Guiding questions for this episode

  • Why in the world would you want to change an organization from being in an office to being a virtual team?
  • Does it make sense to make your workplace a virtual team environment? 
  • How will your organization finally see the benefits of going virtual?
Here's the summary - the podcast episode is also available at the bottom of the page.

Leadership styles have emerged in the modern workplace related to the "drivers" surrounding the business and the people within organizations.

For virtual organizations, there are drivers that encourage a specific kind of leadership and a unique leadership competence. These may be similar to what you might find in collocated leadership environments, but for distance leaders, the business drivers may actually require the leadership role to be geography-independent.

Some of the business drives include a dispersion of talented employees, being where the economic business drivers exist, outsourcing of employees or leaders due to customer requirements, varied staffing requirements covering a large geographic area, or extended hours to meet customer needs.

There may be individually-focused drivers for virtualized leadership, too. As workplaces change to meet the different customer expectations in many businesses, leaders have to cope with the idea that employees move, but business locations may not. Good employees, especially in highly technical fields, are not easy to find! Employees have changing expectations of work-life balance as well, and a "gig economy" means that more employees are part-time in two or more work roles. Each of these drivers contributes differently to leadership needs.

Whatever drivers for distance working and leadership that you are experiencing, remember that a business change to move to a more virtualized work environment needs to be examined carefully, with an eye on both the business issues and the human issues related to changing existing business models.

Making a decision to switch to a more virtualized work environment is not trivial, and there are usually two main categories of decision points. First, there’s the business, or economic, drivers, and then there are the individual, or personnel-related, drivers. What should you know about each of these drivers?

  • Business drivers
    Usually related to profits, customers, or workflow. 
    • Where the talented employees are
      Many companies are aware that their employees might have an unreasonable commute, and have decreased their office space to allow employees to work from home.
    • Where the economy drives business
      Sometimes, the business is located in a particular geographical area, but the resources for the business are located elsewhere. For example, if a manufacturing hub changes from an industrial area near the current office location to another manufacturing center in another city, it may make sense to become a virtual office to serve the new location.
    • Outsourcing to meet multiple clients
      If the client needs have grown beyond the current office, additional staffing services may be served to near- or off-shore support teams for specific clients or processes.
    • Staffing needs to be close to a client or customer
      To serve distributed customers, many businesses will not be able to maintain the overhead of multiple offices in multiple locations. Having a decentralized or distance office approach may serve the customers more effectively.
    • Need for greater-than-eight-hour business cycles
      When services should be provided beyond a single time zone or business period, having distance teams or employees may help provide essential services.
    • Off-hour processing or support
      Many technology processes are run by overnight operators, who are, in essence, distance workers. Although this isn’t the only situation, there are many businesses that rely on employees that work the hours that other employees do not.
    • Physical office space constraints
      Probably the most obvious, but growing businesses may also outgrow their physical facility. In these cases, businesses may make the decision to develop a virtual workforce.
  • Individual drivers
    Usually related to HR-centric reasons, and may be more of a case-by-case decision than an entire team being distributed.
    • Changing expectations of workplaces
      Many employees expect additional flexibility about where they work their business hours.
    • Employees move; business locations don’t
      When a strong employee moves away from the office beyond a reasonable commute, the company may want to keep that employee as a distance worker.
    • Importance of work-life balance
      Some companies choose to offer periodic “work from home” days or opportunities to work away from the office 
    • Part-time employment
      If an organization employs a number of part-time or contract employees, bringing the employees into the office may not be an effective use of time and may limit the number of available employees. Instead, virtual work environments, when structured properly, can help develop effective work outcomes.
    • Life changes (illness, maternity/paternity, elder care, special needs family members)
      In many cases, employees caring for family members or dealing with medical constraints may require work modifications like extended hours, geographic flexibility, or non-office accommodations.
Bottom Line 

Regardless of the reasons, a business change to a more virtualized work environment is not a trivial decision. Both business drivers and individual drivers should be examined carefully, with a focus on organizational goals and employee performance. Understanding the drivers gives you more information about why a change to a more virtual work environment will or won’t work.

0107 – Business Drivers for Distance Work

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