Virtual teams in project management
Project meetings are a completely everyday task for project managers. In the past few decades, the team, the customer or expert, sat together at a table, discussing plans, making decisions and then shaking hands and saying goodbye. Thanks to modern conference technology, it is now no longer absolutely necessary for all parties involved to be in one room – this also opens up new possibilities. For example, an expert in the Netherlands, an advisor from Norway and an architect from New York can simply be virtually connected to the meeting room. Globalisation and digitisation naturally go hand in hand, so a certain degree of flexibility is required in the project team and in project management. Although a personal conversation is still preferable when it comes to coordinating specific topics, each project manager has to get used to working in virtual teams.
Benefits of virtual teams
The advantages are obvious: a meeting can take place with people who are in different places, in different time zones – distance loses relevance. Of course, this also considerably increases the range of companies, service providers, experts and engineers who are eligible for the joint project. For example, an office from Sweden can be hired if it’s better suited to the project than the four offices in the local area. Competition intensifies, the market becomes tougher and pricing is affected too. The increased competitive pressure also encourages the motivation of the service providers, as they must all now offer good conditions if they want to win a contract – having an advantage merely by dint of location no longer exists.
Another advantage of virtual teams is the time saved. Long journeys and business trips are no longer necessary. Everyone can stay in their office and work on something else such as making calls or preparing for the meeting until just before it starts.
A truly enormous advantage of such meetings is the fact that you can look at all the data, plans and photos relevant to the meeting together, since the screen used for video conferencing can also display the computer screens of the all participants too. This way, content can be shared and all of the meeting’s participants can be quickly brought up to speed.
Disadvantages of virtual teams
A disadvantage is quite simple in nature: there is unfortunately the danger that the technology fails or works poorly. Additionally, it is simply more difficult to make sense of gestures and facial expressions on a screen. Irony and wit may be difficult to convey and some people need to meet in person as such conferences make them feel inhibited. Misunderstandings occur more easily and are more difficult to clear up.
If a meeting is "mixed", that is, including participants who are physically there and other participants who are only virtually there, the people in the room have the advantage of being able to focus closely on what the people on the screen are saying and doing, because they’re on the “big screen” and in full HD. They see every wince, they can tell whether someone is tired or ill, they can glance at each other or communicate with a wink or a smirk without the virtual participants being aware of it; this can also have disadvantages depending on the topic of the meeting and the distribution of the participants.
If the technology isn’t working properly a tiny lag in the exchange can slow down the conversation, cause it to stall and result in it not seeming authentic. If a team is in a different time zone, it is extremely important to make clear agreements regarding time. Often, language barriers resulting from the internationalisation of projects affect the team.
Virtual teams are the future
Even though virtual teamwork does suffer from some disadvantages, you have to be aware of the fact that this kind of collaboration is the future.
Project management needs to modernise and utilise new techniques in order to remain competitive. Each project manager should focus on the benefits of virtual collaboration and prepare meetings so that the disadvantages can be minimised. For example, it is important, especially in the case of telephone conferences with more than five participants, to appoint a moderator in advance to lead the session.
Everyone should focus on their own expertise, so that project management can actually work virtually. Unfortunately, with this kind of communication personal touch is lost to a certain extent, yet on the other hand it also forces everyone involved to concentrate on the essentials of the project.
Limitations have to be accepted and the project management also assumes the task of preparing all participants for virtual communication in this case. In a virtual team, the focus is even more on professional competence, on strong communication and on purposeful cooperation.
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