Teleworking has been in the press recently after Yahoo! CEO, Marissa Mayer, banned the practice arguing that innovation and productivity require Yahoo! Employees to be present in the office. Many HR managers have seized on the reluctance of Yahoo! and some other tech companies such as Google to embrace teleworking to argue that the trend is coming to an end.
Taken to its logical conclusion, opposition to teleworking implies that global operating models also don’t work given that the objection to collaborating electronically must apply equally to employees who are in different offices as it does to those who are working from home. Clearly this can’t be the case or the modern multinational business could not continue to thrive.
Whether it is a single employee working remotely or a team operating virtually over the globe, there are five principles that are needed to make them successful. At their core they are about establishing a free flow of information.
Principle #1: Make activity and presence visible
Ensure that there is clear information demonstrating activity. In person, a manager can judge activity by seeing how many people are sitting at their desks. In a virtual team, it is important that some sort of live presence be available so that everyone knows who is working and when.
Principle #2: Show progress daily
There need to be clear indicators of progress. For knowledge workers it is hard enough when operating in person to know how much progress has been made to an elusive goal, whether it is a new product or simply evolving the business towards a more efficient way of working. Operating virtually it is vital that there are very short term objectives that are visible to the whole team. Ideally this can be done through use of gamification techniques.
Principle #3: Make knowledge sharing a core activity
Without the informal sharing that is possible through accidental encounters, it is even more important that knowledge is encoded and shared. There is no magic to this, it is simply critical that the loading of new artefacts is a core metric of everyone on the team and its value is recognised.
Principle #4: Build strong informal relationships
Just because the team is virtual doesn’t mean that they can’t develop strong personal bonds. Social networks have shown how it is possible for people who have never met to become close friends. Use similar techniques to develop relationships across virtual teams through a range of informal connections.
Principle #5: Encourage good phone conference etiquette
One of the biggest obstacles for teleworking is bad phone conferences. It is too tempting to have long calls where the majority of participants simply go on mute and do something else. These meetings wouldn’t be allowed to continue if people were present in the same room. Similarly, virtual teams fragment when small groups within the team are in the same location and put their phone on mute and compare notes. The rule should be that everyone is present, is free to challenge the value and that all comments are for all participants.