5 Tips on Managing a Virtual Team
According to a study by the American Community Survey, telecommuting has grown to 79%from 2005 to 2012. Telecommuters now make up 2.6% of the entire American workforce, or a total of 3.2 million employees. As telecommuting continues to grow, so will the number of remote workers — making it even more essential for project managers to know how to make virtual teams work.
Virtual teams are groups of workers which have at least some core members who work from home or another place, and primarily interact through electronic means, such as Skype or Google Hangouts. So what does it take to manage a virtual team effectively? Below are some key principles you need to consider.
Set up a face-to-face meeting. If it’s possible to get the team together in one place at least once before the start of the project. This will help make each team member be more than a name on their email inboxes, get to know each other personally and professionally, and help build relationships. It will also foster trust, which is key foundation for teamwork.
Understandably, this can’t always be done; say, teams with members who work from different parts of the world. You may want to do some virtual team building sessions instead.
Define roles and specify tasks. Like with any physical team leader, it is important for project managers to define the roles and responsibilities of each member on the team. Beyond the job description, however, virtual teams also need a lot of attention to details of tasks as well as the processes needed to accomplish them, considering that teammates are not physically present to answer a lot of questions.
Use communication technologies. This probably goes without saying, but collaborative technology is essential to the success of remote teams. Identify what are non-negotiables for the project at hand, then select the technologies you would need. For example, if you have a web development project, you’ll probably need some screen-sharing capabilities as well as shared workspaces. By not doing this, there is the danger of compromising the effectiveness of the entire team.
Create a team rhythm. Project managers should be able to subtly create a rhythm to get the whole team on the same wavelength. This may include things like holding meetings on the same day and time every week, having agreements on how everyone communicates (i.e. email responses in 12 hours or less), or regularly updating the task management tool.
Manage performance one on one. Coaching sessions with each team member on a regular basis is fundamental to ensuring the effectiveness of the whole group — whether you are working with a physical team or a virtual one. One on one performance management and interactions will help you check progress statuses in more detail and give you the opportunity to provide and receive feedback on things that a team member may not want to discuss with the rest of the team.
Managing virtual teams is not all different from managing an office-based one. However, there are some adjustments that you need to make to ensure that each remote worker is connected to the goal of the project as well as with each other.