I want to ask you to write an article about your experiences with team management via the internet. How do you deal with people, what channels do you use to communicate (e-mail, IRC?) and how does it differ from working with people in real life on a game?
The main tools we use to communicate are:
- MSN (for live chat)
- Skype (to talk)
- Forums (although currently I haven’t set up one, used in the past)
Use of Skype is very limited in projects where I’ve been, but it can be used. It’s especially good if you need to test something and need your hands free. Forums can be efficiently used to assign tasks, report progress and get the team together more efficiently. Email still is the very useful tool for virtual communication. It’s something everybody uses & reads, and it’s cheap. We exchange lots of emails all the time, although the use of forums might reduce the need for emails. MSN is a good for meetings and for explaining some tasks in greater detail.
In my opinion, team management is much similar virtually than it is in an office. The major differences I’ve experienced are:
 Different times of work & timezones. For example: I’ve worked with people that come from USA, UK, Hungary, Finland etc. and they all have different timezones. When I wake up and start working, the guys might be about to go sleeping on the other side of the planet. This limits the live chat options & meetings, but on the other hand: it (theoretically) makes it possible to build product 24 hour each day – when one guy goes to sleep, other guy continues. In theory, but not much in the practise. The best ones have been the cases where I’ve (for example) programmed all day, given artist a job to do, gone to bed and wake up next morning with a finished 3D model to use next day. This way timezones can help production.
 Need to use more formal ways to assign tasks: in an office, you can use non-formal ways to assign tasks, but in virtual workplace you need to write down everything, draw & scan papers, email more details, pictures etc. to make sure the team member understands the task correctly. In fact – I think this is something that [i]should[/i] be done anyway – whether we are at the office or not. Too many times I’ve heard verbal instructions that get forgotten the moment after manager leaves the room. Virtual working place kind of forces team leaders to give written instructions, and that’s a good thing.
There are other differences also: such as less chit chat, working in your own separate office, using more English but these are – at least for me – minor issues compared to the 2 previously mentioned ones. Technical requirements are pretty much the same (instead of intranets you can have similar system in the Internet, version control software work well across the Internet), same problems (how to motivate people, how to hire the right persons, how to be on schedule etc.) stay.
For a person who likes to be among people, virtual team management can be tough – but for those who like to work from home and can handle timezones this method of working suits very well I think.