By Nipa Shah
June 18, 2009
Nancy is a financial analyst working for a mid-sized company located in the United Kingdom, but she lives in Michigan. She works from home in her pajamas and “meets” her boss once a month via video conference.
She is a virtual employee enjoying one of the perks of working from home and leveraging technology to stay in touch with her boss.
Companies across the globe are leveraging technology to retain resources that no longer have to be located in the same building or even in the same country. It is commonplace to hear of an individual working for a multinational company and having never met another team member.
By creating a virtual workforce, companies have been able to create efficiency, reduce travel and overhead costs, and essentially service the end-customer 24/7. Virtual employees, on the other hand, benefit from having a better work-life balance due to flexibility in working hours and not having to dodge rush hour traffic to be at work at a specific time.
Companies, however, face a common concern when it comes to virtual teams, that of measuring an employee’s productivity. Since the employee is no longer under a manager’s nose per se, managing productivity through “oversight” is impossible. Another concern is keeping an employee motivated and connected to company happenings.
The virtual team requires a shift in managerial and employee behavior. Here are some best practices which can effectively help you manage virtual employees:
Level Set Expectations
Beyond the policy and procedures set up by human resources, be sure to level set your expectations with your virtual employee, in a one-on-one discussion. Specifically state how you’d like him or her to keep in touch, how often, by what means (e-mail, chat, phone), and what deliverables you expect to receive at various times during the week. By level setting expectations in a more personalized manner, you create a better working relationship with your virtual employee and also plan for corrective action in the future.
This is an important responsibility for a manager even when managing an on-site employee. It is an even more important responsibility when working with a virtual employee. Lack of trust can lead to micromanagement, which is never productive. Refrain from micromanagement in the form of “urgent e-mails” and “urgent voicemail” on a daily basis, which can create friction and unproductive working relationships between manager and employee. Trust the employee to do the work assigned and to turn it around in a reasonable timeframe. Once expectations are set, trust the employee to perform and do the work as assigned.
Provide Tools and Support
Virtual employees may require additional support to ensure their productivity. They could run into technical issues when connecting with a company local area network, or they could have issues sending large files through the firewall. All these issues need to be promptly addressed so that productivity is not impacted. Tools such as a BlackBerry, fax, access to resources and webinars, etc. should be offered to ensure employee can do the job.
Create an Inclusive Environment
Just because an employee is virtual it doesn’t mean he or she should be isolated from corporate events and happenings. Virtual employees still need to be included in team meetings, conference calls, town hall meetings, and other events so that they feel as if they are part of the corporate culture.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
The importance of communication cannot be overstated. Even with all the technology in the world, it is important to do more than “staying in touch.” On a regular basis and without micromanaging; keep in touch, ask questions, participate in dialog, provide feedback, ask for feedback, etc. Do everything necessary to stay in touch with your virtual employee so that you have clear communication.
A virtual workforce can be a blessing for companies and individuals alike. To make it work effectively, everyone involved will need to learn new skills and techniques. A successful virtual workforce can help a company save money and increase efficiency. Implement the above strategies and create a dynamic virtual workforce for your company!
Nipa Shah is president of Jenesys Group, LLC, an online marketing and Internet solutions company, providing technology consulting (with emphasis on offshore management) and online marketing. She is also the founder of the Michigan India Chamber of Commerce. Shah can be reached at [email protected].