My mind is a little bit crazy. I often find that three very different ideas come together in my head at a particular moment. I have learned to pay attention to and think more about these three things.
It happened to me recently when three thoughts came together:
- Commute times. Working with companies in New York, Boston, and California exposed me to commute times that I was unfamiliar with living in Michigan.
- American Express Travelers Cheques division moving from New York City to Salt Lake City
- Hearing leaders talk about the increased productivity they’re experiencing in the new virtual world
The first time I worked in New York City as a consultant I showed up at the office on east 42nd street at 8:00 am assuming that was the normal start time. The office was empty. People didn’t really start settling into their office until around 9:00. As I got to know some of the team I would be working with I found out some of them lived in Pennsylvania. They would take a bus from their community to the rail station, take the train to New Jersey, take the ferry to Manhattan then either cab or walk from west 42 Street to the office on east 42 Street. It was nearly impossible to arrive before 9:00.
Then the office would begin to empty out by about 3:30 pm as the reverse commute took place. I had similar experiences in Boston, Chicago, and California. I always found it amusing in California when I would ask how far it was from one location to another. The answer was never explained in distance (4 miles) is was always explained in time (2 to 4 hours depending on the time of day).
I was living in Salt Lake City when American Express moved their Traveler Cheques Division from New York City to Salt Lake City. As I was reading about the move in the local papers, an American Express Official expressed how impressed they were at the increased productivity that came with the move.
Let’s think about that for a minute—
- New York City business day: 9:00-3:30.
- Sale Lake City business day: 8:00-5:00.
And you’re acting surprised by the increase in productivity?
I’m having the same reaction about all of these articles from business leaders (most in major corporations in major cities) expressing surprise and pleasure about the increased productivity they’re seeing from working virtually.
- Commute times even in reasonable locations: 30 to 60 minutes.
- Commute times for a virtual meeting: 3 to 6 minutes.
Increased productivity? I don’t think so. Just increased availability.
While this virtual world that we now find ourselves in may seem to be or even be more productive, it still takes more than that to build the kind of teams that will be trusting and innovative.
A client the other day asked me how to build a better team in this virtual environment. I didn’t have a great answer. It’s very difficult. There is something very real about the shaking of a hand or sitting down to talk face-to-face and being able to look into each other’s eyes.
I believe we can do some of this in a virtual environment but it takes planning and commitment. I have often done an exercise called “Assessment-Commitment”. This exercise can be accomplished in the virtual world but it takes time and commitment.
Each pair of people on the team must commit to spending virtual time one-on-one. Once this is accomplished, the team needs to meet (virtually) to discuss together the learnings that were accomplished in the one-on-one sessions. This means that the virtual meetings can’t be all about productivity, assignments, and getting things done. There must be time spent building the team!
Because we now find ourselves in this virtual world, don’t forsake the effort and time it takes to build great teams. It may take a bit more effort but it will reward you and the company many times over down the road.