Virtual Team communication – why can’t it be as easy at work as it is at home?
I have been interviewing some global leaders in the R&D functions of two large multinationals recently. In each case the R&D function has been reorganised recently to take advantage of global synergies, to share resources across the world and to increase coordination and cooperation across the traditional vertical silos of their regions.
Once organizations become more integrated then matrix management and virtual working become the norm. The majority of virtual team communication happens through technology rather than face-to-face and so these teams require a fairly well-developed communication technology infrastructure to succeed.
In both sets of interviews, managers complained about the difficulty in getting access to common communication tools through their corporate IT organizations. They compared this unfavourably with how easy it was to connect at home through tools like Skype and social media.
At home, with highly effective (and usually free) communication tools we can connect to members of our family and friends with one click of a button, we can initiate a video call, a WebEx session or share documents and files.
These managers work for two of the world’s most admired organizations yet, for them, the experience of setting up a videoconference is slow and cumbersome and prone to failure. They don’t have sufficient bandwidth to share information they need and corporate tools are often introduced without training and support and don’t achieve acceptance in the way people communicate. Increasingly they fall back on e-mail and telephone for their virtual team communication because these are the only tools they can reliably access and depend on.
We understand that corporate IT organizations have concerns about security and bandwidth. They also have concerns about trust, if they make Facebook or YouTube available, will people waste away their days watching cats play the piano!
However, this is a source of frustration that we are seeing more and more in organizations we work with. People develop high expectations from the experiences they have with technology at home and are disappointed when the much more expensive technologies they use at work don’t measure up.
It is a real challenge for corporate IT organizations to match the user experience, flexibility and speed of change that web-based tools give to virtual team communication at the touch of a button, but they are going to have to find ways. Once people are used to these highly flexible communication tools at home they demand them for their virtual teams – expectations are rising all the time.
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