I always enjoy imagining what the future will be like for all sorts of things: transportation, energy, architecture, space exploration, and the everyday chores of life. Perhaps it is my lifelong interest in science fiction, or perhaps I just want to believe that a better world is possible. One thing is for sure: all great productivity improvements start with people imagining how things can be better. So, let’s explore the future of teams. Specifically, virtual project teams, since that is my specialty.
After many years of practice and having experienced many successes and failures, I’ve come to appreciate the good and bad aspects of being a virtual team member. From my experiences, I have created a long list of new technologies or improvements to existing ones that would make life easier for me and my virtual colleagues. The great news is that no new laws of physics need be discovered to realize most of these improvements. In fact, many of the technologies already exist today, just in different forms.
As fodder for discussion in this forum, and to encourage you to ask for new capabilities from your favorite collaboration vendors, I will describe my predictions for the future of virtual team technologies in two areas: forming a virtual team and virtual team spaces. To provide some real-life context, I will include examples of products or services that are either moving in the right direction or where an existing technology could form the foundation for a better virtual team solution. I will cover forming a virtual team here and the future of virtual team spaces in part two.
Forming a Virtual Team
Forming a team in the future will be much easier and faster than it is today. Project leaders will be able to tap into global, virtual labor services that manage large pools of high-quality contractors offering a wide variety of professional services. It won’t matter that the contractors they employ reside in countries all over the world as they will all be equipped and skilled with the latest in collaborative virtual team technologies. Project managers will be able to assemble a team and launch a project in a few days, where today it can take many months. Also, rather than being limited to selecting people from the immediate department or company, leaders will be able to draw from the best the best, no matter where they live or work.
Although you can find examples of such virtual work pools today, this work paradigm is still a niche mode of employment. For it to become the primary way teams are formed, several things must happen: 1) project managers and the executive chain above them must become comfortable managing virtual teams; 2) a respected marketplace must exist where the logistics for selecting a contractor and paying them for short-term engagements are handled efficiently; and 3) a large number of qualified people need to make themselves available for engagements in this marketplace. This future labor marketplace is much more than the ubiquitous on-line resume-posting and want-ad services provided by sites such as Monster.com.
An example of a service that is on the right track is oDesk.com. They have managed to make excellent progress in areas 2 and 3 mentioned above. They have signed-up a large number of contractors, many of them have ratings by past employers, and they take care of all the financial and legal aspects of contracting engagements, freeing up prospective employers to just hire and go. oDesk has also created a basic skills evaluation system that contractors use to prove objectively their abilities to prospective employers.
In the years ahead, more companies like oDesk will emerge to fill a growing demand for just-in-time labor services as these sorts of virtual labor pools are a win-win for employers and employees. Employers save time and money and employees can improve their work-life balance.
In part two I’ll discuss the future of virtual team spaces.