Virtual Teams – Tangible Benefits
Any business can access a vast global pool of talented and specialist workers from anywhere in the World. The proliferation of high speed Internet allows firms to find, and work with, the best people, wherever they are. Very large companies first started to harness “global knowledge workers” on a grand scale, 15 to 20 years ago, to reduce project durations and costs, without compromising quality. The same resources and benefits are available to smaller companies. However, there are numerous pitfalls and hidden risks that companies need to overcome. Below are some of our ideas, to address the most important issues, based on best practices and based on our own experience of managing virtual teams and selecting suppliers for more than 20,000 clients.
Planet of the virtual workers
The market for virtual work is big, growing fast, and focused mainly on knowledge intensive work. McKinsey, a consulting firm, say that while the last era of globalisation was driven largely by sourcing low-cost production, the next era will centre on the rise of the global knowledge economy.
Much of this work is white-collar knowledge-work and according to a recent report by Staffing Industry Analysts, employers spent between $2.8bn and $3.7bn globally last year on payments to workers and the online platforms that act as intermediaries.
Between them, Elance and Odesk (now Upwork) and Freelancer (3 of the largest freelancer platforms) have about 22m users and their combined turnover was more than a billion dollars last year. Many of their users are highly skilled and specialist freelancers, prepared to work immediately. The global staffing market is worth about $422 billion, with online staffing growing 10 times faster than offline. More business is based on the exchange of knowledge Vs the traditional exchange of labour or resources. To put this into perspective, knowledge-intensive flows reached $12.6 trillion 2 yrs ago, according to McKinsey Global Institute — more than the combined GDP of China and Germany.
Our practical experience
We have used virtual workers and teams spread across 10 countries, including Philippines, Ecuador, India, USA, Ireland, Pakistan, UK, Kenya, Hungary, Bangladesh, Bulgaria and Colombia. Any organisation can harness the best talent, wherever it is.
The perfect mix – time, quality and cost
Increasing productive work hours by “following the sun” could mean faster project completion. Couple that with the ability to access specialist workers with the skills and experience required to reduce risks and increase innovation. Also, virtual teams typically incur lower office space costs, and lower unit or hourly costs. But the most successful firms strategically determine which activities are best performed by virtual teams, based on time, quality and cost. Virtual teams offer the perfect opportunity for the average business, with a tight budget and keen to achieve tight deadlines, but equally keen to maintain high quality standards.
No free lunch
Hordes of talented professionals want to work for your firm – separating the wheat from the chaff is difficult and time consuming. Getting this wrong can be costly, delay your project and even impact the morale and productivity of your staff.
But selection is not the only risk point. You encounter the same potential pitfalls associated with any other project, just amplified. At the most basic level, you need to professionally organise and manage everything from project documentation to the right work environment to collaboration tools and communication schedules. But, never underestimate the impact that different time zones, physical distance and cultural barriers can have. With all of the best intentions, your virtual team’s promise to complete the project “tomorrow” may be a cultural misunderstanding. By aligning ourselves around virtual teams and understanding their culture, we’ve avoided some of the most common pitfalls.
Despite the risks and pitfalls, virtual work is here to stay and there are huge benefits, especially for mid size and small organisations. Most large organisations, especially the large technology, accounting and legal firms have been doing this for more than a decade. We also know some very small firms that have built their businesses on virtual talent. Others have been frustrated by the time and effort required to filter through profiles and then organise and manage their chosen virtual teams.
Project management overlay
The most successful firms use Project Management to mitigate the risks that are a natural consequence of any project, especially projects with a virtual team component. These organisations have embraced the benefits of project management becuase they know that good project management is a predictor of on time on budget project delivery.
We continue to use virtual workers for many of our projects and over the years have learnt how to find the best virtual resources, select the right trusted experts and build powerful virtual teams. We’ve also learnt so much more about the need for good project management and also which project management styles work best when managing virtual experts and/or teams.
G2Guide helps organisations by providing easy and fast access to a shortlist of specialists, saving them significant time and effort. It also provides a dedicated project manager to support your virtual team and get your project delivered, on time and on budget. The project manager looks after organisation and management, and also ensures that all documentation is in place, including business case, specifications, work schedule and work statement. Clients also get real-time project updates on their PC, Tablet or Mobile via our cloud based project management and collaboration system. Our focus is on supporting both our clients and virtual teams with the experts and tools to ensure that projects match stakeholders’ budget, quality and timing requirements.
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