The Invisible Workforceby Eileen ToogoodHow do you lead a team you cannot see?Many of us are familiar with the H.G. than it was even 10 years ago whenWells character known as The Invisible people had to go to an office to log intoMan. A twist of science rendered him their desktop. 3invisible—real but unseen. He could make • Ninety-seven percent of respondents to A Business issuehis presence known, speak, even move an AON Consulting Benefits and Talents Quick ReAdobjects, but it was unnerving to us because Survey reported that their organizationswe never knew exactly where he was or either planned to increase virtual workwhat he was doing. and telework options or to keep them atSo it is with the invisible workforce—those the same level.4 About the Authoremployees we rarely, if ever, see—who • According to a recent survey by Eileen Toogood, AchieveGlobalwork away from us each day, sometimes in Training, AMA and i4cp, 63.5 percent Performance Consultantcountries we’ve never experienced first- of respondents said that managinghand. For more and more leaders, this virtual teams will be an important future For over 20 years, eileen hasdescribes their work groups – teams of competency, but only 36.5 percent contributed to the developmentunseen people dispersed among different believed their managers have mastered it. 5 of AchieveGlobal’s sales,sites. And although the virtual team is united service, and leadership products,by common business goals and facilitated Virtual leadership implies boundaries that and delivered these programsby technology, in interviews with virtual can be demographic, geographic, cultural, at all organizational levels.leaders, a frequent theme emerges: “The hierarchical, or across functions and eileen holds a B.A. in Historyissue of mistrust—‘How do I know they’re expertise. Several years ago, Yip and Ernst and education, and a Master’sworking?’ is huge and not easily overcome.” 1 introduced the term “boundary spanning degree in counseling and leadership.” To support its importance, they Personnel services from theThe Talk About Leading surveyed 128 senior executives. university of Maryland.VirtuallyWorking from a distance is becoming one • 86 percent of senior executives believeof the great challenges of 21st century it is “extremely important” for them toleadership. Consider these statistics: work effectively across boundaries in their current leadership roles, yet, only 7• Intel Corporation conducted a study percent of these executives believe they that revealed approximately two-thirds are currently “very effective” at doing so. of their employees collaborated with • 91 percent cite working across team members located at different sites boundaries as important at the middle and in different regions. 2 management level, but only 19 percent• McKinsey and Company estimate that agree that middle managers were 40 percent of the work getting done in effective at it. the west happens through interactive • 43 percent say spanning boundaries is communication rather than through important for the entry level manager, physical production. Working side-by- but only 8 percent feel that these side or face-to-face is less important managers effectively do so. Developing the 21st century workforce TM
The results indicate a clear gap between perceived diverse capabilities and insights. Others saw face-to-faceimportance and effectiveness in “breaking boundaries” at communication—and the travel associated with it—as aall levels of the organization.6 luxury by organizations focused on cost-cutting.Challenges From the Virtual World Moving Beyond TechnologyToday’s workforce has gone well beyond select employees Dispersed teams “can outperform their collocated counterpartsworking from home a few days each week. It is now when they are set up and managed in the right way”. 8 But whatcommonplace for work groups to be comprised of dispersed is “the right way”?individuals. And while co-located team members in remote Most agree it is important for leaders of virtual teams tolocations are not invisible to each other, these groups, to the master traditional leadership skills that provide feedback,leader, often seem out of reach—an unpredictable unknown. give verbal recognition, foster development, and manageHowever, the leaders of distance-based teams are charged performance against business objectives. And while havingwith achieving the same results as a co-located workforce. the know-how and confidence to use a variety of technical tools and platforms is helpful, leading virtually also requiresResearch from MIT confirms the capacity for results, as a broader skill set to productively span demographic andwell as the leadership challenge. A study of 80 software geographic boundaries.development teams from 28 labs worldwide showed virtualteams offer tremendous opportunities despite greater Effective virtual leadership relies on individualmanagerial challenges. The research also showed that even contributions and team effort. Current research revealssmall levels of dispersion (people working at different sites) that breakdowns in a dispersed team often stem fromcan substantially affect team performance. 