Building Virtual Teams - Managed Mobility beyond E-mail

By Lora Mihova strategy and planning manager at Telefónica UK

Mobile has taken over the world. According to Forbes, last year more smart mobile devices (1) were sold than babies were born – 10 times more. So it’s no surprise that 8% of babies say “tablet” as their first word, as Tech21 claims. More importantly perhaps, it is now evident that we work, and live, on our mobiles, reaching out to them an astonishing average of 160 times a day.

Businesses, from Start-ups to Enterprises are embracing mobility, recognising the cost and competitive advantages it can bring. But with increased mobility comes a new set of challenges, not least that of working as a virtual team across offices, homes and even time zones. I think there are three main challenges to working in a virtual team each of which (unsurprisingly) have digital remedies.

  1. Maintaining a sense of common culture and belonging

For me this is all about establishing the right values and integrating digital tools that allow for social and informal interaction. For instance, shared project management tools such as Trello or Asana are a time efficient way to keep up to date with each other’s progress and immediate priorities.

Collaboration, on the other hand, requires time to be spent online together – OpenTok, one of our home-grown Telefónica products, is an easy way to video conference and share presentations, without any of the hassle. Alternatively, you could opt for Lync and benefit from extensive functionality, such as giving control of your screen to others for on the spot edits. As an example my team have set up bi-weekly Lunch & Learns that allow us to present projects and gather feedback.  Also for an on-going collaborative project, get yourself set up on a co-creation file repository, such as Box.

  1. Fostering innovation

New ideas are rarely created in isolation, but are rather the product of knowledge exchange between people. So how can you manage mobility so as to maintain a strong team culture and keep the conversations between your employees flowing?

An enterprise social network such as Yammer is one option. Employees can share ideas, questions or and even interesting news articles to keep knowledge flowing. I’ve also seen some companies turning to interesting tools like Sqwiggle; this provides a constant video feed of your colleagues running on low bandwidth and launches audio if you click their picture.  It replicates the feeling of working in an office and simply tapping your colleague on the shoulder at a nearby desk.

  1. Combating the fear factor

The above may seem like an awful lot of software to set up and enable, but the truth is that these tools are already creeping into organisations. As firms begin to get to grips with ‘Bring Your Own Device’, ‘Bring Your Own Applications’ is already underway. However, most enterprises are not in a position to protect themselves – as Gartner warns – most apps fail basic security testing. You have two choices: either block apps by adding to the compliance procedures.  Or, as per Dell’s Sean Wisdom in a recent interview, overcome the fear of costs, security and complexity and embrace mobility. Many of the consumer apps that employees resort to, to IT’s horror, already have business grade versions. A first step in the right direction would be to see what apps are already being used within your company and purchase enterprise licences for all the employees. Little by little, firms can build an ecosystem of digital tools, ensure their adoption is maximal and support their mobile, empowered workforce to make better decisions.

And when you do have the opportunity to bring teams together face to face, remember to celebrate milestones, achievements, and keep the team spirit and culture well and strong.

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(1.)Includes smartphones and tablets.