It wasn’t that long ago that the “workplace of the future” was a Jetsons image: commuters going to work in flying cars. At the turn of the century, I worked with team members a few thousand miles away — most of the time via video conferencing, but still using once-a-month face to face meetings after 3 hour flights (in a plane, not in my flying car!). But, technology has taken us a different direction…enabling us to work together without physically being together with video conferencing from our phones, co-work and collaboration tools on our computers, and real-time work tracking.
For the past decade, I’ve worked with team members whom I see face to face perhaps only once or twice per year. Sure, virtual teams have advantages. The commute time can be turned into work time. But the effects of computer-mediated communication are not always great, and it’s certainly not true that virtual teams are always effective and productive. A 2012 study from SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) found that brainstorming and generating ideas was the most successful task for virtual teams to accomplish, and that actually going through the processes of implementation was a bit harder. The difference may be that team leads and executives haven’t adapted their leadership style to the unique challenges of virtual teams.
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