Virtual Teams: An Opportunity to Change the Workplace

The desire to do things differently, to learn from each other, to find out how other people are doing it to make the workplace, wherever and whatever that is, as best as possible – this was the thread throughout yesterday’s No Pants Festival, held in Antwerp by Dare Devils.

Oh, the irony that we got together in a physical place to discuss how to work remotely!

A packed lineup of speakers, each with a unique story and approach, but all sharing the same point of view: that to be better professionals, to change in line with how the world is changing, we need to shift our mindset in some way. The talks and discussions went beyond how to work virtually, they explored how to adapt to the new world of work and make it a better place.

Connected, not Divided


Dave Gray illustrated one of the ways in which we can redesign how we work, not just taking advantage of technology but taking advantage of the new way of looking at how we operate.

He shared a very concrete example of a Divided Company where the customer service representative puts you on hold and hands you over to somewhere else as soon as they can’t resolve your problem. Compare that to a Connected Company, like the Vanguard Group, where if the customer representative can’t help you, they pass you over to someone who can BUT they stay on the call with you. Think of what that does to the call and your relationship to the company as a customer.

And think of what that does to the representative of the company who couldn’t help you this one time, but who will hopefully learn from the call and be able to help the next person with a similar problem to yours. Surely that’s a much more engaging experience as employee than pressing a button.

Their Way, Your Way, My Way


The day was full with personal experiences of working in a non-collocated team or business and building and managing remote teams. From well-known companies like Automattic to the lesser known success stories like Lullabot. All strategies involved both replicating what we like about the workplace (the sense of camaraderie, the ability to ask for information and help when we need it) and new practices which can help design our ideal workplace: flatter hierarchies, transparency, ownership and a recognition that some of us look for a sense of purpose and meaning at work.

It was also refreshing to be in a conference which covered leadership, working together and growing your business without coming across one reference to Apple or Steve Jobs. It’s time we came up with new role models and best practices. I love Apple’s products but, in my humble opinion, I have little to learn from that outlier and much to learn from less high profile companies (or should I say, sky-high companies).

I made ample notes throughout the day, mainly as annotations to my talk which was the last one of the day. If I’d been able to read my handwriting at the same time as I was navigating through the talk, I would have referred to every single other speaker throughout. In the end I had to abandon my notes but I still managed to share some of those things that had stayed with me from the day.

We have the opportunity to change many things that are broken in the collocated workspace.


Back to my reflections on the day, which were sparked by a face to face conversation by my podcast collaborator, Lisette. We are still at the beginning of this new way of working. Virtual teams are nothing new, but the fact that they are not limited to international corporations, is. Virtual teams are growing because we are no longer limited to work/collaborate/hire those who share a physical location with us. We, the entrepreneur, the small business owner, the freelancer, the manager can now choose who we work with or who we work for, regardless of our location.

But this new way of working brings new problems with it. And while we try to sort this one out, we are also revisiting some of the problems that exist in the collocated workplace. We have a new energy (and a very good excuse) to evaluate the hierarchical workspace, the secretive workplace, the workplace where no-one knows what anyone else is really doing and doesn’t DARE ask.

Relationships can be strengthened by technology – let’s assess what we want, what we need and the best way of moving forwards.

Virtual not Distant at the No Pants Festival 2015 from Pilar Orti