Managing Tasks as a Team when Working Remotely

John Reeve | March 17th, 2020 | , ,

Managing Tasks as a Team when Working Remote

Getting started with working remote

In today’s connected and always online workplace, working remote is becoming the new norm for many. For those who are just getting started working remote, there is an abundance of articles online that will walk you through getting comfortable, ditching distractions, and being efficient. Here are just a few:

Holding team meetings online

However, if you are accustomed to working with a team, working remote can present a unique set of challenges. Communication and collaboration look much different when your only human interaction is through a computer screen. There are a number of communication apps, such as Slack and GoToMeeting, that are indispensable for keeping in touch with your remote team members. Most of them perform the same chat and videoconferencing functions. And again, here are a number of great articles online to help you get started using them.

Managing tasks as a remote team

Collaboration apps are also plentiful, but more nuanced. When evaluating which apps to use for team collaboration, first consider the team’s workflow. The app should reflect the team’s typical methodologies for getting things done, or at least be flexible enough to accommodate them. In this post, we’ll discuss how a simple approach to task management can be implemented by remote teams.

Some background: Our company, Pelago, has logged almost 20 years of teamwork with several of us working remote at some time or another. In fact, we built our task management software, Intervals, to better manage the challenges, successes, and failures we collectively experienced as a remote team designing and building web sites.

The end goal of the task management process for teams is to break down a project into smaller, actionable items, and then delegate those tasks and track them. Once that’s done, you’re ready to dive in and start working. A simple yet effective approach to working through all of those tasks is to ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What should I work on next?
  2. OK! Now that I know what to work on, where was this task left?
  3. What needs to happen to this task next?

What should I work on next?

When juggling a lot of tasks, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. The tasks should be structured in a way that makes it easy to discern who should be working on what. Assigning tasks to team members is a good first step, but individuals can become overwhelmed by too many tasks. That’s why it’s also helpful if tasks can be prioritized in order of importance, given realistic due dates, and categorized in a meaningful way.

This can help team members decide which of their tasks they should work on next. For example, a person responsible for writing copy could choose to focus on higher priority tasks related to social media that were due by the end of the week. If the tasks were organized well when they were created, finding those tasks should be relatively easy.

OK! Now that I know what to work on, where was this task left?

The task itself should have all of the details needed to complete the work. A thorough description of work and attached supporting documentation will help reduce conversations, which can be more difficult to coordinate remotely. Communication is critical to working remote, especially the communication that is conducted through well written documentation.

In addition, any activity that’s already occurred should be recorded on the task. That way, the next person to work on the task — whether that be you or someone else — will know where the task was left. The better the task is documented, the fewer questions you have to ask and the sooner you can continue working.

What needs to happen to this task next?

One way to deduce a task’s next steps is to read the task history. But, this approach is prone to misinterpretation because it relies on one person properly understanding the notes left by someone else (or, worse, their own notes). A good task management system should have the ability to set the current status of a task. Ideally, you would have a list of statuses to choose from, each one representing a step the task might go through as it’s being worked on.

Properly used task statuses are one of the most efficient methods for communicating what needs to happen next. For example, a task could be flagged as “Need assistance,” which tells you the current assignee requires help to keep moving forward. A status of “Under client review” let’s you know to follow up with the client for their latest feedback. And, a status of  “Complete” let’s everyone know the task is done. These are just three examples, but you can see how they are succinct, direct, and informative — they are skimmable phrases that immediately communicate where the task is at.

Taking your team remote

There are plenty of good task management apps out there that will provide a basic framework for your team as you transition to working remote. That includes our own app, Intervals, a comprehensive and flexible task management platform that’s been used by remote teams for more than 13 years. Check it out and let us know if you have any questions about working remote.

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Intervals Blog

A collection of useful tips, tales and opinions based on decades of collective experience designing and developing web sites and web-based applications.

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Intervals is online time, task and project management software built by and for web designers, developers and creatives.
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John Reeve
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John Reeve

John is a co-founder, web designer and developer at Pelago. His blog posts are inspired by everyday encounters with designers, developers, creatives and small businesses in general. John is an avid reader and road cyclist.
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Jennifer Payne
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Jennifer Payne

Jennifer is the Director of Quality and Efficiency at Pelago. Her blog posts are based largely on her experience working with teams to improve harmony and productivity. Jennifer is a cat person.
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Michael Payne
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Michael Payne

Michael is a co-founder and product architect at Pelago. His contributions stem from experiences managing the development process behind web sites and web-based applications such as Intervals. Michael drives a 1990 Volkswagen Carat with a rebuilt 2.4 liter engine from GoWesty.
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