Remoted and distributed teams are everywhere. Recruiters are hiring to fill more roles for virtual project managers, virtual project office managers or virtual team members. Virtual project management might be for you: it’s challenging and offers flexibility for a better work/life balance
There are two ways this role has evolved:
- More opportunity to manage virtual/distributed teams
- flexible virtual working environments, i.e.: Starbucks cafes, home office, startup hubs or co-working in spaces that offer collaborative office space.
You may be currently managing virtual teams in campus buildings, data centers, regionally or globally but don’t hold the title of virtual PM. Certainly, if you are doing this already, or would like to fill an available role you should know what the strategies are for success.
Let’s review more about virtual teams, strategies and approaches for virtual leaders of remote and distributed teams economic/global changes, trends regarding virtual teams, benefits and key competencies and behaviors leaders require to lead successfully.
What is a virtual project team?
Dr. Penny Pullan, author of the book Virtual Leadership, describes “virtual projects teams where at least one member of the team is remote from the others.” Virtual teams can also be referred to as a geographically dispersed team, distributed team or remote team.
Strategic Approaches for Virtual Teams
Working on and leading virtual teams is a challenge that requires strategies and best practice approaches to be successful; These eight key strategies were identified for virtual leaders to apply real-world approaches in the white paper published by Penny Pullan and Evi Prokopi:
- Get the Right Team on the Bus
Hiring the right talent for virtual teams should be a collaboration between the virtual project manager and human resource manager. Key skillsets that are priorities for virtual team members are open communication across cultures, and flexible work schedule to address time zones. Recruiting additional resources will address future risks.
- Plan, Plan and Execute
Spending time up front to engage with each team member, plan an inclusive approach around key deliverables, and establishing a common vision, goals and purpose as a project team. Taking the time upfront will allow you to move faster in future phases of your projects.
- Communication is Key to Engagement
Develop a communication plan for your team that also include how your team interacts. Get buy in from your team on the tools you will use to communicate, manage and control your project.
- Build Personal Connections with Each Team Member
Relationships matter and even more so on virtual teams. Plan one on one meetings with each member, discuss their natural talents, listen to their concerns and build mutual trust.
- Enable Face to Face with Technology
People are the heart of your team; create “real” conversations using video conferencing technology. It allows you and your team to see body language, facial expressions, and match your team members name to a “face.”
- Enhance Learning and Group Outcomes for Peak Performance
According to research, project leaders need to have a great self-awareness when working with virtual teams than co-located teams. Recognize signs of conflict early and don’t let it get out of control. Focus your team on results, outcomes and delivering value.
- Manage Your Meetings
Virtual teams need leaders to provide a framework for engagement, consistent facilitative communication online, and buy in to strategies that work for team collaboration.
- Grow Your Team
Invest in your project by investing in your project team. Mentoring your team is just what great project manages do to help team members recognize skill gaps, acknowledge their strengths and abilities and motivate them to recognize their unique talents and apply them on current and future projects.
“However, to make virtual teamwork work this well, you’ll need to move your team to a new set of behaviors, not just to a new generation of technology, with human engagement as the first priority,” says team coach Keith Ferrazzi.
PMI Research on Virtual Project Teams
“Leading Virtual Project Teams” was presented as a research paper by Penny Pullan and Evi Prokopi at 2016 PMI Global Congress in Barcelona. Their survey identified a deeper understand of the challenges of virtual teams with recommendation of strategies and best practices for virtual project leaders.
Based on survey of over 350 respondents from 24 countries, with just over half members of virtual teams and under half lead leading virtual teams, these were the key shared challenges and opportunities amongst the respondents:
- 76% Engaging Remote Participants
- 58% Missing out on dynamics and nuances of conversation
- 56% Working across time zones
- 56% Working across different cultures
- 55% Building Trust
- Regular meetings and agendas
- Clear delineation of roles and responsibilities
- Open and supportive team culture
- Relationships and trust built over time
- Technology that is easy to use
- Video is preferred over audio
- Common repository for data sharing
Shift to Virtual PM
There are five reflections regarding competencies below you should think through if you want to be a virtual PM.
- Mindset – Shift from a fixed to a growth mindset.
- Blended leadership style – a mix of situational, transactional and transformational
- Swift trust – Pivot to learn and coach on teams on this technique so they transform and work at high peak performance
- Vulnerability – Openness and empathy will be your new comfort zone.
- EQ – Daily focus on your own emotions so you can focus on leading and motivating other to operate at a high level of performance to produce outcomes and improve performance.
Your success will depend highly on your ability to change your behaviors and competencies to be able to lead virtual/distributed teams.
Skillsets for Virtual PM
Based on the research and data of recent PMI studies discussed in my recent webinar the Self-Aware PM; it’s clear that this role requires leading with a high competency of leadership and emotional intelligence (EQ). These are the top six competencies used by project and project managers and as you move from project to program and agile to virtual leader. These are skillsets/competencies that you should have a good foundation to be successful in this role.
- Proactive – taking appropriate action without being told
- Influencing people – persuading others to agree or act
- Promoting teamwork – encouraging people to work together collaboratively
- Organizational awareness – identifying interpersonal and group dynamics
- Leading change – instigating innovation and constructive change
- Building trust – inspiring trust and credibility with others
Benefits of Virtual PM
Just glanced at recent industry statistics regarding virtual project management and discovered there are so many benefits to this role. Here are just a few:
- In the latest PMI Salary Survey 2015, many PM positions are listed that this role emulates. There are wide salary ranges including increases by responsibility and country. The median annual salary, across all countries, roles and experience levels, is $81,000 (USD). There is certainly more research on salary you can find on many other sites like Glass Door.
- The virtual PM role is in high demand in many industries and employers and startup companies are looking to fill both part and full-time positions.
- Wide variety of position being offered by recruiters with titles like field, remote, telecommuting, virtual, freelance and more.
There are lots of job descriptions that vary for each role. Make sure that the role is not only the right fit, but you are the right fit for the role.
Career Path for Virtual PM
PM who choose to lead virtual teams should focus on emotional intelligence/leadership competency, experience developed by role and increased project complexity. This path occurs as you move through a PMs professional career path. (Project/Program–Agile/Virtual PM)
Making the shift is the first step but consider these top key tenets to be successful in this role leading virtual/distributed teams.
- Communication is critical online and in person
- Shift your leadership styles; one or more may be required regularly.
- Global shift in how you reach agreement on decisions; global methods employed.
- Trust built through Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA)
You must make the shift in how you view leading a traditional team from a remote/distributed team.
Virtual PM is the role that fits the new global economy. As you can see making the shift is not trivial or easy. Anthony Mersino shared in his book Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers: The People Skills You Need to Achieve Outstanding Results that PMs in these roles should have a depth of expertise in emotional intelligence and should leverage both their hard and core skillsets to focus on:
- Face to face meetings,
- Leveraging the right team tools,
- Invest in transparent communication methods,
- Build in fun and humor, and
- Work on building those relationships outside of conference calls
Perhaps, it’s your turn to step forward and make into the world of virtual PM and make the shift!
“To master the virtual equation and make all the elements work together, you have to become the connector,” says consultant Yael Zofi. “You may need to shift gears, perform ream tune-ups, realign and refuel your team’s energy along the way.”
As virtual teams become more prominent, project management tools to better manage these distributed teams also evolve. ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based software that connects teams no matter where they are, providing them with real-time data, which means you’re working together on the project as it happens. See how it can help you by taking this free 30-day trial.