The way we work has changed. The workforce has become more distributed with more and more people working virtually. Managers must adapt and learn how to successfully manage virtual employees. This includes engaging them in the company culture and values because they will have to live it, breathe it, and accept it even if they’re working virtually. When engagement is done in a positive way, not only will their work performance improve, their perspective of the company will shift creating a stronger connection to their work and evolution of their role thereby boosting your organization to the next level.
Working virtually—whether from home, a café, a coworking space, or a satellite office—is becoming increasingly popular as people seek out flexibility and balance in their work environments. According to the latest Philippine Labor Force Survey, 16 million people worked from home in 2019, and current workplace trends suggest that number will continue to grow. There are plenty of benefits when integrating virtual work into your organizational culture. When your talent pool is unrestricted by location, you’re better equipped to recruit the very best talent, with a better chance to increase diversity in the workplace by hiring people from different locations and backgrounds. Offering your employees flexibility can also reduce your business’s carbon footprint and help your employees cut commuting costs, too. Studies show that when employees have the option to work virtually, they feel a stronger sense of work-life balance, which can boost productivity and overall well-being, ultimately saving the company money in the long run.
Managing a virtual team comes with challenges. Without face-to-face contact, it can be more difficult to establish personal connections and build trust. With virtual employees, managers have less insight into their teams’ day-to-day tasks and may have to experiment with different types of communication practices to help the team function at its highest potential.
With our vast experience managing rockstar virtual staff, we are happy to present 10 key tips to ensure your virtual employees are engaged, dedicated, and eager to elevate your ambitions.
- Begin with the Basics
Be crystal clear and realistic with the job description and how you see the role within the organization. Collaborate with your new staff member and set specific action goals for the first month. Allow them time to find their feet and get comfortable with your company’s processes and procedures. Set them up for success!
- Create Opportunities for Face-Time
While it may not be possible for virtual workers to make it into the office, there’s a lot to be said for those who can or those who are open to joining company events. Experts link personal interactions with boosted employee engagement, creativity, and innovation. One of the most important things a virtual worker can do is show up as much as possible. Most virtual workers take advantage of video platforms to stay visible and connected. Find creative ways to physically bring everyone together whenever possible. Company retreats, team days, and the holidays are excellent times for gathering the team and celebrating each other’s successes while building relationships.
- Leverage Technology
These days no office space is starved for tech. Platforms like Slack, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, and Join.me have become ubiquitous in 21st-century office life. This kind of connective tech is even more important for engaging virtual workers, who can feel out of the loop with regard to day-to-day operations. We are big fans of Skype and Zoom, which allows for on-the-spot video conferencing.
We are also big believers in the power of a video call. Team training, interviews, and almost all of our company meetings are done through video calls. It’s a great way for office staff and virtual workers to feel a personal connection.
Some companies with virtual workers set up a video stream of a common area, such as a kitchen or lounge, that virtual employees can tune into to see what’s going on in the main office and get a sense of the rhythm of office life there.
- Forge Authentic Relationships
Creating authentic relationships with virtual workers can be a bit of a challenge. While in-office employees can chat about last night’s Game of Thrones while waiting for the copy machine, fostering those engaging connections with virtual staff takes a little more forethought.
Some companies like to do a company-wide talent show where all team members are encouraged to submit a video showcasing their talent. This tradition helps bring all workers together on a personal level. Once all team members have placed their submissions, the company watches each video as a group and votes on the best talent. The top 3 are gifted fun awards like a half-day off, a $25-$50 gift card, or a company talent award.
Another creative idea is a biweekly “beer and brainstorming session” where everyone comes together to talk shop in a more relaxed way. Using video chat software, virtual staff can easily pull up a chair (and their favorite drink) and engage with the rest of the team. Some of the greatest company improvement ideas stem from innovative brainstorming sessions.
Every company is structured slightly differently and has different expectations for their employees. Creating a culture that is welcoming for a virtual workforce is about clearly communicating your company values and expectations and finding unique ways to cultivate a sense of employee engagement, community, and personal investment for all, whether in-office or virtual.
- Set Expectations and Deadlines
Employees are not able to succeed if you are not clear about your expectations. This can be particularly hard when your team is virtual, because you have less insight into what your employees are working on throughout the day. Setting clear deadlines for projects is helpful, because saying something needs to be done “quickly” is subjective—does this mean within the hour? Or by the end of the day?
Set expectations for your virtual employees about response times, working hours, and cadence of communication. You’ll want these expectations to align with the ones you set for your in-office employees to ensure there isn’t a double standard of some kind.
- Refresh Your Onboarding
Starting a new job can be scary for anyone, but this is particularly true when you are not physically in the same space as your coworkers, or on the same work schedule. The onboarding process sets the tone and when done creatively, it can motivate and excite your virtual employees. Make sure you have clear training documents and a standard onboarding process. Welcome emails are an excellent way to begin. Checking in with your new employee at the end of each day is also recommended. This will give you time to connect and answer any questions they have during the first few weeks.
- Buddy System
If some of your team is virtual but others are in the office, pairing your virtual employees with an in-office employee can ensure that your virtual employees feel supported, connected to the company, and ensures that no information slips through the cracks. Remember that this in-office employee does not fill in for you as the virtual staff’s manager, and you do need to be cognizant of the extra work that in-office employees are taking on. But overall, this strategy builds more productive teams by preventing lapses in communication.
- Have Regular 1-on-1 Meetings
Having regular 1:1s allows you to connect with your employees, check in on projects, and develop a rapport. Unlike regular employees who work in the same space with you, there is no opportunity for impromptu office run-ins, so keeping these meetings on the calendar consistently is a great way to stay up-to-date on what your employees are working on. Having a regular meeting cadence also helps build trust and create space for support. Make sure to hold 1:1s via video conference whenever possible.
- Positive Feedback
virtual employees can often feel like their work isn’t seen, recognized, or praised, so make sure you are vocal when they do a good job. Shout them out to the whole team via email or in a meeting to show them that their work is meaningful and impacts the goals of the team. Positive feedback will encourage them to keep up the good work.
One of the trickiest challenges managers of virtual teams face is making sure that their virtual employees feel included in meetings. It’s important to make sure people are making eye contact with the person on the screen and to position all participants so they feel they have a seat at the table. It can be easy to schedule a last-minute meeting to hash out a problem, plan a project, or brainstorm an idea, but virtual workers are often left out of these impromptu meetings because they aren’t included on the invite, there is no video option on the invite, or the meeting is outside their working hours.
Do your best to make all meetings virtual-friendly. This means including a call-in option for every meeting invite, and doing your best to plan ahead. If you do need to call a last-minute meeting, be sure to take detailed notes and follow up with your virtual employees afterward to relay the information and see if they have any questions.
You’re all set! Now get out there and build your rockstar team. Our expert Recruitment Specialists are ready to connect you with your ideal match. For more information, book a free consultation with our Team.