#SHRM16 in Washington D.C. is just around the corner. Without a doubt it’s going to be another fantastic HR conference. It’ll be my 3rd (Atlanta 2012 and Chicago 2013), and after taking a 2-year hiatus I am back with a vengeance as the only Canadian member of the conference blog team. I did hear a rumor that a Molson beer fridge will be available in the blogger’s lounge for Canadian bloggers. We’ll see if this rumor turns out to be true.
There are hundreds of excellent speakers this year, covering every single topic that you can possibly think of within the world of HR. Just check out the program page here on the conference website and you will see what I am talking about. Take it one step further and download the conference app -- only applicable to Android and iPhone users. If you have been following along the SHRM Blog you would have seen many of my fellow bloggers interviewing a wide range of speakers. I had the opportunity to speak with Giselle Kovary, Co-Founder and President of Toronto-based n-gen People Performance. I am sure you all knew I was going to profile a Canadian speaker.
Giselle will be leading a session titled, “Managing Virtual Teams & Leading in a Flexible Work Environment: The Where, When and How”. It’ll be taking place on Tuesday, June 21st at 7am. Yes I know, it is a tad early, but trust me, you all should attend. I sat down with Giselle and asked her several questions. Have a read!
JW: As President of n-gen People Performance Inc., what is your company’s core focus?
GK: n-gen is a training company, offering 27 courses across five practice areas; Sales & Customer Service, Leadership, Team Collaboration, Millennials (Gen Ys) and HR. We build strategies and programs that help clients target, motivate and engage employees in order to increase performance and productivity. We work with Fortune 500 companies across North America and globally. We have trained over 60,000 people in our 13 years of business.
JW: You are leading a session about managing virtual teams and leading in a flexible work environment. What is this session all about, and why should people attend?
GK: This session is based on a chapter in our book Upgrade Now: 9 Advanced Leadership Skills, which will explore the strengths and challenges of leading a virtual team, what employees expect and need from their leader, and the 3 characteristics of high performing virtual teams. I will also layer on a generational perspective and examine how to effectively respond to the needs of a diverse multigenerational workforce. Key insights and advice from my interview with a global Vice-President in the technology sector with be shared, specifically which medium to use, when to use it, and the best approach.
JW: What trends do you foresee in the future regarding virtual teams?
GK: I see two trends emerging. First, our clients are increasingly moving towards flexible work environments. As younger employees expect and demand that employers provide them with fluidity in their work style, teams will need to become more adaptable to different work arrangements. This may result in virtual team environments even with employees in the same city. With less and less in-office face time, colleagues will need to be able to collaborate when working remotely.
Secondly, there is an increased desire, especially among young employees, to participate in diverse work experiences. This may be a global assignment, it may be moving across the country to work in a different part of the business, it may be doing a rotational program with another department. All of these scenarios create teams that are more fluid, that leverage talent from across the business and the world, and require employees embrace greater flexibility, ambiguity and diversity of thought.
JW: Technology plays a big role in successful virtual teams. In your experience what is the single biggest mistake companies make when implementing technology to support virtual team success?
GK: The biggest mistake I have observed across industries is a lack of investment in the right technology. Not providing employees with the tools they need to be a high-performing virtual team has serious consequence to productivity, engagement and collaboration. The mistake is relying too heavily on the wrong technology; with only 8% of our communication effectiveness coming from our words, using instant messaging, text or email eliminates the ability gauge tone or body language. Whenever possible, video conversations provide the best replacement for a face-to-face meeting.
JW: Your business is based in Toronto, Canada. Is there something unique about Canadian business that the American-dominant attendee population at SHRM16 can learn?
GK: I think a unique strength that Canadian businesses can provide is how to effectively incorporate a global, cross-cultural perspective into HR practices. Given that Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in the world, we are able to tap into a client base that has figured out how to leverage their employees’ diversity as a strength. It helps us in the global work we do, and provides an added dimension that we layer on in our generational training working with clients in the US.
JW: Besides speaking at SHRM16 what else do you plan to do while in D.C.?
GK: I’m hoping to meet lots of new people, so I will be signing up for a Eat to Meet dinner (DOES THAT STILL EXIST?), I will be attending the International Networking Reception on Monday night and I will be meet up with some clients and colleagues who are in the D.C. area. I’m really looking forward to a great conference.
Given where technology is going, and how it has already infiltrated into every single aspect of HR, this session is incredibly important to attend. The situation is very complex as it involves generational differences, technology, change management, leadership, communication, employee engagement and performance. There is no avoiding the fact that virtual teams and flexible work will continue to rise, and will one day be the norm.