April 28, 2011 by MSI
estimates that, by 2013, 75 percent of the
American workforce and 35 percent of the global workforce will be mobile. According
to a 2008 survey conducted by WorldatWork
, 17.2 million Americans were
telecommuting, which was a 70 percent increase from 2005. The prevalence of
virtual and telecommuting employees is growing in most U.S. companies and, with
that growth, comes a new set of challenges around keeping these individuals
connected to both their teams and their Company.
Telecommuting and virtual team members have many
benefits including a positive environmental impact through the overall
reduction in carbon footprint and providing organizations with the opportunity
to recruit a specific talent previously not available due to physical proximity.
And, some will argue that allowing employees to work virtually also enhances
productivity. Having first hand experience managing virtual team members (75
percent of the members of my team work virtually), I have a few personal
experiences to share and I also came across several other reminders that anyone
working with or leading virtual team members will find useful and relevant.
The key to success with virtual employees begins with
hiring and onboarding. When you’re seeking to fill a virtual position, you and
your human resources team need to be sure and screen for not only the job
responsibilities, but also the candidate’s ability to be a self-starter and
have the technological aptitude to succeed in a virtual environment. Let’s face
it; virtual employment isn’t for everyone, so make sure it’s clearly defined
and specific assessment occurs relevant to the challenges of not being physically
in a corporate office.
Once the candidate is chosen, it’s critical to have
the initial training and indoctrination occur at the Company’s main office.
Whether it’s a few days or a few weeks, this initial period will help ensure
that relationships are development, cultural and functional expectations are
clearly identified, and all technological training occurs live and in person. It’s
also important to ensure that virtual employees receive the technological
resources required to ensure that they will be productive and remain connected.
For example, if your Company uses an instant messaging system or video chat,
make sure that the individual is not only trained, but the team shares how they
use the tools to communicate and collaborate on a daily basis. As the team
member heads off to their virtual location, it’s also critical to have visits
to headquarters pre-scheduled. As they continue to indoctrinate themselves,
it’s important to stay connected and allow them to learn at their own pace;
keeping an open door policy as a manager, but not smothering them.
As the relationship evolves and the team member is
fully indoctrinated, it’s critical for the manager and working team members to
understand the impact of interpretation of the written word. For example, one
of the worst mistakes managers and team members can make is relying on just
email (this applies to both virtual and non-virtual team members), as many
times misunderstandings begin with a personal perception of tone or dialect
within an email. And, remember, an individual’s perception is their reality. As
a leader, it’s critical to have an open dialogue with your virtual team
members. Remember that just because they’re off-site, the ‘water cooler’ gossip
will still reach them, so it’s best to share information directly and openly.
Finally, it’s important for the entire team to
leverage technology to keep connected and this goes far beyond email and
telephone to include video chat, instant messaging, centralized document
repositories etc. And, have team meetings, if even only to share what is going
on that day in the office. Remember to always include your virtual team member
and you and your Company will yield the reward of having happy and productive
employees, who are integrated with their team and share the vision and passion
for your organization.