What does the term a “new way to work” signify? My company, Unify, posed that question to 961 professionals scattered across the globe and found in the results (published in June) that for 47 percent it meant “working where I want to work” and for 43 percent it meant “working when I want to work.”
For 39 percent it meant “working in a flatter more collaborative organization,” while 32 percent said the new way to work means “working on virtual teams that form and disband as needed.”
These numbers will only grow as more “anywhere workers" realize the many benefits of the new way to work, particularly as advances in collaboration technology enable workers to be connected virtually to their teams via laptops and mobile devices as easily as they might be in a brick-and-mortar office.
Given that, what practices do managers need to do to promote ensure their teams are collaborating effectively? Here are five best practices to remember when managing or supporting a virtual team:
1. Leverage technology to simplify virtual collaboration.
Collaboration technology such as cloud-based file sharing, web collaboration and other tools make it easy for employees to work remotely, giving them greater flexibility to labor when and where they are most productive.
Recently, The Guardian reported that in the United Kingdom, the “right to request” flexible work hours has been passed into law so employees can now formally request a change in hours. Having the right collaboration tools will be critical to ensuring teams continue to communicate easily.
The ability to share across social platforms or internally within private networks has led to an age of collaboration as technology platforms are directed to connect the right people, whether co-workers, customers or citizens, to deliver content more securely and efficiently. Today, 86 percent of companies use more than one type of cloud service, according to Cloudability’s data about its clients.
Related: 4 Ways to Manage Remote Employees
2. Build a culture of open virtual collaboration.
An earlier Unify-led survey found 80 percent of those on successful teams are as likely to pitch a spontaneous idea during a virtual meeting as in a face-to-face meeting.
Dan Schawbel, author of Promote Yourself and a millennial workplace trend expert, said companies "can use technology to foster collaboration, crowd source new information and reach out to all stakeholders to bring customers and partners closer to employees and products.”
Indeed echnological collaboration closes the gap between employers and employees and leads to more success with sourcing opportunities.
Related: Building an All-Star Virtual Team
3. Find the right person for the assignment, regardless of location.
With the rise of remote working, companies are hiring the best talent no matter the location. Companies can do that because virtual meetings allow people to meet up in real time. When it comes to management, it's not always giving an assignment to the most senior member, it's about matching the expertise to the right team member who poses the knowledge base.
This shift in team management will bring more expertise to company projects and it’ll make employees happier to know that individuals are included because of their talent or expertise. In fact, 30 percent of those surveyed in the Unify study believe less hierarchical or silo-based organizations would promote practices professionals feel are more progressive like flexible and remote working via video conferencing and collaboration. Collaborative approaches to team management, facilitated by virtual meetings, allow the best talent to be utilized and creates more egalitarian workplaces.
“Having a flat hierarchy instead of a vertical one, enables employees to better switch jobs within their organizations and create an entrepreneurial environment that they can thrive in,” wrote Schawbel in an email. “Employees will be more dispersed so companies have to learn how to manage remote workers and remote workers will have to manage themselves.”
4. Reframe your management style and put trust at the center.
A manager overseeing a team that’s diverse and across several time zones must adjust his or her leadership style. He or she shoudl set up best practices for employees to follow, and trust that team members can be organized and determined to work on their own without someone being there in person. The new way to work gives flexibility, but with that freedom comes responsibility, too.
Video conferencing and virtual meetings are essential ways to sync and to stay focused on team objectives. Managers should remind team members that “work” is not a location anymore, but a state of when you are your most productive. Trust is essential in order to empower yourself and others so people do their best work.
The best managers leverage technology to practice what they preach; instead of requiring everyone to meet in a conference room at 8 a.m. sharp, managers use video conferencing to enable teams to meet in a virtual setting. It removes the confusing logistics so all can contribute in real time, where ever they are most productive. The notion of face-to-face meetings is changing. With the right technology, the user interface of these video conference calls makes it feel as if team members are right there in the room.
With 48 percent of professionals requesting a change in company culture and 46 percent wanting a change in management philosophy to achieve the new way to work, per the Unify study published in June, collaborative technology isn’t just being used by big business and tech companies recruiting millennials.
5. The new way to work is for everyone.
It’s not just technology or creative industries that are embracing the new way to work. These new modalities are the future for finance, health care, automotive, manufacturing and any number of industries. This is a revolution to maximize an individual’s productivity through the right technology, so individuals feel more empowered in their own careers and mprove the productivity of the company.
Small to midsize businesses, and even government agencies, are part of the new dynamic. Jacob Morgan, the author of The Future of Work, believes small to midsize businesses companies can typically move faster, are more agile and tend to live on the fringes. “This means that [small to midsize businesses] can try new things and experiment at a more rapid pace," Morgan said. "Larger companies tend to move slower than smaller ones but we have still seen global organizations like GE, Schneider Electric, Unisys, Unilver and many others take steps toward creating more collaborative organizations.”
“Government agencies are perhaps among the slowest but they too are going to have to adapt," Morgan said. "Every company, regardless of size or industry, is going to have to challenge convention around how employees work, how managers lead, and how companies are structured.” Indeed government agencies are beginning to lean into collaborative trends because it’s cost effective when it comes to saving on real estate and officials want the freedom to work from different locations.
For many managers and companies, the new way to work may feel like an unattainable goal, but it is the future and it is coming quickly.