Technology has enabled companies to widen their net when it comes to recruiting talent. Now, you aren’t just limited to hiring experts within commuting distance of your office – you can pick and choose your ideal project team from anywhere in the world. And, with project management and collaborative technology, your team can work together with as much innovation and efficiency as any in-house team.
But there are risks, too. Often, you will have no idea what team members are doing. Differences in communication styles are amplified over long distances. Team members can feel unappreciated or “out-of-the-loop” if they’re missing out on social events in your main office. Sometimes, remote workers can “fade out” – they simply disappear, leaving you to pick up where they left off.
In this article, we take a look at some tips for managing a project with a virtual team.
#1. Recruit the Right People
As with any project team, a good virtual team needs to contain the right people to get the job done. Not only do you need the talent and skills to get the job done, you also need a team that will work well together even when they’re not in the same geographical space.
- Look for talent with experience working in an international team.
- Remember, you can hire anyone, anywhere in the world. Don’t settle for second best. Everyone has their work online for you to view. Choose talent you’re excited to work with.
- Interview your team members using the technology you plan to use for the project. How are they at communicating? Do you develop rapport?
#2. Test with a Small Project First
If your company frequently works with freelancers online, and you need to recruit new professionals for a particular project, it pays to test out potential collaborators with a smaller project first. This way, you can forsee any problems and road-test their skills and communication style to see if you’re a good fit.
#3. Put the Plan in Place
The key to any successful project is to get the plan right. Then, all you need to do is follow the plan to execution.
When setting out the plan for your project, you need to:
- Set expectations: Every team member needs to know from the onset what is expected and what his/her role in the overall project is.
- Implement systems: Go over the collaboration and project management tools you’ll be using, and make sure everyone knows how each step needs to be recorded and signed off. Every member of your team will have developed their own systems for doing work, so it’s important everyone understands how to come together in a cohesive way.
- Listen to feedback: You may have an idea how you think the project should be run, but you should be open to listening to the rest of your team. They may have innovative ideas on how to work together better.
- Consider tracking work output and time: This helps you keep tabs on your team and see how you’re tracking against your goals. It also provides a measure of accountability for each team member.
#4. Set Communication Expectations
Everyone communicates in a different way. It’s important that you establish your expectations from the beginning, or you’ll end up with a scattered, disordered team with no cohesive structure to the project. You have to feel satisfied that the communication structure of your project enables you to get what you need to feel the project is moving forward, while enabling the team to work away without undue interruption.
When planning your communication strategy, think about:
- how often do you want updates from different members of the project?
- which channels do you want to use for which type of communication? For example, my team uses Skype chat to discuss aspects of a project, and Google Hangouts for official meetings.
- Set regular meetings with both individuals and the entire team. This enables everyone to discuss their issues and stay abreast of where the project is at every stage.
- Depending on where your team are located, it can be useful to rotate time-zones for meetings so the same person isn’t always waking up at 4am for team meetings.
- Keep a chat room open constantly to enable banter and instant questions.
#5. Find the Right Tools
All this online banter and collaboration with your virtual team are only possible because of the advances in project management and collaborative tools. You’ll likely need two types of tools: a project management software to track the progress of your project, and a collaboration tool to enable members of your team to talk to each other and leave notes on a document.
The obvious solution will be a cloud-based platform. With your project management on the cloud, your team members can log in from anywhere in the world and see the most up-to-date details. They can track their time, organise documents and milestones, and sign off work stages all from the same system.
WorkflowMax is a great all-in-one project management system designed to enable a remote team to work seamlessly together throughout all stages of a project. Check out the features of WorkflowMax.
#6. Keep Your Team Happy
A happy, motivated team will produce better quality work faster. So it’s in your best interests to ensure your remote team members are feeling the love. Here are some tips for encouraging a great culture for your virtual team:
- Incentivise milestones on a project. For an in-house team this would often include something like a team lunch. You could instead send a book or music voucher, or a little gift that everyone opens at the same time over a video call.
- Take the time to make your team feel as if you value them as people. Ask about their weekend, look at pictures of their pets, and take a genuine interest in their lives.
- After a project goes live, take the time to reconnect with your team, thank them for their work, and ask for feedback on what worked, what didn’t work, and how you could improve the team environment in the future. This will help them feel valued.
Collaborating and working together with an online team can be an extremely rewarding experience. You’ll be able to learn from experts all around the world and experience firsthand the magic of bringing a truly international project to life. With the right tools and planning, your virtual team can produce remarkable results.