As we are already starting to see, the “future of work” will involve a great deal of variety as to where and how people choose to work. The technology for working somewhere other than the office (the phone and the computer) has existed for decades, but the technology for collaborating and being part of an effective team has really only come into full focus in the last couple of years and was shoved into the spotlight during the 2020-2021 lockdowns.
You can be sure that this will be the new normal and will be a spectrum: on the one end there will be those who will want to go back to the office, on the other there will be people who want to stay working from home, and between these two extremes will be those who wish to benefit from a hybrid work format.
This will initially pose a challenge to some managers and team leaders who have grown comfortable having their group physically on site. But times are indeed changing and those who see how technology and teams can actually work in this new, online collaborative model are about to discover that not only is it possible, it also has tremendous new advantages.
That is why I wrote my book, entitled Building and Managing High-Performance Distributed Teams, which was released by Apress yesterday (May 13, 2021). A distributed team is a concept that focuses on inclusion and equality of access, which is very different from a couple of people patching into a boardroom meeting using a conference line. It’s about capitalizing on collaboration technology to ensure the key creative tools of any meeting – the PowerPoint images, the dry-erase whiteboard, and most importantly, the interaction of people – the talents and creative capacities of the team members themselves are fully accessible by everyone.
We have all experienced video chat technology over the past 12 months, and not everyone truly enjoyed it. But that’s because it was being used as a replacement for the existing practices of the office. The near future belongs to the far more sophisticated use of collaboration technology in which the sense of presence and togetherness is total and the need to travel to a central location becomes less necessary.
There are so many advantages to the distributed teams method: for employees, these include a better life-work-balance including work hours that fit individual lives rather than conforming to a nine-to-five standard, and also reduced commuting costs and time. For companies, this means reduced costs for physical space, fewer floors, cubicles and meeting rooms needed. And for leaders, it actually enhances their capacity to lead. Every element of the leadership experience including the casual one-on-one chats, team development, employee productivity, and departmental success are all achievable in the distributed teams model, and I would dare to say, it can be done better.
When working people are able to live in towns other than those that ring a major city or a company’s head office, this opens up double opportunities: companies can hire great talent from a much wider geographic area, and working people suddenly get a much wider selection of companies to choose to work with.
These practices are not new – they have been in place for many years, but have been leveraged by comparatively few. The majority of the workforce has simply existed with the understanding that you had to commute to the place where your computer and your colleagues were. That is no longer the case.
My book lays out a collection of techniques for making the distributed teams model work. Like most things, it helps to have some guidance on how to set up, manage and lead a group of people, do it securely and be able to measure outcomes. But we can’t un-ring this bell. People are discovering that all the best elements of office life can be reproduced in a new virtual world that allows for greater achievement without sacrificing social togetherness. This approach offers a range of new opportunities for companies and individuals alike.
Not everyone will go for this, and not everyone can. Factory workers, front-line emergency workers, and many others need to be where the tools of their trade are. But even they might discover that parts of their jobs – the meetings, the training, and the paperwork – can be done on a distributed basis.
But we have crossed a new frontier – an equator of sorts, where the tools of collaboration and togetherness are bringing us into a new type of reality. I hope you will check out my book and follow me on social media, as I plan to discuss this topic widely with groups and companies in the months and years to come. For more information, visit https://crossingtheequator.com/