Telecommutig and virtual teams : going too far can harm your organization

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Applying good ideas is like nervous tension and cholesterol : too few is dangerous, too much can be harmful. The example of telecommuting and its consequence, virtual teams, is very meaninful.

Telecommuting is, at least partly, the answer to many harms. First, the need for being able to work anywhere (and not only from one’s home). Then, a trend that makes everyone concerned about unnecessary transportations. Whether it’s about business travels or daily commutation, it’s a discourse that impacts both finances and environmental awareness and that makes telecommuting tools a remedy to both economic and societal issues. Something that may make businesses charge in blindly.

But we must also acknowledge that virtual teams, that is a consequence of telecommuting, is not a cure-all. Believe me, virtual teams don’t exist. There are only real teams that telecommutes. Tools and devices allow people to get rid of barriers related to time, space and team member’s schedules. But a team must exist first. A team can telecommute but has to be created and maintained through real meetings. The quality and efficiency of virtuals teams directly depends on the frequency and quality of these moments in real life with real people.

Telecommuting tools are a palliative to the impossibility to work together at the same place and time. Social tools bring an added value, giving more quality to distant relationships and lower, without eliminating them, the disavantages of distance. But teamwork and the need for cohesion that is very important for businesses make that a full time distant teamwork is counter productive on a long term. Moreover it seems that some businesses that choose to fully virtualize team work are changing their mind. On the other hand, a sucessuful example for telecommuting and telenetworking can be found (once again)at Cisco but, I we have a closer took at the numbers, people telecommute in average only 2 days per week. Maybe more telecommuting may have sides effects…

Some thing can only be done or solved through a real contact. Some other can’t start without a discussion, an eye contact, a shakehand. What is sometimes true on the web is even more true within a business.

Making the office the only place to work at is counter productive, both economically and humanly. People may be able to work from everywhere in order to face the constraints of business life, even of personal lives. I don’t even mention the environmental impact. But thinking the same results will be obtained with people who seldom meet each other and were not introduced to each other in real life is a mistake. Truth is halfway and needs a serious reflection that can’t rely on the fad of the moment. “Greenwashing” can be good, washing the human capital and team cohesion surely not.

Today, teams can telecommute. But that supposes that teams exist.