When I first started my company, Usman Group, I relied heavily on a virtual workforce — a few permanent staff and a stable of freelancers. The cost benefits of doing so for my startup were obvious: I could easily scale up or down depending on projects and workloads, keep labor costs low, and best of all, work with the best people in their specific domains.
But I also experienced the pain inherent in a virtual workforce: keeping virtual teams working together required lots (and lots) of communication, and often there was a sense of disjointedness and difficulty retaining resources longer than was originally expected. Mind you, this was the mid-2000’s, where social and technological tools weren’t as advanced as they are today. We were just entering the second wave of virtual working, as more and more people were coming to work online.
I did what any business owner with a growth-oriented mindset would do. I started hiring. And because scheduling, team harmony and quality control were going to be paramount to our strategic advantage, I needed to set my sights on building a bench that cared deeply about exceptional customer service and adhering to higher standards. I eventually built what I set out to do. I gained alignment, developed cohesive teams and built an organization that completed “tasks” efficiently. But it came at a cost.
You see, the practice of solving unique or undefined problems required higher levels of brain power and skill-sets that were challenging to find in the local market. I spent most of my time striving to build the best teams possible from a limited supply of the right talent and experience. I ended up settling for good enough, when in fact, I didn’t have to.
Today, as we enter the third wave of virtual working, even greater technologies (and people) are coming online that make it easier to assemble talent and activate teams. With the refinement of better online tools, services and platforms, we now have access to a huge marketplace of virtual workers. It’s easier than ever to find, secure, work with and compensate virtual workers who are the best in class, regardless of where those workers live.
Don’t get me wrong, you might get lucky and find local talent that has the potential for greatness or will come pre-wired with the skills that you need, when you need them. And with more refined staffing solutions abound, “local” no longer has to be a consideration in assembling great teams and facilitating collaborative environments.
Thankfully, trends continue to move in favor of virtual workers, and organizations will have no choice but to acquiesce. We are all moving ever closer to the realization of being able to choose who we want to work with, when we want to work and where we wish to live. That’s the dream for most people, isn’t it? And it’s not surprising, since the more “w’s” (who, when, where) a person controls, the more fulfilling their work and life become. 😉
What has been your experience working virtually?