IBM conducts a biannual study of global CEOs to determine the latest trends in global organizations.  In a HBR chat, Saul Berman and Stephen Hasselmann discuss some of the findings from their recent study. If you have an hour to invest, the recording is well worth the time; otherwise the highlights are available here.

The key takeaway from both the study and the chat is the value of connecting employees, partners and customers. Technology is changing rapidly and the advances that result are changing the business and economic landscape for most companies. We are more connected than ever and the most effective CEOs not only understand this but embrace it.

The study highlights three main beliefs of exceptional CEOs which are:

  • Organizational openness and collaboration
  • Engaging customers as individuals
  • Amplifying innovation with partnerships

Essentially, these CEOs understand that collaboration drives innovation and a shared purpose drives motivation. Providing quarterly updates on company performance, the mission and future goals helps drive an open culture where employees understand and support the company’s vision.  As a result, employees can become more empowered by making task related decisions; such as scheduling collaboration sessions or determining procedures. This results in job enrichment which can increase motivation.

Additionally, these CEOs understand the power of social media and tailoring products and services to individual needs. Engaging with customers allows organizations to improve response and accuracy to market needs. Nilofer Merchant wrote a great series on the Social Era stating that organization need to have conversations with customers; they should be sharing experiences, not telling customer what to think and how to act.

Finally, these CEOs understand that partnerships can push collaboration beyond traditional boundaries. Every organization has a set of core competencies, specific skills that they excel at, and the best CEOs form partnerships around these core competencies. Instead of trying to do everything in-house, they work with other organizations to generate new revenues sources or even create new industries.

However, understanding and embracing the value of connections is useless if an organization does not invest in the tools and resources needed to connect employees to colleagues, customers and business partners. Video conferencing and UC solutions are a critical component of any savvy organization’s IT strategy. These solutions allow people to connect effortlessly, as well as, develop trust and strengthen relationships through face-to-face communication and casual interactions.

We’ve all been there, in that meeting that just seems to drag. You can’t help but look at your phone and think of all the better things you could be doing with your time. The longer you sit, the most frustrated you become as people get off topic and nothing actually seems to get accomplished. Instead of getting annoyed, stop and think, is this dreadful meeting actually your fault?

While your initial response might be absolutely not, the more you think about it there’s a slight possibility. Here’s how:

You Assume All Meetings Are a Waste of Time
If you go into a meeting assuming it will be a waste of time, it most likely will be. Negativity can not only affect your attitude but the attitudes of everyone else around you. Drumming your fingers, fidgeting, sighing and constantly checking your phone or tablet can make even the most patient participant anxious. Before you go into a meeting, take a deep breath and clear out any preconceived notions of a dreadful meeting. The power of positive can have a dramatic effect on productivity.

You Accept Every Meeting Invite
Part of the reason people think all meetings are a waste of time is because they accept every meeting invite regardless of whether or not they can provide value. As a result, the meeting fails to keep their interest and their mind starts wandering to everything else they could be doing. This leads to the negative and anxious attitude that can poison even the best meeting. Prior to accepting a meeting invite, think about whether or not you can provide valuable insight on the topic being discussed. If not, politely recuse yourself.

You Have Video But Don’t Use It
It’s so easy, and tempting, to put yourself on mute and start multitasking on an audio call. However, full engagement is critical to meeting success as it allows you to provide valuable thoughts and insights. Following along on the sidelines may lead you to miss key opportunities to contribute. Video conferencing forces you to focus on the matters at hand which can lead to enhanced creativity and quicker decisions.

You Don’t Create an Agenda
Meetings are notorious for getting off track. One thing leads to another and the next think you know the meeting is over and not a single item got accomplished. If you are leading a meeting, take fifteen minutes to put together an agenda of what needs to be discussed and what decisions need to be made. Then, if the meeting starts to get off track you can direct discussion back to the matters at hand.

You Get Meeting Crazy
Contrary to popular belief; a meeting does not need to be scheduled for every single decision or update. Save meetings for when discussion is absolutely critical; such as brainstorming or training sessions. If you simply need a quick vote on option A or option B; or want to send/receive a status update, email works just as well.

So the next time you’re bored to tears in a meeting, think about all the things you could have done differently to make the meeting more successful.

Video conferencing has made it easier for managers to lead remote employees as well as enhance team cohesion among remote members. However, simply holding video calls will not guarantee a successful remote team. It requires additional time and effort to develop relationships and motivate team members who are scattered around the globe. One of the biggest challenges remote leaders face is overcoming a lack of visibility.

Managers of remote teams can’t take a walk around the office to see how their team is doing nor can team members pop by for a quick chat or clarification. For example, consider a scenario where an employee is hung up on one aspect of the project. It’s nothing major, the numbers just aren’t adding up correctly or everything seems to be in place but the program just isn’t running properly.

A local team member might signal his boss when she walks by and ask for a second set of eyes. They can take a look together, quickly spot the issue and the employee can move along on the project. Unfortunately, remote team members and managers do not have this luxury. A fully deployed UC platform can help by allowing a team member to ping his boss over instant messaging and then shift to a video conference to resolve the issue. However, if their manager does not seem available or team members do not feel comfortable with their boss they might continue to work on the problem themselves.

