If you find yourself in the position of managing a dispersed or virtual project team, you’re far from alone. Statistics show that this kind of team structure is on the rise.
And why not? With them, the benefits are enormous! The world is your oyster, allowing businesses to utilize the best talent from anywhere. And grow on their own terms.
But that doesn’t mean that you won’t run into a few obstacles along the way. So to help mitigate any difficulties, we’ve put together a list of the 10 best practices for virtual team project management.
Check out some of the ways that PMs can manage their virtual and remote teams from anywhere in the world.
What are Virtual Teams in Project Management?
A virtual team in project management is made up of individuals brought together to work towards a predefined activity. With the primary mode of communication being done via technology. While all the team members share a common goal, they may come from different departments, backgrounds, locations, as well as outside organizations.
This gives virtual teams a real edge. As this format gives companies access to a global pool of talent.
Virtual teams are often lumped into the same category as geographically dispersed teams (GDT) although, the former don’t necessarily have to be located in different areas, and many members may be co-located, but choose to meet, strategize, and interact though technology.
As with any project team, the purpose of a virtual team is to carry out certain objectives that are determined by price, scope, and time restraints. As these goals are done virtually, there is not only the need for reliable technology, but for a project team leader who’s willing to be flexible and open to different kinds of uncertainty.
How Do Virtual Project Teams Connect?
Virtual team connect through a wide variety of technological tools and software. Here’s a few of the most important kinds
- Communication tools – video conferencing, software for virtual meetings, chat tools, and email
- Project and resource planning tools – web-based apps and software that can be accessed by the whole team, keeping track of updates, output, timeline, and cost.
- Collaboration tools – interactive software where teams can spitball ideas, prepare drafts, offer commentary, and create reports.
- File sharing tools – ways to send files and docs to other team members quickly and easily.
Challenges for Virtual Project Teams
Yet, even with the best tools in your arsenal there’s some obstacles your remote team can face.
Here’s a few challenges that are common issues for virtual project management:
- Lack of structure and leadership – virtual teams can be composed of people from varying departments and roles. The leader of the project team may not have direct authority over the other members with no “hiring and firing” power.
- Miscommunication mishaps – many communication styles and backgrounds can lead to misunderstandings and issues.
- Lack of trust and transparency – working apart you can’t always keep an eye on what your teammates are working on. That can lead to some people being suspicious. And a feeling of distrust can eat away at collaboration and productivity.
- Problems with scheduling – if your team is geographically dispersed it can be difficult to schedule a time for everyone to get together that fits differing time zones. This can lead to issues with scheduling meetings and not as many meetings between teammates as you’d like.
Tips for Managing Virtual Project Teams
But we have a few tips on how to solve your virtual project team issues with a few tips and best practices.
- Use technology to your advantage
- Schedule regular meetings
- Set clear goals and expectations
- Find overlapping work hours
- Assign shorter tasks
- Plan periodic or quarterly reviews
- Limit email noise
- Track output
- Update project management systems
- Be mindful of cultural differences
1. Use Technology to Your Advantage
Humans are far from the only animal which uses tools in this world, but ours are a bit more refined than a stick or a clam shell. When working with a virtual team, you have to find a way to cooperate together. But it’s up to you to decide how to unify everyone.
Do you need something that can give an overview of all your projects and teams, seamlessly filling in the gaps of complicated ERP software? Or do you require something that replicates a collaborative whiteboard or even a virtual office setting?
The amount of tools you end up using depends on personal preferences. But while it’s critical to have communication software, don’t forego project management or resource planning tools as well.
Having a decent project management system in place can in fact alleviate unnecessary communication and enhance your team’s overall productivity. Which can be especially a work lifesaver when you are working from home and need to stay on track.
There’s tons of great tools out there, the biggest hassle is finding one or the winning combo of many which works best for your team. So although it’s great to get into the habit and form a rhythm with certain software, don’t be afraid to experiment a little and try a new approach.
2. Schedule Regular Meetings
When collaborating on a virtual team, you can’t easily pop into your boss’s office for a quick chat. Or catch up with a colleague in the kitchen. So when people aren’t centrally located in one office, how can you make sure everyone is up-to-date on their tasks and help to lessen inevitable misunderstandings?
Regularly recurring scheduled meetings are the best way to keep confusion to a minimum and ensure your team is on the same page. Plus it’s proven that virtual teams that partake in knowledge sharing, tend to trust each other more. Meaning work processes will run more smoothly and teams can collaborate better. Just be mindful that you don’t overcompensate and schedule too many meetings which eat into the work day.
3. Set Clear Goals and Expectations
Goals are necessary for every company, but with a globally distributed team, it’s important that everyone is working towards the same objective. It’s harder when people are spread out and can’t see first-hand how their work influences the organization. And distance can also lead some team members to feel disengaged, as tasks and projects might feel more like a never ending cycle of assignments as opposed to a well-thought out strategy.
So keep your team motivated and improve productivity by involving them in building and planning a a strategy. Then keep those plans transparent. Not only will this help to build trust, but it will keep lines of communication more open.
ProTip for Virtual Project Management:
Gantt charts are an ideal way to visualize long-term plans. Making a schedule with Gantt charts can better illustrate task relationships, as well as show how each element fits together in bringing a project to fruition. You can even mix and match them with Kanban boards.
Plus, when an employee sees his or her plans, they also see what the organization is trying to accomplish. Which makes them feel more a part of a team.
4. Find Overlapping Work Hours
A great thing about a global organization is the ability to have people working at all hours of the day – something that is especially true for service teams. However, another benefit is the flexible hours, as many organizations don’t see a need to virtually adhere to the standard 9-5 workdays popularized over a hundred years ago. But it can still be useful to ensure some hours overlap, especially if your teams need to collaborate.
