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How to be spontaneous with virtual teams/working from home?


In the early 90s, as computers were really starting to be accessible and the Internet was emerging, a trend was accelerating:  work from home offices.

At that time, a friend of mine started a business with two other people to help businesses set-up remote environments for their teams, with the biggest challenge being “psychological.”

  • How could a manager manage people he/she never or rarely saw?
  • How could you trust employees you could not see?
  • Could an employee survive without daily supervision….and interaction?
  • How was company culture maintained?

For the last ten (10) years, we have figured the above are not such a problem.  There are also many guides on how to effectively work from home (whether a one-person business or part of a large corporation):

  • get up in the morning and prepare like going to the office
  • have a dedicated room used ONLY for work and fully equipped for work
  • etc

There are tools to facilitate communication and collaboration

  • File sharing  like SharePoint or even Dropbox
  • Instant messaging with Communicator or Messenger
  • Practical tools like Evernote or OneNote
  • Conferencing tools like WebEx or JoinMe
  • Social Media….indeed…for business, though still being really figured out.

One subject is not resolved and requires a little more thinking….how to handle spontaneity in the virtual world!

Very mature organizations have the discipline to understand and respect that not everyone is in the same building, same floor, same room….interactions are very different when you are face-to-face or via a camera or just a telephone.  Structure is important for a sustainable business.  As much as spontaneity has its merits, you cannot run a company on it….But…(capital B), there is much to say about impromptu meetings.  How many times have you clarified a nagging issue walking down the hall, running into someone accidentally and asking an ad hoc question?  How many times have you peered into your partner’s/manager’s/co-worker’s/employee’s office for a 12 minute white-boarding discussion and come out with a clearer thought to help you act and make decisions more effectively?

within Context of remote versus proximity:

  • in a mature organization/function, with established processes, structure, governance, tools and management….where operations are regular as clockwork, little proximity is required.  People know what to do, onboarding is straightforward, tasks are clear…age-old clear.
  • in a start-up, during a period of change/transformation, with many new faces….spontaneity and informal meetings are essential

The question:  in today’s reality, how do you do spontaneity effectively, preserving context, when proximity is not possible?

Think about this one…as it is a fundamental of within Context.  If you have some ideas, let’s share!

From → within Context

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