Managing a team always has its challenges, more so when you’re taking the non-traditional route with a virtual workforce. All challenges have solutions though, so you need not fret. Virtual project management is still relatively new so you’ll probably learn more and even better ways of handling a virtual team as you go along. Then again, it never hurts to start off on the right foot. These secrets are compiled from the experiences of virtual managers before you. Learn from them to make the most out of this opportunity in program management.
Team management starters: Secrets to succeeding in the virtual realm
Some of the best practices for creating a virtual workforce include:
1. Focusing on communication
Because you’re not together physically, what you want to say runs the risk of being misinterpreted. There is danger in relying mostly on words so it is essential to pick your words carefully to ensure you’re coming across the way you want to. Better yet, set aside regular time each week to actually talk to your team. With the number of collaboration tools available today (a bunch of them are free too), you just need internet connection to talk to anyone in the world. Aside from ensuring all tasks are communicated properly, this will also prevent the team from feeling isolated which can affect their productivity levels.
2. Being considerate with time differences
It’s one thing to work with people remotely and it’s another to have a distributed team. A distributed team means members are from different locations so time zone issues may apply. Managing a distributed team requires being mindful of time zones so you know when to call meetings and talk to people. At the very least, know when an overlap will happen so you can assign that as common time for the team without encroaching on personal time. Remember, everyone needs their sleep, including you.
3. Acknowledging cultural diversity
Cultural nuances are to be expected when you’re in virtual management because you’re working with people from different places. To ensure the team works cohesively, take the time to educate everyone on these nuances. Cultural clashes usually arise from misinformation and miscommunication so educating the team will be your best weapon against culturally related concerns.
4. Making sure everyone’s on the same page
Your virtual team will be made up of some of the most flexible people you’ll know. While that generally works to your advantage, it can also be a curse. Some people are just more free-spirited than others so they require more room to thrive. Give them that room but know that there is such a thing as too much room. Before your virtual team embarks on anything, gather everyone and talk to them about goals and expectations. Set a few ground rules about deadlines, for instance. You may get away with working in your pajamas but you’re a professional, and professionals always deliver.
5. Using the right virtual management tools
In the beginning, being able to simply share files across a network was enough to get things done. But things are different now. As virtual teams started to come together, virtual tools were also developed to address the myriad of tasks they wish to accomplish. Collaboration was still at the heart of everything, but now you can choose depending on what would work best for your team. Need to work with a budget? No worries. Many of the collaborative tools you can use are free of charge, with paid upgrades available should you need something more elaborate.
6. Setting availability standards
Not everyone will be like that workaholic colleague of yours who checks their email and replies at all hours of the day. In fact, contrary to the outsider’s notion that being flexible means being available at any time, virtual team members usually have set working hours. Sure, they’ll be nice enough to accommodate emergencies whenever they can, but they will most likely stick to a schedule. Respect this schedule but set an availability standard through your project management system so everyone knows when and how quickly they are expected to respond to any mode of communication you send.
7. Socializing whenever possible
A virtual team is just like any other team that works together—it functions better when members are involved socially. Of course, you’ll still have to set some boundaries to become an effective manager, but checking up on how things are going in their lives every now and then won’t hurt. You can even use your collaboration software for this so you’re not really troubling yourself. Informal conversation between members builds rapport, allowing relationships to develop which will ideally improve upon how team members work with each other.
8. Letting your expectations be expected of you
Leading by example is far better than any of the management tools you can use to get your team going. If you want to make sure they’re available on agreed upon times of the day, be available yourself. If you want to make sure no one makes any racist boo-boos on your watch, don’t make these boo-boos yourself. If you want to make sure they meet deadlines with time to spare, be incredibly punctual yourself. It’s that simple.
Taking one for the team
Being tasked with managing a virtual team is a big responsibility. The challenges may be different with handling a team traditionally but they are there. Taking these secrets to heart will arm you with what you need to start your big role properly, but know that there’s still so much for you to learn with being a virtual project manager. Embrace the experience so you too may share what you’ve learned with future virtual managers.
Jona Jone was a mortgage originator in Philadelphia, PA and is now a Business and Property Specialist.
Reprinted with permission.
Image credit: CC by Landbruks- og matdepartementet