Project Management

5 Expert Tips For Managing Virtual Teams

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A blog that looks at all aspects of project and program finances from budgets, estimating and accounting to getting a pay rise and managing contracts. Written by Elizabeth Harrin from

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Categories: virtual teams

Managing virtual teams is a skill. You can learn how to do it better, but getting the best out of a virtual team takes practice.

Let’s give you a head start. I spoke to five experienced project managers about how they manage virtual teams.

Here is what they had to say about making working virtually a success.

Paul Nicholson

I have gone to great lengths at times to actually meet someone in person. This is particularly true of suppliers that don’t want to come in. I go there instead. The cost is worth it, especially if they are international.

We are increasingly working with European suppliers. Meeting them seems to be the key and conferences are good opportunities for this.

Paul Nicholson, MBCS, UK

Helen Curel

Keep the lines of communication open. Meet face-to-face either in person or via video conferencing as often as possible. Even conference calling is better than relying solely on emails.

Listen carefully to what the team are saying and seek clarification if things aren’t crystal.

Helen Curel, UK

3. David

Oooh, difficult one... This is a subject where I know I have lots to learn, but:

  • Try to at least have a kick-off where everyone can attend in person. It's much easier to work with someone virtually if you've at least met. If a physical meeting can't be arranged (e.g. for financial reasons) do a video meeting where everyone introduces themselves, their background, what they hope to contribute, in what way they themselves hope to benefit from the project etc. (Inform everyone beforehand that this is going to happen so they can prepare).
  • If there is a big time difference (e.g. between continents), do not just schedule online meetings to fit into the "overlapping" working hours, but also vary them.
  • Action lists from meetings are especially important to make sure tasks are known and get done. A virtual Kanban board (e.g. Trello) is often a good idea.
  • Keep track of who talks the least during the online meetings and actively "pull them" into the discussions.
  • Schedule regular one-on-one online meetings with as many people as possible.
  • Invite feedback on how well (or badly) the team thinks the virtual team works…

David, Sweden

Claire Sezer

Communication is key. Regular update calls, followed up with action task lists specifying who is doing what and by when. Don’t assume anything is being taken care of. Always double check.

Claire Sezer, FCILEx, UK

Dave Gordon

One-on-one calls are important when you have a virtual team. Dealing with a problem or individual task follow-up on a team call that you could have resolved with a phone call to one or two team members wastes everyone else’s time.

Dave Gordon, USA, who blogs at The Practicing IT Project Manager and is on Twitter as @PracticingITPM

The Common Theme: Communicate!

Virtual working is often chosen because it has a stack of  benefits, not least that it can be cheaper as there are no office overheads, less requirement to travel and you can use outsourced (i.e. cheaper) resources from wherever in the world is best placed to provide them.

As you can see, communicating is a key strand that runs through all these pieces of advice. A virtual team needs as much, if not more communication than a co-located team. Reducing the ‘virtual-ness’ of a team will help them gel much faster and give you a greater insight into how to get them working together productively so that the work can progress at pace.

Got any other tips for making virtual teams work successfully and not just turn into a cost-cutting exercise? Let us know in the comments below.

Posted on: February 01, 2016 11:59 PM | Permalink

Comments (12)

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@Elizabeth : Good one. It is different from other write-ups as you have taken the trouble of actually interviewing people and getting their opinions. This 'view from the field' idea' is excellent!

Thanks very much! I'm glad to have been able to talk to other people - this site is all about community and it's important to acknowledge that we aren't alone in facing similar problems.

Thank you Elizabeth - this is really relevant in my role today. We're a program of several project and scrum teams across many locations (several globally). It's great to get tips and tricks from others in the field!

Nice approach. It is always good to learn through the experiences of everyone.

This is very helpful post and to understand, how people are dealing with virtual teams. I work with teams in different locations and we try to talk once in a day daily. Not only project talks but also general talks.

Good Article Elizabeth. This is good where you have rightly stressed the concerned points to be address of virtual team instead of just thinking as a cost cutting alternative.

Excellent tips.

Having worked and managed teams located across the globe in the same project , I would like to
share a few more -

1. Consider Time Zone difference & select a time suitable for the most :
Schedule meeting with advance notice considering the Time difference across the globe.
Organized meetings where Indian team is about to finish their business and Montreal , Canada
team is just starting with coffee mug in hand. Unless you take care of the selection of the
meeting members ( only most essential members ) with advance confirmation
( use Outlook Meeting notice, a very good tool for organizing meeting and getting to know who
has accepted the meeting call ), you may find missing members. late on road or heavy snow
that day. So, time of meeting is very important.

2. Language of meeting : Speak SLOWLY and esquire if you are understood
You may be working with Japanese or Korean firms. Though the work
force is good in English , many are still possibly learning English on job . So, be patient with
their queries , explain twice so that there is no misunderstanding.
With understanding of all , I use Audio recording of such meeting so that this can be played
back again for better understanding . ( This tool I use in fact all international multi location
meetings with the declaration in my meeting notice that the meeting will be recorded. ( It has
many additional benefits as well , people don't go back on their commitment ! It is recorded )

3. Organize relaxation meetings ( once in a while,funded by project)
No meeting , but a video session where project organizes lunch or dinner for all the locations.
people just chat , gossip , have lunch/dinner/breakfast together. this breaks the ice and adds to
the team building . Except the leader , not many others get the chance to visit remote locations.
this is an excellent way to build a cohesive team over the net & skype video.

4. Know local holiday calendar - paste it on your desktop. it helps to know and tell the team that
on a particular day we are working ,but our Seoul Team is off on a holiday picnic.

There are others ....

Liked the interview idea, add a lot to the content from the field experts, the conclusion is reached by the group not the writer, good work.

Sankar Haldar, liked the addition of points to the discussion from a practical point of view, thanks for sharing.

Communication is the most important. The sender information must be verified by different means that the receiver understood the information.

Love the approach you took on this, Elizabeth! Very helpful!

thanks Elizabeth for this article

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