It is commonly accepted that group focus, sharing talents, and experiencing the energy of common goals cannot be replicated in a virtual world.  Many are afraid that cyber meetings will remove much of the synergy people experience when developing and working as a team.  Have you resisted the virtual model of project management?  

Virtual project management is becoming more prevalent and more necessary as the physical work environment expands in the global village where we live and work.  It is no longer possible to gather stakeholders into a room with chairs, tables, coffee and a multi-media projector.  They must be gathered from long distance into a “virtual room” with limited audio and restricted visual connections. To many people, this seems like a poor substitute for in-person meetings.

After 25 years of IT experience, and working as a Project Manager dealing with global acquisitions and divestitures of multi-national companies, I’ve grown to love and appreciate the benefits of virtual project management and I believe you will, too.  I’ve discovered four advantages of meeting in a virtual environment that go beyond saving travel time and money.

The Four Virtues

1)   The virtue of muted sensory awareness 

You have probably heard that a large percentage of communication is non-verbal.  So how can you possibly eliminate all that non-verbal communication and call it a virtue?  Think about the objectives of an IT project.  Do you want the project to be influenced by nonverbal ques such as style of dress, scent, appearance or body language?  The subtle element in nonverbal communication can be much too subjective in its effect on the members of the project team.  Objectivity and outcome are best achieved when communication is “channeled” and limited to voice only. The playing field is essentially leveled.  “Charm” and “powerful presence” don’t make any points!  Rolling eyes and shrugging shoulders can’t influence discussion. 

Even when a team is geographically close, the project manager should consider meeting virtually to eliminate the distractions of physical proximity. Clear, concise communication is best achieved voice-to-voice and through the written word on computer monitors for all to read and respond to as a team.  An added benefit is that there is a written and/or audio recording of the meeting for later reference and clarification.

2)   The virtue of efficient time use

Saving travel time and costs is often the reason virtual projects are considered.  What company doesn’t want to save valuable resources?  But there are other efficiencies gained by going virtual.  How many hour long on-site project meetings does one attend only to give a 5-minute update, and then sit through the rest of the meeting waiting for an occasional conversation that may be relevant?  In a virtual meeting, you can do other work at your desk while participating in the meeting.  I know this can be a “scary” thought to a project manager, but it is just a matter of accepting the fact that people want to (and should) use their time productively.  Don’t take it personally, but chances are the on-site project team members are doing the same thing in the meeting room on their mobile phones.

3)   The virtue of thinking on your feet 

I am good at thinking on my feet – literally!  Some of my most creative thoughts come when I am walking around (pacing, actually) and I can only do this if I am virtual.  Being virtual and having a wireless headset allows one to stand up, stretch, get a cup of coffee, all without disturbing anyone. This is hardly possible in a meeting room full of people without being disruptive.

4)   The virtue of using your customized environment 

At my desk, I have everything just the way I want it.  All my programs are open and spread across multiple screens.  My mouse and keyboard are perfectly positioned to quickly provide important information and record conversations.  Even my chair and desk are set up for my best work. Why would I want to hinder myself by moving to a meeting room?  At my desk, I can ping someone to answer a question that was asked that would otherwise have to wait until another time.  I can quickly access that older spreadsheet that was referenced. I have everything I need at my fingertips. This kind of efficiency isn’t possible in a meeting room with co-workers.

Embracing the Virtual Model  

You need to consider virtual project management for your organization.  Once implemented, I believe you will find it an indispensable methodology for the company toolbox.  So, until the “rise of the machines” (which will give us a whole new reason to go virtual), you should consider the virtues of virtual project management.

Scott Michelich

Sr. Project Manager | Global Acquisitions and Divestitures, IT Client Environment | Afidence