For the last three days, I have been researching virtual teams and technology for an academic paper that a colleague and I will be presenting at the International Conference on Transformative Learning, which will be held in San Francisco, California, in early November.
My mind is full of the ideas and research provided by many talented academics and business professionals. So here’s a quick data dump that showcases the highlights of my learning.
In the global business environment…
1. Economics are unstable and there is no “new normal.” The climate is one of dynamic instability, rapid change, and increasing volatility.
2. We need to thrive by way of new capabilities; collaboration, communication, and creativity are essential.
3. Global virtual teams (or GVTs) are a new phenomenon and a way of working in global companies. GVTs require new communications patterns and new leadership models.
4. Developing collaborative partnerships that thrive with many dimensions of diversity creates environments that enable GVTs to be effective.
5. Learning to work through conflict effectively helps develop trusting, collaborative partnerships. The ability to work through differences and conflicts is key to good decision-making.
6. Virtual teams require collaborative technologies and project management practices to complement relationship building, conflict resolution, and effective partnering.
7. Technological skills are a requirement and the bar is set very high. Everyone needs to work with and understand technology. Technological skills are as essential as reading, writing, and arithmetic.
8. Social media has changed how we work. The prevalence of handheld devices has created a connected world with networks of employees, contractors, vendors, and customers. Leaders are challenged to learn how to work with social media effectively.
In the US…
1. Up to 50 percent of employees in large organizations work at home, in their cars, or at a customer site at least one day per month.
3. The number of employees who work virtually while on vacation has increased to 23 percent of the workforce. We are constantly connected, checking voicemail and email, texting and tweeting. This is the expectation in most organizations. We rely on technology and social media to do our work.
4. The numbers of full-time telecommuting workers has diminished. Fewer people are working remotely full time, while more people are spending additional time in the office.
5. At the same time, more people are working virtually at least one day a week. The growth in the number of people working at home at least once a week has grown by 43 percent in the last five years. In 2008, 33.7 million Americans were working at home at least once a month; 24.2 million were working at home at least once a week; and 13.5 million almost every day. Since 2008, these numbers have expanded.
5. In 2010, 40 percent of respondents of a Forrester Consulting study conducted by Brandman University indicated that more than 40 percent of their employees work in virtual teams while 21 percent of respondents revealed that 60 percent of their employees work in virtual teams.
In my research, I’ve found that communications capabilities are critical for building effective teams and the need for new patterns of communication has intensified. That said, here are five tips for managers, employees, and contract workers who work virtually:
1. Set expectations clearly and be accountable for achieving them.
2. Meet regularly to talk about the work, how it’s going, and what is needed.
3. Forget command and control. Push autonomy and decision-making authority as far down as possible.
4. Over-communicate; connect every way you can as often as you can. Use good communication practices, such as AIR (or advocacy, inquiry, and reflection), to enhance the quality and results of your communications.
5. Create an environment that builds relationships of trust. Develop the capacity to work through conflict in ways that strengthen collaborative partnerships. Sounds simple, but this takes intention and commitment. Never give up.