Management and Leadership – Managing Your Virtual Team

People used to think that “working from home” was code for “getting paid to eat Oreos in pajamas”, but with the recent recession, getting paid at all isn’t anything to take chances with. If you’re engaged in virtual project management you can’t physically just drop in to check on your workers – at least, not without a lot of gas, possibly a jet, and the risk of some extremely unpleasant surprises. But with the right web based project management software it’s entirely possible to keep tabs on your employees – without them setting their Twitter status message as 1984.

The main problem with online collaboration is that your staff, by definition, must have a reliable access to the Internet. Aka “The Infinite Distraction Engine.” Administering employees online can be like herding cats, except the cats are all in different countries, and invisible. The cats also have access to YouTube. How can you remotely manage them?

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Elmer Thomas blogs primarily at Thinking Serious which focuses on programming, design, business and productivity content for tech entrepreneurs living in a 2.0 world. That is, when he is not tickling his entrepreneur itch or consulting. To read Elmer’s complete biography, click here.

5 replies
  1. ryazwinski
    ryazwinski says:

    Communication method is important, but measurable deliverables are more important.

    With a distributed team, especially so, it’s important to use an agile-like methodology: short iterations, hard deliverables, and demos.

    It’s common for people to procrastinate when faced with a large project on long timeline. Take that element out of the picture 😉

  2. bom
    bom says:

    From a project management perspective, I would agree with the communication protocols as you suggested. However, in a few examples you highlight the potential “abuse” of these and in a virtual environment the need to socialize / network via a virtual water cooler is critical.

    That brief im of “hey whats going on” is the equivalent of stopping by someone’s cube or running into them in a hallway. It can be an interruption and should not be a constant, but it can provide a much needed opportunity to build and maintain team morale.

    The need for socialization should be balanced with the stricter “task master” dialog.

  3. mader
    mader says:

    I agree that the ‘distraction engine’ aspect of the Internet is a real challenge. However, whether a tool is online, installed on a server, or paper based, the Internet is always just a click away. So it’s a bit of a reality that one simply has to manage.

    In choosing a tool, we (Smartsheet) advise managers on a few key points:
    – It’s as important to choose the solution your team will use as it is choosing the tool that meets YOUR needs
    – If you want your collaboration tool to TRACK vs. be a free form repository for information sharing, choose a tool that is optimized for tracking accountability, tasks, managing files, and storing e-mail threads (decisions)
    – Make sure the system can alert people of changes and also remind them of what they own and when it’s due.

    Those three items may seem like very elementary items – but it’s amazing how many collaboration tools do them poorly or not at all.

    Here are a few video links to what Smartsheet can do for your task/team management needs

    Share and send files:

    Smartsheet product page:

  4. John
    John says:

    The post is spot on but if the size of your team is quite big, it makes it a bit difficult.. It might be a good idea, to make virtual teams a bit smaller and have a manager in between to make sure the work is being done effectively. Assistants work from virtual offices around the world but management of these teams can be done in a face to face manner.


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