Virtual working. It can be frustratingly productive.

Life is an experiment, right?  Over the last few years, this has been my reality.  Despite being linked to offices in Perth and Brisbane, I have spent much of the last 18 months working virtually in South East Asia.  I have learned a lot.

The experiment

For over 10 years now, I have been in a Senior Leadership position with team members based in other countries.  I have always used tools like Skype as part of a regular meeting rhythm to share information, and have grown familiar with work-related travel which can often resemble a virtual-working experience.  But I was always linked to the main office where most people were based.  What was it really like to be physically separated from others over the long-term?  This is what I was about to find out.

The opportunity came about when my better half was contemplating doing further study.  The course was available online, but it was also available in person - in Bali!  A few conversations later, next thing we knew we were off.

A lesson in dealing with frustration

It's funny how many things we take for granted when based in a capital city in Australia. Internet is (generally) very good, phone coverage is (generally) very good, and it is easy to get things fixed.  And so you can probably already guess what I am about to say.  When you can't get an internet connection and English isn't the first language of those around you, and you have an urgent deadline or meeting, it is a problem.  When the phone doesn't work for no apparent reason, it can be a little frustrating.

Then there's the electricity brown-outs due to storms or other random events.  Very quickly, it becomes a lesson in backup plans and keeping a cool-head.  There are plenty of decent technology and communication options for working virtually, but it is fair to say that there are many things out of one's direct control. Did I say that my whole team is virtual?

'Productive' can happen from anywhere

It is sometimes easy to use problems as excuses, regardless of whether one is based in an office or not.   This became the most valuable lesson for me, one that extends beyond virtual working.   Proactive communication, planning for contingencies, and being aware of the overall situation became day to day considerations.  So did accountability.  By hiring and working with the right people, I noticed an upsurge in getting stuff done.  It is amazing how much can be achieved without the constant interruptions associated with people not thinking for themselves.

So much so that I am now convinced my little experiment has highlighted the importance of each of these characteristics for every working environment.  In particular, accountability for one's own thoughts, words, actions and behaviours.  It is a pretty decent starting point in the journey of cultivating a performance culture.

Good read:  Beware of the workplace culture expert.

So what's the point?

Is Accountability a permanent resident in your workplace?  If not, it is something to strive towards.  One of the biggest hidden costs in any Company is the lost time associated with the necessity for micro-management.  Sure, direction and instruction from supervisors is important, but there is a sweet spot that optimises everyone's time.

If you are interested, you can also read an interview conducted by OD Consulting about managing virtual teams here.

And if you would like to do what we do in our team, learn more about hiring virtual workers here.


About the author:


Jason Buchanan is the general manager for insights and innovation of Optimum Consulting Group, a trusted and leading HR consultancy firm in Australia. He is the brain behind Optimum Direct, a web portal of the best HR tools and software for small business. He is interested in finding solutions on how companies can continue to grow without destroying the things that are important to them (employees, customers, suppliers, reputation etc). 

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