Telecommuters require a special approach.
By Kevin Sheridan
Managing a staff can be a challenging endeavor no matter what your workplace culture is like, but when faced with the prospect of managing a virtual team, that challenge becomes even greater. As our reliance on technology is growing rapidly, an increasing number of jobs can be done from home offices. While some companies are hesitant to allow staff to work from home offices, others have been quick to adapt the practice, which allows companies to reduce costs, attract stronger talent, increase employee retention and reduce their carbon footprints, to name a few benefits.
While maintaining a virtual staff can bear many benefits, there are a number of important elements that a manager must hone and refine in order to maintain a successful, productive virtual staff.
Establish trust. One of the greatest challenges of managing virtual employees is building trust among your team. When employees work together in an office, they have numerous opportunities to develop camaraderie and rapport that they may not achieve when they work virtually. In order to have complete trust in virtual employees, it is important for managers to be very discerning during the hiring process. By hiring people they trust from the beginning, managers can begin the working relationship with a new employee on the right foot. Employers should be able to trust that virtual employees can be self-sufficient, so they will not have to utilize resources micromanaging and checking up on employees. Creating the freedom and autonomy for trust with your virtual team is the first and foremost objective of a skilled workforce.
Practice good communication. When virtual employees understand exactly what they need to do and are invested in their roles, they will remain loyal and engaged in their organizations. To help employees feel comfortable in their roles, communication is key. Clarification of roles and responsibilities should begin with the virtual manager’s assessment of each team members’ skills, experiences and weaknesses. In addition, it is important to be visible to virtual employees by answering emails promptly and being available for phone calls as needed and expected. Regular contact is an important part of maintaining a happy, loyal and engaged staff.
Be active. The best virtual leaders are those who are willing to take extra initiative to make their virtual teams the best they can be. By being proactive and asking employees questions about what they would like or what ideas they have, virtual managers also provide employees with a sense of ownership and contribution to their work or projects.
Make the best use of technology. When many of us think of working remotely, we picture a worker on their laptop in a coffee shop.
While the ability to work wirelessly is certainly an asset to any remote employee, using multiple forms of technology can help a staff feel cohesive and structured. Conducting video conference calls, webinars, or Internet-based workshops enables presenters to see and hear one another, to break out of their daily rut, and to combat feelings of isolation. Face time, even if it’s virtual, is an important way to enable co-workers to get a better sense of each other.
In addition, it is important to remember that generations use technology in different ways. For instance, many Millenials grew up using computers and mobile phones. Traditionalists will often use different techniques and problem-solving methods to fix small mistakes. To use technology most efficiently, virtual managers and employees must not only know how to use technology, but also they must know how to use it appropriately for the work environment.
Hire suitable candidates. While it’s important to support your employees with regular contact, it’s equally important to hire staffers who are self-motivated and driven to accomplish their work with little outside guidance. Once you give a virtual worker a task, you want to know that they will be able to complete it in a timely and reasonable fashion. A self-sufficient employee will display three critical work habits. First, s/he will be a strong communicator who can deliver a message via phone call or email just as effectively as in person. A successful virtual employee must also be emotionally self-sufficient, as the majority of communication will take place without the benefit of nonverbal cues, such as body language. Finally, self-sufficient employees should have a strong sense of an organization’s mission. Since they will not be sitting in a collaborative environment, they should understand that their job responsibilities are still contributing to the “greater good” of an organization.
Kevin Sheridan is author of The Virtual Manager.