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Managing a Virtual Workforce

Managing a virtual workforce requires specialized training of managers. They are trained in the most effective techniques to control, monitor and assess employees from afar using IT and other methods.

“I work from home” is a phrase you hear more often than not these days. Permanent employees working out of the office would have been quite unusual a decade ago, yet they have become a cornerstone for many small and big companies today. Their benefits and cost savings have attracted many organizations that are quickly moving towards a virtual workforce in favor of one physically present in the workplace.

Employees working out of the office might seem like a new concept only possible because of the gigantic leaps in technology in recent years. However, it has been around for quite a long time. Virtual workforces are comprised of those employees who do not physically work together in the same workspace.

Although they work in different locations, they are still subjected to supervision and require support from their manager. In these cases, managers need to have specialized skills to face the unique challenges that come with employees working in this unique situation.

Challenges of a Virtual Workforce

Whether your staff works from their homes in the same city or different corners of the globe, they need to stay in touch with their co-workers to work collaboratively. It is the manager’s responsibility to make sure the workforce is in sync with one another and coordinated in their efforts. He needs to bring them together as a team so that they are able to exchange ideas.

There’s a large source of software applications available on desktops and mobile devices, focused on the management of remote teams. Not having the people you are managing in your physical site can be a challenging task, but using internet-based resources can make the job easier. Apps like that enable face-to-face communications and real time collaboration such as Skype, Asana and Google Docs, are an asset to managers of a virtual workforce. Daily conversations keep the staff engaged & moving forward.

There are certain non-repetitive tasks that cannot be done internally, so the company may instead pass on the work to an independent worker, on a per-need basis, who does the job remotely. Although the work is temporary, managers face the same challenges.

Training Managers

Managing a virtual workforce requires specialized training of managers. They are trained in the most effective techniques to control, monitor and assess employees from afar using IT and other methods. Companies that do not have the expertise in-house to talk to their managers look externally for professional guidance.

It is highly advantageous for a company to have all managers taking on the responsibility of remote management go through training to know what issues are present and how to best deal with them. They are trained on how to monitor performance, review performance, provide support and feedback and delegate routine tasks.

Making a Plan

Companies are making conscious decisions to have people work in other locations – or in many cases, their homes. To effectively manage a virtual workforce, successful companies have implemented a specialized plan for people who work from home. A pilot program is first tested to understand the needs of the work staff, involving support from IT and HR. Using pre-defined performance measures, managers can also measure the success of the personnel.

A lot of thought and consideration goes into creating and implementing the program. To make it work, managers need to find the right components that fit well together. They need to educate the leadership to do the task and set expectations for the people who are going to be working remotely.

Once the pilot program has been considered a success, managers can adjust and build upon their current measures and techniques to accommodate the needs and requirements of the working staff.

Cost Savings and Benefits

Some organizations can be quite hesitant about investing time and money in a remote workforce, but the cost savings and benefits it reaps are well worth it. They come in from a couple of places:

  1. Saving physical space in the office. Companies save on costs associated with holding the seat and infrastructure that goes with supporting an employee working at the office.
  2. It makes a considerable difference to the workers. They save on time spent in commuting to and from the office. Employees also save up on transportation costs, whether they take public transportation or drive their own car.
  3. Employees find that they are able to spend more time working, than commuting. The flexibility in hours also increases productivity.
  4. Apart from tangible savings, there are several intangible benefits. Because workers are able to work in their own environment in any way they want to, both employee morale and productivity are greatly enhanced.

On the flip side, there is always the risk of employees feeling disconnected. Since one of the top motivating factors for an employee is reward and recognition, it is key to develop programs to have the remote workers feel included and recognized.

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