Take a listen to my colleague, Jim Ware's interview last night, on Turi Ryder's WGN radio show on "The perks and catches of working remotely." Jim's been thinking about where work is headed for a very long time and is a thoughtful commentator. He is clear that he hasn't studied Yahoo! but, when pressed for what he would say to the company, he pointed out that there is a larger issue here than where people are working. "It used to be we all had to go to the office if we wanted to see people or access our paper files...the office is now operating in a free market. Marissa Mayer should have known this and maybe she does... but these companies need to create an office work environment where people want to be there."
A lot of virtual team research crosses my screen, most of which is earnest and much of which is the equivalent of a Sunday-night eat-up of what's in the refrigerator. And then something like this comes through, "Developing Real Skills for Virtual Teams," from University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School. Not surprising, given that one of our two collaborators on the HBR "far-flung teams" classic, "Can Absence Make a Team Grow Stronger?" -- Arvind Malhotra -- is associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship there.
This ia a truly excellent white paper on the basics of how virtual teams can succeed, including lots of statistics, a good list of challenges, and some pointers for HR. Download and enjoy. Well done, Kenan-Flagler folks, and thanks to their community manager, Harrison Kratz, for alerting me back in February of this year. Good ideas never die; they just remain in the inbox until their proper moment.
Here's the outline for the paper; links will take you right to the sections of the paper.
Writing books has its downsides -- sore neck, publisher disagreements, pressure to always start another one -- but then something like this happens and it's worth writing a few more. This morning I received a really nice email from Archana Chandrasekar, who's working on a master's in Information Systems Management at Warwick Business School. Part of the research includes receiving responses to this survey on learning in virtual organizations. Archana is asking me to post a link to the survey so that my readers hopefully will take it. How can I turn down this request after reading the paragraph below that begins, "On a personal note...?" So, dear readers, please take the survey!
And for the record, as Archana suggests, I am always happy to help students. In the long sweep of human history, the study of virtual organizations is still an emerging field; we need all the research we can muster.
My name is Archana Chandrasekar and I am currently pursuing my Master's in Information Systems Management at Warwick Business School, UK.As a part of my dissertation, I am examining the applicability of Peter Senge's Learning Organizational Model within the context of Virtual Organizations. My research methodology involves a qualitative analysis of the learning processes within an virtually functioning organization. In addition to an in-depth case study analysis I have interviewed a few individuals working in Virtual Organizations and have found the results to be satisfactory and in line with my hypothesis. But as expected the number of employees willing to participate is disappointing as the questionnaire involves questions relating to sensitive topics such as appraisals, managerial approvals etc.
As a regular visitor of your site I have often seen questionnaires posted by other postgraduate students. I would humbly request you to do the same with my questionnaire as it would be of immense help. Kindly note that due to confidentiality concerns individuals are not required to fill in any personal details.
This questionnaire is targeted to individuals working in virtual organizations and how they learn and share knowledge. The questions are based on Pedler et al. (1997) "The Learning Company" questionnaire.
On a personal note I would like to thank you for all your contributions to the academic world. Your works are a prominent feature in my literature review section and have helped me understand virtual worlds better. For someone with no technical IT background, I know jumping head first into a topic like virtual organizations would be a colossal task but Lipnack and Stamps(1997) simplified the topic in the most profound way.
The questionnaire link is attached below and I kindly request you to post it on your site as this would be of great help to my dissertation. Thank you again for playing a vital role in my academic endeavors.
Terrence Seamon, whom I had the chance to work with a few years back when American Management Association was putting together a new course on leading virtual teams (I was subject matter expert for the course and Terry held the management development portfolio there; together we did a webinar that you can listen to here), has a nice reflective post on what it takes to work successfully from a distance. He calls out the role of leadership in his virtual experience -- in his example, there was no appointed leader, as is the case when this works successfully, many people took on leadership roles:
Leadership - We were a leaderless group, where no one was appointed (or elected) as the leader. However, since a team needs leadership to be successful, leadership emerged as we went along. For example, several members of our team kept us informed of direction and guidance from the editors. Getting this input from time-to-time kept us on track, and kept us going.
