The availability of broadband is having a significant impact on the way we work. According to Virgin Media Business 60% of office-based employees will regularly work from home by 2022. Research proves that remote workers are more productive but not all employers are convinced. In fact, Yahoo recently banned homeworking, claiming that staff creativity suffered as a result of teleworking.
There is no disputing the benefits to staff – they can fit work around family life and avoid the dreaded commute, but there are also significant benefits for employers. The reduction in overheads, improved staff retention, increased agility and higher productivity should encourage employers to embrace teleworking. So why don’t they?
Remote working is not without its problems
As well as an increased potential for miscommunication, staff may feel isolated and excluded. They may not get the feedback from colleagues and managers that they need to feel appreciated and inspired. Staff miss the social aspect of work and may feel that they are missing out on important company news and developments.
The biggest issue is the lack of trust between managers and staff. Without sight of their staff, some managers assume the worst, while remote staff may feel that managers are more interested in the amount of time spent working, than the quality of their work. Managers fear a lack of control and staff struggle with the concept of autonomy.
So how can you get your virtual teams working successfully?
Some companies rely heavily on email but there is a potential for miscommunication here. Staff can also miss out on company-wide developments as they will often have just one or two points of contact. Gatekeeping may take place and staff will not see how their efforts contribute to the whole project.
Your company intranet or other collaborative software will be invaluable for managing virtual teams and making your remote staff feel included. The best intranets are far more than just a repository for shared files. They allow staff to see what their fellow team members are working on, make them aware of company developments, important targets and deadlines and let them see the bigger picture.
Staff can also showcase their work, get feedback and discuss issues. Adding a social network like a Facebook group or Twitter hashtag can fill the social void created by working remotely, but a significant number of staff are still reluctant to join a social network for work. Adding a work-related social stream to the company intranet or collaborative platform, like Yammer for SharePoint, or a social plugin for Podio, is particularly effective.
Arranging weekly or monthly face-to-face meetings will really improve communication between team members and help build effective working relationships. Supplement this with video conferences and online chats. Video conferencing used to be unreliable and sometimes more trouble than it was worth, but as broadband coverage improves, it will become much more reliable. FaceTime and Skype can be just as effective for one-to-ones between line managers and staff.
Managing remote workers takes skill and teleworking may not come naturally to some staff. With training, staff and managers will learn how best to work as part of a virtual team. Learning how to manage remote staff, manage time effectively and use collaborative software appropriately is essential.
Contact us for advice on building your remote workforce.
Catherine Sellars, Editor
Supporting innovation in teaching and learning
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