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Virtual project collaboration: frailing or failing?

Virtual project collaboration occurs when employees and staff work together to complete a common goal while being geographically dispersed.

Virtual project collaboration seems like an easy feat, peripherally, especially when project managers are certain that goals are communicated to employees (virtual team members). What tends to occur during employee engagement is ambiguity around their team expectations, no set goals for the team, inactive management manifestation, team members not working to their strengths because no skills assessment is provided, and no proxies when team members go MIC Missing in Cyberspace.

Empirical data from my book, Working at a Distance: A Global Business Model for Virtual Team Collaboration (VTML), revealed that participants had worked in virtual teams yet did not particularly enjoy their experiences. For example, some of the main causes of not enjoying virtual team experiences were lack of participation from all team members, understanding of project goals and expectations, and lack of management supervision.

Project managers could very well assume that their expectations for the team project are cogent, communicated, and achievable. However, unless there is reciprocated understanding from each team member regarding the project, the performance and communication gap expand and the distance collaborative team project is at risk of frailing or failing.

The VTML offers practical approaches for virtual teamwork. The main premise consists of management defining goals, objectives, tasks, and deliverables. Each component reflects the previous one with goals being the foundational principle. Goals explain desired outcomes for a project. Objectives then define specific team members allocated for project completion. Tasks demonstrate specific steps that virtual team members will complete in a collaborative effort. Once tasks are established, deliverables are developed. Deliverables are tangible or intangible items that virtual team members present as evidence that goals, objectives, and tasks are met.

Here are other specific, viable concepts that enable management to lead virtual team project collaboration from the VTML.

People-driven not object-driven: A good concept that management should apply is to remember that people are executing the distance work. Technology is only the vehicle. At some point(s), there must be voice contact with employees working remotely to express concerns and deliverable status.

Hierarchical for Virtual Team Collaboration: Employees must know how to resolve issues or where to request help from in an ordered fashion. Proxies must be setup in the event of life issues that causes slow progression of project deliverables. Employees need consistent support throughout the duration of the distance project.

Clear Process Standards: Vital to virtual project collaboration is management developing and understanding process standards to disseminate the information to employees. Process standards reflect guidelines to be accomplished during project development that mirror the companys mission(s) and goals.

Assessment Capabilities: Managers should have assessments in place to evaluate project effectiveness and critique employees project performance. Assessments should also allow employees to provide feedback about the distance project.

Working remotely requires a concerted effort that begins with management and trickles to employees. Management is the model that virtual employees will look to for answers and guidance for virtual project collaboration.

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  1. Cassandra Smith
    Cassandra Smith 25 June 2014, 04:01 PM

    Merv and readers,You mentioned a crucial point for distance work. Technology issues and connectivity are still a concern for working at a distance. Manageable groups are ideal even if this requires more meetings with specific virtual team members attentive to a task or deliverable. There are several issues working at a distance that requires more effort on project managers and organizers to combat and resolve. Participants at a distance have a significant part as well; They must engage and be able to work effectively at a distance. A lot of that has to do with understanding technologies and managers not assuming that participants can successfully navigate these type technologies. A good suggestion is often a tutorial of the system accessible to participants before using the platform during the meeting or distance work. Minute steps are often overlooked when working remotely. That is why the VTML is inclusive of preliminary steps for remote workers. Thanks for the discussion. Cassie 

  2. Merv Wyeth
    Merv Wyeth 25 June 2014, 09:51 AM

    Hi Cassie,I really enjoyed your post and believe it has hit the virtual nail right on the head. On far too many occasions I have been left feeling disenfranchised within a virtual meeting placed in solitary confinement even! This particular issue is exacerbated when you are on the receiving end of webinar where there is little or no opportunity to engage with the speaker or otherwise participate.In my experience, probably the worst scenario, is dialling-in to a meeting where the majority of participants are in the room, straining to hear and make sense of what is going on and being quickly forgotten from those within the inner circle. In my opinion it takes a good Chair and the right technology to address this issue.  I believe it is important for meeting planners to think carefully through the process of the meeting. This includes being familiar with the technology and having a back-up plan for when things go wrong which they probably will!It is important to remember that [volunteer] participants are just one click away from leaving the session and with the average attention span of a human being just eight seconds less than that of a gold fish, they will probably be off doing something more rewarding.Being someone who is particularly keen on designing high value events [#eventroi] I do believe that this is an area for which the project management community should look to acquire and hone their skills. I dare say it is a vital competency in this Digital Age. It is also a pre-cursor to effective Global working.I do like the sound of your Virtual Team Business Model [VTBM] and using member skills, personality types and the strength of each participant to maximise benefit. I, personally, hope we can use your experience and wisdom to galvanise activity and make improvements in this vital area. Merv