With remote work becoming increasingly popular, many project managers are struggling to navigate their virtual projects.
Managing a remote project team can, indeed, be challenging, but having the right tools and techniques can make all the difference.
This text will guide you through the virtual project management process and offer some helpful tips to make these challenges a little less daunting.
What is virtual project management?
Virtual project management is the process of managing projects via a dispersed project management team.
It requires project managers to change the way they communicate and lean into their use of remote work software to help them maintain productivity and a smooth flow of information within the team.
Benefits of virtual project management
While it was the pandemic that forced the world to start working from home, as many as 76% of remote employees in the US plan on continuing to work from home even after the danger of the virus has subsided.
Employers aren’t as keen on embracing this trend, but the employee demands and the many advantages that come with working remotely are difficult to ignore.
Some of the most significant benefits of remote work include:
Benefit #1: Increased employee job satisfaction
Research has found a strong correlation between remote work and employee job satisfaction. The reasons are simple — better work-life balance, better time management, flexibility, and reduced stress are the ideal combination for a happier and more productive employee.
Benefit #2: Higher employee retention
A happy employee is a loyal employee. In fact, studies have found that employees value remote work more than their salaries.
Benefit #3: Access to a more diverse talent pool
By doing away with geographical boundaries employers gain access to a much wider and more diverse pool of talented workers.
Benefit #4: Improved team productivity
Benefit #5: Reduced operating costs
The remote work model eliminates the need for a brick-and-mortar office. This means that making the switch to remote work can save employers hundreds of thousands of dollars in utilities, commute costs, rent, and other office expenses according to Global Workplace Analytics.
Challenges of virtual project management
While there are significant benefits to managing projects virtually, it’s the challenges of this work model that are preventing many from abandoning the safety of their work offices for good.
Challenge #1: Ineffective communication
In project management, it’s crucial that the team members work together in achieving their goals.
But, with a dispersed and often cross-cultural team that operates across several different time zones, ineffective communication can create:
- Misunderstandings, and
- A disconnect among the project team.
To avoid these issues and ensure an uninterrupted flow of information, it’s important to establish effective communication in the project team.
Challenge #2: Overcoming cultural differences
Cultural differences can create barriers in communication even when people are well-acquainted with each other.
In a virtual project team that likely hasn’t had the chance to meet in person, cultural differences can create conflicts and misunderstandings that can ultimately affect the outcome of the project.
Challenge #3: Building trust
Of all the virtual project management challenges, lack of trust is the most problematic.
Lack of trust between team members can result in a disjointed team that doesn’t believe in collaboration and united effort, and instead has an individualistic approach to work.
But, an even more problematic issue is the lack of trust between the virtual project manager and the rest of the team. This is often the issue with project managers who are new to leading virtual projects and don’t trust their team to perform their work unsupervised.
One of the ways virtual project managers deal with this is through micromanagement — a bad practice that creates tension and anxiety, thereby reducing productivity and overall employee job satisfaction.
Challenge #4: Monitoring and tracking
Building on what was discussed in the previous section, monitoring, and tracking work can be a major issue in virtual project teams.
The problem stems from managers who lack self-esteem in their ability to control their project team when they can’t keep an eye on them in person.
This results in project managers resorting to the previously-discussed micromanagement and tools such as employee monitoring software that often make the situation worse.
Challenge #5: Overcoming equipment issues
Remote employees must have adequate equipment at their disposal if they are to do their jobs as they would in the office.
Providing workers with reliable equipment is something that organizations must do before committing to a remote work model.
Challenge #6: Scheduling difficulties
When the project team has flexible work schedules, getting everyone together at the same time can be a challenge. In an environment where issues can crop up at any moment, this can create delays that can hurt the outcome of the project.
Project managers can overcome this issue with strong leadership skills and a firm work schedule.
Tips for improving virtual project management
The challenges found in virtual project management can deter those without experience from giving it a proper chance.
Here are some useful tips on how to make these challenges a little more manageable.
Tip #1: Overcommunicate
Ineffective communication is the biggest issue in virtual teams. The only way to overcome this is to become more active in communicating with them. Instant team chat apps, video calls, one-on-one meetings, feedback sessions, check-ins, and information-sharing wikis are just some of the ways you can make sure to establish a smooth flow of information among everyone on the team and avoid misunderstandings and the spread of misinformation.
Tip #2: Make the most of your meetings
Without the chance to meet each other in the office and exchange ideas and information, meetings are the only way the entire team can get together and collaborate. However, project managers should make sure to keep them focused and purposeful to avoid wasting everyone’s time with meetings that “could have been an email”.
Tip #3: Always have your cameras on
While meetings are a place to brainstorm and solve problems, they are also an important touchstone for the entire project team. Meeting are those rare chances when virtual employees can meet each other and chat informally. Keeping the cameras on maximizes face-to-face interaction between team members and fosters collaboration and trust.
Tip #4: Arrange IT support
Besides offering working and reliable equipment to their employees, organizations should provide their remote workers with good IT support for those less tech-savvy telecommuters.
Tip #5: Do team-building activities
Team-building activities are the best way to build trust and foster collaboration among remote workers, but they also provide a much-needed respite from work and tension at the workplace.
Tip #6: Improve virtual project management with software
Virtual project management would never be possible without project management software.
PM tools are used to:
- Keep track of the project’s progress,
- Monitor workflow,
- Manage the project timeline and schedule,
- Share files,
- Set milestones and project deadlines,
- Share feedback, and more.
While most of them are paid services, some project management software, like Plaky, are completely free to use, making them ideal for small teams and businesses.
Digital project management tools are the key to maintaining cohesion and collaboration in virtual project teams by keeping all the vital project information in one place and available to all team members.
This is just a summary of an article previously published on the Plaky blog.
To learn more about virtual project management, we recommend reading the full article: