November 24, 2017

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Project management advice, tips, tools and recommended resources for existing and aspiring project managers.

How Project Managers Manage Virtual Teams

With more companies expanding globally, the trend to work on projects with virtual team members who are remote workers, is growing. I have now worked on a project spanning three countries across three different time-zones. Despite having cloud-based tools for project plan sharing and logging test defects, the latest communication technology like Skype for Business in addition to everyday emails, it has been severely challenging.

Challenges in handling virtual teams

Project managers face a variety of challenges when handling virtual team members who work from different locations, who are permanent or freelance workers, who come from different backgrounds and cultures. It can be difficult to schedule a meeting with all members at a fixed time, especially with a 8 hour time-zone difference as was the case with my project. It impacts the decision-making process negatively.

It can be difficult to communicate a message correctly to remote workers. They may fail to understand the context or cannot grasp specific issues related to a project. They don’t always appreciate the consequences if they fail to have a same-day turnaround, that it can cause 2-3 days delays.

A risk I had to manage through-out was to keep team members aligned in terms of the project schedule, the latest decisions, new project baselines etc. Due to the fact that one team worked during another team’s night time and visa versa, it meant that any requests sent via email had to be very clear in terms of context and what was expected. If the receiver of the email had a question, they usually had to wait another day to receive an answer. This caused repeated delays in getting multiple requests fulfilled. As the project progressed, and especially during testing when team members in different time zones had to work together, we had to resort to different work hours to create more of an overlap between team members and to enhance the communication process and response times to issues and defects.

How to manage remote teams effectively

It’s important for project managers to effectively manage both remote and on-site team members to achieve project success. Have a look at the infographic below created by Brandeis University’s Online Project Management Masters Degree program. It addresses the typical challenges and obstacles faced when managing virtual teams, strategies to effectively manage them and technologies to overcome issues.

Managing Virtual Teams

Please share in the comments the challenges you faced when working with virtual teams and how you overcame them.

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