To Tech or Not to Tech

You have a virtual team: does that mean that you have to go mad signing up to all kinds of project managemenent tools, creating complicated areas where your team members can “hang out” and use the latest video conferencing technology to meet virtually?

You already know the answer I’m proposing. Of course not. You need to figure out what you need and then find the tools to help you. If they are out there. If they’re not, you’ll have to use your creativity and make something else up. Don’t be seduced by all the new technology available: some of it can become a distraction, some of it will become redundant and some of it will just not get used if it’s not relevant to people’s work or building a sense of team.

If you’re in a team in a large organisation, you might already have an intranet and feel “stuck’ within it to use it. You have a couple of options. You can talk to the IT people or someone who has influence over how the site is used to see whether there is any way of adapting it to suit your team or of having your own little area within it. Somewhere where you can quickly find those documents you need without having to scroll through hundreds of irrelevant material first.

If you’re in charge of IT (or ultimately in charge even if not directly) then your problem is not how to use the large infrastructure that is already there but how to create something that’s going to be of use and not become a distraction.

First of all you need to decide WHY you need this technology. Here are some reasons why technology can come in handy:

  • You need to talk to each other in real time.
  • Your team members are task interdependent i.e. they might be working on the same tasks or the work they carry out is affected by what others do.
  • You want to build a sense of “team”.
  • You want people to learn about the business together.
  • You want everyone to see where the team is at with each project or with work as a whole.

Going onto an online space to share what you have done can seem like a lot of extra hard work. However, it can save time and energy and those dreaded emails. It also gives team members freedom, as it gives them a place where they can send information and therefore need not always be contactable in case someone wants something from them. This is especially useful when team members go on holiday (yes, they should be on holiday just like people in co-located teams) or sick leave.

I’m currently working for two companies, neither of which have a “proper office”. We do see each other occasionally face to face, but most of my communication with other team members is electronic. With one company we communicate mainly by email. I’ve set up an online space but it hasn’t really taken off. I think the main reason is that a lot of people are using their mobile phones to communicate and therefore check email regularly, while it’s an extra effort to go onto an online space, or open an app. Let’s face it, they can’t see why they should switch from email to an online space. The “boss” or team leader, communicates mainly via email, regardless of whether she needs to talk to one person or eight. There is therefore no perceived need to go on the online space, as all important communication is going to come through via email. There are also very few files to share, so there is no need to have a virtual storage space.

To give you an example right at the other end of the spectrum, the person leading the other team I’m working with is actively searching at the moment for online collaboration tools that will help us to develop a series of workshops and help us all stay connected. Even though I know the individuals in this team less well than those in the other team, I feel more connected to them, even if it's just because when I log onto the online space, I see all our five faces together.

So, my questions to you are:

  • Do you feel like the way in which you are communicating with your team right now is working?
  • What would you like less of? What would you like more of?

Before you head off to Google to find a range of online collaboration tools, it's important to ask yourself these questions. Technology will only solve your problems, if you know what your problems are.