Communication may be considered the most critical component for any project but especially for a virtual project. Within an office or a project based within a single local, face-to-face communication is such a given it really is not thought about. We know with a virtual project it can be a luxury given the travel costs. As a result, virtual project teams rely even more than other teams on technology to help take the place of in-person communication.
We already know and use many different technologies to help gather and distribute information such as email, instant messaging, voice mail, smart phones, conference call, video conferencing, Twitter, Facebook, or other social networking tools. The important component to properly leveraging these technologies is there be a clear and coherent communication plan as to when to use each and why.
The project manager should work in collaboration with the project leads in order to understand what technology is available and culturally acceptable. The biggest mistake is assuming folks are on the same page. Make sure that each person on the team elects to read, understand, and follow the communication plan during the life of the project.
It is also important that project leads have a consistent daily or weekly call, depending on the needs and phase of the project. This again is to make sure that the leadership is on the same page as to the issues, the status, risks, key deliverables, and general management of the project. There is no substitute for real time information or as close to it as you can get.
Realizing that cost of travel is an issue especially in this economic environment, the ability to bring the team together as one unit to a single location preferably to kick the project off will produce huge benefits throughout the life of the project. Early meetings of the entire project team are important to establish the teams direction, identity, and trust.
Communicating regularly with each team member in a one-on-one setting can ensure individual team members will feel valued and connected. The more the project manager and leads know about what team members are doing, and the more information that can be shared, the more successful the team will be. The result should be a strong virtual team that is successful, productive and trusting.
When communicating virtually, it is much easier for misunderstandings to arise. The project manager, project leads, and team members need to be more aware of listening or reading the message. Subtle changes either in voice inflection, vocabulary, phrasing, and actual content can all be tips to an underlying issue.
Finally, if English is a second language to team members, it is very beneficial to make sure that the rest of the team is very conscious of that and do their best to not use slag or company-speak abbreviations that are not well known. Be concise in order to make the point clearly for all.