Virtual Project Team Management: 10 Best Practices
If you find yourself in the position of managing a dispersed or virtual 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 dispersed virtual team management.Check out some of the ways that PMs can manage their virtual and remote teams from anywhere in the world.
Tips and best practices for managing virtual teams
Here are 10 best practices for better dispersed team management.
1. Use technology to your advantage
2. Schedule regular meetings
3. Set clear goals and expectations
4. Find overlapping work hours
5. Assign shorter tasks
6. Plan periodic or quarterly reviews
7. Limit email noise
8. Track output
9. Set up a project management system
10. Be mindful of cultural differences
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 management 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.
Read on: For some tips on finding the best software to keep your team connected, check out our blog post.
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.
Read on: Not all meetings are created equal. Find out the secret to making your meetings more productive.
Set clear goals and expectationsGoals 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.
Tip: 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.
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.
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 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.Tip: 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 (it’s up to you, there’s no limits and no restrictions!) 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.
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.
Tip: With the right resource management tool, 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.
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.
Tip: 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.
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.
Although this might seem counterintuitive, hear us out. How can you expect your virtual 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.
Limit email noise
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!
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 resource management can cut down on your email noise and make your team more productive.
Set up a project management system
In line with the last point, if you are still using Excel for your remote project management, it’s time to break that habit. Go cold turkey on wrestling with those cells and quit clogging your team’s inboxes with updated iterations of spreadsheets.
Excel has its place, but honestly there’s been so many better alternatives on the scene 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 entire 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. Keep your hair, but lose that spreadsheet stress.
Tip: If you’re looking for some tools to help you plan and manage projects, resources, and tasks better, we got you! Check out our list of resource planning tools and what to look out for when finding the best one for you
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.”
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.
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.
What tips have you got for managing a virtual team?