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Optimizing project management using text messaging, IMs, and Skype

Project management consultant describes best practices and useful tools like IMs, text messages and Skype to manage remote workers.

Michelle LaBrosse, founder, Cheetah Learning
Michelle LaBrosse, founder, Cheetah Learning

Today, the modern work structure has moved out of buildings and offices and into more convenient realms. People have been enabled to work, around the clock not only from their desks, but now from their cars, favorite coffee shops, and pretty much anywhere else where internet or at least cell service are available. There is a growing trend among the business world with co-workers communicating and performing their jobs located all over the country and the world.

Working in a non-traditional office setting isn't difficult as long as you have the right tools, which are easy to find. In fact, most of us already have them or have access to them. Texting, instant messaging, micro-blogging, Skyping...the list goes on and on. However, these tools are only as good as the users, so clear communication and the culture of the workplace must be used in tandem with all of your gadgets.

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To ensure that work can be successfully completed outside of the workplace, managers should set up ground rules so that their teams can increase productivity and reap the rewards of the virtual workforce. Here are six easy suggestions to keep things afloat even if you are not physically in the office:

Rules of the Road for Virtual Velocity

1.Build trust in-person, and grow that trust with clear expectations. In order for virtual workers to be effective, there has to be trust. Trust doesn't happen magically. It is built when you bring your team together for training or team building, and then it continues to grow with clear expectations consistently set by leaders.

2.Manage results, not activity. In the physical office environment, "busy work" often gets mistaken for real work. In the virtual environment, when you can't see what people are doing, the key is to manage results. Set expectations and monitor the results, not the daily activities.

3.Schedule regular communication.
It's important that there is a regular time for reporting both progress and potential pitfalls to the team. This keeps people on track and gives everyone the discipline of a team check-in.

4.Create communication that saves time. Have you created an email culture that wastes time with endless conversation that can take hours to read? Does your team spend hours trying to solve an issue with an email conversation that could have been solved with a thirty-minute conference call? With email being a critical tool in our work environments, it's important to create a new culture of effectiveness around it. Ask yourself: how you can make your team's email communication even more productive?

5.Create standards that build a cohesive culture.
What are your standards of quality? How do you define excellence? What does your brand mean to each employee? Making sure everyone knows the answers to those three questions is even more important when people are scattered geographically. Virtually, you need to create cohesion with excellence and a sense of pride in what your company stands for.

6.Rules of responsiveness.
When people are working remotely, it's important that you define what your rules of responsiveness are for your culture. How quickly are people expected to return an email, an instant message or a phone call? What is your protocol when people are out of the office or on vacation? If you're in a customer service environment, it's important to have clear expectations regarding how to respond to all customer inquiries

Working virtually is not rocket-science, but it does require new rules for our workforce. These tips are a good starting point for your team as you build your own best practices for effective project management in the virtual world. Enjoy the journey and invite your team to help you create a powerful work culture.


About the Author:

Michelle LaBrosse, PMP, is an entrepreneurial powerhouse with a penchant for making success easy, fun and fast. She is the founder of Cheetah Learning, the author of the Cheetah Success Series, and a prolific blogger whose mission is to bring Project Management to the masses.

She is a graduate of the Harvard Business School's Owner President Manager's (OPM) program and also holds engineering degrees from Syracuse, University and the University, Dayton.


This was last published in July 2009

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