If you lead a remote project team, you probably worry that people aren’t feeling connected to the rest of the team. This is difficult enough when team members rely on each other for help, resources, and joint efforts. For many of us, the problem is made more complicated by the fact that some of these folks are contractors, and don’t technically work for you or your company. What’s a Long-Distance Project Manager to do?
There are some reasons contractors make sense for project work:
- They work for the duration of the project then can be released without drama or expense.
- As contractors, the company saves money on benefits, administration and other expenses.
- Project managers have more say in evaluating performance and recruiting members than they might have if people have “real bosses” inside the company and creates neat reporting structures.
Those are all valid reasons to us contractors. But this purely transactional way of working can result in some challenges when it comes to getting the work done at a high quality standard, or getting people’s best efforts. Among the challenges they’ve described are:
- Getting more than the contractual minimum effort (what you paid for is what you get, and not much more).
- Contractors tend to be less proactive about solving problems, or even bringing them to the PM’s attention.
- Work is highly transactional, and team relationships can be hard to build. We don’t often know the people we’re working with.
- It’s not much fun being part of a team of mercenaries.
All of this stems from the same source: contractors are seldom as engaged with the company and the team as employees are. What’s a PM to do?
Peter Taylor, author of “The Lazy Project Manager,” and one of my go-to resources for all things Project Management, has a term for this. It’s called the “Chain of Connection.” Are people emotionally, socially, and psychologically invested in the project they’re working on, or do they care just enough to get paid?
This soft-and-mushy-sounding phrase is actually very important. People (even hired gun code writers!) do their best work when they care about the outcome of the work, the people they work with, and organizations they know, like and respect. If the work is purely a paycheck, one project is the same as another, and your company is hard to get along with, these people can pack up and leave at any time. If the work is inspiring, the working environment pleasant, and the team members pleasant to work with, there are better odds of getting the best out of your team with far less turnover.
What are some of the things you need to consider when hiring and working with contractors?
- Why are they working with you? Understanding what makes people tick is a critical function of leadership. Are you the first job that came along? Do they have a passion for your industry or the project’s goals? Some people like the flexibility that comes with contracting. Others might be looking for a full time job (if not with you, somewhere else) and this is just paying their bills until that opportunity comes along. Knowing the motivation for their work will help a good PM work more effectively with these folks.
- Do they know how their work fits into the big picture? Most people want to know that their work is important. Do your team members understand how the work you expect from them benefits the team, the company and its customers? Without a larger sense of purpose, there may be no urgency to solve problems, come up with innovative ideas, or raise questions. It’s no wonder that people work best when they are invested in the outcomes.
- Will your team members interact with anyone besides the Project Manager? How are you helping create the relationships that will result in smoother handoffs and information flow? Too often there is no effort put into helping the team members get to know each other.
As a PM, think about what are you doing to help new people become invested and engaged with theirwork. Will they be proud to work for you? Will they enjoy working with their teammates? What will motivate them to give you their best effort.
True, some people enjoy contracting because it is a pure “I give you this much, you give me that,” transaction. Such attitudes are fairly rare. What are you doing to make sure people know, like and respect the work they do, the people they work with, and the organization they represent?
For more on this and every aspect of leading a remote team, get your copy of The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.