Matrix Management / People and purpose / Virtual Teams

Technology revolution, skills evolution – 30 years

When we developed the world’s first remote and virtual teams training back in 1994 we spoke to a lot of individuals and organisations in developing the program.

We were struck during the COVID period at how similar the needs and concerns were of people today to those of the people we interviewed 30 years ago.

In a way that’s not surprising, as the challenges are very human;

  • Individuals wondered how do I build relationships, how do I stay visible while working remotely, how do I organise my work?
  • Leaders asked how do we maintain team spirit, how do we exercise the right level of control and autonomy, how will I do some practical management tasks like performance appraisal and objective setting?

Having seen these challenges being successfully overcome for over 3 decades it was disappointing that, whilst organisations recognised the challenges, few were doing anything systematic about solving them.

For example, some organisations newer to remote and hybrid working still express concern about creativity, developing remote staff and maintaining informal communication, but aren’t putting in place skills and processes further enable us to do these things successfully in a remote environment. The solutions are out there.

Meanwhile technology has developed apace. 30 years ago, we were largely limited to telephone, e-mail and travel and many of our early programs were about managing without travelling so much. Our founder Kevan Hall averaged 3 countries per week for 3 years in his last corporate job. Today video and online meetings technologies work pretty seamlessly and are widely available.

Those companies who hadn’t introduced these communication tools had a crash course during the pandemic.

Even before 2020 we delivered about 50% of our training through webinars, we actually ran our first webinar 15 years ago. So the transition to virtual delivery was relatively painless for us and now makes up around 80% of what we do.

We remember panicked calls from our clients early in the first lockdowns asking how quickly we could convert our programs to fully virtual, our answer “how about tomorrow?”

In our first virtual teams’ trainings 30 years ago we talked about four barriers to working internationally; distance, cultures, time zones and technology. Today technology is less of a barrier and more of an enabler, it has allowed us to connect more people at lower cost over wider distances.

That is not to say that we all have the skills, for example, to run an effective and participative virtual meeting. These skills are still a work in progress for many (as are the skills of running an effective face to face meeting to be fair).

Many organisations have finally realised that accessing talent irrespective of location makes more sense than recruiting in a smaller, more limited and often more expensive local labour pool. The flexible working cat is out of the bag and there is no going back.

Technology will continue to enable tighter integration of organizations and teams.

Digital transformation requires the ability to collaborate horizontally across the organization. Digital is no respecter of silos, so if you can’t do matrix management you can’t do digital.

We are fascinated by AI and what this will help us do. We are working internally in Global Integration on how AI can make us more deeply human in how we work by freeing us from the routine and bringing more value to conversations with clients and participants.

The rate of technology driven change is unlikely to slow down. The limiting factor will be how quickly people can adopt new technology and adapt their way of working to deliver the potential benefits. This will largely come from skills and new ways of working.

As AI takes over the routine administrative work, what is left will be more human, relationships, creativity and complex collaboration. So called “soft skills” will be at an increasing premium.

  • Companies will need to enable their organizations to be more connected, integrated and faster to capitalize on the opportunities that technology will bring.
  • Individuals will need to embrace upskilling, flexibility and career change or face becoming obsolete. We suggest you start now by taking some of the host of free AI courses online. When your company introduces AI in whatever form you will be well placed to volunteer for any trials and quickly leapfrog less up to date colleagues.

Buckle up, the next 30 years are going to be a challenge with both risks and rewards.

Keep following our blogs as we celebrate our 30th anniversary, we will include some opportunities for you to get involved over the next few weeks.

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