Managing virtual project teams

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Managing virtual project teams

Companies across the world have gone through (or are considering) a permanent shift to remote work in response to the “new normal” that is a worldwide pandemic. However, remote working isn’t a new concept. You could argue that remote work first began 1.4 million years ago to the hunter-gatherer culture of Africa. The medieval period of England also saw people working from home as dressmakers, butchers, and watchmakers, to name a few.

These days, remote work is an important part of our working culture as companies are embracing remote work more than ever. As a team leader or project manager, this shift to remote work can also mean having to manage remote teams. Managing virtual project teams present different challenges to leading a team on-site. As differences in time and place add certain complexities to project work, it’s important that you understand how best to manage a virtual project team.

In this article, we’ll share our best practices for managing a remote project team, so you can lead with confidence as a remote project manager.

Communication is key

Communication is an important component of any successful team. In order to work effectively, team members need to be able to clearly communicate with each other. However, working remotely can put strain on team communication, especially if team members are working in different time zones.

One solution for improving communication for virtual project teams would be to make use of virtual communication tools. Instant messaging programs such as Slack are great for bringing remote team members together, helping them to have quick, fuss-free, two-way communication.

Similarly, you could use video call software to help mirror on-site team meetings by allowing everyone to see and speak to each other during the video meeting. Zoom allows users to record meetings, meaning your team can re-watch the video to recap on key points, or if they were unable to attend the meeting due to being in a different timezone, they can catch up on the meeting at a time that’s suitable for them.

Using digital tools for communication is perfect for creating effective asynchronous and synchronous communication. Misunderstandings can happen in any work environment. With 97% of employees citing lack of alignment within a team as impacting the outcome of a task or project, it’s evident that transparent and open communication is key for the success of a virtual project team. Using these tools to stay in the loop with your team can also help you to swiftly resolve any conflicts and prevent strain on the team.

Define roles and responsibilities

There’s nothing worse than a disorganized team. If you are leading a remote team, you will need to clearly define team member’s roles and responsibilities. When teams have clear functions and responsibilities, they know what is expected of them and work more efficiently.

To determine the roles and responsibilities of your virtual project team, you need to consider what tasks need completing, identify the strengths and weaknesses of each team member and refer to their existing job description. By considering these factors, you can allocate work to your team members based on their strengths, area of expertise and general duties. 

Understanding what each person contributes and is responsible plays an important role in working well together and succeeding as a team. By providing clear roles and responsibilities, you will be able to better support your virtual project team. You can also use virtual project management tools to help clarify responsibilities.

Trello, for example, is a great tool for visually managing team projects and individual team member responsibilities. You could also use project management tools, such as Basecamp, to set up automatic check-ins asking your team to provide daily updates on what they are working on, what’s gone well and what they need support with. This will facilitate the process of task allocation and ensure your team has the tools and support they need to succeed.

Use collaboration tools

As mentioned, virtual project management and collaboration tools are useful for managing team responsibilities. These tools are also beneficial for encouraging your virtual team to work together on projects. A report by Harvard Business Review found that 75% of cross-functional teams were dysfunctional and failed in at least three of five areas: meeting a planned budget, staying on schedule, adhering to specifications, meeting customer expectations, or maintaining alignment with the company’s corporate goals. So, as a virtual project manager, you will want to put systems in place to ensure your team is able to successfully work collaboratively.

Project management apps are a great way to centralize team communications. Project management tools enable everyone on your team to share updates, write messages, and ask questions without having to be in the same room, or time zone.

One of the greatest benefits of having a remote team is that it gives you access to talent from around the world. Yet, this means you also need to consider the different time zones in which your team members live. By moving shared documents and work files online, you can help improve cross-collaboration by ensuring your team all have access to the most up-to-date versions of team resources. This will help to improve the workflow for your remote team whilst minimizing the risk of misunderstanding or error.

Set up a virtual water cooler

Foster a community mindset by ensuring your team has a “virtual water cooler” where they can get together to talk, bond and build relationships as a team. While it’s important to set up formal communication channels to allow your team to communicate about work-related tasks, it’s equally as important that you provide your team with a virtual breakout space. 

Giving your team a space where they can talk about non-work topics, build a shared identity and nurture personal connections will lead to greater team engagement and better performance. Setting up a virtual water cooler can encourage your team to bond, inspire new creative ideas, build connections, and feel as though they belong within the team.

Understand how best to support your project team

Finally, the best way to successfully support your remote project team is to understand them as individuals. Personality tests are beneficial for more than just the hiring process. Using personality assessments as part of your remote team management process can help you better support your project team.

With personality tests you will be able to understand which communication style works best with each member, what their preferred style of working is, the types of people they’ll work best with, and how to ensure they have the best chance at success.

When you know your team members personality type, you will be able to adapt your leadership style to suit their needs.Make sure you schedule regular check-ins with each of your team members so that you can find out how they are doing and whether they need support with anything. 

The most important thing to remember when managing a virtual project team is to keep communication lines open, remain organized and be supportive. As a remote project manager you will face challenges that often aren’t experienced in an office environment but by following these best practices for leading a virtual team, you will be able to successfully lead your project team, no matter where they are based.


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