A Leader’s Challenge On Virtual Employment

The internet is a wonderful thing.  It’s one of the greatest communication tools to ever be created.  Information on most subjects imaginable is readily available to anyone connected to the web.  The added bonus is that it’s also given rise to the “virtual employee”.   With more and more businesses embracing the idea of employees working from home, leaders are now facing some problems that didn’t exist when all employees came into the office to work. 

For virtual employees, there are many benefits to working from home:

-There’s no need to commute.

-You have your own quiet workplace.

-You get to work in your pajamas (unless you need to use a webcam).

However, there can also be a disconnect between these virtual employees and those who lead them.  The interactions that might normally take place if they were in the office might no longer happen as consistently as they should (or even may not take place at all).  I’m talking about connectedness with their leader, discussions around their own work and their career development, and even their own connectedness with the other team members.  All of these things can have an impact on employee performance, morale, and even retention.  It can also create tension within the team, itself.

“Out of sight, out of mind” sounds like a fitting statement for this predicament.

To address some of these challenges, use the following tips:

1)      Stop the multitasking! - We’ve all been guilty of this at one point or another.  It’s hard enough to gauge someone’s reaction to what you’re saying through a phone line or an email.  If you don’t focus on what you or the other individual is saying, things can become misinterpreted and create complications.

2)      Create a virtual seating chart for team meetings – It can become difficult to involve everyone in a team discussion when not everyone is in the same location and has to share a conference line to speak.  Create a seating chart of all of your team members and check off each individual to ensure each one has had a chance to share their opinions

3)      Learn each team member’s communication preferences – Do you prefer phone calls or emails?  Do you like spontaneous meetings or should someone book a meeting with you?  What’s your preferred learning style when it comes to learning something new?  Everyone has their own preferences, including your team members.  Learning their preferences will create better interaction between you and them.

4)      Be mindful of time zone differences – I get to interact with a variety of leaders from various industries in my current role, and a lot of them have direct reports in different states and even countries.  It’s an increasing trend, so as leaders, we need to be mindful of people’s schedules based on their time zones.  If you need to schedule a meeting, try to accommodate all time zones involved, if possible.

I should add that these tips can also apply to onsite leaders and team members (minus the time zone differences).  If you fall into that category and you’ve ever sent an email, sent an instant message, or made a phone call to someone in the same building as you, you were also working “virtually” with those employees.  Those same potential pitfalls that exist with employees in another time zone also exist with those in the same office.

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