5 field-tested methods for managing virtual employees
By Jayson Saba
The world of work is changing. Employee preferences for more flexibility and need for a better work-life balance have led companies to adapt by allowing their employees to work virtually or to telecommute. The evolution of technology – phone, email, instant messaging, VPN, laptop, mobile email – has also allowed companies to provide that flexibility. In addition, more companies have teams in which managers and their employees work in different offices around the world. HR needs to recruit and retain the best talent and maximize performance and development. For virtual employees, the goals are the same, but the challenge is relationships and inclusion. Companies need to ensure that these employees understand and live the company culture, feel part of their respective teams, and get support from their supervisors. It’s less of a question of whether they are working or slacking off and more about whether or not we are enabling them to be successful. So how do we make these colleagues successful?
Start with Culture: Every company has an identity, a vision, and a brand promise. These values need to be understood by employees regardless of where their office is. The best way to infuse and invoke these values is in every day work. In weekly reports, one-on-one meetings, or team meetings, managers should ask their team members to give an example of something they did during that week where they embodied a cultural value. Whether the focus of your culture is customer satisfaction, transparency, diligence, optimism, or agility, as managers we should ensure that the company’s culture is understood and lived as intended.
Trust Based on Outcome: People need relationships, and relationships are built on trust. If a manager doesn’t trust his or her team members or vice versa, then the team will likely fail. Managers will need to stop wondering whether or not an employee is working and start evaluating the quality of their output. Just because an employee is physically at the office, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is being productive. Trust should be based on the employee’s deliverables – quality and on time.
Communicate: Meetings. Yes, meetings. No, not meetings for the sake of meeting, but meetings for everyone to understand what the team is delivering. Weekly one-on-one meetings and bi-weekly team meetings are sufficient. The team needs to understand what other members are working on, and managers need to ensure that his or her reports have what they need to be successful in their projects. The question shouldn’t be ‘what you are working on?’ which can be covered in a weekly email that managers should read, and should instead be ‘what do you need from me to get things done?’ Setting rules for communication is critical. For example, we have a team rule that emails during ‘business’ hours should be acknowledged if not responded to within two hours.
Develop a Culture of Recognition: It can be difficult for managers and leaders to motivate their employees when everyone is in the office. It is even more challenging to do this for virtual workers. Recognition is a crucial tenet in motivating employees. Simple emails recognizing key employee accomplishments to the larger team or company can go a long way. In addition, companies can invest in cloud-based tools that allow employees and managers to reward team members based on certain accomplishments or behaviors that exemplify company values.
Invest in the Right Infrastructure: This starts with ensuring that employees have a solid IT support department to ensure they have the right tools for their jobs and are working properly. The IT helpdesk needs to be trained to be responsive to virtual employee needs because technology is an umbilical cord connecting them to their team. From an HR perspective, the self-service system needs to be easy to access and use. Assigning a named HR business partner to contact directly will go a long way. Lastly, any type of a social forum that allows employees to collaborate and share best practices internally will ensure that everyone on the team is working on the same page while yielding new ideas to help do things more effectively. HR and managers can work together to ensure employees use these tools and collaboration vehicles effectively.
Managing and motivating virtual employees might seem like a daunting challenge for HR and business managers. Effective strategies need to start with a strong culture of trust and communication that is supported with the right tools and infrastructure.
Jayson Saba is VP of Market Strategy at Ceridian. He is a virtual employee and has a virtual team. He can be reached at jayson.Saba@ceridian.com.