Why can’t leading tech companies make virtual working work?
As technology experts IBM reverse years of remote working and demand techies return to co-location hubs, how can the rest of us hope to make virtual working flourish?
Technology giants from IBM to Google love to entice us into a virtual working world where anything can be achieved by colleagues scattered from Kazakhstan to Japan.
But as most who have tried it will know, the reality of virtual working, virtual innovation and building a true virtual community is that it takes much more than just installing the right file-sharing software (although those are important), it also requires changes to skills, culture and ways of working.
A month ago, virtual workers in IBM USA were called back to the mother ship and given 30 days to agree to the new way of working or jump ship (even if that meant relocating the whole family). Last week the same message was given to the Global Technology Services team for IBM UK, albeit in slightly less dramatic terms. The reason cited was that over time virtual working employees had become too ‘disparate’ and needed to come together to ‘clarify things’.
And it’s not only IBM. Two years ago, Global Integration wrote about a similar trend in Silicon Valley; with Google, Apple and co. focused on building more real estate rather than building their team’s virtual working skills to grow their businesses.
So should we all throw in the towel, or is there a way of making virtual working work?
According to a 2017 global study by the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) covering ten European countries, Brazil, Argentina, US and Japan, the biggest barrier cited by employers to effective virtual working is lack of skills and trust.
This is backed up by Global Integration’s 20 years’ experience of working with virtual teams around the world. Virtual trust, collaboration and innovation will flow when you get the 4C’s things right:
- Collaboration – who (and who not) to involve and how
- Communication – how do you engage and interact with people via tools such as WebEx
- Control – give away as much as you can
- Community – fancy a virtual coffee anyone?
It can work. Just make sure you’re asking the right experts and not just relying on providing the technology and hoping people will work the rest out for themselves.
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