Weekly-Re-cap-Banner-NEW-BLUE

Welcome to our bi-weekly recap of the week’s best articles surrounding collaboration.

School Days 2.0: Connected, Borderless, and Highly Inclusive
Just as the Internet of Everything is disrupting so many other areas of our lives (not to mention business models), its ever-expanding wave of network connectivity promises to upend education as well. Within the context of learning, the very definition of schools, students, teachers, and classrooms is being challenged. Now, your classroom is wherever you happen to be, and your lessons often take place when you want them

How Technology has Changed our Daily Commute Forever
Mobile technology and connectivity has, and still is, changing the daily commute for workers. It’s a combination of smarter, smaller more portable devices and faster, more widely available connectivity that is driving this change in behavior. Commuting on public transportation is a very different experience today. Almost every kind of public transport now either gives passengers access to Wi-Fi or they can use mobile data networks. Similarly, Social media is a booming interactive tool for travel companies to interact with their passengers, alerting them to disruption, delays and fixes.

Building a Successful Mobility Roadmap
Specifically, today’s mobile landscape is demanding constant evolution. From listening and responding to the mobility needs of employees to deploying home-grown apps, a flexible and holistic roadmap for mobility and mobile apps is essential. While mobility continues to be a growing trend that offers businesses new opportunities, many companies have yet to fully realize the true potential of mobility.

Teledermatology as reliable, efficient as in-person consults
Remote consultations from dermatologists using a smartphone app have proven reliable and efficient at prioritizing inpatient consultations for patients with skin conditions. Outlining their study results in JAMA Dermatology, researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania concluded that this method can help deliver dermatology care more efficiently in busy hospital settings.

How Video Makes a Difference in the Way I Work
87% of remote users feel more connected to their team and process when using videoconferencing, according to a Gigaom report on video conferencing and business collaboration published last month. Video gives people insight into people beyond the meeting agenda. These little pieces of information give perspective on someone’s day and they open opportunities to know more about people with whom you are spending virtual time. Similarly, with multitasking at epidemic proportions, collaborating via video helps you know that the people on the other end of a call are paying attention.

Remote teams are quickly growing in popularity with the acceptance and growing use of telework programs. However, leading a remote team and managing remote team members is far different from traditional teams. There are many things that we take for granted being in an office, especially face time, that need to be specifically addressed for remote teams.

In a recent HBR article, Keith Ferrazzi mentions three tips to managing virtual teams. Here are a few others to ensure your remote team members function as well as local team members.

  1. Be Available:  Formal weekly status meetings are a must but don’t forget to informally check-in throughout the week. In the office, most mangers stop by and say hi to their teams and many have an open door policy. Fostering this atmosphere is just as important for remote managers. Take the time to just say hi and make yourself available for when your team has questions, needs assistance with a task, or just wants to bounce a few ideas around is very important.
  2. Trust Your Team: The majority of the time, your team will accomplish their tasks and put their 40 hours of work in, if not more. Yes, there may be a few bad apples that don’t do what they’re supposed to but micromanaging and constantly checking up on your entire team is a surefire way to disrupt productivity and frustrate your team. If you suspect one person is not putting in their hours, address it with them directly or sporadically ask them to show you what they are working on.
  3. Define Objectives:  Remote team members can’t simply walk into your office and ask what to do next. Therefore, it is extremely important to define long term goals and objectives for these employees. Consistently managing to short and long term goals will not only keep remote team members productivity but it will also make them feel that their work is contributing to the great goals of the department and the organization.
  4. Encourage Collaboration: It’s easy for remote team members to feel isolated as they don’t have the face time with colleagues that corporate employees do. Assign projects that require team members to collaborate and work on together. This will help develop relationships between remote members and allow them to feel a part of the team instead of an individual contributor.
  5. Communicate Corporate Messaging: Again, it’s easy for remote members to feel isolated from the company as they can miss out on corporate messaging as well the corporate culture. Remote managers must take the time to communicate all corporate messages and Executive teams should think about sending monthly video updates to all employees updating them on what is happening within the company as well as what to look forward to in the future.

Taking the extra time to focus on these objectives can help remote team members feel more comfortable and less isolated from the company. Additionally, it can help increase their productivity by ensuring giving them the space they need to accomplish tasks while being available to assist or answer questions.

Trust is an integral component of any relationship whether it’s with a spouse, close friend, colleague or business partner. It’s also an integral part of effective collaboration. Picture yourself in two scenarios; one meeting where you do not know anyone, the other where you know everybody at the table. In the first scenario, you’re a little more reserved since you’re worried about making a good first impression. You want to come off as intelligent rather than foolish and might keep some ideas to yourself since you don’t want to sound stupid.

In the second scenario, you are much more relaxed because you’ve already developed a rapport with the meeting participants. As a result, you freely express your ideas, even the ones that seem a little crazy because sometimes the craziest ideas turn out to be the most profitable. Unfortunately, building and maintaining trust in a virtual environment can be difficult; especially since the need for establishing trust is either overlooked or deemed a waste of time.

In an HBR webinar, How Virtual Teams Can Outperform Traditional Teams, Keith Ferrazzi discusses the importance of trust and how the development of strong bonds can enable a virtual team to actually outperform a traditional team. There are three different kinds of distance that can affect teams. The first is physical distance, or geographic proximity. The second is operational distance, such as different priorities, incentive structures or other projects that prevent the team from connecting.

The third, and most important, is affinity distance which is the level of familiarity or commitment among team members. Essentially, it is level of trust or the bonds developed between team members that allow them to truly connect. Ferrazzi states, “Affinity is the trump card – the thing that really matters. High affinity distance can sink a physically proximate team. On the flip side, with high affinity, physical distance doesn’t much matter.”

So how can organization enable high levels of affinity among teams?

Video conferencing plays a major role as it allows team members to see facial expressions and other nuances that can help build trust. Additionally, it is important for individuals to view their team members as actual people and get to know each other on a personal level. Ferrazzi suggests scheduling time for personal chit-chat at the beginning of a meeting or support a favorite charity like the ASPCA as a team, something that can foster a community spirit.

Relating this back to my own experiences, I work on team initiatives all of the time and have forged many relationships within IVCi. Recently a large group of our organization was in town for a meeting and I was talking to several people when we both realized we had never actually been in the same room before. We have met countless times over video and thanks to the relationship we have forged, the need to be physically present just faded away. It was rather ironic to say “nice to meet you” for the first time when we have been partners for over three years!

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.