The New Virtual Reality – Managing without Bricks & Mortar

Rainbow social networkPart 1 – Introduction

In 2003, I led a team of Business Analysts in creating and growing a virtual professional association, International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA). When I left in August of 2013, IIBA had grown to 29 staff with revenues of over $5 million. It had 27,000 members from over 130 countries. Yet, we remained completely virtual. While over half the staff lived in and around Toronto, Ontario, the rest hailed from ten other Canadian or American cities. Everyone worked from his or her home. Meetings were held almost exclusively via phone or chat.

IIBA is not the only company running completely virtually, although there are not many others with the diversity of products and services and complexity of operations. Companies with dispersed, distributed sales forces or global consulting groups don’t depend on team collaboration in the way IIBA does. Their staff work relatively independently, or in ad hoc, short term teams. Many IIBA staff are involved in virtual working sessions to develop products, make plans, or create content. Even firms that outsource elements of their production line maintain some physical presence to support their remote teams.

How did we manage? To survive and succeed, we needed to assess whether traditional tools for running a “bricks and mortar” operation could apply to our virtual environment, and if not, determine how they needed to evolve or be replaced by alternative approaches. Since there was no rulebook or management guide to reference to help us along on our journey, we made it up as we went along: what worked, we kept; what didn’t was discarded. In moments of inspiration or great learnings, we agreed that we should write the book on running a virtual organization. Now that I have some perspective on things we did well and what we did wrong, I’m in a position to make that book a reality

Over the course of the next few months, I will share with you the lessons learned during the course of my tenure at IIBA, how those lessons were applied, and challenges faced in implementation.

Virtual organizations will become more prevalent as companies attempt to minimize investments in assets that don’t contribute directly to the bottom line. As well, the need to hire the right talent regardless of where those individuals are located will also drive greater “virtualization”. IIBA may be one of the early adopters, perhaps even an innovator in this space, but the early majority is not too far behind. Companies who wish to continue to succeed will need to better understand how to incorporate elements of a virtual workforce into their organizations, and I’d like to help.

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