Majority of the challenges discussed above are either due to lack of effective team management, communication gaps among divided or dispersed team or having an environment that benefits few and conflicts others. In this section we will be discussing following key factors that can help overcome these challenges. Following key factors would help with virtual project management in various ways, for example some of these factors can prevent or minimize these challenges in the very beginning of a project, some of these can be implemented in event of a challenge or issue, some will require good investment in terms of finance, resources, education etc. in the beginning but in the long term the benefits will be very prominent. As by each day new methodologies and technologies are being introduced in the market to facilitate virtual global projects, new challenges will also arise which following factors can help with as is or would need some tweaking to accommodate the changes.
Communication. The biggest contributor that helps in overcoming these challenges is to have excellent means of communication such as in-person meeting, video conference, audio conference, email/document (in that order) which also boosts success rate of collaborative efforts. Giving excellent means of communication might not resolve the issue right away but will help to identify the issues in the early stages when the impact is at minimum. Proper and continuous communication helps in finding the gaps among teams, helps in keeping the project scope from derailing, prevents virtual teams from producing results that are less than acceptable etc. Also, ensures the team members are not working in their own isolated environment but rather have collaborative culture among themselves. Author Hakkinen says that “The members of the community both need support themselves, as well as to be able to offer support to others in times of need.”
The challenge of having no social interactions among team members from different geographical locations can also be addressed up to an extent by using professional social networking/communication tools. Some organizations have their own internal social network tool similar to Facebook where employees can communicate with their colleagues that they have never met but through various features of such communication tools they can socially integrate in a much better way.
Focus on individuals. As we highlighted in the challenges section of this paper, the issues and challenges related to individuals with various personalities and traits which makes it difficult to integrate with team members who possess opposite personalities. Team lead can turn this challenge into the strength of the team if the lead pays careful attention towards each individual personality and skills and provide training appropriate for that individual or which compliments the personality and/or skills. Learning individual personalities also helps in assigning the work that fits the best. In some cases, individuals can be provided with a focused training to improves their lacking areas or to make already strong skills/traits even more strong. Erin E. Makarius and Barbara Z. Larson (2017) support the same and write “Second, we suggest the need for increased focus on the way individual virtual workers think—that is, the role of individual cognition in virtual work.”
Establish and enforce guidelines. To address the challenge of virtual workers working in their own preferred manner, certain guidelines can be established. These guidelines need to be well documented with very detailed, precise and clear instructions. Erin E. Makarius and Barbara Z. Larson (2017) “Training virtual workers to develop communication norms can lead to performance similar to that of face-to-face groups.” (Academy of Management Perspectives
It should also be ensured that these guidelines are available to everyone and are being utilized properly. In our work experience we have seen many times that the guideline documents are created with the best of the contents but are not used as often as supposed to or individuals still practice their own preferred method hence after guidelines are established, its usage and negligence should also be monitored and tracked properly which will not just improve overall virtual project success rate but in general it will help quality assurance that is consistent throughout the team for this project and any other future project.
Investment in right tools and technologies. When it is required to invest in a new tool or technology and/or enhance an existing one, it is very crucial to have a very well-thought-out plan, impact analysis done, viability report conducted etc. because technology that is the enabler of managing global virtual projects or supports it would be determining the overall success rate of your global virtual projects. We have seen in many organizations that their teams on different geographical locations use various tool to accomplish the same task and that could be due to limitations and restrictions of that location. That’s why it adds value to invest in a tool or technology that single handedly takes care or your team’s need and is a viable option for each location. Having your team working or using the same tool ensures consistency or teams quality and team members can provide better training to each other or troubleshoot an issue with the tool, on the other side team members who use different tool for the same objective often finds it difficult to get help from their own team in case they are stuck or troubleshooting an issue with tools. In terms of finance and budget, buying license for a single tool for many users is much less expensive than buying license for many tools for few people, the money saved from this suggestion can be utilized else where such training for the tool itself, buy a new tool that can automate a manual repetitive work and so on. Our earlier points that we highlighted to face challenges of virtual projects can also benefit from investing in a tool for the particular cause, for example, in communication section above we discussed about social network/communication tool, if an organization does not have one or does not have enough feature to be a viable option then the saving from this can be allocated for this tool.
Promote self-decision making. In our work experience most of the time projects are put on hold because responsible team members are waiting for a specific person to decide if the product they made is ready or not, in virtual teams this issue only gets worst. Many hours if not days are wasted due to such delays. On the other hand, if each individual is made responsible to decide if his/her output and/results are final then the project can move on. This takes great deal of trust but is very rewarding in the long run. Instead of making decision after a full product has be produced, it is more efficient to break the product in smaller sections and let the responsible resources for each section decide if their portion is ready to move forward. Here, we would like to point out that although the impact if self-decision making is great but if this is not implemented in the right manner it could have very drastic results. For example, if a resource does not pay attention to the details of his/her portion of the work and a faulty is moved forward then the next person will receive a faulty input which will take much more time to be determined and then the whole product will need to take a step back so that first person can fix, this will cost the team and organization great deal of time and money not to mention rushing at this point will also compromise the overall quality. Hence team lead needs to assess each resources’ capabilities, provide training if need, make sure the guidelines are provided and then give or promote decision-making to those individuals. Among these factors we discovered that having openness in the team promotes decision-making, teams where the goals and objective of the organization or the product are not cleared and not discussed openly leaves the room for doubts which in long term.
Transparency. Having transparency in a global virtual project prevents many of the challenges and issues that we addressed in human challenges section above such as challenge of people working in their isolated environment which hides potential issues until the very end and can compromise time, cost and quality of the project. Have a centralized location where every can submit their work (such as: Microsoft One place, Google drive, dropbox etc.) which is shared among team members and team members can assign a resource to review the work of whole team or ask each team member to have their work reviewed by at least one more person from the team. This does seem like a time-consuming process and it really is if review is being done in detail, but it makes the whole team more cautious because now they know that anyone can see and comment on their work, they pay more attention to make sure there are no issues. In addition to this, if the manager and or lead need to track progress of a project that he/she does not need to request and wait for response from the team but can get the immediate results by accessing the shared environment and view the progress.