In the past, a team almost always resided in one location, and where the company was spread of multiple locations, each location tended to operate as an autonomous unit reporting into a head office. The reason is obvious: it wasn't easy to communicate and collaborate with people who were not in the same physical location. The communication has improved, and so can the management.
Now it's quite common to have team members that collaborate and work together every day that are physically located in many different places. In some cases, you may have team members that are working from home or from satellite offices. This is becoming a popular model as people are striving for work/life balance and moving away from a long commute to a central office.
All of this is more common today because of advances in technology and software. People can access your company's computer network remotely with almost the same speed as if they were in the office. Software is available to share documents and make updates available real-time to the rest of the team. The team can get together as needed using phone conferencing. You can even see each other if you like using teleconferencing or utilising video technology over the web. Free software like Skype (www.skype.com) has made the world a much smaller place.
That's all good news. The not-so-good news is that it is still easier to manage a team when the members are located together. There's no technology that can take the place of talking to them face-to-face. This is a challenge I have everyday, with both my team and customers being spread across Sydney and Newcastle offices.
These ideas can help you better manage a dispersed project team.
1. Attitude. Both manager and team members must be especially diligent and sensitive to collaboration and teamwork concerns when part of the team is remote. It's easy for a remote worker to feel isolated from what's going on with the rest of the team. People who're working remotely must be proactive communicators and must be especially good at working independently and meeting their deadlines.
2. Communication. The project manager needs to be proactive in communicating to ensure the team works well together. There should be regularly scheduled meetings where the remote workers attend in person (weekly, monthly or quarter depending on the distance). If this is difficult, try doing it by Video Conferencing or Conference Calls.
3. Technology. Make sure that your remote team members have the right hardware, software, and other equipment to get their work done. This will include, Intranet's, High Speed Connectivity, Mobile Connectivity, VPNs etc.
There is inherent risk associated with remote team members. This is increased due to physical difference away and time differences. It's hard to grow the same culture in satellite locations, especially if the team member is working alone. You have to work hard to make sure they feel part of the team and are not kept in the dark compared with people working out of the main office.