The workplace is changing. With globalization and advancements in technology, more companies are utilizing virtual teams to get work done. Studies show that over two-thirds of companies have remote workers and this number continues to grow.
While virtual teams provide many benefits like access to global talent and flexible working arrangements, they also come with unique management challenges. As a project manager, you need to adapt your approach to effectively lead teams that are geographically dispersed.
In this article, we provide 10 tips to help you manage your virtual project teams successfully.
1. Invest in Collaboration Tools
When team members are distributed, you need the right technology to connect everyone and enable seamless collaboration. Invest in tools like:
- Video conferencing – Have regular video calls to discuss projects face-to-face. Zoom and Skype are popular platforms.
- Instant messaging – Chat apps like Slack allow for quick communication within the team.
- File sharing – Ensure everyone has access to the latest documents through Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.
- Project management software – Track tasks, schedules, and progress through a centralized system. Popular options include Asana, Trello, and Jira.
Take time to research and test different tools. Get your team’s input to find solutions that best meet their needs.
2. Set Clear Goals and Processes
With team members working independently, it’s crucial to align everyone behind common goals and processes. Outline the objectives, key results, roles, responsibilities, workflows, and communication protocols upfront.
Document everything clearly so there’s no confusion on priorities or expectations. Review periodically to ensure the goals and processes are still relevant.
When working remotely, it’s better to over-communicate than leave team members unsure. Send regular project updates through email, chat, and meetings. Share key decisions and changes as soon as they are made.
Make yourself available to answer questions. Be responsive and provide feedback frequently. Developing trust and transparency will improve team productivity.
4. Schedule Regular Meetings
Don’t just communicate asynchronously through chat and email. Have regular video conference meetings as well.
Daily standups allow the team to align on priorities and identify any roadblocks. Weekly status updates provide visibility into progress across projects. Monthly touchbases are useful for relationship building.
Consistent meetings, even if short, keep the team connected. Send agendas beforehand so everyone comes prepared. And take notes to share later with anyone who couldn’t attend.
5. Clarify Meeting Etiquette
With participants in different locations, establish some basic rules to facilitate productive meetings:
- Mute when not speaking to avoid background noise
- State your name before commenting so people know who’s talking
- Use video if possible to enhance engagement
- Stick to the agenda and assigned time slots
- Share screens to walk through documents together
Having protocols will minimize technical difficulties and keep meetings focused. Send tips to the team if challenges persist.
6. Track Results and Provide Feedback
To manage a dispersed team, you need visibility into workstreams without micromanaging. Define key metrics and use tools to monitor progress toward goals. Request deliverable updates from individuals so you can provide early feedback.
Have regular one-on-one meetings to discuss any concerns, recognize achievements, and keep team members motivated. When possible, praise publicly in team meetings and criticize privately. Frequent communication and feedback is vital for virtual team success.
7. Encourage Informal Interaction
Don’t underestimate the value of relationship building and social connections, especially remotely. While you want to avoid unnecessary distractions, you also want to develop high-trust relationships.
Allocate time for small talk during meetings. Organize virtual coffee breaks or happy hours. Share praise and celebrate milestones. Use chat channels for fun interactions. Even little things like saying “good morning” daily can boost team morale.
8. Clarify Availability Expectations
Agree on general availability windows for your team and share calendars so people know when others are online versus offline. Avoid burnout by being flexible about exact working hours.
On the other hand, establish standards for response time (ex: 24 hours) so there are no lags in communication that impact projects. Find a balance between structure and flexibility that maximizes productivity.
9. Bridge Cultural Gaps
Virtual teams often span multiple countries and cultures. You need to be extra mindful of differences in work styles, communication norms, and values. Adjust your management methods as needed to accommodate diverse team member preferences.
Schedule meetings at reasonable hours for attendees in different time zones. A study found that globally dispersed teams are 5x more likely to have a member miss meetings due to inconvenient timing.
Recognize local holidays and events that could impact availability. For example, Ramadan can lower productivity among Muslim team members. Chinese New Year results in a week or more of reduced availability.
Use documentation to limit miscommunications caused by language barriers. According to one survey, 72% of companies said language differences negatively impacted virtual team collaboration.
Familiarize yourself with the cultures of team members. Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory is a useful framework for understanding cross-cultural communication and expectations.
Investing in cultural awareness will help you avoid costly misunderstandings and build a cohesive global team. Allow time for team building and socialization as relationships are harder to develop remotely across cultures.
With the right strategies, you can bridge geographical and cultural gaps to enable effective collaboration on virtual project teams. The key is taking a flexible approach tailored to the diversity of your team.
10. Leverage Collaboration Technology
The right tools go a long way in connecting distributed teams. Utilize project management software, like GanttPRO, to assign tasks, share docs, track progress, and more. Automate status reports to increase visibility.
Enable commenting on files so conversations happen in context. Digitize processes like approvals to speed up workflows.
Experiment with team collaboration software and stick with solutions that best support your team’s virtual interaction and productivity.
Transitioning to remote work comes with growing pains but, armed with the right strategies, you can effectively lead dispersed project teams. Invest in collaboration tools, communicate proactively, clarify availability expectations, leverage project management systems, and focus on relationship building.
Adopting a flexible, transparent approach will keep your virtual teams connected, engaged, and set up for delivering results. The tips above provide a blueprint for managing projects in the new digital workspace.