Self-organisation and teamwork in virtual space

On "Informatik Aktuell" Isabelle Schemion writes about self-organized virtual project work and her experiences with teamwork in virtual space in the section "Management and Law". Isabelle Schemion has been working for AviloX since 2015 and says of herself that she is passionate about web design and agile project management. In her working environment she is considered an expert for healthy working in digital space. In the following we summarize one of her articles for you
A woman wearing a headset makes a video call.

How and why does virtual project work?

Today there are dozens of good tools and programs for working together digitally. Home office, project teams sitting thousands of miles apart, collaboration across different time zones - all this is already reality today. Many people, including Isabelle Schemion, see many advantages in virtual collaboration. Working is more flexible, from anywhere and (if you want to and don't have video calls) even in a jogging suit. Many people ask themselves the question: who then checks how much each individual is working? Schemion refers to a "common understanding of values", but also to the fact that nowadays in modern companies it is less and less important how many hours and minutes someone actually spends on a task per day, but how well it is done in the end. Trust is the basis. This seems strange to many, especially to those who work in traditional companies with traditional structures. But virtual teams are no longer a rarity. More and more companies are also seeing advantages in no longer necessarily having their employees in the office, but rather around the world. After all, this saves costs for office space and creates satisfied, motivated employees. Families and the environment are happy because mothers and fathers are at home and less exhaust fumes are produced by commuter traffic. The shortage of skilled workers further reinforces the trend towards flexibility in companies. This is called modern recruiting. Virtuality is basically only a by-product of this development. Fortunately, there are now very good tools and programs that make it easy to work together in a virtual space. All that is needed is a computer and a fast internet connection.

What's the catch?

But virtual project work has not only advantages. It is also not the ideal working environment for everyone. The organizational effort is enormous. A digital platform for working is the basis, but of course it is not enough. Technology is very important. But to enable meaningful and value-adding work, flexible collaboration structures must be created. That sounds a bit woolly and probably means something different in every company, but Schemion is convinced that this is the key to success. She stresses that a certain work culture must be developed. So there is no point in simply introducing the new structures overnight and presenting them to the employees. Investing money in a suitable platform is a first step, but it is not the only solution. There must be several briefings on this new technology. And probably the most difficult thing is to create suitable teams that can live and work with this way of working. Schemion mentions famous obstacles in the establishment of virtual work structures. The corporate culture is often a problem. The supervisor, for example, worries about how they can know whether their employees are really working. Employees don't want new software and prefer to work "the way we have always done it". Employees don't want to share their knowledge with everyone and don't want to put anything online without approval, where every colleague can see it. So it's mainly about the attitude of the individuals. You have to grab the snake by the head: if the boss rejects the platform, chances are that nobody will actually use it in the end. The management of a company must be 100% behind the new culture, otherwise the development will not work.

So how can it succeed?

Isabelle Schamion sees the key to the success of virtual and self-organized collaboration not in technology, but in the digital collaboration environment. An agreement on common values must be found and working methods must be defined together. A culture of error with which everyone can identify must exist. Once everyone realises the advantages of the new way of working, a kind of digital collegiality quickly develops. Against the background of their own experiences, Schemion then gives tips: She suggests that projects should not be given to the department that is officially responsible for them, but rather to employees who are enthusiastic and interested in them. Those who have selected a project themselves usually work on it with more verve and also with more success. For this to be possible, managers must give up a good portion of their power and exercise trust. Schemion insists on transparency as a success factor. Nobody should work for himself, but always do everything visibly in the network. This prevents mistakes from occurring on a small scale and getting bigger and bigger, but also prevents tasks from being unnecessarily duplicated.

Furthermore, openness allows a better overview for everyone. The catch here: everyone must dare to share even unfinished work and show what many find difficult. In addition, Schemion emphasizes that although there is a lot of freedom in virtual teams, within a project the roles among the team members must be clearly defined. This is the only way to work in a goal-oriented way, because everyone knows what they have to do and because all tasks are taken over by someone else. The sense of community plays an important role. Here the human factor and humanity are required, which unfortunately does not exist in every team. Egoists are not popular project team members. But who puts the egoists in their place? Teambuilding can help to create a sense of "we". Everyone must be supported in sharing their knowledge and actively asking for the knowledge of others. This is also not easy for everyone. Someone in the team has to plan the organization and moderate the meetings, keep an eye on deadlines and timelines. So there always needs to be an organizer who makes the schedules together with everyone. To make good schedules, you need experience and a feeling for how long each task takes. So a successful team can't just consist of newcomers. Last but not least, a conflict structure must also be created that makes it possible to resolve conflicts in a prudent manner.
Author: IAPM intern

Keywords: Home office, Virtual teams, Self organization, Project management

The IAPM certification

The certification can be taken via a reputable online examination procedure. The costs are based on the gross domestic product of your country of origin.

From the IAPM Blog

Become a Network Official

Do you want to get involved in project management in your environment and contribute to the further development of project management? Then become active as an IAPM Network Official or as a Network Official of the IAPM Network University. 

For better readability, we usually only use the generic masculine form in our texts. Nevertheless, the expressions refer to members of all genders.