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InSync Training's founder Jennifer Hofmann authors Body Language in the Bandwidth, an active conversation focused on connecting, collaborating and succeeding in the modern classroom.

Virtual Teams Are Here To Stay (No Matter What Yahoo Says)

Posted by Jennifer Hofmann

Aug 19, 2014 12:42:00 PM

How InSync Training Enables Its Virtual Workforce

If you are a regular follower of this blog, you probably know that our company, InSync Training, specializes in live online training. We work with clients all over the world to develop their live online training content, Virtual Teamsproduce/facilitate their sessions and train their trainers to ensure their trainers are confident and prepared to handle the complete delivery of their synchronous training.

What you might not realize is that InSync Training is 100% virtual, with approximately 50 facilitators, producers, instructional designers, project managers, and other core staff all working remotely from home offices wherever they happen to be in the world. If we happen to be visiting a city where one of our staff lives, we make an effort to meet for a meal. Otherwise, we rarely, if ever, occupy the same spot on the space-time continuum.

And it makes sense. We believe in virtual training. We believe in virtual work.

Ah virtual teams. People may love the idea or hate the idea, but most don’t understand virtual teams in action. For example, today I was trying to explain to InSync’s accrediting organization what to expect when they arrived for their required “site visit,” they said they wanted to meet as many members of the team as possible and interview them, tour our classrooms, and observe our operations. I tried to suggest a virtual site visit, but I have a feeling we’ll be having a cup of coffee over my kitchen table while logged onto a virtual meeting with our internal accreditation team.

When Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, announced the decision to stop allowing virtual workers at Yahoo (January, 2013), I have to admit I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t think it would stand as a policy. I work on a virtual team, and I can’t imagine it any other way.

But the decision did stand, and a debate ensued. A great synopsis of the debate, What Marissa Mayer Doesn’t (and Does) Get About White-Collar Work was published in Wired Magazine. What is especially compelling is that the author quickly identifies the crux of the discussion: Creativity and learning occurs when workers are together and productivity and efficiency occurs when working as far away from others as possible, and organizations should strive to find a balance between the two instead of opting for either extreme.

But working 100% virtually works extremely well for us, and I would be happy to compare our productivity AND creativity against just about any organization in the world. Deadlines are always met, collaboration is constant (except when it isn’t) and quality is consistently very high. Are we lucky? Maybe, but we also established an environment in which we made our own luck.

Here are the rules that make our virtual team successful.

  1. Hire new team members based on recommendations from existing team members or clients. People who work on this team or work with us as clients understand the commitment, work ethic, and high standards we expect – and so will not be inclined to recommend someone who cannot excel.

  2. Empower EVERYONE. In a virtual organization that supports every time zone around the world, it is just not possible to weigh in on every decision that needs to be made. I trust the team to make the best decision available to them at the time, and back them up on every decision made. It might not the decision I would have made in the moment, but I wasn’t there. The “best” decision is the decision that best serves the client, even if it costs our organization money. In the long run, clients who see you have their best interests up front will become even better clients.

  3. Support everyone. Let’s face it, every client has their quirks and wants to do things in their own way. Regardless, clients are not allowed to treat members of our team poorly. Period.

  4. Recognize successes. Every small success is shared and celebrated on our private Facebook page. Everyone is encouraged to post and share. Because we all need a pat on the back as often as possible.

  5. Create a place to ‘hang out.’ Our team has Skype going 24/7. We have persistent conversations, from the “Water Cooler” (for general talk about weather, family, pets, and sharing) to our “See You Lighter” Skype for team members interested in sharing tips about healthy lifestyles. There are also conversations about where to find shopping deals and a recipe swap. All of these very casual conversations are optional, but very active. I am willing to bet that our virtual team knows more about each other, and cares more about each other, than most traditional office teams. We celebrate birthdays, offer condolences and are quick to offer to help a team member in need.

  6. Create a lifeline. We have some mandatory Skype conversations – most notably “SOS,” where our team can get technical or instructional assistance 24 hours a day. For example, this conversation is very typical:
[5/24/2013 9:15:12 AM] Clare Davis: can someone help me get a UK dial in number?
[5/24/2013 9:15:16 AM] Clare Davis: late attendee
[5/24/2013 9:15:23 AM] Clare Davis: I am trying to teach at the same time and can’t look it up.
[5/24/2013 9:16:45 AM] Vickie Hadge: looking on Sharepoint now
[5/24/2013 9:17:20 AM] Vickie Hadge: United Kingdom (Belfast): +44 2890 994 272
United Kingdom (Glasgow): +44 141 345 2790
United Kingdom (Slough): +44 1753 428 160

What these various Facebook and Skype communities do is allow us to work TOGETHER, which increases creativity, while at the same time working independently, which allows us to maximize productivity. And we get to support clients all over the world doing interesting and rewarding work.

The team here at InSync Training did it successfully with six team members, we are doing it now with over 50, and, if we keep to our core strengths, we’ll be doing it with one hundred before we know it. It’s a model that can work for everyone - just be sure to create the paradigms that support it.

Interested in learning more about virtual teams? Download your complimentary copy of the whitepaper by Jennifer Hofmann, CEO of InSync Training, Creating and Leading a Wildly Successful Virtual Team, by clicking on the title or on the graphic below.

CREATING AND LEADING A WILDLY SUCCESSFUL VIRTUAL TEAM

Topics: Virtual Work, Virtual Teams, The opinions expressed herein...

    

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