Enterprise 2.0: Making Virtual Collaboration Work - InformationWeek

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Enterprise 2.0: Making Virtual Collaboration Work

A Volvo team's online collaboration experiences demonstrate the importance of finding a human side to virtual teams.

An Enterprise 2.0 meeting on online collaboration involving large practitioners -- Volvo IT (VIT) and the US Army -- offered a valuable glimpse of a trend that is being adopted by small online virtual teams and proliferating as quickly as rabbits.

The experience of a Volvo representative and a retired Army Colonel demonstrate the importance of finding a human side to virtual teams whose participants are often scattered around the world and who have never met each other in person.

"We party online," said Virginia Adamson of Volvo, explaining how a group in one part of the world might send some food to a team in another country for an impromptu party. With 60,000 VIT employees in scores of countries, the company has developed techniques to humanize relationships among virtual meeting participants.

Participants quickly learn to respect the cultural differences among the various participants. Different national holidays are respected -- the Fourth of July in the US and Cinco de Mayo in Mexico, for instance. Music from a participant's country, for instance, might be played to make the participant feel more comfortable. These human touches help build trust among all participants.

Adamson said Volvo began working with the virtual collaboration consultancy NetAge three years ago to develop and refine its virtual online collaborative experience. Travel expense savings are obvious. The Enterprise 2.0 panel on "Leading Collaborative Teams" noted that 10 people on a one-day onsite physical meeting can cost up to $100,000 including travel expenses.

"Virtual teams can work faster and particularly more innovatively," said Jeff Stamps, co-founder and chief scientist of NetAge. "The reality is that (virtual collaboration) requires understanding of people and cultures and organizations." One driver of innovation in online collaboration is the general requirement that issues be written down, which focuses participants.

In an interview, Stamps said the recent proliferation of media tools are easy to use and have removed much of the difficulty that confronted potential online collaborators in the past. He added that use of virtual meetings is exploding in recent years and particularly in recent months. "High tech teams are no longer overwhelmed," he said. "Doing a Web conference today is no more complicated that making a phone call."

The difficulty is getting over the initial hurdle of implementing a virtual meeting, but once that hurdle is jumped, new levels of success can easily be achieved.

Another speaker at the Enterprise 2.0 event, Michael Prevou of Strategic Knowledge Solution Inc. discussed the challenges of developing strategies for teams that need to come together very quickly. A retired US Army colonel, Prevou said even quick-response virtual teams must first develop their online experience in stages.


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