The growing tendency to use virtual project teams open up some exciting possibilities for modern project managers but it also brings with it some dangers too.
Overall, what you will be most interested in is how to get your virtual team running as smoothly as possible, so l think that it is worth starting with the basics and seeing what needs to be done from the very first day your virtual team starts up.
Get the Introductions Done
I once worked in a project where I knew that there were a couple of Indian co-workers on the team (I was in the UK). I had read their names on documents but no one had ever mentioned them to me and I didn’t even know how to contact them if I had wanted to. After a few months I ended up speaking to one of them by accident when I answered someone else’s phone. It turned out that they had some of the skills I needed right then and were sitting around waiting for some work to do. If you don’t get the initial introductions done then you run the risk of people working on an isolated basis and not pooling their resources in the most effective way. The early days of the project are obviously important but don’t forget to bring any late joiners up to speed as well. It can be disorienting to know that you are part of a big team but not speak to more than one or two people.
Stay in Touch
It is very important for a project manager to run regular team meetings when everyone else is in the same room as them but it is even more vital when the team is scattered over the globe. It is essential that you make time to speak to everyone, whether it is on a conference call or by some other method. This is when the team members get to know what is going on in other parts of the project and is therefore something which can’t be missed out. It should be set in everyone’s calendars well in advance and marked down as a recurring meeting which everyone has to attend unless they absolutely can’t do so. Regular one-on-one updates should also be part of your routine, as you touch base with everyone every now and then to see how they are doing.
Know the Time
A big problem with virtual teams can be the time difference. If you have people in different time zones then the simple solution is to customize your computer’s desktop to show you the different times each of your team members are currently at.
Try to Get Face-to-Face Meetings
The example I gave earlier of workers in the UK and India is one in which arranging face-to-face meetings can be extremely difficult. However, if you have people who work closer together geographically then getting some real meetings set up can really help everyone involved in the project. This doesn’t have to be a regular thing if it is awkward or expensive to do but you should think about doing it at least once, preferably at the start of the process.
If you have never worked in this kind of project before then it can be difficult to understand the kind of frustration which can occur when you can’t get hold of the person you need to speak to. As the project leader you are probably going to be the person that everyone most wants to speak to, at least at the start of the piece of work. You need to make sure that everyone knows how to get hold of you and knows when you will be available. There is also the concern that you could give the impression that you pay more attention to those people who work in the same office as you. This is a common issue, as those workers who are further away feel jealous about the easy access which other have to you and may start to worry about being left out. You therefore need to be seen to pay equal amounts of attention to everyone in the team regardless of where they are.
Virtual teams tend to take longer to get to the stage where they are performing to the best of their capabilities. The fact that information takes longer to get across and get acted upon can mean that it takes longer for virtual team members to climb up the learning curve.
How to Run a Virtual Team Effectively