There’s a new TV show debuting this fall on NBC, the commercials for which I think are beyond hilarious. As funny as the ads are, the sitcom “Outsourced” is based on a not-so-funny reality – in some organizations are disbanded resources groups, laid off from domestic companies only to be reformed overseas at lower cost. The hilarity of the show lies in the disconnected communications characteristic of intercontinental teams. But whether this subject matter tickles or offends victims of modern-day downsizing, the fact remains that its inspiration – the difficulty in bridging the gap between two workgroups working miles away from each other – is very real. This article addresses the peculiarities of virtual teams and how to keep groups fully engaged and working efficiently as one integrated body, even if they are geographically divided.
Maybe your team hasn’t experienced a shift as drastic as the one portrayed on the pilot-episode where an entire call-center moves from Seattle to India. But “virtual” can be used to describe teams with members working in different states or even those divided into office and telecommuting employees. The reasons for this shift to using technology instead of traditional travel are numerous, and include:
- high cost of travel
- cost of maintaining a brick-and-mortar office building
- time wasted by employees stuck in commuter traffic
These are just a few of the incitements to recruiting virtual teams. Although there are many benefits to virtual teams, there are also numerous issues that result from spatial and cultural divides:
- Delayed or infrequent communication
- Limited trust in teammates to get their job done
- Propensity for remote workers to be disengaged
Here are some tips to overcome these three potential deal-breakers before they cripple your organization’s virtual teams.
Compile and distribute a team contact list for your virtual teams that includes a phone, email, and I.M. userIDs for each team member. Insist on the use of an instant message client to facilitate real-time discussions. Hold regular conference calls or video chats to keep everyone on the same page and also to begin the foundations of great relationship between teammates. Here’s a warning, though: make sure these meetings are always productive with a clear agenda and purpose, otherwise it may have the opposite result of frustrating and isolating members of your virtual teams even more.
On-site employees can tend to feel like the ones shouldering the bulk of the responsibility. However, being 100% clear about each person’s role on the virtual team and what should be delivered by each workgroup is essential to mitigating a lack of trust. Clearly outlining expectations to be met by teams stateside and otherwise (or at home versus in the office) will help alleviate a lack of confidence and avoid confusion around who should deliver what. Be sure to schedule regular checkpoints, too, to make certain everyone is carrying their weight.
Create a process for on-boarding of new team members so that team building can begin early. A team-focused orientation program for virtual teams is a great place to instill a sense of camaraderie in the group and a sense of ownership can only grow from here. To strengthen engagement of members of virtual teams who aren’t as new, freely commend them for jobs well done and be sure to copy the entire team so that everyone can be involved.
These are just a few pointers for managing virtual teams. Across the board, while I don’t believe it’s always the best choice to ship jobs overseas, I do believe in the benefits of diverse and varied groups, a characteristic that seems inherent to virtual teams. To bring in some fresh perspectives and optimize your use of virtual teams, utilize the resources of an IT consulting agency. And don't forget to share your thoughts and experiences with us--leave a comment!
Thank you for viewing the IT Project Blog's latest project management video! You know, there are so many outsourcing tips out there that I decided to cut down the list to the most important and most agreed upon--and of course I added insight from my own project management experiences. I hope that this project management video will help you make the best decision for your software development project.
To summarize my project management video, here are the top five outsourcing tips:
- Clearly define scope and schedule
- Closely evaluate service providers (don't evaluate based on price alone and make sure there is a good cultural fit)
- Start small
- Tie payment to milestones
- Remember post-project support
For a longer list, check out 31 Tips for Successful Outsourcing. Please leave your comments and questions below!