GUEST AUTHOR BLOG: Keeping Your Team Connected on Your Virtual Journey by Yael Zofi author of "A Manager's Guide to Virtual Teams."
Virtual work arrangements are on the rise as traditional work situations are giving way to more flexible ones.
The concept of an office in a fixed location that you have to go to is becoming less universal. As executives engage in stringent cost cutting, office space and their attendant expenses shrink, and fewer employees spend their workday at adjoining workstations. Today, knowledge workers can be productive anywhere, thanks to mobile devices, faster network access and online collaboration tools available in coffee houses, inside homes and on city streets.
While organizations have long established operations in multiple locations, colleagues are increasingly asked to collaborate across time zones and continents, with shared responsibility for outcomes. In my consulting practice I have seen large conglomerates organize projects around teams that reside in different countries, fully expecting that they will get deliverables out the door quickly within budgetary and time constraints. These teams follow the sun, handing off work products to each other. This is all made possible by technology, the great enabler that helps us create efficiencies and fosters quick decision-making.
But what about the human connection? Although team members do not share the same location, they must still work collaboratively to meet common goals. What keeps these individuals organized, communicative, and productive without ongoing face-to-face interactions? And how will organizations ensure the human connection that fuels productivity? These questions were the province of futurists a generation ago, but today the twin impact of technology and globalization make them an urgent topic for organizations of all types.
"Automatic processes and enterprise-wide systems strip the workday of human contact, but the human brain is more essential than ever to guide these machines.""
Who can argue with the appeal of interactive media tools that offer convenience, speed and efficiency, and make the electric typewriter a quaint relic? And yet, the human connection is what drives business success. Automatic processes and enterprise-wide systems strip the workday of human contact, but the human brain is more essential than ever to guide these machines. Given this reality, today’s virtual manager juggles many more elements than his or her counterpart of a generation ago. This individual needs to figure out how to motivate, manage and monitor the efforts of team members who may be widely dispersed, from cultures that signal different approaches to acceptable business behavior. Add to that language barriers and one can see that the typical virtual manager has formidable challenges.
Fortunately humans are hardwired to forge ahead, and staying competitive in business forces us to create appropriate ‘people systems’. Based on my company’s research with global organizations four core principles of virtual team success were identified:
- Ensuring effective communication processes
- Creating accountability and trust mechanisms
- Establishing procedures to manage conflict
- Developing work systems to get deliverables out the door
Smart organizations don’t just pay lip service to recognizing how critical these components are. Our research and experience indicate that the earlier in the virtual team’s ‘life’ these four principles are addressed and appropriate systems are put in place, the greater the chance for success. The very real danger of ignoring them is that virtual managers will have to spend time and energy down the road to fix problems and address performance issues that festered, growing in severity.
We are social animals, and since recorded history began, individuals may spark invention (think of Steve Jobs), but teams are required to bring them to life. The lesson is this: If you are a virtual manager, use your energy to connect team members to you and to each other; if you are a virtual team member, seize the opportunity to fully engage in the kind of work relationships that your grandparents could never have imagined. The future is an open road, and these days it’s a global highway that goes across the world.