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Woman on laptopBobtheBA. Have you noticed that more and more people are working from home these days? Perhaps they actually work in the office, but they are cube-less (without a permanent desk)? I am sure you have noticed all of the people you work with that are located in other countries who might own the product or the system you work on, or may be due to outsourcing needs. Businesses continue to be creative in their approach to resourcing and restructuring, which I think is great, but there seems to be a tendency to not think through the impact on people and their roles in working with that creativity. The answer we get, of course, is just “get it done” or as Tim Gunn would say, “make it work.” Thus is the story of today’s Business Analyst and our Virtual Reality. A monumental challenge to be sure.

The challenges have always been plenty. It was hard enough being a BA and dealing with difficult stakeholders, conflict resolution, hidden agendas, confusion on priorities, culture and more; but now we must deal with all of these same things in a virtual environment. We lost our ability to see body language. We lost “tone” due to inefficient phone systems (and because we cannot see people). Virtual meetings seem to take longer and as a result we lost (cut out) many of the things that collocated teams take for granted like social niceties and responding in a timely manner. So what can we do? I wish I had the proverbial magic bullet, so I could tell everyone that it is going to be okay and everything will work itself out. Requirements will auto-magically appear and everyone will understand and agree in a virtual environment. I really wish I could, but I can’t. What I can tell you is that there are opportunities to make what seems like an impossible task doable, but it does take work. There are a ton of challenges to overcome and a million and one ways to address them. Sounds like the possibility for a book… hmm… For this short blog, I am going to address just one challenge and some options in dealing with it.

Virtual Challenge #1: Lack of Engagement.
One of the things that I see going on during virtual meetings is a total lack of engagement. It is as if we feel we have been forced into this virtual environment. Things seem to take longer so we simply stop interacting and engaging in the hope that the meeting will get done sooner. The end result, of course, is not much gets done or at least, done with the expected and needed results. I have literally heard people say, “Well they work from home and don’t have any skin in the game, so they won’t engage. When they don’t engage, we simply let them know that if they are not listening, we will move on without them.” The first sentence is pure poppycock and falderal! They do have skin in the game. It is their job. They simply see their job differently than we do. The second sentence sets a bad precedent. I love ground rules, but by defaulting to the veiled threat, we actually are inviting them to withdraw further and engage even less. Then we get to the point where it becomes a “lack of performance” when people keep pointing out that “John Doe” was not listening again. Yeah… I would not want to engage you either. So what do we do?

  1. Electronic courtship. The idea is that you must “court” people during your virtual meeting. Collocated teams do it all the time. Some people call it a waste of time, but it is actually pretty powerful. By courting/engaging people you make them feel a part of the meeting, the project, and the process. You do this by simply introducing yourselves, getting to know them prior to starting your work. Keeping up on the kids, the vacation, or the crazy amount of hours you put in last week. We do it with collocated teams, why would we stop just because they are on the phone? Yes, it does take longer. Plan for it. Educate people. Social niceties, they do a body good. If you can “court” them, you might have a better idea of why they have not been engaging. Oh, it is not that hard to do. We just get caught up with “hurry up, hurry up.” The “Tortoise” will win this race.
  2. Find out WIIFT. What’s in it for them (variant of “what’s in it for me.”) This is more than just finding out their role and responsibility or alignment with goals and objectives. It is their sweet spot. Everyone has one, so if you can figure it out, guess who is likely to be more engaged? This is the one that will prevent “John D.” from switching to a different screen when you are on your GoTo Internet Meeting. Truly engaged. And yes, computers are smart enough now that they know when the person has left the screen so you can point it out. Just remember, it is a lot like pointing fingers without understanding first why they did what they did (seek first to understand.) Also, computers are not yet smart enough to know that “John” is now using his iPad instead of switching off the screen. WIIFT please.
  3. And finally… oh shoot. I have run out of space for my blog. I guess this one is up to you! I challenge everyone to be just as creative (if not more) in solving our virtual reality like our businesses, which got creative with resourcing and restructuring. Remember, I said there are a million and one ways to address the virtual reality challenges. I have given you two. 999, 998 to go. Please do share with our readers and let’s turn the impossible into possible! What have you done that worked to engage people in a virtual environment?

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