Millions of words have been written on how to handle a physical project with a physical team. Heck, if you wanted to read them all, you’d hardly have time to actually run your team! The area that has received less attention is on how to run a digital team. The thing is, that’s an important area as more and more teams are no longer located in the same space. Instead, they might be in different places, different countries and different time zones.
All that means that you’ve got to consider some things and their impact that might never have occurred to you before. Here we’re going to talk about some such things. So that you’re prepared and can take steps to make sure your team runs well and stays on track.
Start by defining how you’re going to work
When you meet face to face it is obvious how you’re going to communicate. When you’re in the online world, that can be more difficult. For that reason, the very first thing that you need to do is select the platform that you’re going to use. Are you going to communicate via email, slack or some other platform? Where and how will you share files that other people need access to? What platform should people check for updates about where you are at in the program?
These things are important, particularly if you’re working with bigger teams. For if you don’t have them set up, there is a good chance that people aren’t working on the same version of documents, others are missing updates that are being put on line and your team is often talking past each other. This is what used to happen all the time in e-learning until people started focusing on this task, so take a page from their book.
Define roles and obligations
The next stage is to make sure that roles and obligations are well defined. Only when everybody knows what they’re supposed to be doing, can work proceed apace. What is more, when you make it clear what everybody is supposed to be doing through a central document that also immediately makes it clear what tasks are being left undone.
Also, make sure that people correctly understand what is expected of them. This may seem like a trivial step, but it is anything but. In the real world is it often possible to see when you’ve not been understood correctly by the facial expressions of the people around you. In the digital sphere, you don’t have those signals.
To compensate for that make sure you ask people if they’ve understood everything or if there is anything unclear. Even better, get people to summarize what they think you expect them to do – in that way, you’ll have a much better idea if you’re actually understanding each other or talking past each other while believing that you’re agreeing.
Online a big problem is that you don’t have the same number of communication channels as you do offline. You can’t use tone, pauses or facial expressions as effectively. That means there is a lot more chance for miscommunication.
The best way to get past that is to give examples. So, if you want an article written in a certain way, point to an example article, or get one written up (here are some reviews of companies to help you with that). That will allow the person to refer back to it frequently and work towards creating something similar.
You know that saying about pictures being worth a thousand words? Well, they could have said that about good examples as well.
Sometimes it’s just a great idea for everybody to be online at the same time so that you can actually talk. I don’t know if you prefer everybody typing into a messaging app or if you prefer something like a conference call on Skype. It really is up to you, but whichever tool you decide to go with, make sure that everybody is there so that you can discuss what has happened, offer praise where it’s needed and prod people along when it’s not.
The advantage in the meeting isn’t just that they help everybody keep track of what’s going on, but they also create a sense of community and groupies. These things can help people push that little bit harder when it’s necessary to deliver a great product.
Time zones can be your enemy or your friend
If you’ve got team members in different time zones, that can be really hard, or it can be really useful. It depends on how you deal with it. If you micromanage or need constant access to that person, it’s obviously going to be hell, as either they or you are going to have to work at ungodly hours.
If on the other hand, the person can be given a responsibility and left to their own devices, then it can be incredibly useful. For example, I’ve worked on a number of teams as a writer, where at the end of their day the team communicates a text that they need. Since it’s the beginning of my own day, I can then get straight onto it and have a version ready for them by the time they once again start on their new day.
In this way even though nobody works at an unreasonable hour, the work on the project can continue around the clock and people don’t need to spend as much time waiting around for other people to finish their part before they can continue.
Stay in touch with the right people
If you find somebody that you can easily work with digitally, make sure you stay in touch with them. After all, as working digitally is still quite new, there are going to be a lot of people still struggling with learning the necessary skills. That means that finding the right people for your team is going to be harder than it is in the physical world, which adds a lot more uncertainty into these kinds of projects.
That uncertainty can in part be offset if you’ve got at least a few people who you can trust to do the job that you ask of them. Then you can focus your attention and your time on making sure new team members understand their job correctly and do what is needed from them.
The great thing about working digitally is that it is constantly getting easier. That means that you can access the talent pool of the whole world without ever having to leave your office or your hometown. That’s great. What’s more, the technology is quickly getting better and working together on these kinds of projects getting easier.
That said, it isn’t in anyway the same as working with a physical team. You’ve got to be prepared for that what entails. It means that you’ve got to deal with problems that would never have occurred if you were all sharing an office together. Only if you realize that and accept the dangers that lurk below the surface can you make this kind of thing a success.