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Friday, 19 May 2017 04:12

Use Special Techniques to Manage Virtual Teams

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This content is from the Method123 weekly email dated 2017.18.05
Use Special Techniques to Manage Virtual Teams

Many years ago, a project team almost always resided in one location. The reason is obvious: it was not easy to communicate and collaborate with people that were not in the same physical location. Today, it is becoming more and more common to have team members physically located in many different places. This may be because of pulling in resources from other company offices. In some cases, you may have team members that are teleworking from home. In other cases, you may be partnering with a third-party company - perhaps even internationally. When it is not easy to meet team members face-to-face, we saw that we are working as a virtual team.

Virtual teams are more common today because of advances in technology. People can access their company's computer network remotely with almost the same speed as if they were in the office. Software is available to share documents and make updates available real-time to the rest of the team. The team can get together as needed using audio conferencing. You can even see each other using video technology.

That is all good news. However, there are still challenges managing virtual team members. There is no technology that can take the place of reaching out and touching someone or talking to them face-to-face. That being said, there are techniques that can help you be successful. Consider the following ideas:

  • Make sure everyone has the right equipment. Make sure that your remote team members have the right hardware, software, and other equipment to get their work done. The virtual team members need to access the company network and need to be able to work as if they were in an office in your building. There are many products on the market that allow for much easier collaboration among people who are in different locations. Much of this is web-based. For instance, you can get products that allow everyone to participate in a common meeting on the web, including viewing and changing common documents.
  • Make sure people have the right attitude. Both the project manager and team members must be especially diligent and sensitive to collaboration and teamwork concerns when part of the team is remote. It is easy for a remote worker to fall into a mode where he is isolated from what is going on with the rest of the team. People who are working remotely must be proactive communicators and must be especially good at working independently and meeting their deadlines.
  • Establish good communication processes. The project manager needs to develop a proactive Communication Plan to ensure the dispersed team works well together. For instance, if possible there should be regularly scheduled meetings where the remote workers attend in person. If the team members are in different cities or different countries, look for common times when you can have a videoconference or audioconference.
  • Try to meet in person - even if only one time. You may not be able to easily meet face-to-face, but can you at least do it one time? You could get the team together for project planning and team-building. This can go a long way to help build team cohesion. If possible, try to meet periodically, but worst case try to at last meet once.
  • Plan the handoffs. Sometimes multiple people in different locations are working on the same, or related, deliverables. In these cases, the project manager may need to establish rules for handoffs, especially if different time zones are involved. Don't leave the handoffs to chance. Set up processes to ensure that work on shared deliverables transitions smoothly from one person (or team) to another person (or team).
The bottom line is that the project managers must recognize that there is inherent risk associated with remote team members. The risk gets larger if people also are many time zones away. However, a proactive project manager can work through the difficulties by looking holistically at the people concerns, process concerns, and technology concerns. 
At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit or contact us at
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