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.

Professional sports develop a sense of community and create unspoken bonds – or conflicts – between fans and their rivals. Teams vie for the chance to be called the best in the league each year and collect a precious ring. Whether it’s football, hockey, baseball or basketball, telepresence is integrating itself into professional sports as different leagues, team offices and athletes are increasingly using it. Here are a few ways the technology can benefit professional sports teams and leagues.

Manage the Team
Many professional sports teams are owned by a group of investors rather than a single entity. The group of owners must frequently meet to discuss various aspects of the team such as players, coaching staff, ticket promotions and more. Even individual owners need to keep in close contact with general managers and other staff about team performance and operations. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to get everyone together since most team owners have other jobs and responsibilities. As a result, teams are turning to telepresence to “wow fans while helping teams streamline operations” according to a Cisco newsroom article.

General Managers can use the technology to interview players and coaching staff, like any other corporation, to see if they would be potential fit for the team. Additionally, general managers can connect with each other to negotiate the potential trade of athletes, draft picks and more. This allows deals to be reached much faster which can be critical when the trade deadline approaches at the end of the season.

Interact with Fans
Telepresence also allows professional sports teams and athletes to better interact with fans. Back in 2010, fans from 19 different countries and five continents interviewed David Beckham during a webcast hosted by Yahoo. Fans were able to ask questions and watch Beckham’s response over a video for a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Additionally, at the 2009 NHL All-Star game in Montreal, Cisco telepresence systems were set up in the arena allowing fans to chat with players and alumni in the greenroom. Facilitating interaction between fans and their favorite players not only enhances the fan experience but creates more loyal fans which can drive revenue for teams.

Disciplinary Hearings
In high-impact sports, like football and hockey, athletes can lose their cool and make a dirty play in the heat of the moment. An elbow to the head, a hit from behind or the use of unnecessary force against the opposing team is not only against the rules but can be extremely dangerous, if not life-threatening. In these instances disciplinary hearing are often needed as league officials take the safety of players very seriously.

Video can be used by league officials to conduct the hearing and interview the offending player. Then, after reviewing and determining if supplementary discipline is necessary, fines or suspensions can be issued to players, coaches and even team owners over telepresence. This is a great alternative to flying players to league headquarters for hearings; especially for smaller offenses.

I had to work from home yesterday because the baby-sitter called in sick and my wife had an important meeting. I figured it was no big deal because the kids could just play with their toys and then during my back-to-back meetings I could put a movie in to keep them settled.

First meeting of the day was a weekly status with my sales manager. We were discussing how to proceed with an important account when my cat Ziggy jumped up and knocked into my camera. I put Ziggy back on the floor, fixed the camera and continued my meeting; but, Ziggy jumped right back up and started hissing and clawing at my computer screen.

He really isn’t a fan of new people, I’m not sure why but he gets defensive. My friends told me I should apply to get on some cat whisperer show but that seems a bit excessive. At any rate, I grabbed Ziggy, put him outside the room and then closed the door so he couldn’t get back in and the rest of the meeting went smoothly.

Note to self: make sure Ziggy is secured before my next meeting because I’d really like to keep the door cracked in case the kids need me.

Later that day I had a call with two of our engineers about a client’s project and. I made sure Ziggy was secured and things seemed to be going well except every now and then I kept seeing them smile a little. I didn’t think much of it; maybe someone in the office just said something funny. About fifteen minutes later, Anne starts laughing. Now I know something is going on so I finally asked what was so funny.

Apparently my children had infiltrated the room and were making funny faces behind me. Fish faces, crazy eyes, the whole works. Wonderful.

As I turned around I could hear them scampering off. I apologized for the distraction and both Jason and Anne laughed it off saying how adorable my kids were. It worked out okay but thank goodness this was just an internal call. I can’t even imagine the level of embarrassment if I had been on a call with an important client or, even worse, a potential new client.

That’s when I learned the importance of self-view. It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on what’s going on behind you. Perhaps it’s your children having fun, an errant pet or an angry co-worker thrashing around. You just never know.

I stumbled across an old HBR article the other day called Introducing the Collaboration Curve. Despite the World of Warcraft analogies, it raised a few very interesting points that not only relate to video conferencing but to the value of collaboration itself.

The first point the authors discuss is the “network effect” which states the value of a node in a network rises exponentially as more nodes are added to it. Essentially, “the more participants –and interactions between those participants – you add to a carefully designed and nurtured environment, the more the rate of performance improvement goes up.”

This makes sense for video conferencing solutions. What value does video really have if you can’t connect to anyone of relevance? Twenty years ago only executives of large corporations had video conferencing solutions and the technology was generally only used for high-level strategy meetings. Even if a business partner had video, differences in platforms, firewalls and network exchanges most likely prevented a successful connection.

