One of the difficulties that I have encountered throughout my professional life managing work teams is the coordination of teams located in geographically distant places, what we could call “remote teams“. An example could be found in the management of European projects where a coordinator located in a country has to direct the implementation of a project (which may or may not have co-designed with its partners) with partners dispersed by the European “orography”. This is the most typical case where not only the distance is critical but the cultural differences (although the recommendations that I include can be perfectly applied to local computers, in the case of remote communication equipment is crucial)
In some occasions we may be able to choose our own team but in others we will have to accept people in the team that we do not know or have worked with previously that the relationship is complicated.
The key in maintaining solid remote computers is: communication. The mechanisms and methodologies to keep the equipment in constant communication is the key to the success of a delocalized project.
How do we start? At the moment in which we have to lead remote teams (both national and with more international motives) it is necessary to create a file of each member of the team. I’m not talking about a Curriculum but almost. It is important to know each team member:
- What educational level do they have?
- What professional level do they have? Experience in multi-disciplinary work? Multi location?
- Hobbies? Pleasures?
And keep, if possible, a videoconference with these people in order to establish, at least, an initial contact.
During that first connection, it is necessary to make clear the expectations of each team member and what we expect from each other, ie each team member has to be clear about their role in the project, what is expected of him / her and know their expectation within the team. This will help us better organize the distribution of tasks on the computer.
In this sense it is important to establish an appraisal or periodic evaluation (according to the duration of the project, for example if it is one year every 4 months) to assess if expectations have been met, workload management (high and low), compliance with established milestones or if there has been any type of difficulty to be dealt with, etc.
In order to generate this trust in the team, it is important that sincerity prevails in both senses because this will allow us to unlock any problems or concerns that may reduce productivity in the execution of assigned tasks.
Another fundamental element is internal communication. It is essential to establish a set of protocols to keep all team members informed of what is happening in the project. There can be no team member who does not know some general details of the evolution of the project. We can use corporative communication tools such as Yammer, Slack etc
The workload management of the members of the remote team will be all the better when it is possible to have remote sub-team coordinators. If it is not possible, in case of individually delocalized team members, a set of tools (preferably managed in the cloud) should be used to monitor the workload (hours allocated) for each task / Activity of a project in as much detail as possible. For this, the following can be available:
- Time Management tool (such as TimenEye, Zoho, Togle, RescueTime, etc.: here you can find a set of the best ones http://www.capterra.com/time-tracking-software/. Particularly I like a lot TimenEye)
- Task management ((TodoIst, Trello, Evernote) depending on the depth and level of execution of each task as follows:
- A task with an runlevel 0 (immediate) or 1 (short-range) should be registered in a tool that is easy to register, such as TodoIst.
- A task with runlevel 2 (long range) requires greater tracking and tools like Trello or similar are ideal for these cases.
On the other hand, in addition to allocating the hours incurred in a project (and therefore, will have a cost associated with the bill rate of each member of the team) it is very important that the project manager knows the degree of execution of each of the tasks that are being carried out:
- what tasks have been completed in a given period
- what tasks are being carried out and in what degree of execution
- what tasks are still pending and why they have not been carried out and What are the main risks of the project to be able to execute the whole plan of work as expected.
This is what we would call: Status Report (SR).
With SRs and time incurred, the project manager can set the progress of the project and calculate the Earned Value as planned.
Finally, virtual meetings are perhaps the most complex to manage. In a first approximation it might seem simple to bring people together, for example via Skype or GotoMeeting, etc but … how to coordinate the meeting so that it does not go too long ?, how often do the meeting have to be done? How to get participants to participate in the virtual meeting ?, how to be able to all participants to be aware of what has been discussed and therefore, to be able to act / contribute … depending on their capabilities and profiles.
To make an effective virtual meeting I would say that the procedure for an effective physical meeting should be followed:
- Frequency: virtual meetings require more assiduity in holding them than face-to-face meetings. It is preferable to have a weekly meeting but short if there is nothing to say that a monthly, long and with little radius of action or action in case of identifying a problem.
- Prepare an agenda and distribute it among all participants several days in advance to prepare the contents to discuss
- Determine clearly the objectives of the meeting and try not to divert the attention during its realization to maximize the time invested in it. We must keep in mind that all participants have other activities to develop and the more concise, clear and brief we are, the more participation we will encounter.
- The moderator takes more importance in virtual meetings than in physical ones (although, of course, face-to-face meetings should not be overlooked and, therefore, the level of preparation must be similar). The moderator should assign specific intervention times for all participants without allowing anyone to appropriate the time of others.
- The last minutes of the meeting (5 ‘) should be devoted to briefly summarizing relevant agreements, decisions and themes.
- After each meeting, it is crucial to distribute a “Minutes of Meeting” (MoMs) less than 24 hours after the meeting to:
- Informing all present of the discussed, agreed, … (the sooner it is distributed it will be easier to remember what is discussed and therefore provide the necessary value)
- Permiting that if any comment, any assessment included in the MoM is not correct or has been misinterpreted can be corrected in time given that decisions that are taken and left in writing are those that will be implemented and the success of their outcome will depend on the Effectiveness in understanding what was agreed.
- Having a working document in which the most relevant issues have been agreed and compliance with the decisions and actions agreed at each meeting are monitored.
Any contribution based on your experience will be appreciated.