Dr. Marsha A. Tongel
Organizations are consistently transforming and evolving to meet the needs of the marketplace. Moving to a global economy; striving to become more efficient and sustainable; and reacting to world events and crises have pushed organizations to re-examine how work is structured and delivered and how the ‘worksite’ is defined. These changes have led organizations to develop and rely upon more mobile and virtual workers and work teams. Now, individuals and teams can be working virtually either at home or alternate worksites (i.e. on the site of a client) or be mobile at various worksites. The new virtual worker or team can pose special management and supervisory challenges such as not having the worker(s) visible on the worksite or not having them immediately accessible. This can be stressful for those managers and supervisors who are used to a more traditional worksite setting. There are some tips however, that can help to support and guide the new management or supervisory experience:
- When possible, know who you are placing in a virtual work arrangement. It is not always possible, such as in the case of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, to select individuals or teams that you feel would work best virtually. When you can chose, consider whether the individual, or team, can work unsupervised. Do they have the discipline and confidence to carry the tasks through? Are they proficient enough with technology to manage the tasks assigned to them?
- Communicate frequently and clearly. Don’t assume that the individual or team can work without a connection to the Mother Ship.
- Outline all expectations and outcomes. Providing an individual or a team with a task without defining the expected outcome can leave a question as to when a task is really completed or if it has been fully completed.
- Develop and share plans for conflict resolution and crisis intervention. Create a coding system (Red, Yellow, Green, etc.) to prioritize crises and/or problem calls from the field so you know who or which issue you need to address first. And share that system with the virtual workers.
- Provide consistent constructive feedback as well as recognition. Being in the field does not negate the need for individuals and teams to hear if they are on track or if they have exceeded any job requirements.
- Realize you have to delegate tasks and trust. Being in the filed may mean that an employee has to approach and address a task differently than if they were at the worksite. Resources, scheduling and even mobility may create new of different challenges that need to be addressed by the worker. Encourage new ways of approaching tasks but ask that they be shared with you prior to implementation.
- Ask your employees and teams for feedback as to what is working well virtually and what needs to be improved. Together, you can still work on quality improvements in work processes and task accomplishment.
- Don’t put your workers or teams out in the field to work virtually without the proper resources or training to do the job. Make sure that your virtual workers have all the technological tools and knowledge to help them do their work. Keep technology updated to support efficiency.
- Outline policies and procedures that are relevant and especially apply to virtual work. For example, dress codes break times etc.
- Lastly, don’t forget to gather, either virtually or in–person, to maintain the human connection that we all need.
As society, our economy, and technology progresses we will see new emergent organizations that view how, where and when work is accomplished in ways much different from that of a traditional organization. Virtual and mobile workers and workforce teams may become more prominent as time goes by. These are some ways that you as a manager or supervisor can be prepared.
Some additional resources to help guide and support you:
Coping with COVID-19: How to manage remote employees
Engaging Employees During the Coronavirus Pandemic
How to Manage the Transition to Remote Work Effectively
How to Manage Remote Employees – Forbes
Challenges to Managing Virtual Teams and How to Overcome Them