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Virtual Teams, Not Just a Digital Marketing Trend

Does the thought of working with a digital agency that has virtual teams scare you a bit? Do you worry about getting the highest quality work out of a digital marketing team that spans the US? Do you feel the need to be in the same room with everyone from the agency’s team for them to understand your marketing initiatives?

Certainly, we’ve all had some negative feelings around this topic at one point or another, but research shows these concerns couldn’t be further from the truth. To better understand the evolution of virtual teams, let’s explore some of the reasoning behind this growing trend as it continues to take root in some of the world’s most successful companies.

Studies have shown that virtual teams are more productive, have a positive impact on employee morale, have less turnover, less overhead and, from a green perspective, they reduce effects on the ozone. Yes, that’s right, these are all the common noted benefits when virtual teams were implemented. This trend may have deep roots in the digital marketing sector, but its positive effects are being seen across nearly all industries.

The benefits to employees, companies and clients are well documented. It’s a formula that has proven its effectiveness for many of the world’s largest brands.  Forbes has noted that

Utilizing a virtual marketing team can be the epitome of working smarter. It decreases the confines that a traditional office has, both literal and figurative. It increases flexibility, productivity, and employee happiness. It’s a win-win.

Still have concerns? Let’s explore some data around these real benefits.

 

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Productivity

It’s pretty obvious that fewer distractions equates to higher efficiency. Of the people surveyed, 30% say that working remotely allows them to accomplish much more in less time. Twenty-four percent surveyed say they were able to accomplish more in about the same amount of time. More throughput from the same number of employees is certainly desirable for companies and clients alike.

One study indicated that 86% percent say they preferred to work remotely to “hit maximum productivity.”

While another study noted that 66% of managers say employees who work remotely increase their overall productivity.

It has also been noted that 77% greater productivity is achieved when working with a virtual team.

Now, it’s fairly obvious that this increase would not be possible without the rise of technology. Modern technology, the internet of things, has made communicating easier than ever. This trend is not expected to change anytime soon. Technology has provided us with cutting-edge tools for seamless communication and collaboration. Modern technology is key for any team, but these benefits are greatly immeasurable for a virtual team.

Of the digital communication and collaboration tools available, email is the most used at 88% while instant messaging, video conferencing, VoIP/Skype, and presence functionality are also commonly relied upon by remote workers. Of those surveyed, 28% use an enterprise unified communication solution, such as Microsoft Lync.

 

Higher Morale

The study by PGI, a leading provider of software services, found that 80% of workers reported higher morale when working remote, while 69% reported lower absenteeism. It goes without saying that happier employees produce better work.

 

Decreased Overhead

Companies of all sizes report significant decreases in operating costs. According to a Forbes magazine report:

Aetna (where some 14,500 of 35,000 employees don’t have an “in-office” desk) shed 2.7 million square feet of office space, saving $78 million. American Express reported annual savings of $10 million to $15 million thanks to its remote worker options.

 

 

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Going Green

For many employers, going green is a big incentive. Employers that embrace telecommuting have helped to significantly reduce their carbon footprint. In 2013, annual fuel consumption decreased by 680 million gallons, about 0.5 percent of the nation’s gas consumption, one study found.

Xerox, Dell and Aetna, three of the largest companies in the United States, have embraced the virtual office trend. These companies have goals of producing significant positive effects on the environment.

Xerox designed its Virtual Workforce Program to target both increased productivity and benefits to the environment. Through this program, more than 8,000 Xerox employees (11 % of its workforce) work remote full-time. Through telecommuting, Xerox reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 40,894 metric tons, and its remote staff used 4.6 million fewer gallons of gas by not commuting. The program has been so successful that Xerox added an additional 1,000 remote positions in 2014.

“Xerox focused on environmental performance and sustainability long before it was a popular practice, in order to positively impact our operations, offerings, customers and communities,” said Diane O’Connor, vice president of Environmental, Health, Safety and Sustainability at Xerox.

Dell launched its “2020 Legacy of Good Plan” in 2012. With this, and other additional initiatives, Dell pledged to make 50 percent of its workforce remote by 2020.

The notion of a virtual workforce is not new for Aetna. Indeed, they have been embracing this for over 20 years.  More than 43 percent of its current workforce have virtual work arrangements. Aetna has reported a reduction greenhouse gas emissions by 46,700 metric tons in 2014 alone. Through telecommuting in 2014, Aetna also reduced its employees’ commutes by 127 million miles, which used 5.3 million fewer gallons of gas.

So, what have we learned from some of the world’s largest companies? Each person’s individual carbon footprint is significantly impacted by their ability to work as part of a virtual team. By embracing the notion of virtual teams, many of the world’s largest companies have truly found a win-win situation.

 

Challenges

While the studies support the argument for telcommunting, we would be remiss if we did not address some of the challenges virtual teams face.

One of the greatest challenges these teams face is where and when work ends and private life begins.  More than ever, we are blurring the lines between work time and personal time, which can be a challenge for some employees.  That said, this too can be the case for anyone in today’s corporate world.  With the evolution of smart technologies, our always-on culture has extended the length of the work day for all of us.

Virtual teams can also be challenging to get right. Some teams find it difficult to resolve conflict when they do not have the ability to discuss and interact face-to-face. To minimize concerns, it’s important to have documented processes and procedures. This helps to avoid ambiguity. All parties know what is expected and what their role is. If proper documentation and processes are in place, inefficiencies can be significantly reduced.

The notion of virtual teams is not foolproof, and each company needs to evaluate the idea based on its company dynamic, product and client need.

We here at Embark have been successful, year over year, working virtually with employees and clients alike. We have the people, tools and processes in place to successfully and seamlessly manage digital marketing programs small and large.