LATEST THINKING


Collaboration and community: Unlocking the power of the virtual workforce

As companies extend their operations around the globe, capturing the advantages and overcoming the difficulties of virtual work is critical.

Overview

When it comes to productivity and performance, you can’t beat a virtual team.

Dispersed teams can perform better than traditional, co-located ones on numerous fronts. They can gain access to more diverse skills, especially from specialists working closely with customers in overseas markets

They can tighten up project schedules by using a “follow the sun” approach, whereby members leave “to do’s” at the end of their work day for their colleagues to pick up in other time zones. And they can bring in the top skills and knowledge from any location—critical for large organizations with operations and people scattered globally.

But dispersion also presents challenges—among them communication overload, confusion over who will do what and how decisions will be made, and difficulty finding people with needed expertise.

Additional challenges include building trust, creating consensus and a sense of camaraderie, and combating feelings of isolation and loneliness among virtual workers.

Background

Fostering collaboration and a sense of community can help companies exploit the advantages and surmount the challenges of virtual work. Yet collaboration and community require multiple forms of support.

Forward-thinking companies are deploying a wide array of tools and technologies to provide such support. Some augment leading-edge online-collaboration technologies with regularly scheduled face-to-face gatherings that enable colleagues to forge interpersonal bonds and play with ideas.

Others let employees introduce social and collaboration tools, file-sharing services and productivity apps into the workplace—an outgrowth of the “Bring Your Own Device” trend.

Still others help far-flung colleagues feel connected and as if they are members of a community by providing virtual settings (such as room maps and seating charts), pictures of colleagues with details on their professional and personal lives, and artifacts distributed to all sites, such as mouse pads depicting team logos or mottoes.

Recommendations

Accenture's experience has yielded a few approaches that can help foster the collaboration and connection essential for successful virtual work:

Virtual off-sites

At events enabled by videoconferencing and other technologies, companies can bring members of dispersed teams together and pose provocative questions to attendees about what’s happening in their industry, including the top opportunities and challenges facing customers or clients.

Executive blogs

When company executives take to the blogosphere, posting their thoughts and ideas about their industry and its challenges and opportunities, they foster collaboration and a sense of community among virtual employees.

Internal social networking sites

An internal social networking site, either through Facebook or a proprietary program, can enable dispersed employees to post comments, follow one another, share ideas and “Like” content they find there.