Remote and virtual teams can reduce the costs of facilities and travel, access talent irrespective of distance and deliver results even more productively than face-to-face teams. The business logic is clear, but this way of working does require different skills and a refreshed culture.
Unfortunately, there has been too much focus on technology and not enough on the skills and culture required to make the most of that technology. The corporate culture in many organizations needs a radical re-haul to support rather than block new ways of working. At the moment virtual and digital teams are frequently bumping up against traditional siloed control and hierarchy structures that are stopping them functioning in a truly agile way.
So what can we do now to help ourselves, our teams and our companies progress along the journey to a more connected, integrated and digital future?
As a result of our recent in-depth research (see full reference list at the end of our white paper here), we’ve identified five key virtual capabilities:
In addition to these, it’s important to continually set the context for why our organization/ team is moving to more and more virtual, matrix and digital working.
Derived from the research and our extensive global experience, the table below summarizes the classic and new skills required to succeed through each step of the cycle above. This is not a case of ditching the old way and blindly embracing a new digital world. The classic skills in the left-hand column are just as important now as they ever were – indeed we need to master these to be able to be any good at the new challenges on the right.
|Key virtual capability||Classic remote, virtual and matrix team skills (still important)||Plus new virtual and digital team skills|
|Create virtual goal clarity||•Create goal clarity •Enable individuals to take ownership of roles and goals||•Manage the ambiguity created by being part of multiple, fragmented, cross-silo teams|
|Streamline virtual cooperation||•Simplify cooperation: more hub and spoke ‘star group’ working •Run engaging virtual global meetings •Clarify decision rights||•Reduce the ‘cost’ of switching between multiple teams •Implement organization wide ways of working, especially with transient, digital teams •Embed new technology into ways of working|
|Enable effective and engaging virtual communication||•Manage attention and disconnection •Focus and improve involvement •Tame communication and get trained in the tools we have||•Get ready for greater augmentation (e.g. decision support) •Analyse patterns of communication and networks|
|Balance virtual control and autonomy||•Aim for faster control AND agility •Harness people’s preference for autonomy and empowerment •Avoid the tendency to micromanage •Coach and manage performance virtually||•Flexible people and resource allocation •Enable emergent and shared leadership •Build trust virtually and shallow trust in transient teams •Prepare the corporate culture for digital|
|Build virtual communities||•Remember why it matters – attention, retention, engagement and growth •Build (and keep building) virtual team spirit •Adopt a global mindset to harness and manage cultural diversity||•Be able to run teams with little or no community or longevity •Use technology to continually nourish our wider networks •Stay visible: manage our digital footprint and image •Build a learning ecosystem|
Our latest white paper: Mastering virtual, matrix and digital teams explores each of these issues in full depth.