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Leading virtual projects - how can you lead projects across time-zones?

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In July, over two hundred people joined me for an hour to explore leading virtual projects. You can find details of this APM webinar, along with the recording, outputs and slides here.
More than two thirds of the participants work on two or more virtual projects and a handful run ten or more virtual projects concurrently. This can be really tricky and, as you can imagine, I was inundated with questions, comments and suggestions from participants. As it was impossible to all of the questions live, the APM agreed that it would be a good idea to write a few blog posts to cover more, including some practical tips. Here is the second, which focuses on how to work effectively across time zones.
Working with Australia!
Another challenge. With Australian office hours rarely overlapping with UK office hours, when your project includes team members from the antipodes, someone is going to have to work late to join live meetings. Add in a few other countries such as India and the USA, and it becomes very difficult to meet live. Working together asynchronously as well as at the same time becomes even more important, along with a really good team space where you can share information.

Figure: Showing the time-place combinations available for meetings. Diagram inspired by Eddie Obeng.

I notice that Australians are often asked to get up in the middle of their night to attend virtual meetings lead by project managers based in the UK. While this might mean that people in Pune, London and New York might be able to attend close to their normal office hours, it isn’t fair on the Australian!

Remember the need for equality I spoke about in the previous blog around trust? To build trust in the team and to strengthen the sense of equity and consistency, rotate the meeting hours so that everyone takes it in turn to get up in the middle of the night.

On top of this, make sure that you have a good reason for live meetings, not just the fact that two weeks has passed since the previous meeting. Look at the time-place grid to see what use you could make of asynchronous tools such as shared project spaces online and social media. Perhaps if everyone has to take it in turns to ‘share the pain’ of working anti-social hours for live meetings, then they will put more effort into working in alternative ways? How has this worked for you?
This post has been short! Next time we’ll consider what to do when you miss the dynamics and nuances of conversation and people’s physical reactions.


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