Virtual business teams may be significantly less productive than people who work face-to-face, according to a recent study conducted by Siemens Enterprise Communications.
The study found that while 79 percent of respondents reported frequently working with others virtually, only 44 percent considered their virtual interactions as productive as working face-to-face.
Siemen's study surveyed the opinions of 320 employees in North America, Latin America and Western Europe. It found that a lack of efficiency stems from employees either not having the correct tools for effective virtual interactions, or they find the tools they have overwhelming and frustrating. Meanwhile, 75 percent of respondents found virtual team members are likely to be distracted during exchanges.
A changing workspace
As companies turn to web technology to handle everything from operations like performance reporting to HR roles like expense management, the survey reevaluates how companies may perceive the limits of its use. The work environment is constantly changing. In an article for VentureBeat, Shasta Ventures managing director Tod Francis states, "We used to be a nation of office workers. We committed our lives to single companies, and went to work in the same location every day. ... We're now a group of 1 billion mobile workers, and growing."
Francis explains that today's employees want their work adapted to their lives, and often to do their part from home. Employees can adjust their workload to atypical office hours, completing work more efficiently. Meanwhile, mobile workers save companies money on office expenses.
Another important factor to keep in mind is how virtual communication facilitates operations for continental and international companies.
Where is the discrepancy?
According to Siemens, 93 percent of respondents collaborate via email and 89 percent use phones. Only 54 percent of respondents found these tools sufficient for reaching productivity potentials.
A blogger for Crain's Chicago Business points out how email and phone negate aspects of conversation that are often crucial for accurate message sending and reception. She writes that email and other textual forms of communication don't convey emotion, sarcasm or mood, while phone doesn't portray body language.
Siemen's study found that the majority of respondents felt using video would improve productivity, but that only a little over one-third use it.
"This study reinforces what we hear everyday from prospects," said Chris Siemens chief commercial officer Chris Hummel. "It highlights the real opportunity enterprises have if they can improve the connection and collaboration among virtual teams." Siemens found that only 8 percent of businesses have processes in place to manage team performance.
Businessweek suggests that periodic live meetings increase motivation and inspiration in addition to improving relations between executives and their subordinates.
Virtual teamwork grows more prevalent as programs that provide facetime, virtual document viewing and note-taking and sharing such as Skype, Join.Me, Google Drive and Speek evolve. Siemens suggests businesses provide workers with the same simple and elegant tools they use at home to eliminate employee confusion and frustration. Communications tools should be unified, and the company shouldn't provide alternatives for the same functions to eliminate complexity.
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