Working VirtuallyOne of Technical Communication‘s Best Books reviewed.
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Book Review: Working Virtually: Transforming the Mobile Workforce. Volume 65, Number 2, May 2018 l Technical Communication 225
In Working Virtually, Hoefling laments that business and industry are failing to prepare employees for adapting to a new workplace evolution and that employee engagement (the finesse required to win hearts and minds) continues to erode. In her new edition, she stresses the radical changes inherent in our technologically driven work place—including increasingly specialized project work that will demand contingent and contract workers who rotate on and off teams with regularity. Working Virtually: Transforming the Mobile Workplace is organized into 19 chapters and six parts, each averaging three chapters, and each introduced with relevant quotes by novelists, athletes, presidents, poets, and philosophers.
Hoefling writes with figurative language that make her message both relatable and inspiring, particularly when she refers to workers who grapple with “information anorexia or obesity” (p. 189). She borrows the central theme in her book from a Buddhist metaphor, an approach to virtual teaming she calls the “Threefold Path for high-performing teams” (p. 6). Embarking on this path begins after assembling a team with the requisite knowledge, skills, and aptitude.
The hard work begins with guiding the team toward negotiating shared values, norms, and structure that establish and maintain trust, which is essential for a virtual team to thrive. The second half of Hoefling’s book covers the richest information, including optimizing technology for communication and outlining recommendations for getting the best out of team members. Meeting project timelines and producing deliverables, particularly on a virtual team, requires relationships and bonds that afford a sense of camaraderie. High-performing teams celebrate and champion finding solutions to problems and overcoming obstacles. Hoefling points to the spiritual nature of collective effort at its best, and devotes several paragraphs to the notion of the “sacred (virtual) space” of a high-performing team (p. 207).
She gives attention to generational differences and their effects on virtual teams, crediting millennials with the aptitudes and proclivities for this new way of working. Hoefling also touches upon diversity in virtual teams, including the traits of introversion and extroversion, but she doesn’t address gender, racial, ethnic, cultural, political, or ideological differences common among global virtual teams. Themes that recur in each chapter, including communication protocols, trust, and structure, make some of the content seem redundant at times, but the redundancy keeps these nuances of team dynamics central to the book’s message and purpose.
Hoefling offers supplemental materials on her website, including a free bonus chapter on virtual meetings. Her book chapters include checklists, assessments, and criteria to help with the more practical aspects of virtual teaming. The book, however, could benefit from more examples from Hoefling’s experiences and case studies that would have made the material more concrete for readers.
Whether you are part of a co-located, distributed, or virtual team, Working Virtually will help you increase productivity, improve employee engagement, and reap both the intrinsic and extrinsic rewards of the working on high-performing virtual teams.
Allen Brown is managing director of operations for the Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities. He holds an M.S. in Technical Communication Management from Mercer University.