Use virtual working to drive value in cross-border teams
369 days. That's how long it's been since the first coronavirus lockdown started where I live. 2020 was a year of firsts for me: My first global pandemic. My first year-long stretch without seeing my family. My first global project completed 100% remotely.
For those of us who lead or work in cross-border teams, travelling long distances for face-to-face collaboration was our pre-pandemic norm. A necessary demonstration of commitment, even. It was also practical since the typical alternative - trying to follow the conversation via the one speakerphone placed in a large room - was tricky at best.
Then Covid-19 hit. And with upheaval came an unexpected boon.
Bain & Company recently confirmed something many of us already suspected: there’s gold to be had in virtual working. It offers four virtues:
In a face-to-face meeting, collaboration typically happens only during the meeting. When it’s virtual everyone can collaborate before, during and long after. Goodbye limited interactions, hello continuous co-creation.
When everything’s virtual, that situation where a handful of remote attendees struggle to make out what’s being said in the room disappears. It’s also more accessible, meaning it’s more likely you’ll get all the right people joining the conversation. A one-hour meeting really is one hour – not one hour plus a four-hour round trip flight.
Virtual working can be a powerful enabler for inclusion. Many tools offer a range of settings and means for participating: speaking, chat functionality, emojis, breakout rooms, whiteboards, and more. These can enable richer, more participative dialogues as people have greater rein to participate according to
their preferred communication style.
Many of us have observed that virtual meetings tend to be shorter and sharper than the in-person variety. In short, more efficient. This translates to time win-backs – aka time you can spend working on follow-up tasks.
I’m not saying face-to-face meetings aren’t important. They’ll always remain crucial to doing business, not least because they enable team members to dialogue and build relationships – the very relationships that underpin their work together. But it's undeniable that virtual working and tools have their benefits. Wielded correctly, they can even deliver more value than in-person meetings*.
In this era of globalised working, I count this as a win for us all. Especially for cross-border teams like mine, whose formerly reliable communication model is no longer available. We were forced to work differently, and in so doing found that to be a very good thing.
*Virtual tools are great, but it’s not enough to simply have them. The trick is putting them to use in a way that unlocks the four virtues, which requires creativity and careful planning.