Our co-workers today often do not sit in the cubicle next to us. They work remotely. Effective project management needs constant communication.

Managers spend 70 to 80% of their time communicating with teams, senior management, and customers. As more project employees work in remote locations, the need to remain in contact makes business sense for team building and the successful execution of tasks.

Steps to Effective Communication with Remote or Virtual Teams

Project managers with remote team members need to commit to frequent communication to ensure that the group working on a project feels like members of a team and remote workers are engaged enough to cope with their tasks. Beginning with a project kickoff meeting, provide each team member with a clear statement of the project’s goals and schedule. Share with the team task assignments by individual, responsibilities, and milestones.

Set a schedule for status meetings. Project managers should expect to hold status meetings more frequently with remote teams than co-located teams that interact daily. Using scenarios and use cases helps the team members focus their efforts on a common vision of the expected result. Weekly meetings provide enough time to accomplish tasks for discussion and to intervene if a remote member moves in the wrong direction. Encourage virtual team members to check with the team before making design and development decisions. Be sensitive to time differences when scheduling team communication events.

Have each team member present a summary of their accomplishments during the preceding week and raise any issues or problems encountered. Use the status meeting as an opportunity to recognize individual contributions. Document discussions and provide a status summary and list of action items after the meeting. It is the job of the project manager to follow up on action items by personally contacting members between meetings.

Advice on Using Tools to Facilitate Communication with Virtual Teams

Hundreds of tools exist to facilitate team communication. The tools fall roughly into categories for text communication such as email, documents, messaging systems, and interactive systems that include video conferencing, audio conferencing, and document sharing. The project manager’s challenge is finding tools that work together so that the collaboration infrastructure remains transparent to users.

Collaboration tools for remote teams must assure the security of communications and documents. The tools and supporting hardware require sufficient bandwidth, especially for video conferences. Begin tool selection by understanding the project’s needs such as:

  • How many users at the same time
  • Interactive versus one-way
  • Hosted or on-premises
  • Operating system support
  • Integration with existing tools
  • Ability to record session
  • Cost

Organizations need to train project members to use the tools selected to facilitate team communication. Project managers should act as role models in using tools and require team members to develop proficiency with core communication tools. Using any tool requires practice and feedback.

Properly used, communication tools improve productivity and team cohesion. Team members learn to ask for help and trust team members to provide information and support. By maintaining current project documents within the shared communication space, team members will work from the most current plans, procedures, and information.