TOP 10 tips for leading virtual projects

1. Passion

People´s commitment is mostly driven by motivations and feelings. Motivation leads to learning and creativity. It is strongly connected to positive feelings, constructive behavior and thoughts. It also correlates with wellbeing and job satisfaction and it is enhanced when accomplishing tasks and projects. Passion ultimately drives people to go forward finding solutions. It is fantastic if organizations have hired people with true passion and dedication for their work.

2. Values

Values impact how we prioritize things and how we interact. In organizations values should be clearly defined and all the practices from decision making to meeting practices should reflect the values. Making and keeping values alive is a most crucial task for each manager. Values often sound the same, like “customers first”,  but companies make values alive in various different ways, some being more succesful than others.

3. Right people

Having the right people in key positions is crucial particularly in virtual teams. In virtual teams professional competence count. But in addition strong communication skills are needed, which means excellent language skills, both professionally and concerning ethnic backgrounds. Important communication skill for the expert is listening. Without listening it is impossible to reach shared understanding and communication becomes ping pong. In addition ability to handle cognitive load and isolation caused by remote work is important. Also handling pressure and an ability to express oneself both in written and verbally is needed. Also personalities count if you want to make most of your project.

4. Clear targets

Without goals and targets people start doing politics and driving their own agendas. This usually leads to inefficiency and conflicts. Without targets people do not commit to organizational goals and without targets success cannot be reached and success can´t be measured. How do you know you are there if you don´t know where you are going?

5. Communication in person and virtually

Virtually communication is often written, which takes 16 times more time, but advantage is that people have time to think what to write. Sometimes ideas need some time to cook and it is better sometimes sleep over night before answering.

Communication should happen often. It is easy to prioritize other projects over virtual one, because team is invisible. Virtual boss need to put more effort in encouragement, follow up and giving feedback than traditional one.
In addition to well structured virtual meetings, where everyone can contribute also informal meetings are needed. Coffee breaks and relaxed lunch sessions with private talks are even more crucial in virtual teams than traditional ones, but unfortunally they are too easy to skip.

6. Milestones

In projects the outcome is usually defined at the beginning, but sometimes it can´t fully be defined. For example in R&D, research can produce unexpected results, which might produce new ideas and streams for work. Milestones are needed to help people to prioritize their work. Milestones are needed for making a complex project manageble trough different roles. It is needed for getting a sense of getting things done, and ready. And it is needed for measuring performance. Just like a person running a marathon needs to take time and to stop for a drinking station. People need to stop to get the energy needed for the next milestone.

7. Feedback and rewarding

People need feedback about progress, about their performance. What is going right and if something is not going as expected, that should also be brought up and handled. Once there are clear targets and achieving them is rewarded, people get enormous amount of energy to go forward. It is closely connected to trust. Trust is about setting expectations and once you reach them, trust develops. Trust can be raised like money in a bank.

8. Leadership and hosting

Virtual teams need strong leadership to keep cohesion and member contributions balanced. In conversation pages hosting is needed to keep conversations alive through asking questions, running polls, giving comments and feedback. Leading people is possible with passion, encouragement and about bringing conversation back to project targets.

9. Appropriate tools

Wifi is like air we breathe in Finland, but it is not the case all over the world. Proper internet connection is needed in addition to right tools. In projects, documentation management and version control is needed. Also visualization tools, infographs about project progress, content and targets are useful. Ability to produce and share rich media makes impact so much easier and a lot more can be communicated than by just writing text. Tele and videoconferences can replace face to face, once kick off has been done in person. This particularly applies to complex and large projects´ and key personnel in complex projects. In smaller and simplier projects, team members with high virtual communication competence and who trust each other, can perform great without f2f and kick off in person is not necessarily needed at all.

10. Trust

Trust is a final, but the most important issue in managing virtual projects. Trust appears in organizational and personal level and it is connected to knowhow, organization´s support, management performance, competence, faith and goodwill of team members´ behaviors.

In work context management´s role is crucial in building trust to organizations ability to succeed both internally and externally. Therefore setting expectations to the right level and then working hard to preferably exceed the expectations is needed. Goodwill, care and general kind words and encouragement to colleagues build affective trust.  Affective trust enhances commitment and passion for work can be channeled to organization´s targets.

Did you get interested? Do you want to know more about utilizing virtual work force or doing remote work. I can help!

– Päivi

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