As resources, specialties and costs continue to shift around the world, the likelihood that you will lead global or remote projects is increasing exponentially. Many organizations routinely collaborate with overseas staff in order to successfully complete projects—and as the economy improves and collaboration technologies are more widely adopted, the trend will only continue to rise. The result will be a far greater need for project leaders who have the specific skills to handle both the unique requirements and idiosyncrasies of managing remote (aka, virtual teams, distributed teams and geographically dispersed) project teams.
Concerns about reduced communication are valid in situations where communications must take place with others that are remote, offshore, or even in a matrix team environment with employees throughout the organization who are, for example, borrowed, so you do not have authority over them.
Communicate, communicate, communicate!
You need to be extra proactive in your communications to make sure everyone understands what is expected. People can start to feel isolated if they do not receive regular communications. It is hard enough to keep everyone informed on a “regular” project. The communication lines on a virtual team must be opened up especially wide. As the project leader, you can provide this steady stream of communication by using the following methods to keep communications open:
1. Take advantage of technology
– Use e-mail, fax, and teleconference when discussion is necessary
– Choose the best medium for communication
– Teleconference when it is important for everyone to hear the same message live
– Fax to provide paper-based information to be saved at the remote site
– Use email for brief messages
– Use email to attach and transmit data files
– Create a newsletter
– Use the intranet to post issues, decisions, and progress
2. Develop a chain of communication
– Ensure to keep those who are out of the loop informed on a regular basis
– Give a peer the task to ensure a colleague is kept up to date on issues that pertain to them
– Keep in mind to share the importance of the discussions and agreements that take place outside of regular meetings
3. Hold regular meetings
– Ensure telecommuters, or those in the vicinity, attend regular on-site meetings
– Make the meeting available to those that are unable to attend in person via phone or video link
– Make the attendance compulsory
– Provide a forum to share ideas (weekly updates from all, question and answer sessions, and requested feedback, prior to meeting, during meeting, and after meeting)
– Take notes, and either distribute them or make them available to participants (intranet)
4. Use tools like blogs and discussion boards
According to Zack Grossbart, one of the best ways to build team cohesion (and stop people from coming to you for all the answers) is to use team blogs, wikis or shared site discussion boards and files. As the project leader, your job is to encourage and support their use. Let the team set the questions and rules about response time. Reward and support those who use the tools and encourage others to use them by not giving in to unnecessary personal requests for the latest version of something. Make them use the shared file site till it becomes a habit.
Long distance project leadership represents a complexity few project leaders are prepared for. Use these three communication methods to build a responsive, committed, and cohesive dispersed work team.