The virtual workplace is now more the norm than the exception. Technology such as Skype and GoToMeeting and free conference calls allows employers to provide workers with a flexible schedule where they don’t all have to be under the same roof.
For the employee, the virtual work life creates room for a better work-life balance. For the employer, it broadens the pool of qualified employees since location is no longer a hindrance or a cost factor when hiring for a position. If that person is the right person for the job, then working remotely could be the perfect fit.
Elisette Carlson – founder of SMACK! Media, a marketing and PR firm focused on innovative and authentic brands in sports, health and fitness – has a team of six remote workers. She believes that there are valuable pros and cons to having a virtual team, “including more efficiency.”
“There are fewer meetings and more time to crank out what’s important,” she says. "We don’t get bogged down with office distractions, water-cooler talk or meetings and instead are focused on our weekly goals and tasks at hand. Again, if you can manage your own time, we all find ourselves to be more productive.“
But that same efficiency can lead to less connectivity between team members, Elisette admits.
"The inability of being able to have team breakfasts, lunches or even drinks is missed,” she says. "We make up for it with Skype or FaceTime and do our best, but this does not and will not ever replace real time.“
For an employee working remotely, the virtual work life offers the ability to work flexible hours, avoid office politics and manage his or her professional and family life. But the tradeoff, a lack of face time with senior management and other team members, can be challenging to navigate.
"Corporate settings have a great advantage that is often overlooked. Employees have the opportunity to reach out to one another for questions, clarifications and skill-building tips,” says web designer Nay Ayache, who works remotely on my team. "A virtual office does not offer many opportunities to ask for help or learn from coworkers. A virtual team must always remember that working in different settings means having different rhythms and that the inability to see each others’ stressors does not negate their existence.“
While working with a virtual team has its advantages, it can be challenging for some employers. Here are a few tips for running an efficient remote operation:
1. Organize a work plan.
Prepare a daily or weekly written plan outlining what is expected of each person on the team. This way, everyone can keep track of their assignments. Since employees are working from different locations, use a project management system to keep everyone in touch. There are several project management systems available. I use Basecamp to communicate with my team. As assignments are updated, each person on the team, as well as clients, are notified.
2. Set regular virtual face time with the team.
Virtual office communications rely mainly on emails and phone calls, and the lack of face time with bosses and colleagues also means that there is a lack of daily feedback about performance. When an employee cannot see his or her manager in person, they miss the information provided by nonverbal cues, such as body language and facial expressions. A solution is to gather the team once a month for a virtual meeting using Google Hangouts, Skype or other video conferencing software and discuss ways to grow skills collectively.
3. Plan phone time with employees.
Set a time at the beginning of the day to communicate with your team by phone to review and answer any questions. Emails are great, but a lot can get lost in translation. A busy manager may reply to an email with “that’s OK,” and the virtual employee might read the answer and interpret the communication in the wrong way. A phone call allows everyone to hear what is being said and clear up any unresolved issues.
4. Be aware of the team’s expectations.
Since there is no chance of running into the boss in the office, it is important for you to check in periodically with your team to see how they are doing and if they are on track in terms of achieving their goals.
Similar to working in a traditional office, a virtual office should offer an employee the opportunity to grow. Be clear and know what you have to offer them moving forward.