With the development of Internet and mobile technology, more people prefer to work from home or telecommute. Number of online projects is fast growing and now almost all businesses in almost all industries make use of them. Especially, such projects are a frequent choice for start-ups with limited resources, but large companies are no exception.
Are online projects any different from traditional ones? If yes, how different is the work of an online team member?
There are widely different points of views about distance projects. Some managers are still of the opinion that managing online teams is much more difficult and freelancers could be used only for certain well defined tasks, but not for more complicated ones that require close monitoring and supervision.
However, some others find a lot of advantages to managing a freelance team working at geographically different locations in different time zones. They provide clear examples to prove long term success of online projects and that even difficult projects that require much communication between team members and close collaboration are quite suitable for online platform. Indeed, working with online team provides an opportunity to select the best manpower from a diverse range of specialties and criteria.
In fact some people are not able to work without boss under their shoulders and even they are good specialists they will not be effective online workers.
The first freelance work is not fit for everyone. Sometimes people want to be freelancers because of some individual circumstances. They may think they don’t need to go to work and it saves a lot of time. But there are some people, more often extroverts, who are not able to stay and work alone all time. They need people around and working online will be hell for them. This kind of people can’t adapt and may feel quite uncomfortable with working online only connected virtually.
But ability to work alone is not enough to be a good freelancer and an effective member of an online team. Online work requires high level of responsibility because it is easier to hide “in the cloud” than in the real work place. Psychologically, the online worker considers, as less serious fault, if he goes offline without explanation. Moreover, problems with connection could be a smart excuse in case of missing work or delays. But if such things happen often it will affect the team negatively in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. Good online worker always tells in advance that he will not be online or find way to inform team that he has problem with connection.
Team members should be interested in the project in the first place and open for communication; he should be enthusiastic and take active part in discussions and, problems and solutions.
Freelance work is much more result oriented. If you work in an office you have much more freedom to pretend that you are working. Online workplace does not give such opportunity. Moreover, approach to work with remote workers is tougher. Employer can easily fire an ineffective freelancer than office worker. Personal relationships play a more important role when people have physical contacts. There is a kind of people who build the career based on good terms with the boss. People who choose to work online mostly are not interested in such methods or don’t have ability to manipulate people. They prefer to prove their efficiency with hard work and an achievement of valuable results.
A member of online team should be more self-sufficient. Often the duties of online worker are various and ability to get skills fast is very important. In the physical office, people communicate and ability to learn partly could be replaced with ability to communicate.
Very often freelancer works at several online projects at the same time and good online worker is curious, good learner and the person who has excellent ability to switch between works does well.
It is a fact that online project success greatly depends on the right team. The next question is where to find such people and how to manage an online team.
Usually people who are working or prepared to work online have online history. He could have been hired before through freelance sites have feedback tools; probably he may have their own blog site or active in forums. It is quite risky to hire a person who has never worked online for a responsible position. That is why people who are serious about freelance future often agree to lower position and lower money to prove that they are able to work online.
A project manager of an online team has very small chance to control what people are doing. Most freelance sites like oDesk have advanced software to control freelancers but it is boring and time consuming task to look screenshots one by one. So the only measure of people’s work is the result.
The role of project manager in online projects is much more informal. He needs to support constant communication with his team with a purpose of controlling and teaching people. Project manager is responsible for creating an atmosphere where every freelancer feels that the result of the project depends on how he works.