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Episode 368: How to Make Remote Work Productive (Free)

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Bruce Harpham Senior Financial Analyst
Bruce Harpham, PMP

Does your project rely on virtual teams? If yes, then it means that working remotely is the norm for your project team members.

Are they doing their work effectively and efficiently? And even if you answered yes, there is always room for improvement, right? Good, because how to make remote work productive is our topic today.

Our interview guest is Bruce Harpham ( and who has written about remote workers and how to increase all our effectiveness. He argues that working virtually is simply the reality on many projects and project teams these days.

And so in order to help us improve remote work he recommends the following four steps:

  • Evaluate your current tools
  • Review communication preferences and strengths
  • Analyze the project’s requirements
  • Adjust your communication practices

We’ll go through each of these in detail with lots of examples from his own experience.

Episode Transcript

Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

Podcast Introduction

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to Episode #368. This is The Project Management Podcast™ at and I'm Cornelius Fichtner.

To begin, let me remind you that listening to this podcast qualifies for PDUs. So if you are a Project Management Institute (PMI)® certified project manager then please visit where we explain how it's done. Oh and please tell all your Project Management Professional (PMP) ® friends about it too.

Does your project rely on virtual teams? If yes, then it means that working remotely is the norm for your project team members. Are they doing their work effectively and efficiently? And even if so, it could always be better and improve, right? Good! Because how to make remote work productive is our topic today.

This episode of The Project Management Podcast™ is sponsored by the Project Management Podcast™. Yes, today we are own sponsor because I want to repeat what I said earlier. If you hold the PMP, Program Management Professional (PgMP) ®, PMI-ACP® or pretty much any other PMI® certification then you are earning PDUs right now just by listening for free. Please visit for the details and how to claim those PDUs.

Our interview guest is Bruce Harpham who has written about remote workers and how to increase all our effectiveness. He argues that working virtually is simply the new reality on many projects and project teams these days. So in order to help us improve remote work, he recommends the following 4 steps

Evaluate your current tools. Review communication preferences and strengths. Analyze the project's requirements and adjust your communication practices. We'll go through each of these in detail with lots of examples from his own experience.

And now, please listen remotely and enjoy the interview.

Podcast Interview

Female Voice: The Project Management Podcast's feature interview. Today with Bruce Harpham, author and founder of

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello, Bruce and welcome to The Project Management Podcast™!

Bruce Harpham: It's great to be here! I've been a fan for quite some time.

Cornelius Fichtner: Hey, thank you! So we'll be talking about remote work in our interview. But you know in today's days and age, everyone is involved in remote work. We are remote right now so everybody is somehow doing remote work. So is there anything new about remote work and remote teams that our listeners can expect to learn by the end of this interview?

Bruce Harpham: Yeah! I have a few thoughts on this point. First of all, there is a quote from Samuel Johnson that I came across few years ago that seems relative. He said people need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed. So sometimes it's a question of bringing those recurring truths back. I think the two points would be making remote work productive takes more effort specifically in the area of building trust and connection which is necessary for a project manager to be effective.

And then the second point is that I think in a lot of areas and in a lot of companies, the Yahoo decision is a notable example of this that the traditional face-to-face working expectation is still very strong and there's still a lot of skepticism to can remote work be effective. So I think the case is still open for many people but I happen to think it can be done well.

Cornelius Fichtner: Alright! To put everyone into the right mindset, please give us your definition for the two important terms --- remote work and remote team. Let's start with remote work.

Bruce Harpham: Sure! I think about this as people are in different physical locations and this could be really anything where they are not kind of in visual range of each other. So conceivably you can have remote work of people being in two different offices for the same company.

And I also see remote work as being linked to outsourcing and vendor management. Those trends connect to this concept.

Cornelius Fichtner: And what about the remote team?

Bruce Harpham: Yeah, so when I think about remote team, I tend to shade that towards more of situations where there are some kind of significant cultural difference. I'm based in Canada for example and a lot of people I work with are in the US and that's fine. 95% of the time, it's pretty seamless. But I do occasionally have kind of differences and disconnects.

For example, we have different holidays in a couple of cases. There is no official holiday in Canada in January beyond New Year's Day. Whereas I think there is President's Fair or something in the US in January. So that's an example of kind of how I think about remote team. Where there is something a little bit different beyond just distance. It could be different culture or different time zone, something of that nature.

