I can’t count how many people have asked me which technologies they need for their virtual team. I understand – their question relates to the trickiest hurdle for most people. And yet in some ways technology is the easiest part to solve.
Here’s a worthwhile tip for new managers: technology is by far the easiest piece of the puzzle for effective remote and virtual teams. Distributed workforces don’t run on technology, they run because people are doing the work. Normal people. With the same personalities, interests, talents and issues as you’ll find in normal offices. Those people don’t work too well when they can’t see, hear, touch, taste or smell everything their colleagues have access to at ‘home base’.
Technology hasn’t yet got to the point where it can replace the face-to-face, person-to-person experience. Until you can make me a cup of coffee, open the door for me and shake my hand, your technology will always leave something to be desired.
The best technologies go as far as possible towards that reality. For example, CISCO’s (note there is no sponsorship relationship between Transformed Teams and any of the businesses mentioned in this article) telepresence units are now available as desktop units at SMB prices – that experience is so real that you instinctively reach out to pick up your correspondent’s pen if they drop it. One of these units or at least Skype, Google Hangouts or a similar videoconferencing option is an essential element of your technology suite in my view.
The worst technologies are those that monitor performance: keystrokes and time spent at the computer are popular. I read about a geotracking device this week that shows a team member’s status and location and enables team messaging. In the case of geotracking I can understand that in many physical industries knowing exactly where someone is at any point is a useful health and safety feature.
However, there’s a need for a modicum of judgment. The same tools used by two different managers can be used for ‘good’ or for ‘evil’, depending on a host of factors. Many managers don’t understand how trust works. They don’t know the elements of trust, how to develop trust in their team or why trust is so important for team motivation. As a result they are quick to lose it, often unwittingly.
The foundation of a high performing team is trust. Monitoring performance as closely as watching keystrokes is nothing less than the worst type of micromanagement.