Part 1: The challenges of managing global projects remotely

Distance

This is the first in a series of articles on this subject which will cover many aspects of managing global projects remotely, particularly when project teams are located in different parts of the world. I will cover all of the challenges I have faced, and explain how we, as a team, turned them into successful relationships.

I work for a large multinational health insurance company and have been managing global projects here for a number of years. I work from home with occasional visits to one of our main headquarters in Connecticut. That means that all of my projects are managed remotely.

There are a couple of different sets of challenges when managing projects this way, not just because the project teams are not collocated, but also because the team is made up of men and women from several different countries, each with their own culture and value system.

In each of these articles, I will address one of these challenges, and my intent is to cover them all by the time I have finished the series. If you are facing challenges I have not yet covered, please feel free to describe those in a comment, and I will do my best to incorporate them in a subsequent article.

Distance

This is not a new challenge as workforces become more and more distributed across different office locations, telecommuting, and the use of resources outside of the US. In these situations, meetings are held via conference calls, and in most cases, the project team members are disembodied voices at the other end of a speakerphone. Most of us are familiar by now with the assertion that 80% of communication is nonverbal, much of that being body language. When you are in a meeting around a conference room table, the facilitator can easily determine who is engaged and who is not. He/she can then use a number of techniques to re-engage that person.

However, when you can’t see the person, there is no easy way to tell when someone is answering an email, on another conference call at the same time, driving home from work, or otherwise not fully engaged in the matter at hand. Anyone who has experienced this will agree that you eventually find out because a question posed to that person is not quickly responded to, and the person will usually apologize and ask that the question be repeated.

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