7 Steps to Managing a Virtual Workforce
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I’ve written before about how Covid has changed the workplace forever. Before Covid, companies were not fans of virtual employees. They believed that employees should be in one place to be managed and contribute to the team. But, once virtual work became necessary in the wake of Covid, they quickly learned differently. That the staff were working very well remotely, with income continuing to come in as normal. This was great for workers who were looking for the flexibility of working from home and now preferred to work virtually in the future. The real issue is how to truly manage a distributed workforce for the long term while building the desired performance and team culture. The following guidelines will help you learn exactly how to do this.
1. Find out what your team wants
It doesn’t have to be a unique situation for each of your staff. Some people like virtual work (not commuting, working in pajamas). And, some people prefer to work in the office (kids break, socializing with friends). So the key is knowing which path your team members prefer, working virtually or working on-site. It’s important that everyone’s needs and goals are aligned over the long term to make this work for all parties.
2. Change your recruiting approach
If you prefer to move to a virtual team for the long term, you will need to change your recruiting approach. Your job descriptions should clearly address a virtual office and a remote team. This will weed out candidates who don’t want to work remotely. And on the other hand, many candidates are now actively looking for remote positions. Their current employers have returned to work in the office and they want to keep the virtual work they were doing. Many are even willing to consider a pay cut to afford this flexibility.
You will also need to determine where the employees are located geographically. Some companies have stated that the employee can be located anywhere in the world, if they have the right skills. This opens up cheaper talent pools in Eastern Europe and Asia. But, others have tried to keep hiring in a central location so it’s easier to bring the team together in person, whenever it may be needed (annual meetings, weekly happy hours, easier training). If you are a small business, try to centralize it, especially to simplify payroll tax filings in one state. Once you are a large company, you will need to expand your network to find new workers in a wider geographic region.
3. Offer in-person options to those who want them
Many companies offer a hybrid approach, allowing employees to come into the office when and if they want. The result is to lose the 10,000 square foot office with dedicated desks for each worker and replace it with a 5,000 square foot office with shared workstations. Similar to what you would see in a shared office workspace, like WeWork, where employees would book a desk or meeting room for the day, as needed. This is sometimes called a hospitality model. The good news: your home office rental costs have just been cut in half!
4. Replicate or keep in-person activities to build team spirit
Restaurant Furniture Plus hires a virtual workforce that is largely based in the Cleveland, Ohio area. They recently started a fun new committee that plans monthly in-person events in the area (happy hours, bowling parties). It helps break up the monotony and loneliness that comes with working from home, and does a great job of reinforcing that they’re all part of the team. Without events like this, an out of sight and out of mind mentality can set in that doesn’t help with team building.
If you are truly a virtual business with staff located across the country, in-person events become much more difficult and cost prohibitive. You’ll have to figure out how to replicate the above with virtual events. In the wake of Covid, several new service providers are offering virtual team building events (quiz nights, murder mystery nights), which you may want to consider for your business.
Related: How Companies Are Providing Benefits to Their Remote Workforce
5. Management and cheerleading become twice as difficult
As a serial entrepreneur of in-person businesses, I loved walking down the aisles, seeing what people were working on, praising staff, taking them to lunch or whatever. You lose all of that with a virtual business, but those things are just as important to your success. So make sure you have good analytics reports that can help you see which employees are doing well against the goal, and which ones are struggling. Virtually provide compliments and rewards to employees. Host virtual lunches with your team to talk about things other than work.
6. Culture building becomes twice as difficult
It’s hard to build a one-for-all and all-for-one culture when you never see your peers in person. Worse, it’s much easier to hide and ignore tough conversations, when someone can’t easily tap you on the shoulder and drag you into the conference room to talk about it. You always want your staff to be loyal to the company and have the backs of their peers. You should therefore continue to emphasize the cultural values of your team and ensure that all staff members adhere to these same standards, even when working from home.
Related: 6 Tactics to Improve Collaboration for Remote Teams
7. Avoid Zoom Fatigue
In a virtual company, the only way to have group meetings is via web video (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet). The problem with web video: it can be tiring, hurt your eyes, and can be easy to disconnect. Cameras may be off or you see staff performing other tasks while the meeting is in progress. Schedule only meetings that are absolutely necessary, keeping them to a minimum. And let the team know that when you have them, they’re important and should be focused on.
In fact, I love the move to virtual workforces. I think it will make companies materially more efficient, saving them from spending unnecessary expenses. And it will make most staff materially happier thanks to the increased flexibility that comes with working from home. But for it to be successful, it’s important that you follow the high-level tips above. Having run a virtual business for the past four years, it certainly presented challenges. We have learned from these challenges, optimized them for them and this has allowed us to scale the business to new heights, with a committed and loyal team. Good luck replicating this in your own businesses.
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