When you think of a traditional office environment, it is easy enough to imagine a large space, probably on the 13th or 14th floor of a building with city views, filled with people buzzing in and out of small cubicles. It is rare that you imagine a team made up of individuals who all work from different offices, cities or even countries.
These days it is very common for a professional team not to share an office. Remote workers are becoming increasingly popular amongst large companies, a move employees seem to be mostly positive about. Relishing the freedom and independence from the long commute to work and bland office environment, remote workers appear to be more than happy to set up office at home.
The ‘Virtual Workforce’ as it is known, is continually growing. Along with it online business systems, technology and even Virtual Management firms have flourished. Whilst the benefits; lower overheads, improved efficiency and flexibility for your staff are obvious, the downside is that many companies are left to manage a team that are not necessarily ‘there’ all the time. Employers have to rely solely on trust and grade their staffs’ performance on results – not by how much overtime they may be doing.
Debra Dinnocenzo, president of VirtualWork! a firm that specialises in training companies in virtual management, believes the two most important things for a remote team are trust and communication. It is important to believe that your virtual workers can perform their jobs properly, with little supervision. This of course does not mean they don’t need guidance. One of the most common complaints from Virtual employees is a lack of communication and interaction with their boss or team. Dinnocenzo says, ‘it is important to have regular check-ins with employees to discuss their work and progress.’ She believes it is also crucial to commend employees for their work even if you cannot do so easily face-to-face.
Obviously the coveted ‘Corner Office’ is not a reward that can be offered to Virtual Staff. Instead, things like the latest smart phone or computer upgrades are a really good way to reward staff and keep them motivated. On a day to day basis, as Dinnocenzo said consistent interaction and regular check-ins will ensure your staff remain focused. Another option is of course to make the most of the many serviced office and entrepreneurial spaces now popping up in major cities. Often, employers who do not have their own office or require a representative in another state will set their employee up in shared space where they can benefit from both the professional office set up and interaction with other entrepreneurs.
It is also extremely important for companies who employ a Virtual Workforce to make the most of technology. With simple and easy to use programs like Skype and GoogleDocs, one would think all companies would be sharing documents and holding regular staff meetings regardless of where they are located. And yet many companies don’t. Software such as GoToMeeting, Adobe Breeze and Raindance are other great examples of programs that allow teams to easily stay in contact and share thoughts by accessing the same documents in real time.
American company, ‘Evaluserve’, employ one of the largest Virtual workforces in the world. It is no surprise that they manage to do so, once you are made aware of the healthy and completely functional working relationship between their CEO who is located in Austria, their chairman in California and the head of Sales & Marketing in Maine. With over 2,000 employees across every continent in the world, Evaluserve was expected to grow to a $17-18billion company by the end of 2010.
Regardless of whether your team is made up of 5 or 500 people it seems the key to a healthy ‘virtual’ relationship is trust. Having an open door and trusting that your employees will come to you when they need to, will not only ensure they produce results, but hang around long enough to make it worthwhile. Also don’t forget about that important interaction, get friendly with your webcam and schedule your first virtual staff meeting now!