5 Lessons Learned from Early Adopters of the Virtual Workplace

The virtual workplace has come a long way since Trina and I started working with organizations to move from the traditional workplace to the idea of doing great work from anywhere. When we combine our many years of this practice the total is over 60! We have seen great progress, great failures and a wonderful resilience from organizations working to leverage all the tools available to enable their people to do their best work and live their best lives.

Some of these lesson were very personal, like the time I jumped on a virtual meeting and the project lead didn’t hear me ring in. Sadly, I heard him say, “I hope we don’t have to listen to any more of Kathy’s long, drawn out answers and we can get this call done quickly!” Ouch!! Lesson learned: even though you can’t see them nodding, you don’t have to go on and on with what you think is brilliant information. Or the time Trina was presenting an executive training to 40 emerging leaders via webinar when all the visual screens went down when she was counting on visually sharing a PowerPoint deck on screen. Thank goodness everyone had the deck materials available for download so we could talk through it together.

With our combined personal and professional experience in this area, Trina and I have come together to dive deeply into the lessons we have learned over the years. This week’s blog is an introduction to a series five blogs that will highlight each lesson learned and share tools and best practices you can use in your own organizations.

To kick us off, I’ll briefly outline each lesson and ask you to stay turned in the coming weeks as we venture into the deep end of each of these:

Lesson #1 Managers Matter

No matter what technology, real estate or HR policy you develop nothing will enable a virtual and dispersed workforce like your front line managers. Unfortunately, this is still one of the greatest mistakes organizations make when rolling out a flexible and remote workplace strategy. Assumptions are made and expectations fail if managers aren’t supported. This will be the focus of blog #1 in this series.

Lesson #2 People Come With Their Own Habits

People in any workplace come with their own habits that don’t necessarily sync up with the team and organization. They don’t know what they don’t know, so organizations need to provide structure that pulls individuals into a common process with clearly outlined rules of engagement. This lays the foundation for empowerment, a critical cultural norm in a virtual work environment. Blog #2 will focus on what organizations can do to support this effort.

Lesson #3 The Network is the New Workplace

People don’t understand the impact of virtual distance and how it can/will dumb down a team. Twenty-five percent of emotional and organizational intelligence can drop on virtual teams if the leader isn’t careful. The absence of the signals received in the traditional workplace needs to be replaced when teams aren’t working together physically. Remote work also can negatively impact productivity if people are confused about how to connect with people they don’t see, reducing a smart of group people to a cautious group of followers. Blog #3 will outline how teams can prepare for the virtual workplace and develop new behaviors that enable everyone to do their best work.

Lesson #4: Technology is the Enabler and People are the Key

Organizations need to remove the mystery of online collaboration and reset behaviors so the interaction that is happening through technology is the best it can be. Work is social and gets done through people. Technology should help people connect to each other and information in ways that align with how work really gets done. The network is the main thoroughfare of business communication and information sharing. The interrelationship between technology and the people play the greatest part in the adoptions of technology tools that build strong communication and collaboration. Often times we think if we throw money at a problem, it will magically get resolved. But without a high touch change management process, all the new technology in the world won’t change old behaviors. Blog #4

Lesson # 5 Organizations Have Resources Available.. but They’re Underutilized.

One of the first exercises we conduct when working with an organization is to audit their current programs, resources, and training. What we usually find is that they have great information available, but something is getting in the way of people accessing it. The trouble is people don’t think they need resources or training because what they are doing today seems to be working. They don’t know what they don’t know, or they don’t have time to go find out. Competing demands and workload issues are causing time famine for many teams. Even when there is a directive, managers and employees believe this is just one more “thing” to get done, one more box to check. The final Blog #5 will outline how to integrate mobility and flexibility into existing systems so these processes become embedded into the culture.

If you find you can’t wait for the series to come out, we invite you to participate in our SMART Workplace Manager Kickstart Workshop! Many of the lessons we will be highlighting in the coming weeks are reviewed in this quick course. If you’re ready to go a bit deeper, also take our course on The Powerful Role of the Virtual Leader. You can complete the course in less than 45 minutes, and it includes a virtual leadership self-assessment.

Next blog post? Managers matter….