I had a very interesting conversation yesterday with a woman who works for one of the Big Four auditing companies. She's essentially what I would call a virtual employee: her supervisors are in cities across the globe, her peers are across the globe, the employees she supervises are across the globe. In other words, they're basically doing everything over the phone or online using various collaboration tools. I felt like I was immersed in Wikinomics.

She then proceeded to ask me some really hard questions about 'virtual management' and 'virtual leadership development':

  • How do you effectively lead a workgroup of people you've never met face-to-face (and may never meet)?
  • How do you effectively supervise the work of these people?
  • How do you facilitate those often ad hoc, ongoing opportunities for leadership development (for yourself and/or those you supervise) in such a work environment?

Having never been in this situation, of course I had no good answers for her. I did recommend that she contact some of the big technology companies or other global companies that are her firm's clients and ask their Human Resources people her questions. I'm guessing that they have done some work in this area as they develop their geographically-disparate workforces.

Any thoughts on this issue? Anyone know of work that's been done in the business arena on this?