Even if your virtual project teams are spread out over multiple time zones, try to schedule some times where the working hours overlap. Or better still is organizing the teams based on the individuals’ working hours. That way they can maintain flexibility without sacrificing collaboration.
ProTip for Virtual Teams:
Look for tools that account for individuals’ working hours. In resource management software like Ganttic, you can input this data for each of your resources. That way, you can make sure that the teams are able to sync up.
Input this info using custom resource data fields. These let you add data about any of your resources and easily group and filter based on your specific data criteria.
For example, include a data field on working hours or even time zones, then filter your resources based on the specific information to create your dream team.
Check out a step-by-step process for managing dispersed and global teams with custom data fields.
5. Assign Tasks Your Team Can Accomplish
You know what kills motivation? When you are made to do something you can’t finish. What’s the point of trying if you know you’ll never make headway? To that end, make sure that the tasks you assign your team are actually achievable.
Scheduling more attainable tasks can help with this. Short tasks can also keep your team motivated and engaged, as being able to finish something gives a feeling of accomplishment. Plus, they are easier to track, so you can actually see what kind of progress a project is making.
ProTip for Virtual Project Management:
With the right resource management software, you can set your team’s weekly tasks, but then adjust the busy time. Giving you better control of how your team spends their time, and allowing them to work without losing steam.
The best way to manage your virtual project team is with a proper system. Book a demo to see how Ganttic can help bring your team together!
6. Plan Periodic or Quarterly Reviews
Similarly to making time for meeting with your team, plan to do consistent quarterly reviews. Check in on how they are doing and let them give you feedback. Distance can make people feel isolated, so lend them your ear and see how they are getting on with the job. And likewise you can go over some of the progress, achievements, and milestones with them. This can help keep up their motivation and see where you’re at in terms of upcoming projects.
ProTip for Virtual Project Management:
Automatic reports are great for these kinds of meetings. They do the work for you so you don’t need to manually compile such information.
Reports can also come in handy when you need to update your boss or company stakeholders of project progress. Especially if your company is not used to and still iffy on the idea of a virtual team. It can be incredibly satisfying to be able to slap down a report on your boss’ desk demonstrating your achievements. Although, it’s probably more likely you’ll just email or share it with them.
7. Track Output
Working apart from colleagues requires trust. You need to be able to trust that they are actually doing the work assigned to them. And since it’s difficult to micromanage when you’re on the other side of the world, then you’ll need another way to track productivity.
Make sure that you outline clear KPIs for your team right from the beginning. Keeping an eye on different planning metrics and having a reliable way to calculate them can ensure that everyone is actually doing the work assigned to them.
8. Limit Emails
Of course it’s important to keep in contact with everyone, but it’s better to set up a system where small quick messages are reserved for chat, more important company-wide messages go to email, and things that require more emotion are done over a call or voice chat. Save the small things for a Slack channel and ban those chain letters.
It’s not 1995, Karen!
Although this might seem counterintuitive, hear us out. How can you expect your virtual project team to get any work done if they are always being bombarded with endless email chains and constant notifications? Cluttering their inboxes is not a way to foster communication.
That way your team won’t have to spend an hour each day cleaning out their inbox and you can rest assured that they are also getting the information they need to do their job.
Read on: Did you know the mean number of time spent checking email was 3 hours! See some tips on how cutting down email “noise” and make your team more productive.
9. Update your Project Management Systems
In line with the last point, if you are still using Excel for your remote project management, it’s time to stop!
Spreadsheets have their place, but honestly there’s been so many better alternatives to Excel since it was first released in 1987, that using it is akin to sticking with cassette tapes. Or preferring to boot up your Macintosh SE as opposed to your MacBook Air. Or thinking that Mr. T cereal is actually part of a complete breakfast.
So look for a system that’s created for the way we work, now. Something that will actually help manage your project portfolio and which can be shared with the whole team without sending out multiple emails. And which can be customized and updated without you wanting to pull your hair out.
Read on: See how dedicated project and resource planning software can help you replace Excel. Saving you time, money, and stress.
10. Be Mindful of Cultural Differences
One of the most obvious tips, but still necessary to note.
When working with people from a variety of backgrounds, there will likely be conflicts, misunderstandings, and different communication styles. Some cultures are known for their bluntness and being more direct, while others might find it difficult to tell a supervisor “no.”
And these issues are exacerbated when communication is limited to emails and Slack. Sometimes it’s hard to interpret those emojis!
One way to navigate around these problems is by finding ways to engage your team. Even outside of work. There’s plenty of ideas out there on remote team building activities. And it might be surprising how even sharing a coffee together on Skype can boost camaraderie and engagement.
Other problems can occur with things such as national holidays. A diverse global team means that people have different public holidays and traditions. So when planning project capacity it’s a good thing to be able to track when those different events will happen. Though, they can also be a great opportunity to learn more about your different team members and discover more about where they come from.
A little understanding can go a long way. Helping anyone become a more successful project manager.
Ganttic for Virtual Project Management
Focus on togetherness, not distance.
Most of these are very small problems, and the benefits of a global virtual team definitely outweigh any potential risks these might cause. However, it’s important to put the kibosh on these problems and address the situations early on with your teams. This avoids them from snowballing later.
If you’re looking for a resource and project management system that can help you better manage your virtual project team, then consider the advantages of Ganttic.
- Online Gantt charts accessible to all team members with varying levels of permissions.
- Custom data fields for resources, projects, tasks which can be used for filtering, grouping, or custom Views.
- A singular source for resources and projects, ensuring that team members are not double-booked or overutilized.
- Time saving features such as automatic reporting and drag and drop scheduling.
- No steep learning curve, but we offer free webinars and personalized demos on-demand.
- A free 14 day trial.