Despite the fact that today’s technology makes it possible to do nearly any office job remotely, companies are still sharply divided on work-from-home policies. Some are happy to offer it to their employees as a much-coveted work-life balance perk, while other employers are hesitant to trust workers they’re not able to see in-person.
If you’re on the not-trusting side of the spectrum, you may want to reconsider your stance, if not for your employees, then for your company as a whole: Virtual teams may actually be more innovative and open-minded than colleagues sitting together in a face-to-face meeting.
In his work with more than 120 companies and their managers through the London Business School, Adam Kingl, executive director of learning solutions, has found that virtual work presents some distinct advantages, particularly when it comes to generating ideas and solving problems. In a physical setting, team members are likely to agree with the dominant person’s ideas to keep the peace, but virtual meetings deliver what Kingl calls “a meritocracy of ideas.
“Virtual meetings prompt participants to assess ideas based on their merit,” Kingl told Business News Daily. “There is a greater chance for a marketplace of ideas, [and] there are fewer biases in virtual meetings compared to face-to-face meetings. It’s more about the best idea and the ability to reflect and comment on the idea, rather than the person or personality.”
Because factors such as a person’s charisma, physical proximity, nationality, accent, etc., are not as prominent in virtual, chat or discussion board-based meetings, introverted employees and minority staff members can benefit from the chance to reflect, respond and have their voices heard, Kingl said. Another obvious benefit of virtual meetings is their ability to bring together geographically dispersed team members and have them contribute.
“The more global the team, the more the team leader needs to foster an effective virtual team dynamic,” Kingl said. “We can’t afford to wait for face-to-face [meetings] to have useful conversations.”
Remote work isn’t right for every situation or even every personality type, Kingl said, but he noted that virtual collaboration tends to work best in brainstorming scenarios and when a team is discussing complex problems that benefit from reflection and greater thinking time. A time-bound synchronous meeting forces participants to come up with fast, superficial solutions, whereas an ongoing virtual chat means that problems don’t have to be fully solved within the hour.
“With time, people will be more objective instead of being caught up in the moment,” Kingl said.
Even teams that work in the same location can benefit from the innovative advantages of virtual work. For large projects, Kingl advised co-located teams to break into smaller, face-to-face groups, and report back in a larger virtual meeting. Encouraging employees to find different locations around the office to work instead of their usual workstation can also give them a fresh perspective.