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Virtual teams bring real benefits

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Using technology to bring geographically separated teams together brings big benefits through reduced expenses and more effective use of workers time. But use it with some thought.

Nortel Networks, the giant US network engineering group, uses a massive video and voice network to enable its employees to improve its collaborative working. It means that through the year 2000 for example, that it used 44,000 hours of video conferencing via 240 videoconferencing centres and averaged some 17,000 teleconferences a month through the year.

Their HR Director, Dale Pratt, claims that technology allows their virtual teams to operate quickly and competitively in disseminating data and information with the added bonus of reduced travel expenses, “There’s a phenomenal cost-saving for people not having to meet face to face,” she commented.

Travel has two distinct disadvatages:

  • Firstly it means that the traveller and the company have to pay the travel and accommodation costs, and then process the reclaiming of the costs through the expenses system which all ties up labour resources.
  • Secondly, the time spent actually travelling or staying in accommodation which doesn’t have useful resources at hand means that the employee is unable to performing productively.
A three-step process is recommended for businesses to use to guage whether greater use of technology would benefit them:
  1. Assess the work that has to be accomplished. Is it a straightforward case of sharing information, or is it more a case that a two way communication process will encourage greater ideas and creativity? Does the team working involved depend upon building relationships between the team members?
  2. Identify the Interpersonal Relationships. Who needs to be on the team? Separate job functions from personalities as far as possible and let the personalities develop from the tasks. Where do the team members work and how easily can each of them travel to meetings from both a time and cost point of view.
  3. In considering costs, remember that it is not worth the purchase of video conferencing facilities unless they are going to be used on a frequent basis. If teleconferencing isn’t especially a need, consider the better us of teleconferencing (multiple users in one telephone conversation). Which can be just as effective if a visual connection isn’t essential.

Most importantly, build a regular review of the use of communications technology and cost-benefit analyses into the communications monitoring procedures.

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