How to Successfully Manage Globally Dispersed Teams While Wearing Slippers

WFH. The first time I read those three letters, I had no idea what they meant. Despite my vast knowledge base of acronyms, that particular three-letter combo had never before crossed my path. Little did I know how those three letters would change my life and the lives of so many professionals throughout the modern business landscape.
 
As more and more companies are evolving globally and adapting to support a virtual workforce, opportunities to work from home (yes, WFH) are becoming a reality.
 
According to the latest report by the Global Workplace Analytics and Telework Research Network [1], 50% of the US workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least partial telework, and approximately 20-25% of the workforce teleworks at some frequency. Additionally, telecommuting among U.S. employees (not including self-employed Americans) increased 73% from 2005 to 2011.
 
As a program manager at XPLANE, I engage with team members and clients dispersed across the world. And because our work is not restricted by a location, employees have the option to WFH (work from home), WFCS (work from coffee shop), WFA (work from Amsterdam), or, on those rare occasions, WFO (work from office)… you get the idea!
 
“Today, technology, business needs, and changing employee lifestyles encourage, and often demand, mobility and the ability to work anytime, anywhere”[2]. By promoting flexible work practices, XPLANE attracts a virtual workforce of top talent and supports a balance between work and private lives, which in turn, leads to better performance and service to clients. Employees are happier, motivated, and more productive, and XPLANE is better able to adapt to the needs of our customers in an ever-changing global environment.
 
So when your project team isn’t in the same room (or possibly even in the same country), how do you manage a project successfully?
 

Step 1. Clear and Concise Communication is King

When clients and working teams span countries, cultures, languages, and coffee shops, the project goals, timelines, and workflow processes need to be defined as early in the engagement as possible. Unlike face-to-face meetings where body language and eye contact can communicate: “What you’re saying is completely derailing the conversation!” remote meetings must rely only on virtual measures. During an initial client kick-off call, reconfirm objectives and assumptions, establish delivery milestones, and set expectations for each phase of the project. This will help the team stay focused on the task at hand.
 

Step 2. It’s Not Just The Tools, It’s How You Use Them

Online meeting, desktop sharing, and video conferencing tools, such as Slack, Skype, and WebEx, enable teams to collaborate and communicate in real time. Dial in your remote meeting experience, so it’s positive and effective for all involved. Nothing distracts a meeting more then 15 minutes of “Can you hear me now?” A secure, cloud-based platform, such as Box or Google Drive, consolidates file storage and tracks file sharing and comments. Pro Tip: keep a world clock on your desktop, like World Time Buddy. When you are managing multiple time zones, this will help you be mindful if you’re cutting into someone’s dinnertime.
 

Step 3. Virtual High Fives

After the final elements are shipped and the client has given the stamp of approval, it’s time to acknowledge and recognize the achievements and contributions of the team. When you’re in the same office this usually means high fives or happy hour.  But when you’re working across continents, and communicating with someone on a screen, it is easy to forget that there’s a real person on the other end that deserves some recognition. So even if you can’t clink cups, find ways to celebrate remotely. At XPLANE, employees send “Shout Outs” on the social media channels, and each quarter every employee is given $25 to treat another XPLANEr to a little something special. These little celebrations of good work and gratitude serve to strengthen the cohesiveness of the team, increase motivation, and improve performance.
 
WFH is more than just an employee perk or entitlement; its advantages benefit the businesses and clients they serve. Although flexible working may not be right for every industry, companies who are able to adopt and support a virtual workforce through the use of project management best practices, collaborative mobile technology, and promotion of a positive remote working culture can enhance efficiency, improve performance, and increase productivity to better adapt to the evolving and diverse global business landscape of tomorrow.