Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Managing Virtual Workers

A lot of companies have employees that work remotely, and there are many benefits to this arrangement, both for the employee and employer. It’s easy to accommodate schedules, set up meetings on short notice, reduce travel expenses, be more ecologically friendly, and decrease unproductive travel time. It also allows for a more diverse team that brings broader experience and knowledge. But, the most important thing for managers of virtual employees to remember is that the success of any team depends on the people, and there are key things to remember while managing them.

In the virtual employee world, technology matters. So it is important to understand the latest innovations in an effort to incorporate them into your work life. Think about setting up a community home space featuring pictures, profiles of team members, discussion boards, a team calendar, or chat room. This will help team members connect with each other outside of meetings and create a closer bond.

It’s important to listen to every team member on phone calls. Since the benefit of face-to-face interaction isn’t there, focus on how each person is speaking. Is the person excited? Bored? Is there a quality in the speaker’s voice that would make a private conversation necessary? It is important to also listen to silence. Silence can mean consent, or it can mean you’re not hearing a team member’s opinion. If you sense a team member is lacking engagement by not responding, not participating, or missing deadlines, a private call to find out what might be going on is necessary.

The term “Virtual” doesn’t mean never meeting up in person. It might not be possible to meet as often as you like, but it’s important to step up the frequency of communication. Check in more often, and make sure everyone knows and understand what is going on.

Managing virtual teams can come with challenges, but with the right approach, the benefits far outweigh any obstacles.

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