Are You a Remote Project Manager Forced Onsite for No Reason?

I’m definitely in favor of managing projects remotely when it makes sense.  I’m in favor of remote project management when most or all project team members are geographically dispersed.  If there is really no one or no reason to manage face-to-face, there is no reason for a project manager to be driving 30 minutes or 60 minutes or 90 minutes one way to a corporate office just to sit at a desk and turn their 8-hour day into a 10 or 12-hour day.  Plus, it forces the project manager into the 9 to 5 role.  That has never been logical in any of my project management or consulting roles in the past – work is always needed on some days at 6:00am or 10:00pm. 

I realize that on the flip side it can be a very frustrating thing if you need to reach out to a project team member and have a sit down meeting but you just can’t. I have found that some of my most frustrating times  - or trying times – managing project team members…including rogue or even clueless developers…has been when they are located many many miles away and I can’t grab them and look them in the eye.  That said, I don’t really want to look them in the eye very much.  The other good thing about remote management is all that unproductive time when people stop by your office or cubicle just to chat is eliminated.  When I was a resource manager – as opposed to a project manager – I had employees who would just come sit in my office for long periods of time making it difficult at times to get work done.  If you’re reading this…you probably know who you are…

So let’s flash ahead to a different employer or situation.  What if you take on a new position with an organization that said they wanted you to work remotely but it becomes apparently early on that those are not the terms that are being implemented.   You find that you’re asked to be in the office every day even when there is no apparent benefit from being there.  Only wasted time in transit, wasted gas driving, and frustration on your part …because there’s nothing more that I hate than wasted or unproductive work time.  What do you do?  How do you handle this type of situation with your new employer or consulting client? 

The answer, I guess, is…it depends.  Let’s look at the factors:

Do you really like the work?  If you love the work – and that just may be the case even though you’re less than excited about make what seems to be a needless excursion into the office – then you may also want to stick it out.  So many individuals are stuck in jobs they hate or only tolerate.  So if you’re loving it, then keep at it but still look for future opportunities to possibly show your company the value in moving into the remote role that was discussed previously.  For me, in one position, it was the fact that I was supporting so many east coast clients from our Las Vegas office.  I had to be on so many 9am EST calls that it meant being on the phone at 6am in my time zone…making it ridiculous to start driving in mid-morning just to manage a project team that was nowhere to be seen locally.

How badly do you need the gig?  This is a key factor to consider.  Obviously, if you absolutely have to have the job and income, then the only thing you can do at the moment in submit to authority and do the job in whatever capacity is needed.  If the push is for onsite work – even if you don’t see the value – you will probably need to stick it out.  There may come a point where you can discuss the value of remote work again with your supervisor, but for now they want you onsite for whatever reason so that’s what you’re left to work with – even if your customers and project team members are nowhere to be seen.

How long with it be going on?  Finally, consider the season.  Is it just busy right now?  Is it just because you’re new and going through training?  It may be that your employer wants you around the corporate office during an initial ‘training’ period to acclimate you to their corporate culture, etc. and they intend to move you to the remote position that was previously discussed once they see you no longer need mentoring.  That’s a common scenario, but if it’s not readily apparent, you may want to ask your supervisor if this is the case. 

Summary / call for input

The bottom line is you have to decide for yourself how to approach this based on where the job or consulting gig fits in your life, needs and income.  It’s unfortunate, but true. 

Has this ever happened to you?  Were you ever forced into an onsite work situation when it was planned to be remote?  Were the reasons good reasons or just controlling reasons?  How did you react…what was the outcome?


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