Virtual project teams are held together mainly by networks. Networks of people as well as devices. So in this network construct of a reality, managing your project team not only requires exceptional interpersonal skills but also calls for an ability to build teams that function on their own and root for your project’s cause without you having to enforce it.
A virtual team’s journey to this end is not without roadblocks. From a poor network between their devices to poor communication between team members, a project’s quality is easily lost in translation when the members working on it are far apart.
However, working remotely can work in your favour on multiple levels. According to a report in Forbes Magazine, American Express reported annual savings of about $10 to $15 million after switching to remote working. And according to a study published by Stanford University, job attrition rate fell by 50% as a result of offering remote work options. At the core of this ability to project manage efficiently is the need to establish technology and communication as two pillars that hold the team strong. In addition, hands-on evaluation of tasks and revisions that fix errors on the go can take you from strength to strength.
So let us now evaluate the best practices that can help manage your virtual project team.
- Communicate more than you normally do
Your words need to make the most of the short window of overlap that different time zones have. So, in addition to increasing the number of times you communicate, you also need to make sure that your words are clear enough. Ensure that necessary information is shared amongst team members without having to waste dedicated hours sifting through scores of files, facts or figures. Textual messaging does not equate to face-to-face communication and could leave too much to interpretation. Try to schedule audio and video calls instead. Keep these conversations to the point and make it clear that team members are always welcome to ask questions.
- Invest in technology that helps you build teams
People have personalities and given how work hours take most of their day’s time, they also look forward to socialising amongst each other. These ‘water cooler’ conversations are missing in the virtual space and could lead to a lack of solidarity amongst teams. Besides, they also fail to prioritise things right because they are often unaware of each other’s tasks. Investing in an online tool or a software that lets them collaborate effectively can be an easy solution. Besides compartmentalising the conversations, you can also give them a channel wherein they bond over with each other with light-hearted banter.
- Address issues before they become problems
Resolving conflicts online is not easy. Besides losing on non-verbal cues that make conversations easier, you are also forced to rethink what you say so that neither of the parties is offended. In such cases, always get onto a call. Be patient, empathetic, and calm. But when the project or the company’s larger interests are in question, you will have to be equally firm and strong too.
In addition to internal conflicts, you are also likely to face issues that concern time zones that hardly overlap and culture fit issues that stand out given the limitations of communications. To simplify, resolve issues when they are relatively inconsequential and you are will face fewer roadblocks.
- Keep your style of project management consistent
When the standard that your project or organisation adheres to is consistent, it is likely that the output is consistent too. Invest in hiring talented people and train them like you do in a traditional project setup. In addition, have regular reviews and appraisals too.
Other little elements like your weekly status meetings or your monthly progress check-ins should not suffer either. The onus is on you to set a standard so that the team follows through. Make sure that accountability and professionalism do not take a back seat just because the tasks seem more important.
- Keep expectations clear and stick to them
Given how the expectation versus reality divide is quite strong even in the context of a traditional project, virtual teams absolutely have to attain maturity before they find themselves in an easy workflow. So, it pays you well to begin on that note.
Avoid ambiguous roles and make sure that your teams are aware of the latest updates with your upcoming plans. Encourage team members to have similar clarity with regards to their monthly or weekly goals. Given room for discussion and keep expectations realistic on both ends. Remember that you often need wider buffers in the context of virtual teams.
Do you have a remote project team that you are working with? Tell us your strategy towards managing the different aspects involved and whether they have paid off in terms of returns.
About The Author
As the subject-matter expert for Saviom’s flagship resource management software, Aakash Gupta advocates best practices of the domain through the company’s publications and webinars. You can reach him here.