A virtual workforce does not operate in the same way as a traditional one. It requires strong and formal procedures to ensure that it operates efficiently, and it requires high quality in six different categories of technology. Additionally, there are six levels of culture that have to be considered for a virtual workforce, and there are also interpersonal concerns that can lead to conflict and problems if not correctly handled and addressed.
On an organizational level, a virtual workforce needs strong management but a lack of micromanagement. Because this type of workforce operates very independently, it also needs to be empowered. Employees on a virtual workforce need the ability to complete their tasks and work with others on that same workforce without seeking permission for everything they do. Having empowerment brings efficiency, along with stronger morale and higher employee satisfaction. Here is what managers should know to improve the quality and value of their virtual workforce.
1. The Procedural Dimension
Proper procedures cannot be ignored when managing a virtual workforce. Having mature, well-defined processes is critical to success, because the workforce must be clear on what needs to be done, who needs to be included, and the expected and anticipated outcome of the task at hand. Having only an informal network will not help employees in a virtual workforce stay on task, work well with others, or complete projects in a way that meets deadlines and expectations.
Formal process and procedures, on the other hand, represents the foundation of an effective virtual workforce. Proper training also matters, and when coupled with procedures and processes that are well defined, a workforce can operate in an independent manner and still be very clear on exactly what it should be doing. This reduces the chances that tasks will be incomplete or incorrect, and helps every employee in the virtual workforce understand what they should be doing, how they should be doing it, and when it should be completed.
2. The Cultural Dimension
Due to the global nature of the virtual workforce, cultural awareness and competency are keys to a strong survival kit for every employee. Understanding the culture of other people matters, but there are also individual and company culture issues that must be understood. Because of that, there are six levels of culture that should all be considered for maximum virtual workforce success. These are:
By carefully addressing cultural issues and understanding how to optimize the culture of the organization without dismissing the culture of the individual, a virtual workforce can perform much better. There is a team culture that comes with that workforce, but also individual cultural beliefs and understandings from each member of that workforce.
Then there are national or societal culture ideas that people hold and generally wish to conform to, along with functional cultural beliefs that come from the need to operate within specific boundaries. These can all be blended together to provide value to any virtual workforce.
3. The Personal Dimension
While employees may be part of a virtual workforce, they are also human beings with different beliefs, goals, dreams, and ambitions, along with insecurities, issues, and concerns. Because of that, they have different personalities and may not always be a good fit for a particular workforce group. Getting employees who are too similar to one another does not allow for a full exchange of ideas, but choosing employees whose personalities conflict too strongly is cause for frustration and disagreement within the workforce. That can result in missed deadlines, struggles to get along with coworkers, and other problems.
Paying close attention to the well-being of a virtual workforce is important to reduce these kinds of issues. Sorting out personality conflicts and addressing any serious concerns an employee may have can help. This may include changing the task an employee was assigned or the level of work they are required to do. Even if this needs to be done, there are generally other ways that same employee can be valuable to the company. Working with the employee to create a more stable and agreeable virtual workforce helps everyone involved.
4. The Organizational Dimension
Each company, or organization, is unique. They may have a lot of significant similarities, but they will also have many differences that have to be addressed. As such, certain types of organizational structures are more suited to a virtual workforce than others. For example, an organization that is flatter will have fewer problems with a virtual workforce. This kind of organization needs speed and decision making, and the way in which it is designed lends itself to a virtual workforce that is capable of moving things along without heavy guidance from numerous levels of management.
Virtual workforces are working independently, so they need to be empowered to handle issues that come their way and make decisions without being micromanaged. A leadership style that allows for that empowerment is essential to the success of a virtual workforce, and not all companies operate under that style of leadership. For companies that do not operate that way and do not have any desire or intention to change their leadership dynamics, a virtual workforce could be a poor fit.
5. The Technological Dimension
Because technology is what really enables a virtual workforce to operate, having proper technology in place is a critical part of seeing success with this type of workforce arrangement. Many managers think of collaboration and communication technologies when setting up a virtual workforce, but there is much more to what is needed than just those two categories. There are actual six categories of technology that must be in place for a quality virtual workforce. These are:
1. Communication Technologies
2. Collaboration Technologies
3. Information Management Technologies
4. Management Technologies (Projects, Tasks, and Activities)
5. Computational Resource Technologies (Computers and Computing Resources)
6. Infrastructure and Networking Technologies
By providing proper levels of technology in all of these areas, a manager who is building and maintaining a virtual workforce will be giving that workforce what is really needed to help ensure their long-term success and benefit to the company. That, combined with the other dimensions of the workforce, offers the best opportunity for a strong, efficiently, and highly valuable virtual workforce.