There has been an enormous amount written about how to manage virtual teams. In fact, I have previously written on it a few times myself and teach a class for managers on the topic. This blog post, however, is a little different. Rather than discussing the management of virtual teams from the manager’s perspective, I’ll be discussing it from the remote worker’s point of view. The reason for this change in headset is, that as managers, we can better lead those working for us if we understand their needs and issues.
Three areas that you should consider, regarding the need of your remotely working employees, are socialization, physical surroundings, and management support.
By socialization, I’m referring to the ability for virtual employees to be part of a virtual (or occasionally physical) community with their fellow workers.
There are number of reasons for this needed socialization. Some of these reasons are personal and some are professional. From a personal perspective, most humans are social creatures, as a result, working by yourself, all day every day, can get lonely, cause depression and/or a lack of motivation. In a regular corporate environment there are coworkers to have lunch with, meetings to attend, and random meetings in the hallway on the way to the restroom and coffee machine. Working alone at home, none of the human interaction exists. At best, these virtual workers are connected to others via email, phone and/or video based.
From a professional perspective, virtual workers can easily feel out of the loop and not mentally connected to their boss and others at the company. In effect, not being part of the company “in” crowd. These feelings, and in some cases, rightly so, can make the employee feel more susceptible to layoff and less likely to be promoted.
By physical surroundings, I’m referring to the physical workspace where the virtual employee actually works. This includes:
- A well designed, comfortable, well ventilated, and well lit work area
- Comfortable and ergonomic furniture
- Appropriate level of computer power
- Company approved security software
This may sound like it’s a little over the top for the company to be this interested in a virtual employee’s out-of-the-office workspace, but it makes good business sense. The rationale is that the more efficient the person’s workspace is the higher productivity he/she will be supporting your company’s needs day-in-and-day-out.
By management support, I mean you. As the department manager are you providing your virtual workers with the amount and type of leadership that is required to keep them engaged and productive? These activities include:
- Interacting with virtual workers in a way that keeps them in the loop related to department and company activities and information
- Providing continual workflow and work direction
- Providing appropriate feedback as to their job performance
- Being sure they have the right tools to do the job, including:
- Physical and/or technology based equipment
- Access to you as needed for decision making and problem solving
- Electronic connectivity to office files, data, and software
- Support from other parts of the company for activities such as technical support
- Communicating the department’s vision, mission, and values
- Creating an environment that facilitates interaction with their peers as needed for work assignment and/or socialization purposes
- Defining and implementing department processes that help facilitate virtual worker productivity and efficiency
- Celebrating individual, department, and company success in a way that includes your virtual workers
Given the above thoughts on socialization, physical surroundings, and management support, there are four questions you should consider related to how you are supporting and managing the virtual workers on your team. These questions are:
- What additional things can/should you do to help facilitate meaningful and ongoing communication between your virtual workers and their peers, company in general, and with you personally?
- What assistance can you provide to your virtual workers to help them create and maintain a healthy, productive, efficient, and pleasant home working environment? This support can include advice, upgrading equipment, money for home office improvements, communication tools (high speed internet, second monitor to connect to their laptop, etc.), corporate discounts at office supply stores, and other similar items.
- Are there any department processes that could be modified to enhance the efficiency of your virtual team members?
- What things can you do to enhance/change your communication style to better connect with your virtual workers?
In closing, don’t underestimate the importance of properly supporting and engaging your team’s virtual workers; it is a major part of your department’s overall productivity and value to the company. After all, as the department manager, the overall effectiveness of your department can/will have a direct effect on your professional success at the company. Additionally, as the business trend of employing virtual workers continues to expand, companies will be looking more and more for managers who can effectively engage a physically dispersed workforce. Your ability to manage in this environment can truly accelerate your upward professional mobility.