Technologies that support a Virtual Workforce

We live in a time where businesses are being forced to make difficult decisions about how they spend money when it comes to overhead type expenditures. One of the many things changing are ideals around telecommuting. Just today I had a conversation with my mother-in-law where she outlined new organizational initiatives in her company to consolidate floors at one of the buildings they own in Los Angeles.

As its fresh in my mind, I thought I would articulate some of my own thoughts around ways to effectively manage your team and projects when working in a geographically distributed model (a.k.a. virtual workforce).

As simple as it may sound, there are two things that I must do to be effective and efficient when managing my projects: First, communicate, communicate, communicate; and second, retain, share and manage knowledge.

Communication is bi-directional; you must foster team engagement, openness with your clients, and articulate issues and results to management. Organizational knowledge, on the other hand, should be treated as a company asset – impossible to apply a monetary value to, but just as important as revenue and profits.

For me there are two tools that I utilize daily that make all the difference in how effective and efficient I am when engaging my team, client and executing projects:

  • First, there is Instant Messenger. Around for years, yet not as widely adopted in business for a variety reasons that I can only speculate on.
  • Second, there is the integration and utilization of Wiki’s as a form of knowledge management. With the advent of web tools like ‘Wikipedia’, ‘AskDrWiki’ and others, it was hard not to. The idea of enabling collaboration at the various echelons of an organization only makes sense – but it requires a certain culture and level of trust, that many are not comfortable with.

How do we more effectively collaborate and communicate?

In traditional co-located environments, communication is very different – at least in small business. Collaboration and general communication is easily handled in face-to-face discussion and the volume of internal emails is dramatically less. In a virtual workforce we are not afforded the luxury of tapping our colleague on the shoulder and asking a question.

For me, instant messenger has given me a way to reach, socialize and interact with people. The evolution of emoticons has further facilitated this type of communication; it enables you to express feeling, add tone and otherwise have what one would and could consider a normal conversation.   Additionally, it allows for clear and succinct communication, which comes in handy when executing a project.

Instant messenger facilitated the simulation of what you could classify as a normal communication thread, similar to what you would expect in a co-located environment, but instead accomplished in a virtual space.  Yes, I realize how simple this is, but you would be surprised at how resistant, even in this digital age, people are about instant messenger. There is this belief that it is counterproductive and distracting; I would argue that it is no more or less distracting than someone knocking on your door or peaking over your cubicle. On the flip side, it is also fair to say that with the introduction of new communication methods, new challenges are most definitely introduced.

One such challenge is around ‘netiquette.’ As intriguing as that might sound, I’ll have to leave that for another post. I do leave you with this insight:

“Netiquette” stands for “Internet Etiquette”, and refers to the set of practices created over the years to make the Internet experience pleasant for everyone. Like other forms of etiquette, netiquette is primarily concerned with matters of courtesy in communications. – pulled off the web, lost the link – sorry.

What can we use to manage my company’s knowledge capital?

I have, what some consider the fortune or misfortune of traveling a lot for the companies I work for. On one of my travels I was listening to a communication expert talk about the in’s and out’s of communication; it was indeed a very intriguing presentation. Of everything she said, there was one thing she said that really resonated with me; she said, “Sometimes people forget what it is not to know!”

For whatever reason that stuck with me, and it wasn’t long before I realized that we forget what it is not to know. We forget what it is to be new. We forget what it is not to know how to use the phone, or set up our email, or how to submit a request for tuition reimbursement. We forget that not everyone works on the server’s everyday, not every one is going to remember RDP connections and access points and database names and web server configuration files.

It just isn’t possible – at least for 98% of the population; it’s just too much information and not enough time and bandwidth to remember it all.  So what to do? Well, first you have to practice some self-awareness and realize you are a culprit of this – without that, you won’t be able to apply change.

Knowledge management these days seems to be a hot subject; everybody talks about it and everybody wants it.  I am no different. I want and need it, it’s – in my opinion – imperative to achieving success and growth for any company.

So of all the available solutions out on the market I revert to something that is simple, wiki’s.

One of many definitions for a Wiki is “a website that allows users to collaboratively create and edit web pages.” They key words being “collaboratively create and edit.”

I highlight collaboration, creation and edit because I think those are fundamental to maintain knowledge. Knowledge is not a fixed item; it’s evolving information that has been turned into insight based on the available data and specific circumstances revolving the subject at hand. With that in mind, it’s only logical that you would expect knowledge to be dynamic.

Like instant messenger, breaking the mold around wiki’s, let alone knowledge management, can and often is a daunting task. So be patient and willing to be a thought leader that facilitates change.

If you make it all the way to the bottom of this post, I commend you and invite you to leave a comment because I want to get to know you.

Thanks for visiting PerezBox.

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