Laura Skoff – Team Dynamics President

Team Dynamics’ Laura Skoff Helps Associations Go Virtual

By: Teddy Durgin

Published by Bottom Line Briefing

As president of Virginia-based Team Dynamics since May 2007, Laura D. Skoff has helped a number of associations break away from the brick-and-mortar mold and move into the virtual world. Doing so has created flexibility for an untold number of workers and led to a smaller carbon footprint for many of these organizations. Skoff recently sat down with Bottom Line Briefing to discuss the virtues of going virtual and what associations that are considering going this route should expect.
She stated, “There are a lot of advantages to going virtual. There are cost savings in rent and utilities. Often, an organization considers going virtual as their lease is coming up for renewal. They realize becoming virtual is a reality; some have realized cost savings of up to 75 percent.”

In her dealings with associations and their leaders, Skoff has come to find that the biggest challenge is whether leadership can accept and manage a remote work force. “People ask me, ‘What’s your sweet spot? What size client do you like to work with?’ My response is that it really needs to be about the management and whether they are ready to go virtual. Do they have a management style that is built on trust? They must be liberated enough that even if they can’t see their people, they know they are working. That is one of the primary elements an association needs to think about before considering going virtual. Mostly, though, it’s about delivering results and not the clock punching that was the Industrial Age. We’re in the Internet Age, and we have to understand that good and loyal workers are those who can and will deliver and don’t need to be micro-managed to do it.”

Being too eager to go virtual is another potential pitfall. The transition period should be well planned and executed. Skoff remarked, “Some executives see that the technology is there, and generally the staff want to do it. But it takes time to effectively develop a remote work force that is truly functional. Very often, there is technology and management training that needs to occur. Change is still an issue for some people. So, the slower you can introduce it with as much time as possible, the better off you will be. There are certainly organizations that have transitioned to virtual within three to six months. It can happen. There’s no doubt about it. But I think if you can make it more of a six- to nine-month window, maybe even a little bit more, the staff can acclimate and better understand why it is happening, what does it mean for them, and then implement it.”

She continued, “Another challenge is just wrapping up the office. That takes longer than you might think, especially if staff is clinging to old files and not using the network to its greatest extent.”

One of Team Dynamics’ recent success stories is the assistance it gave the International Ticketing Association in going virtual. She is particularly proud that, during the planning phase, the decision was made to also enhance some of the organization’s services. She recalled, “They took the opportunity to go through an RFP process and then select some service providers — such as Information Inc. — to enhance what they were doing. That was just a really great success story, because going virtual gave them the opportunity to take a look at everything and see how it could all be streamlined. They brought greater value to their members.”

Skoff has also enjoyed working with the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in implementing a telework program. The organization has nearly 200 staff members and has been very eager to realize the benefits of having people work from home. “They’re scientists and very eager to reduce their carbon footprint,” she noted. “Also, many of their staff members are copy editors and graphic designers, people who can do their job from home.”

Skoff has 20 years of senior association executive experience, having served as an interim leader for such organizations as the Ambulatory Surgery Center Association and the Society for Technical Communication. In addition, she has served as executive director for several associations, including the American Society of Women Accountants and the Audio Publishers Association. In that time, she has seen technology take on greater importance for trade groups, their staff, and their membership.

For those associations that have made the decision to embrace teleworking, Skoff advises them to have an orientation period for supervisors and for the teleworkers themselves. “In the orientation for the teleworkers at AGU,” she noted, “we’ve been talking a lot about setting boundaries and feelings of isolation that may creep up. Teleworkers sometimes have this sense of: ‘Well, if I’m not visible, then I’ll be passed over for promotion.’ This is based in the Industrial Age work ethos; training can help allay those fears. And, generally, teleworkers tend to be very loyal to the organization, because it is a privilege to work remotely. They want to succeed so that others may have the same opportunity some day.”

Looking ahead, Skoff believes the future work force will be one that taps workers for their specialties. “There are going to be workers out there who are going to be specialists in any industry, and organizations will come to know about them and tap them for projects or launches. The idea that you’ll have worked somewhere for decades may not be the case any longer. There will be a whole other cadre of those jumping from one organization to another because of their expertise. I think that’s an exciting model, because it’s people working more to their passion.”

She concluded, “One of the big reasons why some organizations go virtual or at least have implemented a telework policy is flexibility. There are outstanding workers who need to move for family reasons and employers don’t want to lose them. Fortunately these days, employers have options. Often a first step is launching a telework program, the next one is going virtual. High performers don’t have to leave the job they love, and employers don’t have to lose that valuable staff person anymore.”

from the 06/15/2010 issue of Bottom Line Briefing

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