That said, running a project virtually is not without its own complexities. 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.
I’m still a strong proponent of virtual teams, remote project management, and the savings – both cost and time – that can be realized with this model. I understand, however, that we need to not go into this type of project management model with blinders on. We need to understand the limitations and possibilities for risk that it can invite into the engagement. These issues can be overcome, but we need to be aware that they exist.
Summary / call for input
What about our readers? What do you see as some special challenges to remote project management and/or managing virtual teams? Do you agree with these items? What successes or failures have you experienced? Let’s discuss…