Modern collaboration tools ease the management of these virtual teams by addressing these three primary areas:
1) Collecting information from the team
2) Disseminating information out to the team
3) Facilitating sessions with the team (i.e., status meetings, planning sessions, etc.)
A good foundation, a place to store information that is easy to get to, is a key component of virtual team management. Microsoft’s Sharepoint has become a stable and productive tool for use on any size project. Sharepoint Hosting 2010 adds the convenience of residing on a hosted platform yet is still available to all members of the team. Maintaining the tool becomes the responsibility of the vendor, freeing up the team to focus on the project and deliverables.
Sharepoint provides a place for storing and indexing documents for quick retrieval. Multiple team members can work on the same documents allowing collaboration between people, groups or teams.
Workflow capabilities allow projects to move forward against a defined workplan. Members of the virtual team have a place to enter time worked and status information. Community boards give team members a place to ask questions and discuss project issues.
Another tool, Google Docs, is a relative newcomer to the collaboration toolset. It allows people to work together on various document types, save and organize them, and share them with other teams. With fewer features than Sharepoint but still a serious collaboration tool, Google Docs satisfies the needs of the budget-conscious project team.
For facilitated sessions, Skype and Microsoft Live Meeting allow people to come together from multiple locations and share information. Managing a virtual team still requires making a connection with the team members. These tools allow the project leaders to perform this critical function.
These tools support audio, video, file sharing and screen sharing, capabilities important in any team meeting. These are also very useful tools for training the team and creating presentations for executive members.
There are numerous other tools available online to help a manager coordinate the activities of a virtual team. Online calendar sharing (Google Calendar), scheduling (Tungle), task management (ToodleDo) are all functions available for little cost yet provide high value to the project.
The role of the project manager or team leader does not change when working with virtual teams. Only the tools that they use have changed and evolved. It is still vital for management to know who is doing what, when, how long it takes and the cost impact on the project.
Whether working with a full-featured collaboration platform or piecing together the needed components from various vendors, these tools allow the project manager to work with the virtual team as effectively as if they were all local resources.
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