Much has already been written about working with virtual teams. The CEO of Yahoo recently touched off a firestorm with her recent edict that telecommuters must abandon their homes and get to an office or risk losing their jobs. Since I haven’t walked a mile in her shoes, I can’t comment as to whether or not this move was necessary, but I can say that managing a remote workforce does pose a number of challenges. My experience is that with a little forethought, and the right tools, telecommuters can be as productive (if not more) than their office coworkers.
1. The Right Tools Are Essential – If telecommuters don’t have the following equipment then they (and you) are in trouble. In my opinion, the “must have’s” are:
- Laptop or Computer
- Business Application Software
- Camera & Microphone
- Telephone or Cell Phone
- Conference Bridge
- Printer & Scanner
- High Speed Internet Connection
- Web Collaboration Tools – Instant Messenger
- Access to the Employee Directory
You may be wondering, is all that really necessary? Well, actually yes. Essentially, if an employee has all of the same access to physical resources that they would enjoy in the office, then they won’t be constrained. In fact, it’s extremely wise to ask someone who is considering telecommunicating whether or not they are equipped for success.
2. Leadership – Having a clear chain of command regarding where telecommuters can turn to for help is essential. Leaders have to be accessible to telecommuters at a moment’s notice. Why? Well telecommuters don’t have the luxury of sitting outside your office, or catching you as you walk by the photo copier.
3. Coordination – Telecommuters should be provided with a clear understanding of the overall goal. Moreover, each team member must know what they are expected to contribute, understand the timelines, and know the detailed plan for given tasks.
4. Communication – Everyone should be updated regularly regarding status – Get the group together for brief conference calls, E-mails, Instant Messaging, etc. With proper communication – telecommuters will feel like they are just as connected as their office- going peers and their bosses will not need to question their productivity!
5. Perks – About the only time telecommuters really feel disconnected from the rest of the company is around social activities. Since they aren’t available to go out to lunch with co-workers, or have a drink after work they miss out on some important bonding. Therefore, I suggest that you sponsor a weekly office lunch, and let telecommuters expense their lunch as well. And, put the speakerphone on wherever you are gather so that they can be a part of the social interaction. Be sure to avoid discussing work, but have thoughtful questions for the group, so as to keep everyone engaged. Some examples would be; 1. What hobbies have you had that people might not know about?, 2. Where have you vacationed that you most enjoyed and why? etc.
If you follow this advice, you’ll have a very productive, and connected telecommuting workforce.