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Project Management & Remote Work: Hiring Efficiencies Align With a Satisfied and Productive Workforce

Project managers in fields like software development, product management, and UX design have long operated in ways that fit remote work.
Lana Steiner

PMs are not thrown by the supposed challenges associated with leading remote teams. Even before the pandemic, project managers had already adopted agile methodologies and implemented digital project management tools that enhance flexibility, collaboration, and productivity engineering and design teams.

Remote project managers’ interactions with teams of developers and designers often rely heavily on digital tools that are already widely used regardless of where the teams are located, in-office, WFH, or a mix of the two. Tools like Jira, Asana, Trello, Notion and Figma assist remote teams using agile development practices to track progress, manage tasks, document work, and collaborate more efficiently providing a centralized platform for managing work items, timelines, and priorities. These applications enable diverse teams, often syncing across oceans (not cities) to stay organized and on-task.

Understanding what the rest of the team is doing as well as the technical nuances of that work ensures the team can communicate ideas effectively and plays a pivotal role in the realization of any complex project. If data drives decisions, a remote PM or product owner must adeptly sift through a field of metrics—from user behaviors to goal completions. The ability to interpret data becomes paramount, gleaning insights that propel product direction and ensure alignment with user needs and business objectives. While executives will often take a hard line, one way or the other, there is rarely a consensus among team members that regular, in-person collaboration improves business outcomes or even efficiency.

This has been the overriding perception for a long time within these high skill functions, personal preferences aside.

A Changing Landscape: Remote Project Management Offers Companies Flexibility, Employee Satisfaction and Productivity.

In the wake of the pandemic, comfort has played an invaluable influence on employee engagement and wellbeing. Of those office workers who prefer hybrid environments, about 10 percent of respondents worldwide said they were likely to quit their jobs if they were required to work at the office every day; furthermore, they were willing to trade more than 20% of their annual compensation to work a preferred number of days from home.

That group is comparatively experienced and well paid: 44% of them are in senior roles and 33% of them earn more than $150,000 per year. Their seniority and high incomes suggest that they are probably decision makers who can protect remote work at the team or even the company level. To be clear, mid level employees also preferred to work from home at even greater levels than those in positions of seniority, just without the concessions.

As a result of hybrid work spaces, the outcome has been an overwhelming incline in employees who are engaged and demonstrate wellbeing, even with regard to the ever-elusive personal and professional work-life balance. The data has shown that hybrid employees are:

  • 27% more likely to report excellent performance in their role.
  • 45% more likely to report high levels of adaptability in the presence of change.
  • 37% more likely to report always recovering fully after an illness, injury or hardship.
  • 59% less likely to look for a job with a different organization in the next 12 months.

Even more impressive, remote employees who acknowledge a healthy and sustainable work environment are consistently more engaged on the job, operating from behind their computer in either remote or hybrid conditions. To the benefit of employers and employees, we’ve entered into a new era as it has become increasingly evident that a remote and hybrid workforce is here to stay.

All of this performance, adaptability and job satisfaction benefits employers in obvious ways, not the least of which is the ability to employ equally adaptive hiring practices. If the team suddenly finds that they need a specialist, the ability to hire quickly from around the world not only helps teams deliver projects but pull in superior talent at better relative pricing – this is something Worky specializes in doing, assisting hiring managers directly to scope the team according to upcoming projects. Or as we call it, hiring specialized talent, on demand.

Methodologies for Sustaining a Healthy Project Management Function Within Remote Work Environments.

As with any cultural sea change or paradigmatic shift in the corporate landscape, adjusting to these new work standards and practices poses a unique set of challenges for employers.

According to a new Gallup global meta-analysis of 62,965 business units and teams published in the peer-reviewed organizational science journal Human Performance, reports that favorable job attitudes have a stronger relationship to organizational outcomes in uncertain economic times than they do in normal or healthy times.

However, resilient cultures endure through the good times and the bad. Agile cultures prove their steadfastness by experiencing minimized disruption of key outcomes, such as productivity, customer service and profit.

The takeaway: resilient cultures do not merely survive. Truly resilient cultures thrive.

Let’s take a deep dive into how specific industries and firms have managed to not merely adjust to remote management but have actually thrived in its wake, creating favorable conditions for employees and fostered gains in productivity and outcomes.

“I go into the office about once a quarter,” divulged Atlassian CEO Scott Farquhar, bucking the latest trend in Big Tech. Farquhar emphasized the virtues of flexible work, allowing employees to manage increasing costs of living anxieties by permitting them to choose cheaper living conditions far from the economic pressures of residing near exorbitant metropolitan areas.

Despite a handful of public policy reversions from fully remote mandates at companies like Google or Goldman Sachs, a host of tech companies like Dropbox, Instacart, and Axios have touted the benefits of the WFH (work from home) model. At Hubspot, thnow a firm with a $20 billion market cap that sells CRM software solutions for marketing and sales, employees can choose what they want to do: 64% work remotely, 8% prefer to work from an office, and 28% choose flexible work. The company reported 33% revenue growth in 2022.

According to an InVision hiring report conducted pre-pandemic, 62% of UX designers said they prefer to work remotely while 38% preferred to work in an office. These figures suggest that a majority of UX designers who report to a Project Manager favor current trends in their work environment. Without question, this number has climbed as UX designers have become more accustomed to the now commonplace remote working model.

Atlassian develops products for software developers, project managers and other software development teams.

Upholding the principal tenets of a WFH environment, Atlassian’s methodologies have been successful in helping the software company foment a productive and engaged workforce in the post-pandemic landscape. The company has even been recognized as one of the best places to work in the world, repeatedly featured in publications such as Fortune and Inc., praising the twenty two year old company’s 240,000 customers around the globe and $40 billion market value.

