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Posted: December 16, 2013

Managing virtual employees

Three trending areas of improvement stand out

Lauren Sveen

It’s clear that the traditional office is undergoing changes to adapt to the needs of a more flexible workforce. Telecommuting grew by 61 percent from 2005 to 2009, according to a study by WorldatWork, a nonprofit offering research on global human resources issues. The number of telecommuters is expected to rise to 4.9 million by 2016.

Other flexible work arrangements are also on the rise, including modified schedules, condensed work weeks, job-sharing and part-time positions.

As many companies are already modifying their business models to fit these changes, we must address how we evolve as business leaders to best manage a more flexible and virtual staff. Three trending areas of improvement stand out:

  • Talent: It is easy to get distracted while working from home or another remote location, so one way to ensure this model works effectively is to build a team of self-motivated leaders. Executives must define each employee’s role and responsibilities, communicate them to the management team, and then teach the team how to manage their employees according to those outcomes.
     
  • Communication: This key skill can either make or break a company’s progressive work program. A predetermined, pre-tested communications plan must be implemented in order to keep employees productive and engaged with co-workers and managers. When staff is no longer in the same physical office each day, it is helpful for all employees to identify set times when they are available so managers can coordinate schedules accordingly. 
     
  • Trust: A results-only work environment (ROWE) is a management strategy focusing primarily on the produced work and employee performance. With this approach, employees have the flexibility and freedom to work whenever and however they choose, as long as they meet their requirements. While some executives worry about losing control over employees in a virtual or partially virtual workplace (Best Buy, for example), ROWE allows employees to be more in control of their schedule while still being held accountable for results.

With various percentages of employees working in the office, working off site and working both in and out of the office, companies are beginning to test out these models and are finding success. The take home point: This is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach. The key is to find the right formula that works for your company and employees and continue to modify that plan until you get it right.

Lauren Sveen is the owner and President of Mom Corps Denver. A Duke University graduate, Lauren holds an MBA in Marketing from the Wharton School. A respected entrepreneur with experience in strategic marketing and new business acquisition, she now works with progressive companies to place highly qualified candidates in jobs that allow a work-life synthesis. Contact Lauren at lsveen@momcorps.com or call 888-438-8122 (Ext. 440)

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Readers Respond

Great advices, thank you for sharing them with us. By Jessica on 2014 01 07
Thanks for the article. We have been running a virtual office for nearly ten years and it has been with limited drawbacks. The key word you used is trust. Although we allow flexibility we operate under normal business hours which puts much less strain on the team and relationship. Its interesting how many companies and employees default to the idea that when working remotely that employees default to working whenever they want, that's not always the case. The most critical component is communication, without it you lose trust. Sharing calendars, skype and texting are part of the culture of working remotely. By Paul on 2013 12 16
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