In my two decades of experience, I have seen many failures as well as success stories of centralized as well as decentralized projects.
A hundred years ago, when the industrial revolution started, the workplace moved from small home based offices to large centrally located factories. The villagers migrated to cities and towns . Now, in the 21st Century, we see a reversal. From centralization , we are moving back to decenralization.
This is the age of Virtual Teams. Technology has made it possible to work from anywhere. Decentralization is now feasible and in most of the cases advantageous - both for the employee as well as the organization. But along with the advantages, there are some problems too. Managing these issues helps the leaders in the organization reap the advantages of telecommuting.
The main problems of a virtual team are managing people when they are far away, limited personal contact, motivating , conflict resolution and getting the work done when the team members are scattered across different locations.
So, how can a leader manage a virtual team effectively ?
- Uniform Treatment and communication - Treat the virtual team the same as the team who are physically present in your location . The communication to the full team should be uniform. No matter where the team members are located, they should be kept informed of team and departmental going ons. Chit chats between team members enhances the team spirit. In one of my organizations, we had deployed a indigenous messenger which was used by the team to chat and convey information. Periodical newsletters also works well , where along with the articles and appreciations, a chatty section is included which includes tidbits about the loves of the team members.
- Personal interest : The leader should take a personal interest in each team member. In a company , I was reporting to the Global Head and she made it a point to talk to me at least once a week and figure out how things were going on . I used to make congratulatory calls to teams when they did something special. On different occasions like birthdays, marriage anniversary, births etc, make it a point to send a card or a bouquet. These are small things , but since you cannot see or touch the person , it becomes absolutely essential to do these things. It works. Trust me.
- Periodical team meetings : This one is a mandatory one. Specially for virtual teams or for globally distributed teams. Once a month or two months, hold a hold a full team meeting. The best way is to do a video conferencing. If that is not possible , try Skype. If that too is difficult, at least hold a teleconference. Have a set agenda and allow time for every location. These are opportunities for exchanging and sharing ideas, best practices and build espirit de corps.
- Set working guidelines : Working guidelines for telecommuting is a must. Set specific targets , if possible daily targets and put a process for comprehensive and regular status reporting and tracking. It is a good practice to set a specific time in the day when s/he should be available for calls, talks , meetings. Have them come to office (if they are nearby) for training programs, important meetings, extra curricular and teaming activities.
The telecommuters should be made aware of the potential problems of working from home. Some people feel that they miss out on the water cooler talks and socializing at the workplace and another person felt overwhelmed with the prioritization and self discipline of working from home. These are the cases , where people chose to return to office. So, instead of a permanent arrangement, let the people try it for a while where the team member as well as the leader can assess whether telecommuting is working or not.
So, go ahead and try virtualizing the workplace. It sure ensures employee satisfaction as well as reduces costs.
Do share your experiences with virtual teaming.