Cornelius Fichtner: Next, we want to talk a bit about some facts and trends in remote work. I have four here for you and I'd like to hear your thoughts on these. Let's start with the technology and the tools. Obviously, technology and tools very much needed if you are working remotely.

Bruce Harpham: Oh, absolutely! So when I've looked at the area of technology and tools and I take this into a little bit of a longer context, if I compare it to let's say the mid-2000's versus present, a couple of points come to mind on technology.

One is that I think audio-visual technology, Skype for example or Skype for Business as it is sometimes branded, has increased significantly in reliability and quality.

In addition, I've also seen a significant rise in the amount and quality of free tools. There are free tools for example for conference calls. I sometimes use Google Hangouts app on my iPhone to make long distance calls because it's cheaper for me, because I have more data than minutes and it seems to work pretty well. So I see both an improvement in quality and seemingly steady increase in the number of free quality tools as well.

Cornelius Fichtner: The second trend we have to talk about is the shared talent factor.

Bruce Harpham: Right! So I think in a lot of projects I'd seen this in the technology arena. The critical constraint is often in the area of getting that star developer or that person who is a real wizard with Oracle for example. And previously that person was busy and you couldn’t negotiate otherwise, that could kind of slow everything down.

With remote work becoming more standard, it's now much more feasible to circumvent that kind of limitation. I think that's particularly valuable for people that are working at large global companies like the Fortune 500 in many cases the fact that if I'm based in the US and I can engage some talents at the UK office to work on a project then that can effectively work and makes a big difference.

Cornelius Fichtner: The next trend that we have to look into is increase telecommuting.

Bruce Harpham: So I think about this as a supply and demand story. So the supply is that a growing percentage of people in terms of talent want flexible work place, flexible hours, flexible occasion and the other side of that is that there's being a recognition particularly this is the most strongest example for working mothers, working parents more generally that if we don’t as employers and organizations provide and proactively support remote work and flexible work that we're just going to lose those people. The big four accounting firms for examples, identified the loss of talent to run in for example as a major threat to their business and this is one area where they are looking to do better.

Cornelius Fichtner: And last but not least and you've kind of eluded to that already, the increased support for work place flexibility.

Bruce Harpham: Yes! So I think there is growing support for it among management but it's still a little bit hit and miss where I think it's becoming easier is when we see managers and leaders engaging in the practice in seeing that it can work quite well. I've seen a manager for examples say: If you work from home, remember you may end up working a longer day than if you came into the office. So take breaks, step away from your desk from time to time to stretch and so on. So there is this idea that it can work quite well but it could potentially have the danger of people working too much and we need to think about that as well.

Cornelius Fichtner: Here's an interesting thought for you: I claim that from the perspective of the person who's performing the work, work is not actually done remotely. It's only remote work from the perspective of that person who is asking to have the work done.

Let me give you an example here. I always do the work where I am, here at my desk. From my perspective, that's local. But if you are the person who's giving me that work, you are in Canada, I'm nearly in Mexico, Southern border of United States. So from your perspective, it's remote. From my perspective, it's local because I'm sitting here at my local desk. So do you agree with that?

Bruce Harpham: Well I think it depends a little bit on the nature of the company. So to take two contrasting examples. If I take a large established bank that has some small percentage of people to work from home 1 to 2 days a week, then I think the traditional office is viewed as the normal condition and that in some ways it 's: We're having to go to lens to accommodate people that are doing something else.

At the other end of the spectrum, I see companies, the company that makes the Basecamp software for example has been extremely vocal and supportive of remote work and they don’t really kind of believe in the office in terms of you bringing everyone to the same building. I think it really is a function of kind of adaption rate of do you see at a normative or normal that everyone comes to a place and there are exceptions whereas the normal condition that people are just sort of scattered wherever they may be.

Cornelius Fichtner: But in the end, there is going to be distance between the person asking to have work done and the person actually performing the work. So does that then mean when we talk about making remote work productive that we're really aiming at making communication flow and the working infrastructure and the tool kit effective and appropriate?

Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only. Please subscribe to our Premium Podcast to receive a PDF transcript.

Tags: PDUs: Technical Project Management, Virtual Teams, Remote Work

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