addition, there has been a substantial amount of (formal and informal) research on this topic. Many project managers captured the knowledge they gained from experience and published it. I went to Amazon.com and researched books on the subject. I entered the search term “project management” and the search indicated there were over 85,000 listings. The practice of project management has evolved to the point where it is often described as part art and part science and has all the tools and methodologies that come with maturity of this subject matter. However, there is one new development.
This is the growing number of organizations that are embracing the use of telecommuting throughout all levels of project staff. There have been and still are many skeptics who do not believe in the use of project managers in telecommuting. A search was conducted about telecommuters being less productive. Little was found, but there is research conducted that suggests properly managed telecommuters are actually more productive than their in-office counterparts! Stop and think about it for a moment. Any project with a distributed team is basically the same as those that telecommute. Look at the offshore development and outsourcing efforts that are commonly used. They are not on site.
Currently, telecommuting policies have become a more common practice within corporate America and in some government organizations. Some even list telecommuting as an employee benefit. There are studies that were presented last year that suggest 20% of global workers now telecommute full or part-time. One study conducted early last year put telecommuting in the United States at 32% and that did not include workers who were self-employed. Other estimates suggest that nearly 50 million U.S. workers are remote/telecommuters. The figure I found most interesting stated that of the companies on Fortune's list of "Best Companies to Work For," a hefty 84% of them offered telecommuting. Several well-known authorities have gone on record that telecommuting is an effective way to reduce office (real-estate) costs and a few have been so bold as to say it can actually spark innovation. Another benefit offered by a few states is telecommuting tax credits for corporate expenses related to telecommuting. Certainly cities that have major traffic congestion are eying these trends and looking at creating their own incentives to spur telecommuting.
When it comes to telecommuting, it appears the companies that are the most successful take the time to think the matter through and develop strong telecommuting policies with clear criteria about what projects are appropriate for remote work. In addition, these companies take the time to develop a technology infrastructure that supports telecommuting and that includes establishing a trusted remote connection with security built in from the beginning.
Here are my top ten tips to be successful at telecommuting. These are based on nearly a decade of my working that way (both part-time and full-time).
Tips for Telecommuting Success
- Get into a routine and keep that routine.
- Practice strong self-discipline and keep it professional.
- Have a reliable Internet connect with sufficient bandwidth.
- Set and publish your work hours--keep personal time separate.
- Make sure the computer has all the appropriate system updates.
- Have a computer that is only used for work and only work by you.
- Make sure the computer is properly secured (firewall and anti-virus).
- Make sure your work space is separate, comfortable, properly lighted, and quiet.
- Take occasional breaks, get up, walk around, and briefly step outside for a breath of fresh air.
- Publish your contact information--email, phone, eFax, physical mailing address, web-conferencing, etc. Make sure the project team can still get in touch with you!
Telecommuting is not for everyone. Some people come down with cabin-fever and really miss being in the office. If your company offers this as an option, try it and find out if you can work remotely. The final advice I would offer is communicate, communicate, and communicate some more! Schedule some one-on-one time with your project team.
About the Author(s)
Kevin G. Colemaan is a veteran project manager and considered a subject matter expert in strategic technology engagements. He was the chief strategist at Netscape and now works as a subject matter expert and advisor to businesses, governments, and industry. He writes regularly on emerging technologies and associated challenges.