Should your team go virtual?

Posted on Posted in General, Meetings

The financial benefits of reduced overhead costs are obvious.

So is the benefit to the worker: less time commuting, more flexibility, more time at home to spend with the family, etc.

With quality videoconferencing, cloud computing, and innovative collaboration tools now easily available, “Should we go virtual?” is a question every organization, every team, every employee should ask…but it’s not the question I’m posing.

No, what’s far more of an interesting question to me is “Can you go virtual?”

If the answer is no, it might be because the command and control factory mentality that continues to dominate your organization is incompatible with virtual.

In the factory, decisions are made at the top and then management delegates resulting tasks to subordinates.  Excessive meetings are the hallmark of this culture, because it’s a useful monitoring device to continually check status and make sure everyone is doing their work in a controlled way. After all, without frequent check-ins people might veer off the standard path and make mistakes. This quality control driven, observational style of management is very difficult to maintain virtually.

But the world and the economy are shifting.

As was articulated brilliantly in the book Linchpin, the new economy demands everyone in the organization to be creative and innovate, to draw their own maps, to initiate, to exert emotional labor in a way that creates value by continually redefining our job description instead of simply being shackled to it.

Relying on top down decision making to tell us what to do now is a severe disadvantage to the organization and its individual members. Organizations that rely on centralized control can’t possible innovate fast enough to keep up with the competition who empower all of its people to take responsibility for quick and intelligent decisions.

As for the worker, Tom Friedman writes in his new book, That Used to Be Us, “If you do a non routine high-skilled job in a routine way—if you are what we would call a “routine-creator—you will be vulnerable to outsourcing, automation, or digitization, or you will be the first to be fired in an economic squeeze.

The type of creative work necessary in the new economy requires more autonomy, space, and collaboration (but not over-collaboration). It just so happens the virtual work style tends to support this. Virtual workers are forced to work in a different way one that is more independent, more accountable for results (rather than actions), without the ability to hide inside of meetings or “look” productive. When you can’t consult on every decision or collaborate on every assignment, it enables individuals to start taking risks, and drawing their own maps. And maybe most importantly it forces teams and managers to agree on a clear strategy, vision and set of values that will guide them.

If just the thought of having one of your team members (or all) go virtual feels completely scary and unnatural, maybe that’s precisely the reason you should try it. Because although choosing to go virtual certainly isn’t for every company, the inability to go virtual might signal you haven’t adapted your organization to the new world we live in.


9 thoughts on “Should your team go virtual?

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I haven’t had the chance to work virtually at my job, but I was part of a virtual team during a 2 year MBA. My team of 6 classmates worked together from all 4 corners of the country to collaborate and deliver on projects. It was a blast.

  2. I love this. We have 187 people working all over the world – I met less than 5% of them in person. Technology Plus Talent!

    1. We have 80,000+ conferencing customers world-wide. We are giving all customers one month of free conferencing, if they show us proof that they bought Al’s book. How is that for a value-added service!

  3. Hi Al,

    I ordered your book (still waiting for it to arrive but as it happens the postal workers are on strike where I live). I’m more of a trial and error guy having had about six years of experience working with distributed teams across the globe. During this time things seem to have changed both in technology but more importantly in the mentality of people. I feel the main challenge has always been to find a way for that consensus or direction to take place and a central place “a wall” where everyone can collaborate. While, group mail fails often and so do collaboration portals, text chat is a horrible place to agree on anything and conference calls somehow just wear you out, I’m still searching for that magic bullet on how to get everyone in the “attack formation”. Right now, we’re using both group mail, one to one mail, one to one video calls and a wall to communicate publicly and there seems to be some sort of a momentum going on. I thought of asking (before I get my hands on your book) what is your view on collaboration rooms or methods where you post something for everyone in the team? Are there any established “best ways”?


    1. Collaboration tools like Basecamp can be very effective, because they don’t rely on real time interaction. As for “best ways” I think you’ll need to be more specific for me to give a worthwhile answer (feel free to e-mail me).

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