Developing relationships through face-to-face interactions is absolutely critical for remote leaders. Managers should proactively reach out to their remote teams to check in, ask how things are going or if there is anything they have questions about. These informal interactions not only help put team members at ease but develop a sense of trust by increasing a manager’s viability. When an employee has a question or needs a second set of eyes on a project they feel comfortable quickly reaching out to the manager.

Additionally, due to limited visibility, it is critical for remote leaders to not only have a clear vision in place but ensure each team member fully understands and supports the vision. The vision is what gives employees direction when their managers are not around and can help them make decisions without constantly checking in for approval.

For example, when developing the product packaging and promotional messaging for a new product a team member might have a choice between a cost-effective option and a higher-quality option. If the manager has clearly articulated the vision for the product is high quality the team member can make the decision on their own by selecting the higher-quality packaging material.

When setting the vision it is important to engage all remote team members. Allowing them to be part of the vision creation helps develop team spirit and cohesion, as well as, inspire team members individually.

With the increase of BYOD, unified communications and video conferencing technologies, many more employees are choosing to work from home to accommodate their schedule or expand their job possibilities. Similarly, organizations are allowing more employees the flexibility to work from home to attract and retain top employees across the country. Unified communications tools have allowed organizations to expand their talent pool to the best and brightest around the world; rather than their city.

However, the prevalence of remote work teams has led to new challenges for managers who are now tasked with leading these virtual teams. While some remote teams provide stellar results; many fail to reach their full potential and some fail to even complete their assigned tasks. This leaves many managers asking the question, what makes the difference between success and failure? How can managers enhance the probability of a successful virtual work team?

In a MIT Sloan Management Review article, How to Manage Virtual Teams, Frank Siebdrat, Martin Hoegl and Holger Ernst assert that there a few key aspects for managers to focus on when building a virtual team. By carefully selecting team members and developing a global culture, managers can enhance the likelihood of success.

For example, when selecting remote team members, it is important to not only consider abilities and expertise but social skills as well. In order for virtual teams to be successful “members must first and foremost be able to establish a basis for the effective exchange of their varying capabilities” the authors state. Selecting employees who demonstrate high levels of emotional intelligence and the ability to work together with others is critical for success. Self-important or headstrong individuals can have the opposite effect on a virtual team.

In addition to social skills, team members must have self-leadership skills. Essentially, team members need to be more “self-sufficient in how they manage their own work because the team leader is less in a position to help.” Therefore, managers need to look for independent and motivated individuals who constantly push boundaries and look for new tasks to complete. Individuals who sit around and wait for someone to tell them what to do will have a difficult time succeeding in a virtual team environment.

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of informal interactions and face-to-face communication. Informal interactions, such as happy hour, help develop relationships.  In addition to developing a sense of trust, team members get to know each other on a personal level. Since a traditional happy hour is likely out of the question; managers can put together a virtual social event, such as a virtual happy hour over video. Team members can bring their own glass of wine or beer and informally chat with one another. While it won’t be the exact same as a traditional happy hour, it can still help build camaraderie and team spirit.

Unified communications and visual collaboration solutions have made it easier than ever to work from home.  Remote employees can connect with their boss, collaborate and brainstorm with peers, and drive innovation from the comfort of their couch. However, a recent Forbes article raised and important question.

Can working at home hurt your career?

It’s a possibility, according to a recent issue of MIT Sloan Management Review which notes that remote employees may receive lower performance reviews, smaller raises and fewer promotions than colleagues who go to the office each day; even if they work just as hard, if not harder.  

This is a result of what Kimberly Elsbach and Daniel Cable call “passive face time” or, simply being observed at work. It doesn’t matter what task an employee is completing, he could be writing an email to his wife or friend, and still get credit for being present in the office. What’s more important for career success though is the “extracurricular face time” which involves being seen at work outside of normal business hours or going above and beyond expectations. 

Even though remote workers typically log hours of “extracurricular time” it can go unnoticed by supervisors or peers.  Additionally, remote workers miss the crucial “water cooler chat” bonding time with the management team and other colleagues. Employees in the office are able to say hello and discuss weekend plans with upper management when passing them in the hall while remote employees rarely come in contact them.

So, how can remote employees overcome these barriers?

Elsbach and Cable suggest being immediately available at home, getting peers to talk you up and regular status reports.  However, UC and video solutions can significantly enable and enhance remote employees’ abilities for “virtual” face time. Instead of making regular phone calls and email reports, use instant messaging for quick updates and video calls for more lengthy status updates. 

Instant messaging allows for real-time, casual interactions that show an employee is hard at work.  However, remote workers must be cognizant of presence information that is available on these applications. Frequent or long periods of an idle status could give the impression that you are not around.  If you need to step away from your computer for lunch, a meeting, or any other reason make sure to change your status to “out to lunch,” “in a meeting” or “busy.”

Use video whenever possible to establish face time with managers and colleagues. Video helps build a relationship as face-to-face communication helps establish trust and can increase the likelihood of others putting in a good word to the management team.  

To help achieve extracurricular time, try emailing your boss early in the morning or late in the day noting that you have a few things to discuss when she arrives in the office.  Just make sure you are available when she is ready to touch base.  

Remote employees certainly have their work cut out for them; but, with a conscious effort they can overcome potential barriers that could affect their career.  While they may have to work a little harder to get recognition; the rest of us have to work a little harder getting ready and commuting into the office so it evens out!