5 elements that can make “virtual” a virtue

virtual team

I have personally experienced first-hand how awkward a virtual organisation can be to its members. It’s like mastering any new skill, whether it be in sports, art, playing a musical instrument, learning a new language, or developing any other professional skill. Work at “virtual” relationships until you are able to master what once was awkward and clumsy, writes Dave Hanna.

The Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has brought the world’s economy to a painful standstill. This sudden crisis has paralysed our daily routines and functions. Comments are heard, such as, “When will this end?” “We can’t go on like this,” or “How are we supposed to function with such handicaps?”

Shocking surprises, such as Covid-19, do create obstacles for sure. But the creativity of human beings has never been defeated by new challenges from natural disasters, diseases, or crazy marketplace dynamics.

In fact, the global economy has already fuelled the invention of many tools to overcome situations of physical isolation. Covid-19 may be an opportunity for some organisations to more fully explore and exploit the tools of “virtual organisation”.

Research indicates more than 80% of all tasks today are knowledge tasks; they do not require the physical assembly of products. This being so, it is possible to virtually “bring together” many knowledge workers to share knowledge and produce results.

Research indicates more than 80% of all tasks today are knowledge tasks; they do not require the physical assembly of products. This being so, it is possible to virtually “bring together” many knowledge workers to share knowledge and produce results.

I have personally experienced first-hand how awkward a virtual organisation can be to its members. It’s like mastering any new skill, whether it be in sports, art, playing a musical instrument, learning a new language, or developing any other professional skill. Work at “virtual” relationships until you are able to master what once was awkward and clumsy. Here is a case example of this process:

Becoming Virtual Team Virtuosos
The new multifunctional business team was made up of different functions and different European subsidiaries. Its brief was to improve the sales and profits of its product across Europe. The first meeting was face-to-face with the 14 team members. Everyone shared their functional and local market perspectives on their product’s present status. The exchange was very beneficial, but beyond that, no one knew exactly what to do next.

The second team meeting was also face-to-face but made very slow progress. The team leader began by inviting everyone to suggest what the team could do to improve the product’s business results. Different ideas were put on the table and the meeting ended with no decisions on what actions should be taken.

It was decided the third meeting would be virtual, but it also yielded few positives and was compounded by the discomfort with talking to video screens rather than to live people in the room.

Thus far the virtual format had saved the company an enormous amount of money but otherwise had yielded poor results. Then the team decided that the video technology was helpful, but the transformation to virtual meetings required them also to change the way they worked together.

  • First, they established a virtual home room: a password-protected site with a chat room, bulletin board, and team calendar.
  • Second, they recognised much work was needed to be done between meetings, not just at the virtual meeting itself. At the end of each virtual meeting, assignments were given to each individual to be completed and shared with the team (on the virtual home room) prior to the next virtual meeting.
  • Third, an agenda for the next meeting was shared on the team bulletin board. Any needed documents for each agenda item were shared electronically with team members beforehand. Also included on the agenda were specific decisions that needed to be made.
  • Fourth, going forward, each team meeting ended with a summary of the next agenda, decision points, and assignments to be fulfilled (and shared with all) before the next meeting. Functional representatives took the lead on items pertaining to their function; subsidiary representatives did the same for their items.

This mode of operation continued over the next 18 months (even as some team members were reassigned and new members took their place). The results were astounding! The brand tripled both profit and sales volume for the nine European markets in their organisation.

The beginners had become virtuosos!

 

Critical Elements of Successful Virtual Organisations

  1. Focused Electronic Messaging: words (Emails, Texts) and videos (Facetime, WhatsApp, Skype) are used to help team members “discuss” and move forward on specific organisational priorities.
  2. Virtual Meeting Tools: (Go To Meeting, Zoom, ezTalks Cloud Meeting) to enable presentations, flip chart notes, and team discussion as if all were in the same room.
  3. Electronic Home Rooms: (Restricted Chat Rooms, Bulletin Boards, Calendars) to enable suggestions and follow up discussions of assigned items.
  4. Dispersion of Leadership: instead of one team leader for all business items, other team leaders take the lead when their expertise or understanding of the issues provides real advantage.
  5. Work, documentation, and preparation between meetings: the most critical work is always done between meetings, virtual or face-to-face. The meetings become the mechanism for evaluating progress since the previous meeting and suggesting next steps. It is critical that everyone has the needed documents, talk pieces, etc. in advance of the next meeting.

Don’t ignore the need for the team to meet face-to-face at some frequency. We all have the need to relate to each other personally as well as technically.

Image source: Depositphotos