Working as part of a collaborative virtual team is normal for me now, having spent several years running teams around the world.
The virus caused many companies to adapt by allowing employees to work from home, but many may have seen this as a temporary measure. Now the virus is clearly in the rear view mirror they are aiming to return people to the office.
However, it is possible to learn from this experience, to see that it introduced us to ways of working that are more efficient, less wasteful, and which give businesses greater flexibility.
My experience of the last several years show that it is possible to run high performing distributed global teams. While it is true that it introduces challenges, especially around communication and team building, the benefits vastly outweigh them.
Running distributed teams may also bring traditional practices into question. The traditional office where people turn up for specific hours to work in small boxes was very much along the same pattern as industrial production. So is the approach of having managers which oversee the disenchanted to beat them into performing their duties. Needless to say this is not a model which fits complex mental tasks well.
In 2004, when I employed my own team, my concern wasn't with developers meeting specific hours worked, but rather meeting delivery. The best way to ensure delivery is to ensure developers are empowered rather than micro managed.
It is also critical that they have a sense of ownership, rather than simply following orders and operating as a cog in the machine. This means giving developers a degree of artistic expression in terms of developing solutions they have a hand in designing.
Some businesses may be terrified that employees will slack off if given the opportunity. One company I briefly flirted with insisted on a continuous open video stream. This is essentially just transferring the same old approach of control to remote work. Needless to say if you don't trust your developers, and can't motivate them through positive team development, a work from home approach isn't a great fit. But then neither is working in the office.
The best team I've worked with operated on a distributed basis. While some of the team were office based we all operated through video conferencing to bind us into one high functioning team, rather than separate geographically based teams.
Regardless of whether you work in an office or at home the success factors were all around how we built an effective team and organized communications. Teams are more than a bunch of colocated employees. It is this aspect I think that will be a success regardless of where people work.
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