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Hiring, Managing, Engaging and Thriving With Your Virtual Workforce

When you have to do more with less, hiring virtual employees could be the perfect solution, just remember to Choose those virtual team members wisely. When you make the choice to open your doors to the virtual workforce you open yourself and your company to a whole new world of responsibility such as performance management for virtual employees, virtual team building and retaining virtual employees.

Keep in mind certain aspects you take for granted in managing and engaging your in house employees must be addressed, shifted and tweaked when hiring, managing and engaging with the virtual workforce. It is extremely important that you get it right in the beginning as more and more of your workforce will choose the virtual option and more and more companies are offering it.

Virtual team members carry more than just the burden of remembering which time zone they’re working in. Business and Hiring Managers need to recognize the different way that virtual team members experience signal and noise. In order for a team with virtual members to work well, some effort needs to be spent up front on team governance and organizing communication processes into a tune with a good beat you can dance to.

I’m thinking about the distractions around virtual team members because I stumbled on a great, if somewhat geeky, article in Information Technology & People that speaks to what my company does. The gist of it is that co-located teams and virtual teams have different ways of getting to trust and team commitment. In short, co-located teams develop trust through irregular personal interactions, whereas virtual teams build trust out of regular processes and clearly defined working relationships.

This makes a lot of sense. If you work side by side with your teammates you get cues all the time from them about how to work together. In fact, you’re receiving peer pressure, process pressure, the persuasion of the team leader and company pressure all at once, all the time. It’s like listening to a symphony – notes and melody swirling around, but with somebody guiding them in the same direction. Not much of a surprise then that it’s relatively easy to get to a high level of team commitment with all that conducting going on.

But put yourself in the shoes of the virtual team member. Boy, what fun! You get all the interaction of your local environment, but what you’re tasked with focusing on is something invisible, unfamiliar and that doesn’t give much feedback. It reminds me of a pledge drive: I’m trying to just drive the car and not to hit anything when the music stops and the man asks me to pick up the phone. We all know how well that works: I turn down the distraction and stay on the road.

What I read in this article is that, in general, it’s hard to focus in a noisy environment, and that people are really bad at thinking on their feet when they’re under pressure. I’ve always thought that it’s a good idea to have a protocol to follow in the event of a surprise, so that you don’t have to actually think on your feet. Fortunately, for co-located team s these surprises and the resulting pressure are (usually) infrequent events that occur and get resolved.

But in a virtual team, the members are always under pressure. What they need is more like sheet music to guide from beginning to end. And what the authors are suggesting is that it’s that note by note guidance that makes it possible for the team to get its work done at all. The team’s sheet music helps keep everyone together so they can create a soundtrack, not just background noise. A pledge drive is easily turned down and ignored, but a good regular four-four beat gets turned up and sung along to.

The team leader has to orchestrate those rhythmic processes and clear relationships at the outset when he or she has the best chance of being heard. That’s the time, early on when an awful lot of us would likely be thinking about the schedule, that we should be spending our energy on governance. That’s when we should be setting up the relationships, performance management standards and processes that inform how work actually gets done. After all, a schedule tells me how long I can wait until my tasks go critical. But what a virtual team needs early on is members zeroing in on their responsibilities and understanding the process for communicating regularly to the team that they’re on the beat.

It’s all about making it easy to do the right thing. The world is full of distractions. The challenge for a virtual team is to systematically make teamwork simple enough and regular enough to cut through the noise.

David Kershaw

Founder, eVisioner

MetaTeam :: Revolutionizing The Way Teams Work!


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