Sunday, September 22, 2013

How a Social Collaboration Platform Can Overcome Virtual Team Distance

A social collaboration platform may be your next solution for virtual teams, especially in enterprise organizations spread around the globe or across a region in pursuing market opportunities. But the fact of life remains -- geographically dispersed virtual teams rely heavily on effective communication and collaboration to stay connected to achieve positive outcomes.
In the last decade, specific research has pointed to certain conditions of virtual teams referred as virtual distance, a digital age phenomenon discovered by Dr. Karen Sobel Lojeski. Virtual distance is a gap that is created from one or several physical, operational, or cultural barriers as well as relationships. Although the physical or location proximity per se' does not cause virtual distance, as Lojeski suggests, it may influence it. To sum it up, people have different ways of doing things.
Lojeski's research into 600 companies to date, revealed virtual distance can impact a variety of outcomes, too, like productivity, innovation, and project success. The white paper, Making Virtual Distance Work in the Digital Age published by Lojeski, as mentioned, and Richard R. Reilly, professor at Stevens Institute of Technology makes a good argument for the evolving problems with virtual distance -- and to ignore it, would subject you and your organization to a host of unpredictable outcomes.
So how can organizations solve these challenges of virtual team distance in terms of relationships and cultural differences? And how can social collaboration platforms help you overcome virtual distance? Social collaboration platforms that provide a mix of collaboration and communication toolsets can help bridge these gaps.
If the concept of virtual distance seems overwhelming, as you understand how virtual distance occurs, you can be better equipped to change and monitor its affect. Several key elements outlined next can give you alternatives to consider.
Task-Technology Fit
Although user adoption of social technologies is typically not a factor of virtual team distances, it is the lack of training and support that will have an effect. Take a look at workspaces with task management capabilities, for example, which are ideal for organizing activities for project teams. However, task management does not manage a business process per se, like customer relationship management (CRM). So ask your team, are we organizing our customer projects and managing the workflow, using the CRM example, that fits our choice of technology?
Easy and Useful Software
As the authors point out, if software is too complex, virtual teams, who may be well matched and communicate well together, may actually cause other factors to get out of order. Communication may deteriorate and may not support what the virtual team sets out to do, so they distance themselves. Software intrinsically will not increase virtual distance, but when software becomes difficult to use or does not match the tasks at hand, this is where the problem arises.
Leadership Ambassadors
When virtual distance is high (at its worst), whether it is operational or affinity (described next), leaders need to show more support, if that has not already been done. Organizational objectives can include praising member contributions to a project, nurturing relationships, and engaging the whole organization in understanding the importance of their work.
Team Size
An operational distance is a situation caused by team sizes too large, who may be overburdened by multitasking, or who may lack technical skill and support factors. When operational team size is an issue, a couple of solutions can help such as forming sub-teams and redistributing workloads.
An affinity distance occurs in situations involving cultural, relationship, and social distances. Project rallies and social events can help to stimulate teams experiencing affinity distance issues. Building relationships take time. Using face-to-face virtual communication tools, like video conferencing on a regular basis can also help nurture relationships, especially for newly formed teams.
Large Group Meetings
In a different research project conducted at Cornell University's Hotel School of Management, the case for periodic in person meetings suggests investment in large group face-to-face meetings can have the greatest impact on building cohesive groups. Why not initiate campaigns to inspire a passion for collaboration, innovation, and performance within your organizational networks and relationships.
Incentives and Rewards
Social software developers and marketers are finding ways to make collaboration tools enticing to facilitate participation, particularly in running innovation programs. Psychological dynamics come into play to increase motivation using incentives and rewards. Furthermore, technology user adoption may be a resulting benefit from innovation challenge events.
Quick Wins
Celebrating quick wins can help offset the distance gap that virtual teams are experiencing. Quick wins can come in the form of a new contract, exceptional customer feedback, or innovation program milestones. Announcements should be distributed to the entire organization to acknowledge these accomplishments ongoing so the positive outcomes of virtual teams show what they really can do.
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