Leveraging the strengths of a virtual team can create an enormous competitive advantage for an organization.
Choosing from a continent-wide or even a global pool of talent, team members can be hired for specific abilities, experience and complementing skill sets. Through project management software, video conferencing and open communication channels, they can keep each other on track and up to date. Who would not want the freedom, flexibility and collaborative potential of a virtual team?
Like a lot of things enabled by hi-tech, there are also drawbacks. Establishing and maintaining a healthy team dynamic is challenging with remote workers. Differences in communication styles, time zones, culture and technology can undermine the sense of collaboration and mutual effort crucial for team success.
There are a few basic tenets that managers can keep in mind when leading virtual teams.
If everybody is from the same region, an initial in-person meeting is a great way to launch the project. Alternatively, an introductory meet-and-greet Skype session with all members will get things off on the right foot, accompanied by an email list of each person’s contact information and short bios. Many companies run chat rooms for “water-cooler” discussions among employees to foster social connections.
The basic principles for virtual team success are the same as for regular teams. Routine is of utmost importance. Scheduling brief daily video sessions reminds everyone of their shared responsibilities and objectives. Video sessions with individual members gives a project manager a chance to ensure everyone is clear on the expected deliverables and monitor workloads.
When hiring virtual team members, a manager should gauge communication skills and collaborative work habits in interviews. Members should be reminded of the importance of participating in regular video discussions and updates, and investing themselves in the project outcome, not just their own individual tasks.
Organizations can reap the benefits of employing virtual teams, keeping in mind that employee engagement, collaborative spirit and relationship building is no less important.
The topic of this article is covered in the curriculum for the Schulich ExecEd course Masters Certificate in Project Management (starting Sept. 12, 2019). Project Management Certification skills are a new core competency in organizations at all levels. Understanding how all the phases of the project life cycle fit together benefits projects of any size.