7 lack of planning—or from communication that fails to encourage dialogue. So while traditional leadership skillsIn April 2011, as AchieveGlobal conducted interviews with are required, a traditional approach is not enough. It’s timeleaders of virtual teams worldwide, common concerns to revamp and retool.were evident: “You have to be able to trust your virtual employees – A Framework for Virtual Leadership that they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. But The productive virtual team works as a cohesive unit to sometimes it’s hard to tell.” meet goals in support of the organization’s objectives. At the same time, team members feel valued as unique “When you’re not physically looking at someone, it’s hard individuals. They are committed to do their best work, and to make sure that you’re communicating effectively. You even to perform beyond expectations. don’t have a sense of their facial expressions and posture. AchieveGlobal’s framework for virtual leadership is focused You have a sense of disconnecting.” on two key elements—group cohesion and individual commitment. To achieve cohesion and commitment, it “A lot of work is done because of relationships. And it’s is important that the leader recognize and support three much more difficult to build relationships virtually.” psychological needs. “My direct report is seven hours ahead of me, so I have a finite window of opportunity to communicate with O him on a daily basis.” UP C HESIO RO N G tonomy “When I talk with my remote team members over the Au phone, I’m not sure if I’m feeling the emotion. I’m not ete nce Rela always sure they’re getting the message—or buying in.” dn mp te ess Co IN TIn addition to the difficulties of collaborating from a IV EN D IDdistance, we also heard that some leaders feel handcuffed UA L IT M CO M Mby cultural differences, unschooled in drawing upon SCN Design T 201 585 1050 F 201 585 1098 LV_GCIC_Full scndesign.com 08/03/11 11106_102_04.ai
Three Psychological Needs Individual Commitment – Engage virtualMore than 30 years of research conducted team members and support their efforts.by Dr. Edward Deci and others—collectively called “Self-Determination • Provide opportunities for success.Theory” (SDT)—confirms that people • Take the initiative to communicateshare three fundamental psychological often and encourage team members toneeds, regardless of culture: competence, do the same.relatedness, and autonomy. Satisfaction • Empower the group and individuals.of these needs optimizes employee Encourage self-leadership. Resist themotivation and raises productivity. temptation to micro-manage virtualWhen these needs are thwarted, healthy employees.functioning plummets. In essence, make the invisible workforce• Competence – Feeling valued as tangible to the leader and to each other. knowledgeable, skilled, and experienced Consider the Possibilities• Relatedness – Collaborating with Current trends suggest that virtual teams— Kate Lister & Tom Harnish, The State of 1 trusted colleagues and co-workers Telework in the U.S., June 2011 and the dispersed workforce—are here to 2 Principles for Effective Virtual Teamwork, Jay• Autonomy – Exercising self-control, stay and will continue to grow. Organizations F. Nunamaker Jr., University of Arizona, Tucson; within guidelines, to achieve business are counting on them to provide a level of Bruce A. Reinig San Diego State University; Robert O. Briggs, University of Nebraska at goals expertise, diversity, and flexibility not always Omaha. Communications of the ACM Magazine, vol. 52 no. 4, April 2009.The role of the leader is to create the attainable in co-located teams. 3 Closing the Gap, Leadership in the virtualconditions that allow team members to Consider the possibilities: One study found environment, Commentary with Richard Harris & Kate Cowie, Emerald Group Publishing,satisfy these needs.9, 10 that virtual workers are “16 percent more Nov. 2009How does this apply to the invisible productive than tethered counterparts.”11 4 Managing Virtual Teams, Bill Leonard, HR Magazine, Society of Human Resourceworkforce? Yet other research concluded, “In general, Management, Vol. 56 No. 6, June 2011 team performance tends to drop with 5 Developing Successful Global Leaders,In many respects, creating the conditions increasing member dispersion.”12 Training Magazine, May/June 2011to meet each team member’s needs is 6 Yip, Jeffrey, Ernst, Chris, and Campbell,more difficult with a dispersed workforce. Which of these describes your virtual team? Michael. Boundary Spanning Leadership. Mission Critical Perspectives from the ExecutiveRecognizing this, implementing strategies We know effective virtual leadership Suite.Center for Creative Leadership Organizational Leadership White Paperand tactics to build cohesion and requires working across boundaries, Series, 2009.commitment becomes a critical success however firsthand accounts and research 7 Siebdrat, Frank, Hoegl, Martin, and Ernst, Holger. How to Manage Virtual Teams, MITfactor for the virtual leader. These include: indicate a clear gap in the importance Sloan Management Review, 2009.Group Cohesion – Provide the structure of virtual leadership skills and the 8 Siebdrat, Frank, Hoegl, Martin, and Ernst, Holger. How to Manage Virtual Teams, MITrequired to get the work done. competencies currently demonstrated by Sloan Management Review, 2009. leaders of the virtual workforce. 9 Edward L. Deci, “Why We Do What We• Build a shared picture of success Do” 1995. Leading the invisible workforce is no to positively impact virtual team 10 Christopher P. Niemiec, Optimizing easy task, but virtual leaders can begin to Employee Motivation through Support for productivity. Basic Psychological Needs: An Approach provide the structure and engagement to Organizational Coaching for Front-Line• Make it personal. Help team members that has a positive effect. Building group Supervisors, University of Rochester at a distance recognize how the work cohesion and individual commitment helps 11 Virtual Workplace Dos and Don’ts, How to reap the benefits of encouraging employees matters—that it leads to meaningful team members work productively from to work from outside the office and avoid outcomes. a distance and achieve business goals. It developing a disconnected workforce by Rachael King; Business Week’s CEO Guide• Communicate clear direction and a can diffuse mistrust of people we cannot to the Virtual Workplace, 2007 consistent message. Set expectations that see and, ultimately, answer the leader’s 12 Siebdrat, Frank, Hoegl, Martin, and Ernst, Holger. How to Manage Virtual Teams, MIT encourage inclusion and responsibility. question: ‘How do I know they’re working?’ Sloan Management Review, 2009.