Working with a multi-site team can make project management difficult at times. When people who have never met are expected to collaborate, there’s always the potential for a feeling of disconnection between team members. It is the project manager’s job to ensure that logistical issues don’t impede the achievement of project objectives.
The Personal Touch
If team members at a satellite location are within reasonable traveling distance, it might make sense for you to make the trip out to chair an occasional meeting at that location. This gives the remote members a sense that they:
- Need your leadership
- Deserve your attention
This helps reduce the feeling of being “orphaned” for members who are not located at corporate headquarters or another main hub of activity. It also gives you an opportunity to meet with your “second in command” at that location to solidify this critical relationship. An in-person assessment of the project management processes actually being used on the ground at remote sites helps you make sure that all locations are on the same page.
Email and phone conferencing are still excellent communication methods for virtual teams that are spread over multiple locations. However, there is something to be said for video conferencing. Body language accounts for a huge percentage of the informational content people communicate to one another. It is much easier to avoid misunderstandings and hurt feelings when team members can see and hear each other. That’s especially important in meetings that are convened to discuss things that have gone wrong in a project. It’s also beneficial to have access to visual cues when not all team members speak English fluently.
On the down side, having video equipment that doesn’t operate properly is worse than not having video capability at all. Starting every meeting with a 20 minute wait while IT figures out glitches is a very bad idea.
When working across time zones, team members need to realize that not everyone will be on the same schedule. In situations where employees are on different sides of the International Date Line, confusion can lead to missed deadlines and conflict. Clarity of communication can keep these situations from arising. This is actually a statement that holds true throughout every area of project management. Team members working in different locations should always state the specific date and time of an anticipated event. For example “Let’s shoot for getting the plan documents completed by 4 PM, EST on Friday the 16th of June”.
Even with these challenges, project managers shouldn’t overlook the benefits of managing a geographically dispersed team. The more far flung employees are, the greater variety of perspectives they will bring to problem solving. This is a resource that PMs should recognize and utilize to enhance both the team’s practical ability to overcome obstacles and to inculcate a sense of team spirit.