We recently read an opinion piece by David Amerland in Forbes.com’s Tech section. In the article, Amerland talks about Marissa Meyer’s decision to end virtual work at Yahoo, and lists what he sees as ways that virtual work can prevent agility and effectiveness in organizations.
We have a different take. While the article points out Yahoo and Google’s aversion to virtual work, it also ignores the success of companies like Basecamp, Mozilla, and Upworthy, among others, who are hugely successful and almost entirely virtual. Yes, we heard about Marissa Meyer as well, but we’ve drawn very different conclusions about what this means for virtual work.
With the right training, virtual teams can act and behave just as effectively as face-to-face teams, and even show improved efficiency, better profits, and a more fulfilled workforce. That’s why we’ve selected the main concerns of Amerland’s article, and addressed them from our standpoint.
How can I lead my virtual team?
This is a common concern that we’ve been addressing for years. First, let’s say that many leaders mistake “How do I lead my virtual team?” with “How do I control my virtual team?” If you want to control your virtual team, it means you don’t trust them. And if you don’t trust your employees, you’ve got far bigger problems to worry about.
Trust issues aside, Amerland suggests that newly-appointed virtual leaders have problems with routine tasks such as performance reviews. Now, let’s be clear: this difficulty absolutely exists. But, this doesn’t mean that leadership is impossible in virtual work, it means we have to keep the core of what good leadership is, but change the methods and tools we use to enact that leadership in a virtual environment.
How can my virtual team help my bottom line?
Amerland writes “Yes, remote workers may indeed be more carefree, happier and productive, but that doesn’t mean they’re good for their companies.”
We still haven’t figured out why the article links happy and productive employees to bad business. If anything, businesses should be doing more to create happy employees. Research shows that business are more profitable when they are run by happy and fulfilled employees—the kind you can find in properly-managed virtual teams. Even if you don’t want to talk about “soft” factors like engagement, virtual work still drives up profits; in fact, one source wrote that more virtual work could lead to an estimated 800 billion dollars saved in productivity gains across America, not even considering the saved time and energy spent not commuting.
How can I connect with my virtual team?
This last major concern of the article argues that virtual team members just don’t connect with each other like face-to-face teams do, and this hurts organizational cohesion. We’re not surprised that people still worry about making human connections in virtual teams. It’s a valid concern. In fact, at Virtual Team Builders, we try to help virtual teams change the way they work and improve their ability to make human connections virtually. Suffice it to say that virtual teams can be just as cohesive and organized as any brick-and-mortar office. In fact, in the next few weeks, we’ll be posting blogs that detail this exact topic, from how virtual teams can support the genuine human connections that make work rewarding, to how virtual teams can provide an unparalleled opportunity for us to come together to work on issues that we care about.
While virtual work definitely differs from traditional face-to-face work, it’s not going anywhere. The solution isn’t to step back from remote working, diffuse teams, and telecommuting. Instead, we need to step forward—providing training and support for virtual team members and leaders—to move into a future of more empowering, fulfilling virtual work.