The Key to Managing Virtual Employees
In the contact center, workforce management is a challenging enough job when all agents are under the same roof. Increasingly, however, managers are having to find ways to monitor, manage, train and motivate workers who aren’t physically present in the building (or, possibly, the country). The twenty-first century workforce is becoming the virtual workforce. Gallup's Work and Education poll recently found that 37 percent of U.S. workers say they have telecommuted.
Companies allow telecommuting for a variety of reasons. Many believe it makes workers more productive (fewer distractions and no time wasted driving to and from work). Others do it to save on overhead (no office, no office expenses). Contact centers often do it for these reasons and for others: to widen the pool of available talent, to “follow the sun” across time zones and to gain employees with skills and languages who might not be available locally.
Regardless of the reasons for allowing telecommuting, the workforce management challenges remain. Late last year, CIO magazine’s Mary Kyle and Ed Tittel spoke with Lee Cullom, the president and co-founder of Business Intelligence software company Northcraft Analytics (NCA). Cullom is an expert in the business of telecommuting and managing remote employees, having a largely remote workforce for his own business. To start, managers need to understand their employees and how their personalities and job functions mesh with telecommuting, since these will vary.
“He notes that virtual team members engaged in sales activities often seek out more face-to-face interaction than virtual team members engaged in development activities, for example,” wrote the authors. “It's up to managers to ensure that remote team members stay engaged, whether that’s by coming into the office regularly (once a week, for instance), by having regular one-on-one phone calls or webcam meetings and so forth.”
Hiring the right people to begin with helps. Recruit workers who are self-motivated, like to challenge themselves and who need little to no supervision (in other words: no high-maintenance drama queens). Next, build a sturdy framework for regular multichannel communications.
“Ensure that you're speaking the same ‘language’ when communicating with remote team members, regardless of their job role,” according to CIO’s interview with Cullom. “Make use of available communication and collaboration tools, such as file sharing services, video conferencing and so forth, to ensure communications are received and understood. Establish guidelines for best practices when it comes to managing communication with remote employees.”
Openness and transparency are at the core of success when managing a remote workforce. If you’re managing workers in a foreign country, ensure you’ve identified all potential cultural misunderstandings in advance so everyone is “speaking the same language,” figuratively and literally. Finally, ensure your remote workforce has opportunities to bond, in person on occasion or via video or digital communications. Close working relationships – which are easy when everyone is under the same roof – are at the core of workplace success.
Edited by Alicia Young