Virtual Team Virtues (Post 1 of 5)

Virtual-Teams“A 2005 Deloitte study of IT projects outsourced to virtual work groups found that 66 percent failed to satisfy the clients’ requirements,” reports Keith Ferrazzi in the Harvard Business Review (12/14) article “Getting Virtual Teams Right.”

Ferrazzi, a principal with the California-based business consulting firm Ferrazzi Greenlight and author of Never Eat Alone, also cites a 2009 study of 80 global software teams that found that “well managed dispersed teams can actually outperform those that share office space,” as well as an Aon Consulting report that noted “using virtual teams can improve employee productivity, with some organizations seeing gains of up to 43 percent.”

I’m a strong advocate of virtual work groups, and believe the discrepancy behind these vastly different study results can be traced to those two little words “well managed.” Getting it right when working remotely requires strong management and other elements—the right team, the right leadership, the right touchpoints and the right technology—which Ferrazzi’s HBR article details. I will share the highlights with you in my next four posts.

Today, though, I would like to touch on the myriad customer and employee advantages of virtual teams, which we use extensively. When Intertech IT consultants work remotely (typically from their homes), customers benefit from:

  • Access to talent and skill sets that may not be currently available in their market, particularly if the customer is located in rural locations.
  • A deep bench. While the client may be hiring a specific team, a firm like Intertech has many other resources at its disposal beyond a specific team. Our consultants can (and do) bounce ideas off each other throughout our firm, relying on the same communications technology that tethers them to clients, without any added cost for customers.
  • Demonstration of best practices. It’s common that our clients don’t have strong development or agile practices. Using one of our virtual teams gives them an infusion of best practices that may be difficult to create locally on the client site.  We know this is powerful because clients, after experiencing how we deliver projects remotely, have adopted our processes or asked that we help them implement those processes internally.
  • Free technology and “workspaces.” Computers, software, workstations all represent significant costs. A typical professional laptop costs $2,000 and potentially $1,000’s in software cost.  When we work remotely, those costs don’t exist for customers.
  • Community goodwill. Some of our clients are located in remote areas with limited local IT resources. Due to their remote locations it’s hard to recruit employees, which can result in “talent poaching” from the few local businesses that may employ IT professionals. This can cause a fair amount of embarrassment, uncomfortable moments or even hostility in small towns where people know each other and frequently are in similar social or civic circles.

For employees, the benefits are simple and enormous: working remotely gives them the ability to manage their work and personal lives more flexibly. The advantages of a flexible work life should not be minimized, especially when your workforce includes a large percentage of millennials.

In case you’ve been sleeping, you probably already know that millennials soon will outnumber baby boomers in the United States and are on the cusp of representing the majority of the workforce. As was noted by Sarah Sladek, CEO and founder of XYZ University and author of the book, Knowing Y: Engage the Next Generation Now, “Organizations are doomed to fail if they cling to old-guard ideas that motivated baby boomers.”

Clinging to the notion that employees must be located in an office where they can be observed like babies in a maternity ward is as antiquated as the tradition of proud fathers puffing cigars in the hospital waiting room. Remote or virtual work teams are not the future, they are the present, and my next post will share Ferrazzi’s thoughts—and my own—on the importance of having the right people in place for an effective virtual team.