"Managing Without Walls" – A review


    The case for many workers in the US and around the world is that they have been working in virtual environments for some time now. The virtual environments may vary; from completely virtual where the person is working independently from home or a small office and rarely sees the people face-to-face, that they work with on a daily basis. To other environments where the worker is in an office with one part of their team and other parts of the team are co-located in one or more other locations. Whatever virtual situation you may be in, if you are managing a virtual team and are fairly new to it, then “Managing without Walls” can help you. 

    A lot has already been written on ways and methods to communicate virtually, the different tools, etc., and Chapter 9 of this book is another one of those. However, I think this one is a must read chapter, though I fear it probably will not be read as thoroughly as it could be. The authors give good examples of how to thoroughly write an email so that there is no question about what the person is asking about, when it is due, etc. In an age where more and more people are using their phones to read and respond to their emails, we are getting back to very short email responses which lead to more questions than they solve. May as well pick up that phone you are using to answer an email and talk to the person…which is also stressed in this book (as well as many others and something I cannot stress enough as well!). 

    At least part of Chapter 3 will not be relevant for many people who just find themselves managing a remote team, they usually have no choice over who is on the team, or where that team is going to be working from.  The chapter on Outsourcing is not really relevant, we have alot written on that already. Chapters 6 and 8 would work for managing any team, whether it is remote or not, does not matter. So if you are new to project management, they may be helpful. 

    I usually think I am doing a bad job of managing remotely if I have to continually be up both early and up late to talk with the team (I deal with a 10 hour time difference to Ukraine). One or the other is okay on a daily basis, but not at both ends, unless there is an emergency, then sometimes this type of constant connection is necessary. Chapter 12 gives some insights in to managing emergency or high-risk situations in a remote situation. The natural instinct for the one person who is remote (a lot of times the manager) is to want to be on the phone all of the time getting continual updates. But this often interferes with the other side being able to get the work done to handle the disaster.  At the same time the other side has to be willing to communicate more often to explain the status of what is happening. The chapter outlines good suggestions for how to handle communications during an emergency situation.  Other issues touched on in this chapter include risk planning.  For example; planning for personnel issues such as when one employee leaves and starts recruiting others to join him/her, public transportation issues which can affect teams in the US, and be also disruptive to teams in other countries where public transport is the chief means of getting to work.  I love this statement which should help anyone kick start their risk management plan; “If the things you are concerned about for your project never change, it is like continuing to worry about your 12-year old concerns when you are 55!  This is not a very effective or a good use of your time. It suggests that little progress had been made in the meantime.” (pg. 318).

    If you are new to managing virtual teams, especially helpful to you will be Appendix A – The Virtual skill set checklists which will help you analyze in what management areas are you ready to manage a remote team and what areas do you still need to work on. Unlike many other books on managing virtual teams, the book does not emphasize the areas where managing a remote team is different from managing a co-located team, save for two areas; the politics of a virtual team and managing conflict within a virtual team.

    Whether you are brand new to managing virtual teams, or have been at it for a year or more, a project manager will find something new in this book, just read it though by picking out the chapters most relevant for you

    Managing Without Walls, by Colleen Garton & Kevin Wegryn. copyright Oct 2006.



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