Lessons in Managing Virtual Workplace in Age of Mobility: Global Reality Requires– New Leadership, Fit, Focus, Trust…

Virtual workplace is both rapidly growing and changing as businesses are beginning to understand that leadership and new management competencies are required to be successful… Managing a remote workforce means a greater commitment to engagement, communication, collaboration,  well-planned teamwork, achievement of goals…

But, according to Marissa Mayer; to become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway, cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings…

According to Janice Kinder; working virtually is toothpaste out of the tube, no matter where people are working. Technology enables us to re-imagine the categories of home and work in ways that are miraculous and liberating… Yet, a sense of place is as important to the working world… working face-to-face is fundamental to high performance. Facial expressions and body language are the primary way we understand and influence each another… Technology enhances but does not replace the connection, collaboration and creativity that being together under one roof creates. Something’s are gained and lost either way, but then don’t frame it as ‘either/or’…

According to Kurland-Bailey; major challenge for managers is the inability to physically observe the employees’ performance… If a manager can’t see a subordinate in action, then they can’t accurately assess where the employee is struggling and where there is strong– the only indicator is the results. Monitoring-measuring employee performance remain problematic and a source of concern. According to an article in Harvard Business Review; properly managed virtual teams lead to increased efficiency and better business results…

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A survey by TrackVia reveals that most workers still regularly communicate the old-fashioned way; in person and face-to-face: Despite a marked increase in the number of communication and collaboration technologies available to workers… The survey also revealed some generational and gender differences, for example; 50% of women said electronic communication increased productivity, whereas 62% of men said it increased productivity...

According to Jennifer L. Carpenter; primary reason that telecommuting movement has lost energy in recent years is that companies have not been able to successfully change their business strategies to accommodate the very different social needs of the remote worker… Inflexibility on the part of managers is one of the greatest institutional barriers to the success of telecommuting in most companies. Some managers oppose telecommuting initiatives because they fear that they will lose control of their telecommuting employees and lose the ability to monitor company time and resources… Telecommuting is a power and control issue, not a money issue…

Sociologists observe– the workplace is still designed to value and reward commitment to the ‘office’ and being there to prove your worth. The authoritarian, surveillance-type concept of management really hasn’t changed that much… For many managers, the shift from a hierarchical to a ‘horizontal’ management structure signals a potential problem: managers worry that horizontal relationships makes it more difficult to build consensus and make employees follow orders. Indeed, unique features of cyberspace make effective conflict management both more important and more difficult…

The biggest reason people haven’t left the office is because they have employers who aren’t willing to ‘trust’ them to work from home… Unless companies carefully select open-minded, telework-friendly managers to manage telecommuting employees, remote work programs are destined to fail…

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In the article Lessons in Managing a Virtual Workplace by Paul Finkle writes: The virtual workplace has become common place for many organizations. Increasingly, employees are located in distant or satellite offices, telecommute, or work flexible schedules… Technology has made remote work practical and often leads to cost savings… Although there are many benefits to the virtual workplace, there are also challenges to managing people in the non-traditional work environment.

Work now crosses over broader geographies, markets, countries, cultures, partnerships, supplier networks… This diversity can create dysfunction and communication breakdowns if organizations don’t effectively address unique needs of collaboration, communication, teamwork… and most important the leadership style is key factor that influences the effectiveness and success in a virtual organization.

Maintaining cultural identity, engender trust, empower independence… require active and frequently reinforced leadership style. Leadership skills can prove even more essential in a virtual workforce because it demands a strong focus on relationships and emotional intelligence; focus on process, outcome, shared decision-making, and ability to give frequent feedback.

Effective virtual leaders resist urge to micromanage… they learn to engender trust in their team’s ability to meet deadlines and achieve goals by setting clear expectations– and then having the confidence to ‘let go’… In the virtual organization, teams tend to shift towards collaboration and knowledge sharing, and effective leaders move less from ‘controller’ and more to ‘coordinator’ of team members. Virtual teams value open sharing of information that keeps them connected to their corporate identity and empowers them to work alone, yet toward a common goal. In a virtual environment, it becomes even more essential to ensure workers are ‘in the loop’ and included in key decision-making.

‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is the death of a virtual workgroup. Frequent check-ins to clarify assumptions and recognize contributions are the hallmarks of top organizations… In a virtual workplace, managers must find creative ways to recognize both individual and team achievement. Recognition bridges the gap between casual or personal work interactions and reinforces the goals of the organization. In a virtual workplace, it becomes even more important to balance the accomplishment of tasks with the building of relationships…

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In the article Build a Successful Virtual Workforce by Michael Haid writes: Employees are spending more time working from home, on roads, at airports, back of cabs… Since there are effective ways of communicating, exchanging information, collaborating… it mean that you no longer need to get work done by sharing the same physical space with other team  members…

However, three questions often present themselves: Why should organizations encourage working virtually? What are the challenges involved? And how do you create an effective virtual workplace? While the virtual workplace offers many advantages, it also faces significant obstacles that must be carefully negotiated if the initiative is to succeed. At minimum, jobs must be evaluated to determine which can be done virtually and which cannot…

However, the most pressing question is leadership. How do you lead a team that is geographically dispersed across a region, continent or even the globe? How do you drive accountability among individual member? How do you foster team spirit among people who may never see one another? Leading virtually means leading differently; developing new leadership skills…

With little face-to-face contact with the team, leaders must listen more deeply, communicate more clearly, interpret more sensitively… to determine, for example; how engaged an employee is or detect what is being left unsaid in e-mail, text… How does a team maintain its focus when its members may never meet in person? How do plans and projects stay on track? To avoid drift virtual teams must work within framework that is more structured than the frameworks within which conventional teams operate.

Goals, dead-lines, accountability… must all be clearly defined. But, is everyone equally skilled at working virtually? Some people are less independent and more productive in a traditional work environment and with immediate support of colleagues and managers. How do you identify such people and how do you train and deploy them when the office goes virtual?

Going virtual entails big changes: For a start, the organization and its people have to make the transition to results-oriented modes of work that are now dependent upon new protocols and technologies. How capable is the organization of managing this change? Not all work can be performed virtually, but in the age of mobility, a wide range of knowledge-based work no longer needs to be tied to a physical office space.

Virtual work presents organizations and the workforces with new and exciting ways of getting work done and meeting business goals. When carefully managed virtual workplaces offer real benefits from greater freedom and flexibility to lower costs and higher productivity. As people, organizations increasingly embrace the benefits; the definition of the workplaces will never be the same…

A study by Harvard suggested that virtual offices face more issues than brick-and-mortar… The good news is that these issues-pitfalls are truly avoidable, and if one takes time and effort to organize and plan carefully… it can succeed. A virtual office is different from the way a traditional office is handled: It involves a shift in management… Most consultants and researchers agree that building trust is the greatest challenge in creating successful virtual teams, organizations…

Trust is the glue of the global workplace. According to Charles Handy; most organizations tend to be arranged on the assumption that people cannot be trusted or relied upon, even in tiny matters– It’s unwise to trust people whom you don’t know, well… whom you have not observed in action over time– trust needs touch… In other words, high-tech has to be balanced by high-touch to build high-trust organizations… Paradoxically, more virtual an organization becomes the more its people need to meet in person… According to Wayne Cascio; some level of social interaction with supervisors and coworkers is essential in almost all jobs. Without it, workers feel isolated and out of the loop…

Many organizations believe that one of the big challenges they face when implementing a virtual office is managing mobile or remote workers… According to Phil Montero; remote management is not radically different from managing people on-site. The big difference is a shift in management style from ‘managing by eyeball’ to ‘managing by results’ By learning to ‘manage by results’ rather than ‘manage by activity’ means communication and nurturing ‘trust’… In fact, virtual team managers say that their overall management skills have significantly improved for both– on and off-site workers…

According to Jessica Lipnack; in 21st century, most people work with others who are more than 50 feet away from them. Data indicate that when people are more than 50 feet apart, likelihood of collaborating more than once a week is less than 10%. So, as people work in teams, crossing space, time, and organizational boundaries, they must master the principles of virtual work... According to Keith Ferrazzi; many managers are skeptical that real trust can be established in a virtual environment. After all, how can employees truly develop trust for people they’ve never met?

The hard truth, though, is that teams can’t function without trust, and a lack of face-to-face interactions doesn’t automatically lead to an atmosphere of suspicion. But managers shouldn’t simply enlist employees in a virtual environment and hope for the best. Instead, they must be pro-active, implementing the right mechanisms to ensure that trust will flourish within the environment… However, there is a global business reality… and when coupled with evolving attitudes about work, suggest that virtual workplaces are here to stay and the challenges of managing a virtual workplace will escalate in scope…