Managing Virtual Teams

Managing Virtual Teams

By Keith L. Scott, MBA, PMP

Today’s workforce is global.  Obsolete are the days where team members sit in the same cubical row in front of their manager’s office.  Today’s project teams are working from home, across the city, on the other coast, or even in another continent in a different time zone.  In the past, it was believed that to be an effective and efficient organization, team members should be located together.  However what is more important is that team members understand the project goals and objectives regardless if they interact and communicate in the traditional face-to-face manner.

As a project manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that deliverables and milestones are achieved on time, on budget and with the upmost quality.  There are many moving parts to a virtual team which make managing them that more difficult.   Here are a few tips and techniques to follow:

  1. Set project objectives and expectations for your team.  Clearly communicate the project goals and objectives, schedules, and individual roles and responsibilities.  It is important that everyone knows what they are doing, how their work contributes to the project, what other team members need from them, and why.  Though everyone can work independently, it is important to constantly communicate the team’s objectives.  Failing to do so can be catastrophic for the success of a project. 
  2. Set the tone early.  At the beginning of the project it is crucial to let the team members know of what is expected of them.  Status reports, participation in conference calls, work hours, and deliverable schedules.
  3. Understand and respect different cultures.  This is very important if you are managing team members of different religions and/or in different countries.   Honor your team member’s right for personal and religious practices.
  4. Choose the right technology to foster communication.  The anchor of every virtual team is the technology used to support communication and collaboration.  Flying the team in for a meeting each week can be unrealistic.  So in lieu of that online chat, conference calls and webinars are ideal.  There are a number of technologies available such as WebEx, GoToMeeting®, and many other tools that support video and web conferencing.  In addition, there are collaboration tools that allow team members to share and collaborate on documents such as Microsoft Yammer, SharePoint and Microsoft Teams.
  5. Be specific about time commitments.  Never leave something to chance.  Make sure that all team members know when deliverables are due.  You never want to remind them the day before and have them scramble to get something done before close of business (COB) the next day.  The quality of the deliverable always suffers.
  6. Get the team together on occasion.   Although it is expensive to bring remote teams together it is a necessary element to managing a virtual team.  In order to build and continue team chemistry, gathering the troops strengthens personal relationships and working partnerships in both the short and long term.  Never underestimate the importance of team camaraderie and rapport.  Managers should bring the team together at project launch at a minimum. 
  7. 360 degree communication.  The bottom line is quite simple – get out of the way.  Trust your team to make proper decisions by working with each other and not be the bottleneck by insisting that all communication be channeled through you – the Project Manager. 

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