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The challenge of virtual management
Not long ago, most workers around the world were employed outside their homes. To “work,” they had to leave their homes and “go” to work. Today, the work has changed. An ever-growing number of workers don’t “go” to work — rather, they work anywhere they are, at home or a local coffee shop, frequently interacting with co-workers located miles away in another location, town, city, country, or even continent.
Although virtual management has existed for centuries (i.e. religious organizations operating around the world), the 1990s saw the emergence of a modern, connected workforce. The availability of internet, mobile devices and workflow software dramatically accelerated the speed of this change. Most companies and jobs have this ever-increasing “virtual” component either because their clients, vendors or employees are dispersed geographically, or because the company itself operates in multiple locations and geographies.
Since the 1990s, companies of all sizes have been forced to adjust their business models and update their management and leadership practices to adapt to globalization and survive in a business world that works faster and has become more complex. Prior to that, most outsourced and offshored work was manufacturing-related. Today, however, this segment of work includes non-manufacturing functions such as customer service and software development.
The need for effective virtual leaders of geographically dispersed teams continues to increase for a wide variety of reasons including:
Companies can benefit when they hire qualified employees around the world where conditions, talent pool and regulations may be more convenient for a particular business. They can also save in office space and operation costs, avoid expensive relocation packages, and reduce time wasted in commuting and transportation.
Most businesses currently have some form of global component (either via vendors, employees or customers), which translates into a diverse work force and requires a certain amount of aptitude in other cultures and languages—or at least an understanding that other constituencies have different backgrounds and needs as consumers or employees.
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