The myth that virtual groups -- and networks -- have no leaders is one of the most pernicious misunderstandings about these work arrangements. It leaves the impression that they have no direction and no accountability for results ... and it's wrong. One of the gifts of these organizational innovations is that they allow all kinds of leadership modalities to surface.
Thanks, Terry, for the chance to board this particular bandwagon again!
Some heartening research for introverts. In this age of collaboration (telecommuting, virtual teams, remote working, etc), we might take a page from people who spend time alone (and not like this-alone, at the computer), according to "The power of lonely" by Leon Neyfakh in yesterday's Boston Globe. Witness these gems (and forgiveness please for not spending more time--alone--throwing in all my thoughts about this; have to go meet some people...):
[A]n emerging body of research is suggesting that spending time alone, if done right, can be good for us — that certain tasks and thought processes are best carried out without anyone else around, and that even the most socially motivated among us should regularly be taking time to ourselves if we want to have fully developed personalities, and be capable of focus and creative thinking. There is even research to suggest that blocking off enough alone time is an important component of a well-functioning social life — that if we want to get the most out of the time we spend with people, we should make sure we’re spending enough of it away from them. Just as regular exercise and healthy eating make our minds and bodies work better, solitude experts say, so can being alone.
One ongoing Harvard study indicates that people form more lasting and accurate memories if they believe they’re experiencing something alone. Another indicates that a certain amount of solitude can make a person more capable of empathy towards others. And while no one would dispute that too much isolation early in life can be unhealthy, a certain amount of solitude has been shown to help teenagers improve their moods and earn good grades in school...
...In an age when no one is ever more than a text message or an e-mail away from other people, the distinction between “alone” and “together” has become hopelessly blurry, even as the potential benefits of true solitude are starting to become clearer...
...When we let our focus shift away from the people and things around us, we are better able to engage in what’s called meta-cognition, or the process of thinking critically and reflectively about our own thoughts...
...Teenagers, especially, whose personalities have not yet fully formed, have been shown to benefit from time spent apart from others, in part because it allows for a kind of introspection — and freedom from self-consciousness — that strengthens their sense of identity...
[According to Univ of Illinois Professor Reed Larson,] teenagers weren’t necessarily happier when they were alone; adolescence, after all, can be a particularly tough time to be separated from the group. But Larson found something interesting: On average, the kids in his sample felt better after they spent some time alone than they did before.
And lest we forget:
The leaders of the world’s great religions — Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Moses — all had crucial revelations during periods of solitude.
Remember my obsession with "green teams" and ideas generated by readers to use virtual meetings to clean up the carbon? Encouraging article in China Business News: "Telecommuting to solve Hubei’s carbon emissions problem." Check out the optimistic last paragraph about the impact of virtual meetings on carbon emissions. (My only nit is whether the virtual meeting carbon reduction is corrected for emissions of the IT infrastructure to support such meetings - a quibble, to be sure):
When the China Mobile Hubei Company recently called on other companies and the public sector to work together on a low-carbon smart city initiative, to turn Hubei province into a “low-carbon area” a dozen companies applauded the idea...
The National Development and Reform Commission selected Hubei, earlier this year, as one of the first group of bases in the country for low-carbon pilot tests.
It did not seem to be an easy job. The province is famous for its traditional concentration of heavy industries and scant regard for the environment, but, emerging telecom developments seem to paint a much more hopeful picture.
In fact, the telecommuting sector has the greatest potential for carbon emission reductions in China, and could save 340 million tons of CO2 emissions in 2020, Guo told the audience of environmental experts, local government officials and company representatives.
In the long run, he said, savings from virtual meetings will increase at a much greater rate – about 623 million tons of CO2 annually – by 2030, thereby cutting commercial aviation emissions by nearly 40 percent...
Harvard Business Press publishes the Pocket Mentor series, all-you-need to know in under 100 small pages. We served as mentors for Leading Virtual Teams, which meant writing the intro and reading carefully for content, adding bits of material here and there. Since we didn't write it, I can praise it. Good, with all the fundamentals. Readable in an hour or so and excellent for stimulating conversation in a virtual team.