Today most Fortune 500 companies have offices in other countries like China and India.
Small businesses can compete by using virtual teams to complete development projects.
The challenge is how to manage projects where all team members are not in the same geographical location.
According to i4cp’s productivity blog, even though the use of geographically dispersed teams doing complex work has increased, they require proper structures and knowledge sharing to make them work effectively. Show the infographics on the above web page here.
Here are some of the tips I can provide based on my long experience working with diverse teams:
- Be mindful of time zones
When your team is not in the same geographical location, they do not come to the office at the same time. The varying times have both advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, this presents communication issues. On the other hand, if your customer issues need quick resolution, your teammate on the other side of the world can do it in your off hours. The issues is resolved by next morning!
Managing across different time zones may be a challenge. How do you set time to communicate? Fortunately there is a free online tool that can show you times in multiple zones and also can help plan your meetings. See here: https://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/converter.html.
- Tools for collaboration
Tools are an important aspect of collaboration. Here are some beneficial tools when working with remote teams:
- Shared Calendar
- Shared Documents
- Time Tracking
- Expense Tracking
- Issue Tracking
- Shared Notes
- Be mindful of time zones
- Messaging and phone calls
The cost of communication has come down drastically in the past decade. Today anyone can talk across the globe free or for a few cents per minute. The best communication tools are instant messaging with voice and video. Google Hangout and Skype are two such tools that fit best in this category.
I like both these tools for doing countless hours of voice and video with international teams. One thing to remember regarding online meetings is the quality of voice and video may not be same as you can expect with a high-speed internet connection. Also, have a backup (like a plain old telephone system) ready in case you get disconnected in the middle of a meeting.
Meetings need to be more disciplined than when everyone is in the same room. It is easy to get distracted when you are not present physically. I suggest you conduct online meetings more strictly than offline ones. Here are a few suggestions:
- Have a no-tolerance policy for late meeting attendees.
- Send the agenda well in advance and ask the team to send the feedback 15 minutes before the meeting.
This procedure focuses everyone on the meeting
- Have people change their phone to mute to minimize interruption.
- This policy may seem a no-brainer for offline meetings, but I have seen ringer disrupts during meetings more than anything else.
- Start and finish on time.
- Get someone to write the meeting notes and distribute them to the team.
- Do not discuss anything outside the agenda.
- Be very specific on expectations, and set a timeframe for review.
- Cultural Cues
People work efficiently when they are relaxed. Geographically dispersed teams may have different religions, culture, greetings, etc. One way to avoid any confusion is to stick to the subject at hand and refrain from making sensitive remarks, jokes, etc.
If you spend time to understand the culture of your teammates, you will be rewarded long term with a great working environment.
- Work Hours
Working hours may be different across time zones. I have seen people sacrificing and working different shifts to make sure they all work at the same time. Working in this manner is not always practical and almost always results in loss of efficiency.
Decide on fixed working hours for everyone with at least a few hours of overlapping time for meetings and discussions. Be disciplined in terms of writing all requirements clearly so this will not create any issues.
- Shared Goals
Make sure your remote team understands the high-level goals and vision of the company and work they are supposed to do. Clarity is especially necessary if they are doing creative work. Reward people who show initiative to fulfill such goals.
Failure to have shared goals will create a workforce that will do what is minimally required to get the job done.
Email is the most important communication tool of this century. However, when working with remote teams, emails become inefficient. In most cases, people misuse the cc feature to send copies to everyone, and some emails are not read and acted upon as quickly as they are intended to be. Too many emails waste time by having to search for them when needs arise.
When it comes to documents, you are better off using a document sharing system like Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive or Evernote. There are many other dedicated document tools in the market, and you can select the ones that fit you the best.
Images courtesty lumaxart Creative Commons Attribution
SK Dutta is a software architect and creator of OfficeClip Suite of products. He loves to design and develop software that makes people do their job better and more fun. He always explores ways to improve productivity for small businesses. He is also an avid reader in many areas, including psychology, productivity, and business.