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.
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
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
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…
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
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.
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.