The nature of project management is changing. Increasingly, project management is crossing departments, organisational boundaries and territories. This form of virtual working is here to stay and while it means the most talented people can work together on a project, it also means that the probability of miscommunication and encroaching on personal work-life boundaries increases, unless there are some good systems and procedures in place to underpin the project.
The importance of IT within virtual teams cannot be under estimated. More and more IT systems, including Sure Steer’s budgeting software, operate as a cloud-based technology, which makes it far easier for everyone to access, real-time, from any location and in any time zone. However, there are many other technologies, which make it easier to manage a virtual team including instant messaging, Skype, Office 365, GoogleApps, Dropbox and eMeeting. These are all relatively low cost to implement and are compatible across Mac’s, PC’s and Tablets. They enable real-time document management, task delegation, calendar sharing, sharing of notes, free calls and the ability to bring more than one person into a conversation.
While technology makes it easier to stay in touch and work together, it is the people that use them that make the real difference. There are some golden rules to adhere to when working virtually and we have compiled a top ten list to help make virtual team work more effective:
- Use instant messaging for short conversations, to avoid clogging up the email inbox. It is also less formal and helps build a relationship quicker. Some projects open a project chat room, solely for use by members of a project management team.
- Avoid contacting people when it is not convenient by taking note of status flags. If unsure, check via instant messaging that it is convenient to start a conversation or skype call
- To avoid working on the same document at the same time or having to re-do work, implement a cloud-based document sharing system
- Set a policy for document management and make sure that everyone in the team understands and uses the process for file sharing and document versioning
- Take notes, actions and sketches in meetings using integrated and shared note pads such as MS OneNote, this enables you to electronically organise, track, search, store and quickly share notes, delegating tasks and actions for members of the team
- Take advantage of setting different time zones in calendars to make it easier to invite people that operate in different countries
- Videoconferencing is a good replacement for meetings, but good quality conferencing software is usually in the boardroom. For one-to-one conversations, other methods of communication are often preferred, as they are at the desk. Some people work from home and may prefer not use video
- Remember that it is good for the team to get together occasionally, so arrange a regular face-to-face meeting, especially at the beginning of the project. Make sure that content makes it worthwhile attending , build in some social time and the opportunity to share best practice
- Ensure that policies in the workplace are also applied to home working. This might be in relation to health and safety as well as IT and social media for personal use
- As a project manager, be aware that people involved in the project may be working flexibly, especially if they need to arrange calls or meetings with others in different time zones. Do not expect everyone to be working at the same time as you and be mindful of encroaching on their personal time. Likewise, you do not have to always answer a query when it comes in late in the evening. Many things can wait until your usual working hours, so don’t become a slave to technology and the virtual team.
Having a project management system will make it easier for everyone involved in the project to track the status of a project. If it is cloud-based it can be accessed from any location with internet access and is generally much cheaper to implement within a virtual project management team. Take time though to get all team members up to speed with how to use the system, to avoid inconsistency and errors.
Of course, all this technology is only as good as the team itself, and it is the leader or project manager that sets the tone. If you’re the team leader, get your team organised. Set goals and establish a clear direction in which you’d like the team to go. And always keep members engaged through timely feedback, regular contact and periodic face-to-face meetings.
As with any team, virtual or otherwise, lack of clear goals, direction, or priorities will inhibit team performance, but it can take longer to realise a virtual team is off track due to its dispersed nature. Check out our best practice guides for hints and tips on setting strategic priorities and setting effective governance to help you get the best start to your project.
Find out more about Sure Budget and how it can help to keep your project on track here.