However, new trends in interoperability and cloud video services are allowing participants to connect via video anytime, anywhere, on any device. As a result, more and more organizations are adopting video solutions and the value of video communications has been increasing exponentially. Almost every call I have with a colleague or partner is over video nowadays, granted I work at a video company, but it’s just as easy, if not easier than picking up the telephone. All I have to do is type in a name and click a button; there’s no hassle of looking up and then dialing a phone number.

But how does the network effect relate to collaboration?

This is the true insight of the article. The collaboration curve, or the network effect on collaboration, holds “the potential to mobilize larger and more diverse groups of participants to innovate and create new value.”

But what exactly does that mean?

If an organization gives one person the opportunity and tools to collaborate, the likelihood of a breakthrough idea is minimal because this person doesn’t have anyone else to connect to. However, give two people the opportunity and tools to collaborate; they can connect with each other, brainstorm, and the likelihood of a breakthrough idea increases. As more and more people within an organization are given the opportunity and tools to collaborate, a larger and more diverse group of participants is created and the likelihood of a breakthrough idea has increased exponentially.

This is social collaboration at its core – casual interactions among colleagues, business partners and even customers that enable creativity and drive innovation. Unified communications and video conferencing solutions connect geographically disperse employees; expanding the reach of collaboration beyond a single location.

The perpetual wondering of what your colleague looks like no longer crosses your mind because you are able to see them over video. A relationship develops from the casual face-to-face chat at the beginning of a meeting because it’s kind of hard to hide behind the mute button and finish up an email while waiting for everyone to join the call.

The value of the collaboration curve lies here; when colleagues and business partners with different backgrounds or areas of expertise are connected effortlessly. Ideas are bounced back and forth for a second opinion from an impartial third-party and value is created through new products or processes that can revolutionize a company or even develop a new market.

Video Conferencing in Hollywood

The power of video conferencing to enable true collaboration is something that is understood by everyone who uses the technology. When thinking about industries and occupations that rely on collaboration one has to look no further than film and television production. These are incredibly collaborative mediums that require the deep cooperation and team work of writers, producers, directors, editors, and many others.

Some of today’s biggest blockbusters have crews that number in the thousands. Coordinating that effort can be incredibly daunting, especially with many remote filming locations and production experts spread throughout the world. It’s no wonder that Hollywood has adopted video conferencing as key member of the production team. There are many different applications for video within a film and television production environment including:

Post Production
The editing and post production (sound, special effects, etc) of a film can take more than a year to complete, sometimes longer. Coordinating the director’s schedule with the editor to get a cut of the film completed can be challenging (in many cases the director has moved onto shooting their next film, while the current film is still being worked). Many production companies make use of video conferencing to connect the editor, the director, and other post production team members.

Perhaps what is most amazing about this is how long Hollywood has been utilizing this method. Back in the early 90s, Steven Spielberg had finished filming Jurassic Park in Hawaii and had moved on to shooting Schindler’s List in the middle of a harsh European winter. He would be out shooting the difficult subject matter of the Holocaust during the day and then during his down time he would be reviewing edits and special effects shots from Jurassic Park via video conferencing. This is now status quo in many productions and has allowed creative teams to hit their deadlines despite their location and demands of new projects.

On the television side I can provide a first-hand experience. In 2001 I worked as an intern on the NBC television series, Third Watch. We were shooting throughout New York City on location and in a small studio in Brooklyn. The post production of the show was handled back in Los Angeles. Many times throughout my internship I was able to participate in editing sessions with the director (in NY) and the editors and producers back in Los Angeles.

Production
A new trend has emerged with video and Hollywood and that is video conferencing to help direct during production. Steven Spielberg (our model example again!) and Peter Jackson worked very closely on the recently released Adventures of Tin Tin. This film was not shot in a traditional sense; it was actually actors on a motion capture stage. Cameras captured their movements and this was translated into 3D imagery that could then be manipulated. Spielberg and Jackson were able to “co-direct” several scenes over video and determine the best camera angle, movement, etc.

Casting
Casting for a film can take months or even years. The same challenges exist in getting producers, directors, casting agents, and talent in the same location. Using video, potential stars can do their auditions and readings via video, to be viewed by anyone on the production team anywhere in the world. This certainly doesn’t replace the face to face interaction needed between actor and director, but it provides a good first introduction to new talent.

With film budgets well over $200 million in some cases and schedules that can carry-on for years, video has provided a way to keep everyone connected and on schedule throughout the long process of producing a movie or television series.

Additional Resources:

Bad Robot Case Study from Polycom