The project manager may need to pay more attention to certain tasks or activities when managing a virtual team in order to make the team more productive and to help better ensure project success. In the past six years, I’ve only managed one project with an entirely co-located project team, so I’m fairly opinionated on strategies to focus on for effectively managing the virtual project team. I’ve narrowed it down to six key strategies to discuss:
Hold meetings regularly, not sporadically
Keep every meeting. It can be very tempting to skip what might seem like a meaningless meeting. Even if there is nothing new to report, it’s still important to have those touch points with your team to keep them fully focused and engaged. Even if your team status call is only 5 minutes long – you still need to have it.
Consolidate and prioritize communications. Use email, texting, blogging, threaded discussions, etc. for relationship-driven communications (i.e., staying in touch and being personal). Communications of an important nature should be cohesive and never delivered in fragmentary pieces that have to be pieced together by the receiver. Mutually assess the communication preferences of yourself and your team members to develop a communication plan. Avoid assumptions and revisit your plan on a regularly basis especially when the nature of the work is about to change.
Be a good listener
When you are out of easy reach and you are tasked with managing the performance of others it’s easy to get sucked into the trap of needing to transmit lots of information. I’ve often found myself in the role of heavy communicator on the project as the lead of a virtual team and project. Don’t forget the listening part because the virtual project manager doesn’t have the luxury of seeing facial expressions and gestures that can portray concern. And always be sure to keep an open mind. Be present and try to enter the perspective of those speaking to you. This will help you ask effective questions and identify what direction to go with your own needs and agenda. You might be very pleasantly surprised at how much more information you get from your team this way.
Manage deliverables, not activities
It’s critical in the virtual project world that you stay focused – and keep your team focused – on the project deliverables. Activities are important, but those are the responsibilities of the individuals who are assigned to those tasks. Don’t get too bogged down in managing the minute details because the distance you have between you and those that are performing those activities make that type of micro managing even more difficult. Focus on the higher-level tasks and the overall deliverables and expect your team to perform.
Know your team members and manage accordingly
Every employee is different. Mobile workers make it easier for managers to take a more personalized approach in how they work and interact with members of their team. It takes more work and effort on a manager’s part but the results can be very rewarding. Understanding what enables each employee to perform at his or her best is the most important responsibility of a manager.
Today, there is literally endless technology and tools to manage your remote teams and projects effectively. How we manage tasks, schedules, workflows, budgets, customers and communication is easier today for the virtual project manager than ever before as there are hundreds of web-based project management and collaboration tools available to assist. Choose a solid tool – like WorkZone’s web-based PM scheduling, status and document sharing tool for teams as an example – and ensure that your project team (and customer if you so choose) know how to use it. Putting a web-based solution in the hands of the project team can definitely make project manager’s job easier as task progress update responsibility can be delegated to those actually doing the work. Of course, you’ll still need to use the usual spreadsheet, word processor, and other tools you would normally use to create and communicate project status information and create project deliverables for the client on the engagement. The list available tools is endless, choose what works best for your team and project.
View a product tour of WorkZone to see if it is going to work for your projects. And if you’d like to take a more personal approach, feel free to request a demo from the WorkZone site.