To state a rather obvious point, the Internet and web-based technologies have enabled organizations to manage projects using teams and employees in different geographic locations across the globe. However, despite the increase in such activities, effective team effort still continues to be challenging. Here are a few high-level guidelines that can help:
- Plan for miscommunication and misunderstanding: Misunderstandings happen between two people in neighboring cubicles. And they will always occur if one person doesn’t have the entire information that the other person has. It is definitely worse with people in different locations when information flow is highly limited and each person interprets incoming communication according to their knowledge and experience.
If you expect and plan for such problems, you will be pro-active in providing as much information as possible so that the other person can understand what you are talking about. If you don’t plan for that, both sides will get frustrated at the other party’s “incompetence” and “lack of understanding”.
- Use different methods of communication: Don’t restrict yourself to one way of communication. Sometimes, emails are fine. Sometimes, you need to pick up the phone and talk to people. Maybe, you should use a desktop sharing tool to demonstrate an application or show an example. Or, use a whiteboard to illustrate a point through diagrams. Or use video conferencing, if available. If everything else fails, maybe someone should fly out to the other location and spend a few days.In simple terms, do what it takes to get the information across and don’t limit your options of how you can communicate.
- Write it down: Although this is true for all projects, it takes on a different dimension in remote collaboration. During phone calls and discussions, many points may get lost simply because of fundamental human limitations. It is very difficult to remember everything said during a talk, even if everyone is paying full attention (which is also not always the case). Also, while a normal conversation includes information conveyed through gestures and facial expressions, this is not possible in a non-video teleconference.So use documents to spell out what each side wants. And when there are questions and clarifications about the content in the document, put that back in the document. This leaves less things to memory or chance. Any disputes are easily resolved by referring back to the document.
There are many tactics that will help, but I won’t go into them here. The important thing to realize is that the nature of such collaboration is fundamentally different, harder and more complex than one-office interaction. It requires different methods and a whole deal of patience and perseverance to make it work. But to directly apply tactics in local collaboration to a remote collaboration situation and expect them to work seamlessly is a hopeless dream.