How should project managers handle virtual communication?

Friday, February 14th, 2014 By Jack Nevison

Thanks to technological advancements, project managers no longer have to be in the same office to lead a team. An increasing number now rely on virtual communication.

In fact, a recent article on the Harvard Business Review cited a Unify survey that demonstrates just how widespread this practice has become. According to the survey, 79 percent of project managers said that they always or frequently work in virtual teams. This includes email, phone, conference calls and video chatting.

However, extensive adoption does not mean that everyone is satisfied with the changes. That same survey found that only 44 percent of respondents feel that they are just as productive using virtual communication as they are meeting face-to-face.

Harvard Business Review contributor Keith Ferrazzi argues that managers who use this technology must make sure that their teams adopt new behaviors needed to maintain their level of productivity.

First, Ferrazzi writes, establish some ground rules. When people try to talk while in different offices—or different countries—the personal connection can be lost and participants can disengage. Leave time for "personal and professional check-in" at the start of a meeting. Don't allow multitasking, avoid mute whenever possible, and "call on people often to share their thoughts."

Next, strive to align the personal and professional goals of your team members. For example, "an up-and-coming employee might be told that if a new project turns into a viable business, she'll be promoted to run it." The more you can hitch your employees goals to a business goal, the more committed and engaged they will be.

Last, encourage candor. Ferrazzi suggests appointing someone to be the team's "Yoda", and periodically during the meeting, asking Yoda "what's going on here that no one's talking about?" Praise those who swim against the current in a meeting, and encourage team members "to share thoughts anonymously" until they are comfortable doing so in person.

It will take time to transition a team to these new behaviors. And technology, which has "too often been disruptive," now offers us tools "that leverage the relationships and discussion threads captured in team meetings…to foster very human connections." Use it well, and reap the benefits.

New Leaf Project Management's 2-day programs, "Managing Outsourced Projects," and "Leading the Project Team," can help you get the best from your teams wherever they are located. In addition, our online QPM games and white papers let you learn while you earn PDU credits for PMP recertification.

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