The need for staff continues to heat up as more and more Baby Boomers reach retirement age with too few Gen X’ers ready to replace them. With this laser focus on recruiting and retention comes the real need to improve our people programs and allow for proper work/life integration. Virtual and flexible work programs are one way to engage and retain various team members and differentiate your firm in the recruiting process.
Virtual work programs offer many other benefits, including increased profitability due to reduced pressure on office space and related costs, removing geographic barriers when it comes to recruiting and serving clients, and putting your firm ahead on the HR and technology curve.
To ensure the success of your virtual work program, consider these eight critical success factors:
1) Establish trust.
Trust is the cornerstone of any virtual work program and the most important leadership factor in your firm, too. While supporting inexperienced staff remotely can be a challenge and distractions can occur, managers simply have to be better managers in a virtual work environment, and employees must be self-sufficient and focused as well. When managing virtual teams, you have to trust that most of your people will be competent to do the work, motivated by the right things, and committed to make the program, themselves, their clients, and the firm a success. Committing to run the program from a place of trust first will help you set up the rest of the program’s constructs.
2) Define, expect, and model ownership behavior and refine ownership expectations regularly.
Owners are those who think about, plan for, and manage the success of their “thing.” To remove all doubt about who’s doing what, assign ownership to everything in your firm including:
- Departments, service lines, and initiatives
- Clients or engagements
- Projects and components of projects
- Tasks and assignments
For help on defining ownership for your firm, read my blog, “I Thought You Were Doing That."
3) Define expectations.
Define your virtual work program in writing to level set and establish the ground rules for all involved. In your document, consider including facts such as:
- Why your firm is embarking on the virtual work path
- Who is eligible to participate – based on tenure, experience, level, discipline, role, performance, circumstances, etc.
- What the agreed upon ways of conducting business virtually will be and what is not allowed
- Your communication expectations
- How privacy of client and firm information and data will be protected (we recommend a good intellectual property agreement or elements of this in your firm’s overall employment agreement)
- Who pays for specific technologies and supplies
- How success will be measured and on what frequency
4) Establish goals.
Each team member should have three to five measures of success. Goals need to be specific, measureable, realistic, and relevant. Consider using two different types of goals – those that improve a behavior or skill (i.e. business development) and those that produce a deliverable or tangible end result (i.e. specific initiative goals). Setting goals will help clarify priorities for the individual, firm leaders, and other team members. Read more about setting goals in the first two blogs of a goal-oriented blog series by my colleague, Jack Lee, here and here. Check in on the progress of goals regularly to keep everyone working toward the agreed upon commitment. You may have to hold difficult conversations or address a lack of results to maintain the integrity of the program with others who will surely be watching.
5) Communicate transparently.
Share the details of your virtual program with the entire team and include it in your HR handbook. Publish who is participating or eligible to participate, including how the program will work, what roles are permitted to work remotely, and what is expected of remote employees.
Consider having virtual and non-virtual team members distribute a work-to-do list weekly with any planned out of office time and their commitments for that week to keep everyone in the loop. Establish methods for them to report the status of assignments and report your status on work that impacts them, too. Reset expectations when needed so the affected parties can plan better.
Also, strive to foster a sense of team by touching base and engaging with your virtual team members regularly. Include them in team or client meetings by using teleconference or video conference calls. Be careful not to make derogatory comments about virtual workers or complain about them when they are not present. You may add fuel to the fire on this potentially sensitive topic for some who may view your virtual workers’ situation as “privileged.”
6) Compare virtual to on-premise work if possible.
Identify ways to measure your virtual team member(s) performance to their “old way” of operating, if applicable, and to other team members who are in similar positions. There may not be a true apples-to-apples comparison, so if the virtual team members are meeting their agreed upon goals and producing the needed results, then quality of life and employee engagement may be the deciding factors to continue offering a virtual work environment.
7) Utilize technology effectively.
The technology available today makes implementing a virtual work environment increasingly doable, but your IT strategy and the technology itself needs to closely managed to address heightened security risks and other challenges. Consider what you will use or how you will handle:
- Telephone usage (land, cell, or both?)
- Teleconference or video conference options
- Data sharing and access to documents, including version control
- Remote access
- Mobile device support and compatibility
- Security and privacy of data, including client data, especially if work may be done in public venues
- Who will pay for the technology
- Upgrades and access to efficient technology to ensure that they don’t negatively impact productivity and accountability
Make sure the performance for your remote systems are equal to, or better, than when using systems in the office to maximize productivity and encourage all team members to put in extra effort remotely when their schedules permit them to do so.
8) Be flexible.
Expect to make adjustments to your program as it evolves! Set specific time-frames for evaluation, such as 90 days, six months, and then annually to identify possible improvements and determine the level of success of the program. Involving virtual and non-virtual team members in the evaluation process will ensure well-rounded input.
To ease into a virtual work program, consider piloting the program to start. Choose a specific project, team, or engagement where a virtual program could have the biggest impact or experiment with a seasoned employee who has requested an alternate arrangement or may need to leave the firm due to a relocation or family issue.
For more on this topic, attend our next web seminar, “Virtual Work Teams Win the Race!” on August 13 for only $39 including CPE. To register, go to www.convergencelearning.com.
What benefits and/or challenges have you experienced with a virtual work environment? If your firm does not offer one, what specific concerns are preventing leadership from implementing virtual options?
Please post a comment on this or any other thoughts related to the idea of virtual work. We’d love to hear from you!
Working virtually though a recent idea, is going to be the way most of the future businesses are going to work. With evolution in infrastructure and monitoring, this mechanism will be highly attractive to employees and cost effective for employers.
I wholeheartedly agree, John! With advances in technology and physical workplaces costing more to run, many organizations will turn to virtual work as an option. And, they'll attract more talent when they do! Thanks for commenting!