Like Herding Cats: Using Project Management Software to Wrangle a Remote Workforce

While it’s got its ups and downs, running a decentralized, remote workforce can be a major boon – but you’ve got to be organized. Using the right project management software is key.

Making Life Easier, One Project at a Time

Whenever we refer to something that’s frustratingly difficult, we often say that it’s like herding cats. The idea of trying to get several notoriously independent, aloof, and stubborn creatures to go all in the same direction at the same time makes you want to throw your hands up in exasperation.

Managing a business that relies on a large proportion of online workers can certainly feel that way sometimes. It’s especially frustrating to not be able to just sit down with an entire team to disseminate important project information all at once, or even simply hash out a work schedule or task deadline list. However, the ability to organize a fully mobile team of workers in an efficient and cost-effective manner isn’t just a pipe dream. In fact, through the use of a good project management software program and some time, you can turn the job of managing a cadre of remote workers from herding cats into something much more simple and straightforward.

Embracing Digital Tools for a Dispersed Workforce

Naturally, when it comes to managing the dispersed workforce of a mostly-online (or completely online) business, the tools that allow employees to work from anywhere are the ones that human resource managers use to keep lines of communication open. For businesses with just a handful of clients or contributors, this can be as easy as sending and receiving assignments over email. This is made easier by the plethora of free communication services offered by dozens, if not hundreds, of service providers; anyone with internet access and a free Gmail account can become a remote worker.

However, when it comes to companies with growing client bases, a large number of individuals on staff, or those that deal with highly sensitive materials that need higher levels of security than a simple free email browser, the limitations of using simple tools like email chains become increasingly clear. It’s at this point that a company needs to transition to a more focused project management solution if it wishes to preserve productivity and continue to reap the many rewards of a decentralized, remote workforce.

Choosing the Right Project Management App for Your Business

Transitioning to project management software can be a serious culture shock. It’s akin to a sepia-toned Dorothy Gale stepping out into the Technicolor beauty of Munchkinland – you’re certainly not in Kansas anymore. The sheer number of communication and workflow management tools at your disposal is easily overwhelming at first, even if you’re using the free version of a paid service, but that’s exactly where you should start.
As you are operating a business that relies on mobile workers, you need to ensure that the project management process you’re using is conducive to web-based task assignment and monitoring. Most of the commercially available solutions out there are built with this functionality in mind, though you may experience some bottlenecking if you’re using a free version. However, unless you have a significantly large workforce, you’re unlikely to need paid access just yet.

Regardless, your transition should begin with just one or two clients and/or mobile workers, in order to give both you and your workers time to acclimate. Once you’ve grown to understand how the platform works – how to categorize tasks that need to be completed, how to assign them -and their deadlines – to workers, and how to record important data like billable hours – it’s time to fully integrate the rest of your operation.

The Traditional Workplace No Longer Exists

As technology continues to advance at exponential rates, there are fewer and fewer jobs that need to be done in the traditional office environment. Flex working arrangements and telecommuting has become the rule rather than the exception. The number of telecommuters in the US alone increased by 115% from 2005 to 2015 to a total of around 4 million Americans – that’s nearly 3 percent of the workforce. This trend is unlikely to change anytime soon, as the benefits of flex work like telecommuting are manifold, including higher morale and engagement among employees and better overall productivity.

The result is, of course, that fewer and fewer businesses find it necessary to have a workspace in a traditional sense. There’s no conference room to sit in for reports and reviews or a water cooler to gossip at in the break room (since there’s no a break room at all). This presents some serious organizational challenges that need to be overcome in innovative ways; you can’t have HR run off a bunch of paper copies to distribute to employee desks when there’s no desk to put them on; thankfully, a business that turns to web-based project management software can weather the storms of the new millennium easily, embracing mobile working without having to sacrifice organizational integrity.


About the Author:

Benjamin Shepardson is the founder of NoStop Content, a Key West-based content agency specializing in delivering personalized experiences. With an extensive digital career dating back to before social media and WordPress, Ben personally works with clients to craft a content strategy that will scale and grow their business. Follow him on Twitter at @nostop_content

Author: Shariq Toor

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