Is your vision of virtual workers one of partial attention to work tasks while making an Italian meal, coaching little league soccer, or updating Facebook pages? If so, you probably will issue a schlep back to the office order like the now infamous request from Yahoo’s Marisa Mayer.
No matter what your vision of virtual workers is, due to impressive developments in technology and the need to be more competitive in the market place, virtual workers are becoming an alternative form of organizational structure. I recently spoke with a project manager who had team members in India, Belgium, Africa and China.
Most studies of virtual teams show significant upswings in productivity, often documenting that virtual workers log more hours than those located onsite. One benefit of virtual workers comes in the choice of skill sets as you are not limited to hiring workers who can physically drive to your location, but you can choose from an entire world of hungry workers with the specific skills you need.
If you are reading this article, you are probably well aware of these virtual workers’ benefits and you know virtual workers like to work from a home office. Home offices mean they don’t have daily traffic hassles and they realize a cost savings on business attire because they can work in their pajamas, not to mention the close proximity to the refrigerator at snack time.
The challenge comes in managing, motivating, and ensuring optimal effectiveness of the virtual team. With this in mind, consider what it takes to manage an onsite team and then magnify that 100 percent and you have an idea of the complexity of managing virtual workers.
The first key to effective virtual workers is to ensure a self-sufficient, self-directed individual with impeccable work ethic is hired. Then follow this this check list:
__ Are the project guidelines and expected results crystal clear?
__ Is a hard deadline on the virtual worker’s calendar and in their mind?
__ Have you set mid-points for ‘check the progress’ discussions?
__ Does the virtual employee have the needed knowledge to function independently on the project?
These are tactical considerations and after these factors have been vetted and checked off, the next step is to take care of the ego and emotional needs of the virtual worker. As with an onsite employee, virtual workers need your attention. They not only need clear production goals and deadlines, but they need the “nice work” “excellent progress” “great question” encouragement that onsite employees get in the break room or from casual meetings in the hallways of your office building.
Virtual workers need a daily contact, no matter how short or how small. They need to be asked what resources they need, what bumps they are encountering, and how you might be able to smooth out their journey to the project deadline.
Emails, voice mails, texts, and IM’s should regularly include a word of thanks or appreciation for the effort shown by the employee. When the project is completed, a celebration with a reward is appropriate. The reward can be as small as a Starbucks gift certificate, movie tickets, or an extra hour off on Friday. And as old fashioned as it may sound, a hand written note of gratitude is on the top of the list when showing appreciation.
By the way, these tactics work for onsite team members as well. There isn’t a human being that doesn’t crave attention.
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