The right tools are easy enough to find. Most of us already have them or have access to them: email, Instant Messaging, conferencing (both video and tele), cellphones and Blackberries. Once the tools that are right for your organization are in place, the biggest barriers are often around communications and work culture. Ground rules that focus on them can increase your team’s productivity and let you reap the rewards of the virtual workforce.
Build Trust in Person and Grow that Trust with Clear Expectations
In order for people to work effectively virtually, there has to be trust. Trust doesn’t happen magically. It is built when you bring your team together for training or team building, and then continues to grow with clear expectations consistently set by leaders and met by the team.
Manage Results, Not Activity.
In the physical office environment, “busy work” often gets mistaken for real work. In the virtual environment, when you can’t see what people are doing, the key is to manage results. Set expectations and monitor the results, not the daily activities.
Schedule Regular Communication
It’s important that there is a regular time for reporting both progress and potential pitfalls to the team. This keeps people on track and gives every one the discipline of a team check-in.
Create Communication that Saves Time -- Not that Kills It
Have you created an email culture that wastes time with endless “daisychain” conversations that take several hours to read? Does your team spend hours trying to solve an issue with an email conversation that could have been solved with a thirty-minute conference call? With email, being a critical tool in our work environments, it’s important to create a new culture of effectiveness around it. Ask yourself: how you can make your team’s email communication even more productive?
Create Standards that Build a Cohesive Culture
What are your standards of quality? How do you define excellence? What does your brand mean to each employee? Making sure everyone knows the answers to those three questions is even more important when people are scattered geographically. Virtually, you need to create cohesion with excellence and a sense of pride in what your company stands for.
Define Rules of Responsiveness.
When people are working remotely, it’s important that you define what your rules of responsiveness are for your culture. How quickly are people expected to return an email, an Instant Message or a phone call? What is your protocol when people are out of the office or on vacation? If you’re in a customer service environment, it’s important to have clear expectations regarding how to respond to all customer inquiries.
Working virtually is not rocket-science, but it does require new rules for our workforce. These tips are a good starting point for your team as you build your own best practices for effective project management in the virtual world. Enjoy the journey and invite your team to help you create a powerful work culture.
Michelle LaBrosse is the founder and Chief Cheetah of Cheetah Learning. An international expert on accelerated learning and Project Management, she has grown Cheetah Learning into the market leader for Project Management training and professional development. In 2006, The Project Management Institute, www.pmi.org, selected Michelle as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the World, and only one of two women selected from the training and education industry. Michelle is a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Owner & President Management program for entrepreneurs, and is the author of Cheetah Project Management and Cheetah Negotiations. Cheetah Learning is a virtual company and has 100 employees, contractors, and licensees worldwide.
A version of this article appeared in the February 4, 2008 issue of CareerSmart Advisor