What is Virtual Team Management, Anyway?
Virtually team management is the management of teams that consist of people who are often geographically dispersed (often resulting in 24 hour work days to accommodate the global time zone differences), work in different cultures or organizations, are flexible and often highly skilled, and who communicate digitally (telephone, video calls, email, cloud-based tools, etc.).
Why Consider Team Management in a Virtual Setting?
Virtual teams are becoming more and more popular as technological advances, tools and techniques become more refined. There are a number of benefits to having teams work virtually, to include:
- Flexible schedules (work gets done 24 hours/day, vice 8)
- Innovative technologies
- Competitive through responsiveness to business demands
- Reduce travel expenses
- Reduce physical space requirements
- Increase talent resource options (global reach, vice local-only talent)
While virtual teams have a number of benefits, there are some potential downfalls, too. For instance, challenges will arise if you don’t have clearly defined project roles and responsibilities for each team member, along with established team objectives so that it is clear as to what the team (as a whole) is working to achieve, and how each member is expected to contribute to that achievement. But honestly? That is a downfall that holds true for all teams – virtual or not! More important yet, though, is that this is an obstacle that is easily overcome with clear and concise desired outcome definitions – see my previous post that talks about this!
Team communication, cultural awareness, sensitivities to other team members, technological infrastructure and knowledge-sharing can all be challenges when a project manager has to perform team management within a virtual environment. Again, this would also hold true for any environment, though – virtual or not. With technological advances such as cloud computing and the vast availability of knowledge-sharing systems that are now free or low cost (Google Drive, Google Voice, Skype, Asana and Trello, for instance), these are issues that have multiple ways of being overcome – if your organization is open-minded enough to use the technologies available today. You can still do your project management utilizing the larger, more complex tools (MS Project, Primavera, for example), but if you do not yet have a distributed way for all team members to access virtually – and simultaneously, then breaking work packages down and using tools like Trello or Asana may be the way to go – and you can use them for FREE!).
Virtual teams are an asset with the ups far outweighing the downs. To further prove the point, just look at the results Hewlett Packard (HP) had within one year of going virtual: HP saved $800,000 a year in compliance costs and $200,000 a year in avoided costs and faster delivery times through the use of virtual teams. [Source: Snyder, B. (2003). Teams that span time zones face new work rules. Stanford Business Magazine].
As a project manager performing team management in a virtual environment, you may have to get creative with your approach to resource management, but the technology is there like never before, and the feasibility is better than ever!
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