"Virtual teaming is how I've built this business. My team members love it, my clients are happy and my business keeps growing," says Karen Settle, founder and CEO of Las Vegas-based Keystone Marketing Specialists Inc. Settle manages 300 team members scattered across the country who rarely get together in the same physical place. But Keystone, which provides field representatives and holds in-store product demonstrations on behalf of Fujitsu, Kodak, and other high-tech companies, now boasts more than $5 million in annual sales. "I see only positives about virtual teams," Settle says.
Just what is a virtual team? The key feature is that, unlike a traditional sales team or staff, the virtual team doesn't share physical space, and members rarely get together in the same place for meetings. This decidedly '90s way of doing business is spreading like wildfire. "In many instances, a virtual team is simply the best way to get a job done," says Jeffrey Stamps, co-author of Virtual Teams (John Wiley & Sons) and co-founder of The Networking Institute, a West Newton, Massachusetts-based consulting firm that assists businesses in setting up effective virtual teams.
A number of trends are fueling the popularity of virtual teams:
- "Companies want to get close to their customers, so they decentralize," says Stamps. Push staffers out of the main office, though, and it's that much harder to pull them together for team meetings. It's also more expensive, in terms of commuting times and reimbursement for travel.
- Globalization is still experiencing widespread interest, and even small companies often have an employee or two in Singapore, London or even more remote places. Involving them via virtual teams is the only cost-effective option.
- "People are increasingly unwilling to move," says Stamps. So if you want the talents of a top marketing guru who is comfortably settled in Elk, California, or Taos, New Mexico, he or she may well nix any offers to relocate--but may happily join a virtual team.
- The explosive growth of new technologies, such as the Internet, and dramatically improved global telecommunications are making it possible to bring people together. "Technology now allows people to work productively and in collaboration from almost anywhere in the world," says Stamps.
Robert McGarvey writes on business, psychology and management topics for several national publications. To reach him online with your questions or ideas, e-mail email@example.com.