Before the pandemic, only 5% of Atlassian employees were remote workers. Today, most have opted to work remotely full-time with 42% of the Australian software giant’s employees living more than two hours from a company office. What’s been the result of this newly implemented WFH leniency? In this year alone, Atlassian’s stock price jumped nearly 60% thanks to strong sales growth.

With over 4,000 employees working from more than 70 countries around the world, Atlassian helps support its self-titled “Distributed Workforce” utilizing a variety of methodologies including:

  • Asynchronous communication: employees are encouraged to communicate asynchronously, whenever possible. This means that employees don’t have to be online at the same time to communicate with each other. Instead, they can leave messages in chat rooms, send emails, or update documents at their convenience. Asynchronous communication gives employees more flexibility and allows them to work on their own time, and Atlassian encourages the use of Halp, facilitating Slack as a unified Help Desk, cutting down the onboarding process and extricating most formalities from employee to employee communication.
  • Transparency: an established commitment to transparency in the workplace. This means that all employees have access to the same information regardless of their location.
  • Trust: employees have the freedom to work from wherever they want whenever they please while the company provides employees with the tools and resources they need to be successful, such as laptops, headphones, and access to training and development.
  • Collaboration: Atlassian uses a variety of tools to help employees collaborate remotely. These tools include JiraConfluence, and Bitbucket. Jira is a project management tool that helps teams track their work and progress. Confluence is a knowledge base that helps teams share information and collaborate on documents. Bitbucket is a code hosting platform that helps teams develop and deploy software.
  • Creative On-Boarding Process: Atlassian asks new employees to share introductory blogs, assigns current employees all new-hire buddies, and offers a peer-to-peer recognition program called Kudos, a gamified peer recognition tool in which employees can win gifts of up to $250.

As a software development company, Atlassian appears to be particularly well positioned for a fully remote work environment. Comfort as well as productivity aren’t the only factors as to why employees prefer a hybrid model. “Workers today view hybrid accommodations as equal to an 8% pay increase,” Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford economics professor, told The Wall Street Journal. Employers who insist on in-person work are seeing slower hiring rates than those who offer hybrid options with 50% of applicants, according to LinkedIn, only seeking hybrid employment despite the fact that hybrid positions only accounted – at the time – for 15% of the site’s job openings.

Adopting both flexible and asynchronous models, Dropbox decided to allow its employees to work remotely and almost entirely at their convenience last year. With meetings scheduled between the hours of 12pm – 4pm, the Dropboxers must narrow in on the “three D’s” of discussion, debate, or decision-making while in attendance.

Meanwhile, the company does not retain permanent offices, renting on-demand studio spaces when necessary. The model seems to resonate with workers and the talent pool at large. In response, Dropbox has echoed the sentiment that remote hiring has been “a huge superpower and unlock for us,” CEO Drew Houston remarked. A Dropbox survey of its employees who adopted the asynchronous model found that 78% felt more productive at work, and 72% felt they could better balance work with their personal life.

Of course, the company has not been without its recent challenges. In April of this year, Dropbox laid off 500 employees—16% of its staff—due to slowing growth and the need to adjust to the oncoming AI era necessitating a reallocation of resources.

While newer tech companies like Atlassian and Dropbox appear more naturally predisposed for remote management, there appears to be a middle ground to strike for Fortune 500 companies aiming to accommodate employer needs, employee satisfaction, and hoping to attract a young, emerging talent pool entering the workforce.

Understanding Why Project Management Has Transformed into a Predominately Remote Position

In order to understand more traditional project management thinking outside the tech world, we ought to take a brief glimpse into the history of project management. During the 1980s, we had the first introduction to ‘Lightweight’ Methodologies. While the term ‘Agile’ wouldn’t be created for over a decade, early experiments were underway. Scrum was introduced in 1986. Rapid Application Development was fully sketched and developed by 1991, and Crystal Methods began the same year.

While the technologies and methodologies have adjusted over time, the foundational tenets of project management have remained strikingly similar. However, in a ski resort at The Lodge of Snowbird in the Wasatch mountains of Utah, seventeen people met to talk, relax, and ended up devising the Agile Manifesto, building on work spanning back to the seventies on lightweight alternatives to the heavy-handed and process-oriented waterfall method of software development.

Over twenty years later, current project management methodologies and practices, as elucidated, require transparent communication from all teams through a multitude  of softwares. Whether working in-office or remote, the processes do not fundamentally change.

However, adjustments to remote management among Fortune 500 companies, including those in the tech space, have seen promising albeit mixed responses from C-suite executives.

As evidenced in a recent McKinsey study, nearly 90% of employers have retained some form of a hybrid model. This is despite recent reports of Fortune 500 companies requiring employees to return to work in the office. And then there have been rumors of CEOs actively plotting to shift all of their employees away from a hybrid work model by 2026.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that the hybrid work will necessarily vanish from more conservative and traditional industries like banking and legacy financial services. Even with statistics bolstering the case for a hybrid, C-suite level biases and negligence may play a role in some counterintuitive decisions making. In a May 2021 McKinsey & Company survey of C-suite executives, 68% admitted that they didn’t yet have a strategy in place or communicated to employees. Most hybrid work environments were developed on the fly and need to be corrected for the latest, more measured and intentional industry trends.

Toward this last point, it’s worth revisiting Atlassian’s approach. With a short list of values that include both seemingly common and idealistic, like transparency and trust, they approach these values specifically in support of efficiency. Encouraging asynchronous communication is a radical call for efficiency. How much time do we all spend responding to emails, Slack messages, etc in real time? And how much more efficient would our primary outputs be if the explicit culture of the organization encouraged this type of deep focus and decision-making over the more emotional and immediate needs of others?

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