Written by Keith L. Scott, PMP, MBA
Today’s workforce is global. Obsolete are the days when team members sat in the same cubicle 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 of whether or not they interact and communicate in the traditional face-to-face manner.
Though everyone can work independently, it is important to constantly communicate the team’s objectives. Failure to do so can be catastrophic for the success of a project.
Set the tone early. At the beginning of the project it is crucial to let the team members know what is expected of them. Status reports, participation in conference calls, set hours of availability, and deliverable schedules are essential parts of managing virtual teams.
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.
Choose the right technology to foster communication. The anchor of every virtual team is the technology used to support communication. As gas prices soar, flying the team in for a meeting each week is not realistic. So in lieu of that online chat, conference calls and webinars are ideal. There are a number of technologies available such as AOL Instant Messenger, Microsoft LiveMeeting, 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 SharePoint.
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 the next day. In these instances, the quality of the deliverable almost always suffers.
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 team together strengthens personal relationships and working partnerships in both the short and long term. Never underestimate the importance of team camaraderie and rapport.
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.
About the Author: Keith L. Scott is a co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Novel Management Group (www.noveladvisors.com). Novel is a certified Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) management and technology consulting firm. Novel is headquartered in Atlanta, GA with an office location in McLean, VA.