How to Manage an Off-Site Virtual Workforce
If you’re running a virtual workforce, you will face challenges. Some of them are completely unique to working virtually. Others align to general management processes, which you’ll need to adapt to make your virtual workforce a success. These challenges include:
Hiring your team. You may never get to meet potential employees in person, but a video interview (via Skype, for example) can give you more perspective on a candidate than holding a telephone interview.
The somewhat unstructured and self-directed virtual workplace isn’t for everyone. If you can find candidates who have worked virtually before, and they have relevant industry experience, they may fit more comfortably into your organization. And, as always, be sure to check references.
Communicating effectively. In a physical workplace, employees have a chance to interact with each other—even if it’s merely a hallway conversation or impromptu gathering. In a virtual environment, however, that’s not possible. Yes, your team can “gather” over video conferencing tools, but that doesn’t provide the same level of contact. Indeed, working virtually can sometimes be rather isolating.
To develop more effective working relationships, make sure you have regular virtual meetings. Keep in mind, of course, that time zone differences could prevent key team members from participating.
Establishing trust. Working in a virtual environment means that each team member has to trust their colleagues to do their jobs. Because team members can’t see others actually doing their jobs—and messages may not get an immediate response—there’s the possibility that some team members may feel that others are “shirking.”
If you’ve hired well, you will likely have team members that can quickly establish trust with each other, but you may want to encourage informal interactions. Consider starting an online forum, not based on workplace issues, but to allow co-workers to socialize online and strengthen trust in their team members.
Maintaining and Measuring Performance. Even though you may not have an office, you’ll need some method to evaluate your team’s effectiveness and progress.
You’ll want to establish appropriate benchmarks, but in a virtual environment, you’ll need to focus more on results as opposed to the process of how work gets done. After all, you may not know exactly how someone is doing their job if they are hundreds of miles away. But you do need to know is that the job gets done— that the quality of work is acceptable and deadlines are met.
One technique to consider is to require weekly reports from each team member. In a virtual work environment, this helps you keep tabs on the progress of each member of a widely dispersed team. Reviewing these reports gives you a sense of whether an employee is performing effectively. If not, you can call the employee to resolve any issues you see.