Your boss has just handed you a big project – one that could make or break your career. You’re confident that you can handle it; however, it’s likely that you’ll have to look outside your company for required resources in disciplines such as advertising, public relations or marketing communications for writers, designers and possibly strategists. In no time at all, you’ll find yourself managing a virtual team.
Over the past few years there have been advances and a dissemination of technology that has made using virtual teams more effective. It is also quite common for creative agencies to take advantage of using virtual teams as an extension of their core creative team so they can contract specialty talents as needed and expand and contract their internal resources to accommodate workload. So when looking outside your organization for assistance – whether hiring talent directly or working with a creative agency – it is most likely that you will be leading a virtual team.
In general, virtual teams have the same needs as any in-house team: leadership, clearly defined goals, time management and trust. Of course the most obvious difference between an in-house team and a virtual team is the lack of face-to-face contact. In order to effectively manage and get the most out of your virtual team, consider implementing the following best practices.
Begin with a face-to-face meeting.
If possible, get your virtual team together at the start of the project to provide an overview of the project and indicate how the group will be expected to interact. Even if you are hiring an outside agency who is supplying several team members, it will be a good opportunity for everyone to meet and greet each other from the client and supplier sides. To accommodate team members not able to attend, there are several tools that can be used to facilitate face-to-face meetings, such as Google Hangouts, Skype and other internet meeting/communication programs.
Clearly define deliverables.
Usually by the time the project gets underway, the scope and details of what is to be delivered have been outlined in a Request for Proposal (RFP), Creative Brief, or some other document. It doesn’t hurt to review these with the team when meeting for the first time so everyone knows what all the parts are and who is responsible for what.
Identify communication tools.
Clearly identify what tools will be used for your virtual team to communicate. E-mail is obvious; however, some companies may have tools that are used to support good communication between team members – inside or outside of the company such as: conference calling hubs, Basecamp or other project management/communication tools. Likewise, files may be shared using tools such as: File Transfer Protocol (FTP) sites, Google Drive, Drop Box or other such programs. It will be important to ensure everyone has proper access and passwords so the tools can be used effectively.
Ensure information is exchanged.
A big difference between office teams and virtual teams is impromptu information exchanges, which, for office teams can occur over cubicle walls, in passing in a hallway or when getting a coffee in the kitchen. The methods available to virtual teams for sharing information include e-mail, text messages and other social media avenues (if set up for the project). In order to be effective, a main source of information sharing should be established (i.e. email or project management programs such as Basecamp) and each virtual team member will need to check the preferred messaging system regularly and respond promptly. This maintains the efficient exchange of information essential to any team’s success.
Establish a consistent meeting schedule.
At the very outset of the project a regular meeting schedule should be established where updates on the achievement of milestones can be reviewed and discussed. Depending on the project, it may be necessary to meet with some team members more regularly than others or some may only be required at certain timeframes of the project. Whatever the requirements, they should be defined and clearing communicated at the outset of the project.