Virtual working is not just about moving the office online. This is why, and how you can improve the ways you work virtually.
The shift to virtual working has been a disaster for some.
If not managed effectively working virtually can challenge communication and stretch relationships. There are stories now circulating of unmotivated, disengaged and isolated teams.
For many this approach is just is not sustainable over the long term. Yet it is also possible for teams to thrive in these contexts.
It is actually possible to create high performing virtual teams that become more effective and productive than office-based teams.
Would you take the gamble of 50% failure?
Research shows that over 50% of virtual teams fail to reach their objectives. These teams can so easily drift apart and lose loyalty to their organisation. This is often due to the dynamics of the team feeling ignored in the new digital platforms.
Many organisations have reacted to the new working conditions by simply sending people to work from home without thinking about the new requirements. Bosses often expect team members to function in exactly the same way as they did at the office. Virtual teams need to learn to adapt to this new medium more deliberately and strategically if they want to improve the experience.
The CEO of WordPress Matt Mullenweg has run a ‘distributed teams’ model for years. He refers to the approach most organization are resorting to as ‘recreating the office online’, which he identifies is only level 2 of 5 levels of virtual team development.
The dangers of simply ‘recreating the office online’
Mullenweg’s ‘recreating the office online’ approach refers to situations where employees have access to videoconferencing software (eg. Zoom), instant messaging software (eg. Slack) and email – but instead of redesigning the work to take advantage of the new medium, teams ultimately end up recreating their office experiences as online versions.
When organisations simply ‘recreate the office online’ many of the bad habits that permeate the modern office can just be repeated and amplified. The ability to actively engage in the thought processes involved in everyday decision makings and actions can also be suppressed.
Think of how many ten-person video calls are often now suggested when two people meetings would have sufficed. How we can end up having up to 60+ interruptions a day — now also via messaging and phone calls and through the more sporadic checking of and responding to email constantly throughout the day.
Wired to desktop dings or targeting strategic responses?
All this now demands an increasing hyper-responsiveness from all employees, “leaving them wired to desktop dings like Pavlov’s dog” (Steve Glaveski).
Virtual teams will need to learn to adapt to this new medium more deliberately and strategically if they want to be effective. This will require:
- Addressing the unique challenges through redesigning working processes through creative and critical thinking strategies.
- Targeted communication strategies based on a clear understanding of the unique dynamics of remote virtual teams.
Taking such a clear strategic approach will help with adapting to the rapidly moving goalposts and not only stay on track for success, but redefine the journey and the way we make the journey.
Executive Director Tirian
Gaia Grant (PhD)
Executive Director Tirian, Adjunct Faculty University of Sydney Business School
More info visit COMMUNICATE: The Reality of Virtual Teams, Facilitated Online Experiences