Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Virtual teams ... now is the time

“Virtuality is found in how team members work, not in where team members work.” Thomas P. Wise, "Trust in Virtual Teams"

Thomas P. Wise is probably correct that virtual teams are more about "how" than "where", but as the covid-19 virus is about as I write this, everyone is scrambling for the playbook on virtual teams, and turning to the chapter on "how" without question. We know the "where": tucked away at home or some other remote location

By Wise's take, these are the main determinants of whether a team is really virtual:
  • Geography
  • Communications
  • Culture

The culture thing
I line up big time on the culture thing.
I've always said: You can't push culture through the Internet cable all that well.

Commonly, you've got two identities: Remote and Local. And each identity has a personality and behavior that fits the either the local or remote culture. (Will the "real" you come forward?)

In this moment of crises, project teams suddenly made virtual carry their project culture home, so it's not like hiring virtual staff and hoping the culture will seep through the Internet.

So, values, customs, loyalties, and trusting relationships -- all components of the culture -- will persist for the relatively short time this event will be with us. The question will be: what's the tail on this? How will it be different when we all gather back together?
It's an unknown, or better yet: a known unknown.

Geography and Communications
But, the the others are important. For instance, if in the long run, this sudden surge of virtual teams returns to perhaps working from home a day a week pretty much means just a geographic separation: you're not going to lose your culture (beliefs and norms) in just a day at the house. But, given enough time in a remote geography, and you're going to "go native" as they say.

And, of course, if you can't effectively communicate visually, then there goes the body language and probably half your communications input.
Conference calls -- voice only -- are the worst in this regard (just put it on mute and go the kitchen for a snack ... will you be missed? Will you miss anything? And, how would you or anyone know?)

The good news: all kinds of communication apps are popping up. The bad news: in the short run, the physical channels in the Internet are stressed.

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