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Do You Have a Strategy for Managing Virtual Teams? Part 1

Managing virtual teams

Posted by: sabine-robinson

Business Strategy

Part 1: Why is thinking about remote working important?

This first section of this two-part blog highlights reasons why it is useful for your business to think about your approach to managing virtual teams now.  Next week’s blog will ponder some considerations that might serve as a starting point for your management strategy for remote working.

Are you a small company and feel that the scenario of employees working remotely doesn’t really apply? Do discussions on finding suitable technology or strategies for this context never quite get to the top of your agenda? Do you have a strategy in place, but it is not quite working? The following statistics, trends and motivations behind remote working might help to focus your mind.

An analysis of the survey issued by the Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) reveals that the number of people working from home increased to more than four million employees. This equates to 13.7% of the entire workforce of the UK. Put more simply, the number of people working from home has increased to almost one in seven over the past decade. The survey also estimates that, given the opportunity, a further 1.8 million people would prefer to work from home.

These figures and trends are increasing steadily. They signify huge changes in the composition and attitudes of any workforce and are bound to ask probing questions of traditional management strategies.

Your workforce is your biggest asset and also likely to be your biggest expense. So, is your business ready? Do you have a strategy for managing remote teams?

Cisco conducted research amongst around 1400 professionals between the ages of 18 and 30 and 1500 professionals aged 31 to 50. The findings make interesting reading for employers.

Roughly two thirds of these professionals, believe that an organisation offering flexible working hours – as well as mobile and remote working practices – has a competitive advantage over a company that expects employees to work regular hours Monday to Friday. This is certainly something to bear in mind when you’re building your employer brand.

Where to start with devising a successful strategy to manage virtual teams? A good starting point is to try and understand the motivations and trends behind this rise in popularity of remote working.

So, how can this changing mindset among employees and companies be explained?

Here are a few thoughts:

The development and changing status of technology

A few facts: A third of the professionals in the Cisco study would give up electricity in their homes for a week before giving up their mobile phones. Half of the younger group of professionals look at their mobile phones immediately when waking up to catch up with social media and their emails. We do expect to be able to do our shopping online at any time of day, wherever we are. The largest proportion of the respondents believe that by 2020 the most important connected device for any worker will be their smartphone.

This need for – and expectation of – round-the-clock connectivity is becoming deeply engrained in our mindsets. It is therefore not surprising that this need also translates into how we approach our working lives. We have become technology savvy and dependent.

Technological change has taken huge leaps and is the greatest enabler for employees to work remotely. This has also vastly expanded the talent pool as geographical differences have less bearing. Email is now a universally acceptable replacement for communication in person via phone or physical meetings.

In addition, the development of communication tools such as online meeting and presentation software make it possible to retain a personal touch without the need to meet in person. These tools are instant ways for you to communicate remotely with your clients, but also with your colleagues and team members.

Cloud-storage solutions that are both cost-effective and readily-available make it possible for information to be shared and accessed anywhere with anyone at any time. The need for office-based infrastructure or technical support is likely to decline proportionally.

Productivity and efficiency

Companies and employees working from home generally agree that productivity improves through remote working. Data from SurePayroll suggests that two-thirds of managers acknowledge that the overall productivity of employees increased once they started working from home.

There are simply fewer distractions from chatting with colleagues, impromptu meetings and telephone calls. A work schedule with fewer interruptions can have a positive impact on efficiency. A considerable proportion of telecommuters say that they are able to accomplish more in less time.

Less stress and more engagement

The journey to work by car, train or bus can be a stressful and time-consuming affair. The freedom to devise your own work schedule can be liberating. A large proportion of remote workers report a drop in their stress levels. This has a direct and positive impact on staff wellbeing, turnover and thereby staff expenditure.

It might seem illogical, but a study by Harvard Business Review has shown that remote workers often feel more engaged with their colleagues and line managers; in spite of a lack of actual personal contact. This can largely be attributed to the vast number of technological tools at their disposal to stay connected.

In addition, we can all relate to a busy workday in the office when planned sessions to check-in with colleagues and supervisors are postponed because there just never seems to be the time. Working from home, the contact with your team and managers is simply essential – a lifeline. Scheduled catch-up session are therefore more likely to happen and are often more focused.

Lower overheads and carbon footprint

It is easy to see that the cost of overheads is likely to decrease with an increase in remote working. The bill for operating costs such as the rent for office space should reduce considerably.

A further incentive to facilitate remote working is the positive impact on the carbon footprint. Social responsibility is an important consideration for many companies. A reduction of the annual fuel consumption, and the need for travel helps companies to become greener.

The list goes on, but hopefully, this section provided useful insights into the developing trends, motivation and statistic behind remote working.

These trends and considerations make a positive case for remote working – at least for disciplined workers. There are undoubtedly challenges that come with allowing employees to work remotely, even part-time, or outsourcing work to remote workers. It creates a new virtual work environment that requires a new approach to team management. This can be a scary prospect!

Next week’s sequel will offer some ideas and considerations for finding effective ways to manage virtual teams.