Virtual team development – the role of senior managers

Over the last couple of weeks a very interesting discussion has been taking place on the LinkedIn Digital Workplace Group that started out considering the need for presence indicators in digital workplaces. The focus of the discussion shifted into a fascinating discussion about companies who transform a physical team into a virtual team without understanding the implications, above all how to maintain the highest possible levels of trust between virtual team members. Even having one member of a team that is not physically co-located means that the team has become virtual. I continue to be concerned about the lack of awareness of companies about how to get the best out of virtual teams despite a wealth of research and good practice being available. Some of this research is summarised in my April 2012 Research Note on Virtual Team Management and is presented in the Virtual Team Management workshops we run for clients.

I am grateful to Jane McConnell (NetStrategyJMC) for alerting me, through a recent Tweet, about a memo from Jackie Reses, Head of HR at Yahoo! telling employees that working at home was not the Yahoo! and that they had to work in the office. The memo found its way out to the digital world via Business Insider.

The memo, as reported in Business Insider, states

“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will  be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical  that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights  come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu  team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.  We need to be one Yahoo and that starts with physically being together.”

In the same memo there is a mention of the world-wide network of offices and the benefits that Yahoo! employees gain from the buzz in these offices. The logical next step for Yahoo! would seem to be to close down the global network of offices and move to HQ.  There is a very important section in Jane’s latest Digital Workplace Trends report about the factors that inhibit the development of digital workplaces. Even in the leaders group 40% of respondents cited senior management as being resistant to social collaboration.  The top response in the case of 80% of the majority was ‘senior management’.

There is undoubtedly more behind this memo than has come out in the public disclosure but on the surface it is disappointing to see a major player in the digital world unwilling to explore how to get the best of of staff working at home, away from the office or in another part of the world. Or in the case of the Yahoo! complex in Sunnyvale, California, the staff dispersed across Buildings A, B, C and D.

Martin White