Working together over a distance, across time zones, across continents, is perfectly manageable for many projects. I’ve been on dozens of virtual teams that accomplished great work—sometimes without meeting quite a few of my teammates in person.
Don’t Forget Team Members Who Are Out of Sight
Still, some virtual teams work better than others.
Here are some tips for making working virtually work better. Some of these tips are just as valid for in-person teams, but they can take on an even greater importance when everybody isn’t in the same location.
- Provide clear goals and permission to proceed. Sometimes people feel hesitant to get started when they are physically apart from everyone else.
- Make sure the role each person should play is clear. Otherwise, some will be afraid of stepping on toes. And one or two might (virtually) do the stepping.
- Be available to give advice and to review plans and output, as needed.
- Don’t slow things down. Try to turn reviews around in 24 hours or less.
- Pay attention to time zones when answering messages. If there is only one more hour in a sender’s afternoon, answer that person first.
- Pick project leaders with strong interpersonal and project management skills.
- Recruit (or have the project leader recruit) a small team of people from different locations to do the work. (You want the smallest team that can reasonably get the work done.)
- Provide useful tools for conference calling, document sharing, project management “to do” tracking.
- Model and encourage inclusiveness for people participating from a distance. Ensure that everyone has a chance to weigh in on conference call discussions, for example. It can be difficult to tell when to speak or when a group has moved on when you can’t see their nonverbal cues.
- Make sure the project status is clear. How much has been accomplished, how far we have to go. When things are due.
- Check in regularly. Set a time for team and/or individual meetings. Review progress, field questions, find out if there are roadblocks, help everyone to stay coordinated. People will appreciate the interest and the opportunity to stay connected. (But don’t micromanage, and keep the meetings short.)
- Celebrate successes. As your team makes progress, encourage everyone to bask a little in a sense of accomplishment.
It’s a matter of leadership, project management, communication, and teamwork. Some people take to being on virtual teams more easily than others, but you can teach your team how to do their part in following these tips. If you also model using them, you can help your team to work together more successfully and to have a better time doing it.