Virtual Work is NOT About the Technology

I had the opportunity to hear Giselle Kovary speak this morning at #SHRM16 on “Managing Virtual Teams & Leading in a Flexible Work Environment: The Where, When and How“. Aside from the fact that the session was packed, at 7am, Giselle did a fantastic job engaging the audience and leading a discussion on a very VERY important topic affecting all organizations across the globe.

Many of you know that I would be one of the first to advocate for technology to play a leading role in helping organizations scale and be more successful. However, technology alone, is not the entire solution. In fact, it’s not the most important part of the solution. It never has been and it never will be.

What Am I Talking About?

Let’s start with a question. Why would anyone entertain using a new technological tool? It doesn’t matter where the shiny new tool may be used — work, personal, volunteer, etc… Is it because someone suggested you try out a new tool, like Slack, or is it because you just salivate over new tools? I certainly hope these are not the key drivers. So, what is the reason? The answer is relatively simple — there is a problem or challenge that you need to solve. This problem/challenge is the reason why you should even entertain investing in a new piece of technology. Understand this… I am not advocating that you immediately look at technology for every problem you face. All I am saying is that a problem or challenge needs to exist first.

This morning, Giselle took us through the world of virtual teams, and how we can successfully lead teams working in different geographic locations. Guess what, the reasons why virtual teams are, or are not, successful has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with the fundamental needs of people. At the core, what do people in organizations need and want in order to be successful? Giselle explained that they want and need the following:

  1. Trust
  2. Communication
  3. Flexibility
  4. Justin time training
  5. Accessible and responsive leaders
  6. Appropriate and easy use of technology
  7. Feeling part of the team

So, does it really matter if someone works remotely or in the physical office? Of course not. People are people, regardless of where they live and work.

But… There is a Subtle Difference

We have established that the needs of an employee are the same regardless of whether or not they work virtually, or in the office. However, for those people who work remotely, the mechanisms, tactics, tools and the like that they use to satisfy their needs will differ. Virtual employees can’t simply get up from their desks and walk over to a colleague down the hall to strike a conversation about a project they are working on. But then can send a short Google chat message and initiate a Google Hangout — same concept but different method.

The moral of the story here is that the technology is not what makes the difference, but how you leverage it to satisfy the unique needs of employees and core business challenges are what matter. If you understand this fundamental ideology you will be well positioned to maximize the successful of your virtual teams.

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