How to manage remote reports and virtual teams

Skilled project managers (PMs) study for years to learn the sciences behind the profession. Repeatable processes and methodologies play a large role in project management. While they are important in their own rights, PMs need to be just as adept in the art of talent management, with a strong understanding of effective collaboration and communication skills.

The competencies behind people management, which can be tricky to master in familiar settings, are made even harder to deploy in the virtual workplace. New technologies like internet voice calling and video conferencing have revolutionized how teams interact, with employees spread across disparate geographic locations efficiently meeting to review tasks or progress reports. However, virtual direction and communication have many challenges.

When considering how best to prepare to handle the management of remote individuals and virtual teams, project managers can consider continuing education as a means to build a complete skill set. Brandeis University’s Master of Science in Project and Program Management is a comprehensive program aimed at empowering students with a fully formed knowledge base that interested PMs can explore when thinking about how to improve their abilities. Read on for a primer on exactly what it takes to manage virtual teams.

Know the platform and make sure employees know it too

Before even beginning to think about the art of communication, you need to ensure you and your teams have a grasp on the technology supporting long-distance conferencing or collaborating. There is a multitude of vendors offering diverse technologies, which can result in fragmented structures and substandard education. PMs often need to take it upon themselves to train their teams to avoid misunderstandings. For example, a completed task that isn’t marked as “complete” in your team’s online project-management platform can hold up other workflows and result in costs and delays.

Engaging teams with best use practices for software and apps helps ensure everyone is on the same page and encourages employees to test functions and features that may very well result in new capabilities and insights.

Have regular schedules and stick to them

When teams don’t have the benefit of sharing the same physical space, setting up a quick 15-minute check-in can be a challenge. Remote employees may forget to update their online chat status, and urgent chats may go unanswered. To counter the inherent complexity in coordinating employee schedules and dialogue, project managers must impress upon direct reports the importance of regularly scheduled meetings. Having time reserved creates the regular communication that is necessary for virtual teams to coalesce and ensure nothing is lost in translation.

Online calendars are the most effective tools for keeping teams in contact. One of the best ways to utilize these platforms is to have team members create meetings for when they know they’re not reachable (e.g. doctor appointments or vacation days) and invite their project colleagues so that their personal time populates each teammate’s calendar. Setting clear limits on availability is important, particularly for managing teams across time zones.

Have accountability in ensuring productivity

Businesses trust employees to work as diligently at home as they would in the office. Still, PMs may find it necessary to utilize tools to track productivity and hours logged. These performance indicators are sometimes built into enterprise software utilized by businesses. For others, standalone tracking features are widely available. To avoid accusations of micromanagement and elicit staff buy-in, PMs should proactively address productivity monitoring policies with staff.

If implemented correctly, such initiatives can lead to increased motivation among employees and provide project managers with more insight into team performance.

Arrange real-world encounters

If possible, encourage your team to socialize in person. When planning events or parties, be sure to book the dates well in advance to provide room for travel and other logistics.

Acquire virtual team management skills through a MSPPM program

Virtual teams present a whole new set of challenges and opportunities for project managers. Yet understanding the intricacies of overseeing virtual employees isn’t about getting ahead of the curve, it’s about keeping pace with the current scene. Remote workers and online work environments are fast becoming the norm, and PMs will need the skills to be effective in managing them.

Interested professionals should consider Brandeis University’s Master of Science in Project and Program Management as a way to learn more about becoming comprehensive project managers. Learning the skill sets for communicating in the modern working world is just one education path. Contact a representative to learn more today.

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