Keeping virtual teams on track
Digital technologies are changing the way we work. We are no longer tied to the office and can take our workspace with us wherever we go. The potential of this new-found global freedom is enormous, but don’t underestimate the hands-on management skills required to make it a success.
Today, 90 per cent of the teams I manage are not located in the same office or even the same country that I am working in right now. This virtual way of working is no-longer the exception, today it has become the norm.
In our mobile cloud era, the digital workspace has opened up the world for business 24/7, enabling people to work anytime, anywhere. Organizations are collaborating on a global scale with disparate teams spread across multiple locations. Employees can work from pretty much any device, including smartphones, tablets, laptops, PCs and virtual workstations. The only criteria is that they need to have a reliable internet connection, supported by a secure infrastructure.
The connected business world has created new ways of procuring, developing and managing talent, teams and work. It has changed the way that people communicate and collaborate. This has in turn changed the work culture, employee behavior and the way we interact with our colleagues.
Collaborative technologies allow organizations to look far and wide for talent, because they are no longer tied by commuting distances. Digital workspaces give employees flexibility in their working lives, attracting and engaging more women returning to the workforce with young families, for example.
Despite the advantages, there are still organizations that are afraid to move on from traditional working practices, possibly because they are unsure of how to manage remote teams effectively. Yes, of course there are unique challenges to managing remote employees. But, this is where the strength of managers’ management skills really come to the fore, as they are suddenly more exposed than in the office. As well as being clear and concise in their direction, they must utilize the power of the digital office to keep teams on track.
Technology doesn’t replace management skills
The digital workspace enables managers to manage remote teams without feeling too distanced, but you must remember that technology is just an enabler. Proficient management and an inspired team make the cogs in the business day turn productively.
In my experience, managing remote teams digitally requires a skillful, precise and hands-on management approach. Remote team working is far less structured than on-site, so managers have to be much clearer on their requirements and expectations to avoid confusion. You need to set deadlines, schedule regular virtual meetings and let staff know when they need to be available, taking into account some may be in different time zones. You can’t make assumptions and you must continually define what you expect of your team and in return what your team can expect from you.
Digital workspace tools are evolving and becoming more sophisticated. Augmented and virtual reality, for example, could possibly make teams feel more connected. Using tools such as Skype enable teams to conference call, however they can’t replace the human link that goes with face-to-face interaction. When I have meetings with teams in person I can read their body language and their emotions. With avatars and the use of camera technology it is possible to communicate facial expressions. If I have my VR headset on, I may feel like my team are sitting in the room with me. But, will it ever replace that human touch? I am not sure.
Learning to manage differently
When face-to-face interaction is less frequent and replaced by technological communications, the business process has to reflect this new working environment. Suddenly, the quality of management in this virtual world is more important. You must know your team and optimize their individual skills, make sure you are available, establish trust and ensure employees know when to ‘unplug’. There is a psychological risk that some remote workers find it difficult to shut work off from the rest of their lives.
To get the most out of the digital workspace, managers must not bury themselves in the technology and forget about the personal aspect. For teams to be engaged, they need an engaging manager – and this requires the human relationship to be at its epicenter.
The digital workspace can generate value for your business through effective teamwork, by simplifying processes and reducing costs. Click here to find out more.