Virtual Strategies for 21st Century Organizations

The latest business craze of the 21st century encompasses going global. Yet, these organizations often operate virtually. Communication, however, takes on a brand new meaning when there is no “face-to-face” interaction between team members to facilitate these nontraditional relationships; it is essential to understand how to unify these virtual relationships.

Furthermore, many companies have allowed workers to work from home to achieve huge company savings. Managers assume that an employee, equipped with a computer and fax machine, can stay connected to the organization. This outlook is simply a myth.

James Kouzes and Barry Posner, Authors of The Leadership Challenge, further explain, “…how do leaders create commitment in a virtual organization? Can there be such a thing as virtual commitment?” According to a USA Today poll, nearly half of those interviewed said that corporations can be trusted only a little, or not at all, when it involves looking out for the best interest of employees. Relationships are built on trust. This blog explores the characteristics of effective virtual teams in 21st century organizations.

Virtual organizations are becoming the mascot for globalization. A virtual team (VT) is geographically separated and has very little personal contact; it depends on computers and telecommunication technologies such as the internet and videoconferencing.  VTs provide the benefits of bringing talented people together, providing international perspectives, and saving millions in traveling costs. Yet, going virtual isn’t easy.

 VT organizations are creating a buzz in the academic community. There is a burgeoning literature on virtual teams. As more organizations allow employees to work from remote locations away from their headquarters, there is an increasing problem with office staffing and organizational effectiveness.

 Traditional organizations must shift their viewpoints on virtual organizations. To address human capital issues, an institution must understand the nature of virtual organizations. Effective virtual teams manifest a variety of characteristics including well-defined group sponsorship, goal consensus, effective selection practices, an appropriate skill mix, and specific performance measures linked to goal achievement. Virtual organizations challenge today’s personnel management system by their very existence as a rising number of employees are telecommuting.

 In the old paradigm, managers were required to be technical experts who defined the tasks for the employees. In the new virtual structure, managers are expected to provide technical direction. However, the manager allows employees to participate and listen to their suggestions.

Managers must weigh telecommuting’s benefits against its weaknesses, including reduced employee oversight and accountability, lower productivity, and less direct interpersonal contact thereby decreasing team building opportunities and isolating employees. In fact, VTs require a shift in leadership paradigms. Leaders in virtual organizations must provide an organizational structure for achieving their objectives that is flexible and organic.

 Going virtual will continue to challenge traditional thinking. Establishing trust within a virtual team environment is a prerequisite for an effective team.

 How can organizations build virtual structures that are effective and sustainable?   

 © 2010 by Daryl D. Green