by: Christian Smagg

When thinking about factors that distinguish top performing companies, the root of their success often can be traced to the human equation. But how many companies are able to tap more than a fraction of their workforce potential? How many are able to take advantage of latent talents, ideas and contributive strengths waiting to be switched on? How many are able to unleash the power of remote collaboration & virtual team management? The companies that find the means to use a larger fraction of their human resources will undoubtedly supersede their competitors. That is their edge in the global economy.

With increased globalisation, virtual leadership has started gaining a strong foothold in recent times. As the workplace evolves, the techniques for managing employees are changing. Today’s leaders and managers are faced with a different set of challenges for managing employees who work in various locations across the globe or telecommute. Managing in the virtual environment can be quite a daunting undertaking.

The biggest challenge with remote collaboration & virtual team management is actually to maintain quality and productivity across all participants, despite the physical and cultural distance. Other associated issues are operational. Indeed, you do need to ensure that everyone is working on “the same project”. Social issues may also come into play: If the teams adopt an “us versus them” mindset, they might well wind up working at cross-purposes. All these challenges may finally be exacerbated by time zone and language differences that make collaboration and real-time communication even more difficult.

Avoiding the many pitfalls of remote collaboration & virtual team management requires:

  • Tight communications, to make sure that everybody can be kept informed about everyone else's progress, questions, and concerns,
  • Full tracking of all collaboratively-built deliverables, so that all participants have rapid access to the precise deliverables that everyone is working on or are using as references,
  • Some form of workflow, implemented through a project management & tracking software, to make sure that everybody knows not only what they are responsible for, but also what everybody else is working on.
  • The key to success for adapting to this complex and ever-changing working environment is the ability to:
  • Effectively manage the challenges of virtual & remote leadership: implementing a communication plan to track progress and maintain involvement, selecting team members who can operate remotely, troubleshooting and resolving remote problems, etc.
  • Maximise communication and invest in virtual team effectiveness,
  • Create best practice team processes to enhance productivity: mapping workflows across virtual and remote working boundaries, structuring work assignments to minimise communication breakdowns and selecting the optimum “virtual infrastructure”,
  • Leverage “virtual technologies” and benefit from the potential of virtual project management and communication tools now widely available.

The above described growing challenges have indeed led to the development of collaboration solutions that can stimulate and enhance joint work. An effective solution for any enterprise that needs to manage complex (remote) projects across (virtual) teams, departments or geographies should provide the following features:

  • Project Management: providing unique role-based capabilities to distribute and gather project information in real-time and to keep distributed teams synchronized,
  • Resource Management: helping managers to efficiently allocate resources to projects (people, facilities, materials and resources),
  • Portfolio Management: with real-time data roll-up giving senior management the ability to do capacity planning, risk assessment, feasibility studies and financial analysis,
  • Process Management: automating processes thereby reducing overall effort, saving costs and dramatically improving process adherence.

Because all project updates are centrally stored and archived in such applications, everyone is always working with the most recent information. Team members understand the impact of schedule changes or resource conflicts with other departments and use the solution to identify their next work item, record status or indicate problems. All updates are immediately propagated to all other team members and managers can be alerted. Management and executives can have a global view of all project schedules and resources and can therefore make well-informed decisions.

Advances in information and communications technologies have enabled businesses to become truly global in scope. There is an abundance of technology available today for collaboration including instant messaging, web conference, collaboration technologies, unified communications or telepresence to name a few. However, a company's culture and processes that encourage people to share work in a productive manner are central to effective collaboration. Indeed, collaboration can only be beneficial when the technology is applied within the context of an enterprise culture that encourages sharing and open interactions between people. Successful collaboration arises from business strategy, aligns with business outcomes, and is supported by organisational structures and technology. Like any other process, it requires thought, preparation, support, energy, and communication.

For further insight on this topic, I have selected for you this BNet Crash Course entitled “Managing a Remote Team” providing excellent tips on how to keep remote employees engaged and productive as well as compiling a hot list of ten technology tools that can help keep your team running smoothly and collaborate effectively. This great article comes together with a video explaining how technology can play a crucial role in collaborative efforts and has proven to increase productivity. You will probably also enjoy a complementary video revealing some illuminating facts about interpersonal team dynamics as well as this third video presenting why the success of any business collaboration effort heavily depends on the convergence of three factors: the people, the technology, and the process. BTW … You may find some of the illustrating situations in these videos pretty familiar ;-)

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