March 29, 2017 by The FlexPro Group
It’s a fact that with today’s reality of geographically dispersed teams and globalization, virtual teams are on the rise. Not to age myself, but “back in the day”, being a project manager generally meant you, your team and your project were on-site. Having a meeting meant everyone sat around the same table, in the same building, in the same time zone. Speaking with someone in another part of the country was done on the phone and an actual face to face meeting might only happen at a convention, trade-show or other national corporately sponsored event. If your business contacts weren’t local, “putting a face to the voice” often never happened throughout the entire business relationship.
My how times have changed! Today being part of a “virtual team”, that is a team that is made up of people who are based in different physical locations, is not only increasing in popularity, it’s commonplace. I recently read an article by Keith Ferrazzi in the Harvard Business Review titled “Getting Virtual Teams Right”. Ferrazzi states that his firm, Ferrazzi Greenlight, conducted a survey of 1700 knowledge workers in which 79% of them acknowledged either always working or at least frequently working in dispersed teams. While the popularity of creating a virtual team is increasing, it doesn’t come without its issues. Ferrazzi points out that it’s often difficult to get your virtual team “right”. As difficult as it can be to hire the most qualified, best fitting people for a team that’s on site, it can be even more difficult when team members are dispersed in multiple locations.
Ferrazzi’s article finds that when building a virtual team, there are some common factors you should look for. Team members should have high emotional intelligence and the flexibility to switch gears and change direction easily as the scope of the project changes. A PM in a different time zone may not always be available for direction so it goes without saying that dispersed team members should excel in problem solving and working independently. Virtual team members must also be comfortable and able to use the technology necessary to tie the team together. Video conferences, FaceTime, texts and web meetings are just a few of the tools that will be utilized in order to maintain the highest level of communication between the team.
As the PM of a virtual team, it’s success is on you! As Rose pointed out last month, the project manager syncs the team and ties all components together. While there may be many different areas team members are responsible for, the PM must bind all areas together into a cohesive unit. This includes making necessary adjustments to the plan and dealing with the daily challenges. As a PM, it is your job to communicate with your team, which is one of the most important aspects of project management – and must be done without exception regardless of where your team is located. It’s always important to build and foster a relationship with your team, and even more so when it’s virtual. I’ve always liked the idea of bringing all the players together with a LIVE kick-off meeting if possible. Even just one meeting face to face makes a mostly virtual team more successful. And if that’s not possible, then using video conferencing can be a great substitute at least in the beginning.
It’s obvious that with all of the technology available today – and I can only imagine what will come in the future – working with dispersed team members and even entirely virtual teams will continue to grow in popularity. Job candidates today are seeking positions that allow flexibility in work hours. As we have discussed before, traditional work days and 8am – 5pm hours are falling by the wayside for many employers. In order to attract the best and brightest, companies are finding that offering flexibility in the work day is appealing to all job candidates and especially to Millennials. This is a different approach that many of us are not familiar or comfortable with. But it’s a reality we need to accept. As project managers we need to learn how to develop these teams by selecting the right players and embracing that this new way of working is only going to contribute more to our success. Personally, I love the idea that I can now select the best of the best for my team, regardless of where they are. The sky’s the limit in my candidate pool now, so why wouldn’t I want to build a virtual team?
Virtually speaking, building a virtual team can provide you with a virtual gold mine of qualified candidates from virtually anywhere you can imagine!
-Lynn Faughey, FlexPro COO