When you are given the task of leading a virtual project team there are a few issues to deal with which you might not have come across in other ways of working. It could take you some time to get used to this way of working but when you do it will bring you a lot of interesting moments and a great deal of satisfaction.
However, you should also be aware that there are a lot of common mistakes made by project managers and it is worth taking a look at 5 of the most common ones.
1. Communication Lapses
When you are leading a project which is spread over the globe probably the biggest problem is going to be around the communication issue. I am not talking here about sharing information – we’ll get to that later – but rather about speaking to the team members and building up relationships which will help you progress the piece of work. Every project leader needs to have a good level of communication in their team and it is even more important to do this when you aren’t all in the same office. There is no chance to have a chat next to the coffee machine or over your lunch, so you will need to make the effort to organize this on an ongoing basis. If your team is really spread out it could be difficult to get everyone together at the same time but you should make an effort to find a way of doing so.
2. Time Mix-Ups
The fact that you have people in different time zones can be a real headache. I used to work with a group spread over 4 different countries and try as I might I could never get my head around the time difference. A good move is to get different clocks on your desktop or on your mobile phone and then set them to the different time zones you need. I seem to remember that in the old days you could even get a wristwatch with different time zones on it. I just had a look online and it seems that you still can get one if you prefer doing it this way.
3. Language Problems
It is time to confess that as well as being a project manager I once worked in a bank in Spain. My Spanish was pretty good but the experience taught me that subtle differences can cause you a lot of problems and that it really helps when your colleagues use simple words instead of using complicated ones or using cultural references which you have no idea about (I still wonder sometimes who Chanquete was and why they kept talking about him or her). Anyway, if your team members don’t have English as their first language you should always remember this fact. Even if they seem to speak the language perfectly you should keep your communications clear and at a level they will understand.
4. A Lack of Trust
It can be difficult to put your trust in people you don’t see all the time. When you work with a virtual project team you need to find a way of trusting them with important tasks even when you can’t physically check on their work as much as you would like to. Obviously you will feel more comfortable doing this after a while but a good way of building up this level of confidence is by giving them smaller jobs to complete early on, as this will let you review what they have done more easily. You should also be sure to get everyone to send you regular, brief updates.
5. Information Sharing
The last point should actually be the easiest of them all to carry out, unless you already have one of these multiple time zone watches, that is. There are plenty of ways of using networks or cloud services to share information with people from all over the globe these days. The only thing you will really need to keep an eye on is that the information is uploaded to it in the first place. You might have someone specifically working on this task or perhaps everyone in the team is responsible for uploading all of their own information as they work. In either case, you can’t afford to leave your remote team members out of the loop or run the risk of them basing their actions on an incomplete set of information.