I’ve made no secret of my promotion of remote project management and virtual teams running project engagements. There are definite upsides to the remote project manager and the virtual team situation. When project resources are dispersed – as they often are these days – running the project remotely definitely promotes many green project management practices. It also allows for quick project action and decision-making, and can greatly reduce the cost of the overall project.
That said, running a project virtually is not without its own complexities. I’d like to dig a little deeper into these here for this article.
It is easy to characterize the types of virtual teams using the same categories as traditional teams. They can, however, be much more complex. The two primary categories of variables that make virtual teams more complex are: (1) they cross boundaries related to time, distance (geography), and organization; and (2) they communicate (share information) and collaborate (work together to produce a product) using technology.
As the distance between team members increases, so do differences in time zones. This can sometimes make communicating and collaborating at the same time problematic. Working across national boundaries complicates the situation because differences in language, culture, and access to technology impede effective communication and collaboration.
As members from different organizations join a virtual team, integration of work methods, organizational cultures, technologies, and goals make communication and collaboration more difficult. Partners and suppliers often have conflicting goals and organizational cultures. This even holds true when team members come from different functional areas within the same organization. For example, people from functional areas, such as marketing and human resources, frequently operate with a different set of processes than those from more technical areas, such as engineering and information systems.
Finally, complexity is increased by the number of different choices for team interaction. Ten years ago, traditional project teams typically interacted face-to-face most of the time. Virtual team interactions, however, are almost always mediated by electronic communication and collaboration technology. Interactions fall into four categories:
- Same time, same place (like face-to-face meetings)
- Same time, different place (such as an audio conference or video conference)
- Different time, same place (such as using a chat room or a shared file on a network)
- Different time, different place (such as exchange of e-mail or voice mail messages).
The selection of technology and choice of interaction vary according to factors such as the type of team, the nature of its task, and the members’ access to technology.