Virtual teams or telecommuting became a twinkle in the eye of real estate professionals the minute fax machines and direct dial long distance were launched. We just KNEW there had to be some way we could make this work -- to be able to contact our office effectively and quickly from an impressive distance.
By the moment, technology grows to enable this dream to become more of a reality. Not only is administrative support available from a distance, the entire team can function, can mastermind, can accomplish without being face to face in a tangible way.
Virtual activity and teamwork necessitates pro-active communication using the tools available. It requires the application of every teamwork lesson we have learned over the years. Or every teamwork innovation we have developed in the University of Experience
TEAM WORK 1: When my kids were attending rural elementary schools, all the schools gathered at the playground of one school one day each spring to do kiddie field day stuff. One of the favorite actvities on the part of the grown-ups was a 3 legged race. Two children stood side by side; two legs were tied together and they set of in a race that usually turned into a kid pile almost immediately. One year, two tomboy girls, a set of twins were running all over the playing field in the 3 legged format, just running like a machine.
After watching them, I got my kids off, with their partners and we did some TEAM coaching. "For this race, you don't think Right leg, Left Leg, you must think Inside leg, Outside leg." They all were tired of skinned knees and learned FAST. They stayed on their feet and won their laps. One ran with a friend who was a full head shorter than she was. The youngest, 6 yrs., needed a partner, so we snagged a little dark haired kid named Jo who ran a great race. It was years later that we told him Jo was a girl.
TEAM WORK 2: When our oldest was working on her MBA and had to do several team projects, she would get so frustrated at the lack of ambition on the part of other team members. She was working fulltime, studying fulltime and married fulltime. During one conversation, I suggested that perhaps their grade wasn't dependent upon their solutions but the point that they didn't kill one another during the process.
TEAM WORK 3: When one of my kids who are the teachers gave his 5th grade class an assignment to prepare a 5th grade business plan, the project had a lukewarm finish. But later three kids came back and said would you help us TEAM UP to do that again. Their plan was for a fundraiser for sick kids. They worked together, denied themselves a field day and sold concessions to the other kids. They earned their goal and donated the entire proceeds to the charity for sick kids.
TEAM WORK 4: At last, the virtuals and the grown-ups. Soon after I launched my virtual assistant practice, I had the good fortune to particpate in the re-writing of bylaws for a VA organization. There were five people in diverse locations, with diverse levels of experience and time available. We had a stupendous moderator in Jeannine Clontz of Accurate Business Services and author about office management. Every part of the project involved vigorous discussion and sometimes disagreement, but we all maintained a professional patience, effort to express ourselves sensibly, concisely and with compassion. We did a good job -- there were few changes necessary. I don't know exactly how the other team members felt, but it was a stimulating and encouraging experience for me. We are all still in business.
In an article recently published online for Wall Street Journal Working Together -- When Apart, the issues of working at a distance successfully were discussed. The application is not always as pleasant as my experiences have been. Because there is no face to relate to, the team chemistry is difficult to activate. Social networking opportunities with internet groups, blogs, and other sharing tools were found to be beneficial to the success of the project. The requisite chemistry was stimulated when some team members were acquainted going into the project, although having a majority of the members be colleagues could make a stale group. Networkers who do well on these teams for the projected goal and satisfaction of the team are those who have been networking already and bring connections to the team through their former activities.
Breaking the team into modules with specific parts of the project kept the dependency for progress from bottlenecking. Smaller bits could work around the 'mountain' of time zones that often crops up with a long distance team.
Utilizing online sharing tools helped everyone keep on track and keep up. Some organizations have something specifically built into their IT systems, but there are tools for general use such as Go-To-Meeting or WebEx where files can be exchanged. Microsoft Sharepoint lets larger pieces of a project be addressed through a specific website environment. Google Notes, MS OneNote, Evernote plus are some sharing options where work can be posted and be 'tuned' by other members of the team.
There are some impressive conference rooms that permit display of web pages, text messaging, VOIP and webcam participation to enhance the social aspects of team work.
COMMUNICATION -- Who will receive emails and messages? Who is copied on messages? Does everyone have to be copied EVERY time? Expectations about response need to be addressed. Can we set up a schedule? Is a note/response necessary for the rest of the team to know that I will need an hour to get this information together? Well, it would be nice. Schedules could be set using IM resources. I particularly am enjoying Skype for text communication in focus groups.
Vigorous, stimulating projects seem to get better response and application of effort. Let it get boring or let a bore get the floor and there will be more people playing solitaire (because you cannot see them on a conference call), being habitually late to the 'meetings' or managing to skip them altogether. Virtual teams that accomplish the most are "a dynamic collection of inspired people."
I love working virtually. I am able to inter-connect with people all over the country. I can work with my choice of equipment. I can WORK despite living in a rather remote area in terms of employment, particularly for my skills. About those skills; because I can be part of virtual teams, I can indulge myself with the software and hardware that I enjoy so much and hone skills that are profitable to me in terms of income and fulfillment. I enjoy the social networking that makes me less invisible. Recently at a local Chamber of Commerce meeting, we discussed why we participate. I do not have a client base in my tangible community. But, participating in community projects helps reassure me that I exist.
I believe that virtual isn't appropriate in every situation. And that it is highly recommended in many. Technology arises to the challenge to make virtual teamwork a great possibility. REAL people with real ectoplasm make the virtual thing work because the REAL people still control the principal of "Garbage in -- Garbage out"
Technology is only a tool to be used to the benefit of a project or need.
When that can be done long distance I'm a happy camper.
Real estate in the Ozarks has appeal to all sorts of people, but when virtual assistants own property there, the world doesn't have to miss out on some really good admin. support.