Author: Kevin Sheridan

Publisher: Career Press, 2012

ISBN-13: 9781601631855, 224 pages


Online networking, video conferencing, file sharing, collaborative work Web sites, email and other technological advances now enable employees to work from remote locations instead of commuting to offices where supervisors await. Human resources expert Kevin Sheridan details numerous best practices for managing remote, virtual employees. Most of his ideas reflect his deep expertise and prove sensible and actionable. getAbstract recommends many of Sheridan’s concepts and his approach to managing virtual workers. Distance is tough on any relationship, especially managing or working for people you rarely see. Sheridan’s book makes it easier.

Home as office, office as home

For today’s virtual employees, work is what you do, not where you go. Of Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For,” 82 have formal policies for virtual work. In the years to come, expect to see more virtual staffers: people who work full time or part time from remote locations, away from managers and colleagues. And virtual employees require virtual managers.

Offering remote work makes firms more attractive to prospective employees and reduces turnover. In one survey, 72 percent of employees indicated that the availability of flextime work would prompt them to prefer one employer to another. Of this majority, 37 percent specifically referred to virtual work. Another survey showed that virtual workers report a “60-percent higher intent to stay than employees in a traditional office setting.” The virtual option cuts absenteeism and increases workers’ productivity. Increasing your number of virtual workers — which may mean having fewer office workers — can cut your overhead costs and reduce your firm’s carbon footprint.

Remote workers benefit from flexible workdays and hours, which increases their job satisfaction and reduces burnout. Eliminating the stress of commuting is another positive change. Virtual workers know when they need breaks, and taking those breaks lessens their work-related stress. Office staff members who take breaks can face questions about their work habits.

Supervisors have more difficulty communicating with virtual staffers than with in-office workers. Virtual communication usually occurs via email or phone. That can foment confusion because neither method conveys the body-language cues that add substance to face-to-face conversations. And technology can break down, putting virtual workers abruptly out of touch with their supervisors and colleagues. Remote workers also find it more difficult to develop relationships with their managers, and vice versa, than people who see each other daily.

Trust via telecommunication

The issue of trust dominates the decision to allow employees to work remotely. Managers find it difficult to trust virtual workers because they seldom see these staffers and their work processes remain mysterious. Virtual workers lack confidence in the leadership exercised by invisible managers who have little understanding of how their days unfold. Many managers don’t believe they can effectively manage remote employees. They assume that remote workers take advantage of their virtual status and seldom deliver a full day’s work.

A skeptical manager’s typical conjecture about a virtual employee might take the form of wondering “what time he got out of bed and started working today” or whether “she’s at the mall.” When virtual workers fret about their managers, they might doubt the boss thinks they are doing a good job, or they might wonder if their manager has forgotten about them altogether. Establishing trust is the only solution for such destructive, but unsurprising, conjecturing.

When managing virtual staffers, the most effective course is simply to decide that you trust them. If they get their work accomplished, stop worrying about what else they may or may not be doing. To achieve this level of confidence, hire virtual employees who are people you would trust regardless of where they worked. Or assign only staff members whom you know well enough to be virtual workers. Monitor virtual workers but don't micromanage them; a heavy-handed approach will instantly convince them that you don’t trust them…

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