Building a Better (Virtual) Workplace

Reviewed Aug 9, 2017

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Summary

  • Technology makes it easier for off-site employees to work together. But it can lead to isolation as well.
  • Communicate face-to-face as much as possible.
  • Not everyone is suited for working from home.

Today, work is often not a “place” in the physical sense at all. It can be a group of employees and managers working at home or in satellite offices thousands of miles apart. Or it can include a mix of telecommuters and on-site workers. What’s more, people are often in transit while connecting with colleagues. Whatever the setting, the need to foster teamwork and create a sense of community is as crucial as ever.

The good news is that virtual options are better than ever. Messaging, conferencing, and file-sharing tools give everyone the power to meet, share notes, brainstorm, and plan in real time.

There are times, though, when technology can be as much a curse as a blessing. It can isolate people as easily as it brings them together. “We have a strong belief that technology will not be a substitute for good management and good communication,” says project management consultant Martin VanDerSchouw. “All technology does is enable you to get it wrong faster.” Once the communication network is in place, managers and employees need to remember that it is no substitute for personal contact. It takes effort from all to use technology in the right ways.

The good news is that there are ways you can ensure good communication while building a better virtual workplace.

Keep the personal touch

Email is a great way to send information. Yet alone it can’t build relationships and cohesive teams. In fact, VanDerSchouw says leaders should be using three different channels of communication beyond email. A phone call is more personal and often just as easy. And while video meetings may take more planning, they allow people to see as well as hear one another.

Whatever channels you have access to, choose those with the most personal contact. Linda Pophal, author of Managing Off-Site Staff for Small Business, says dispersed workers and managers “still need some face-to-face interaction.” Co-workers need to get together now and then, if only for a holiday party.

Make sure people are working off-site for the right reasons

If you’re a manager looking for employees to fill at-home or other remote jobs, you may get plenty of volunteers. But find out what’s motivating them first. People who want to work at home in order to be with their small children are a bad bet, says Pophal. “One of the biggest misconceptions for employees and probably managers is this idea that ‘I’ll be saving money on day care.’” Working at home requires the same discipline and time management as working in the office. Adding in child care duties can derail both.

Choose self-starting socializers

Employees need to come armed with strong virtual networking skills. People who prefer to be alone and make little effort to connect socially are less likely to succeed. Those who truly want interaction with others—and know how to achieve it—make much better candidates.

In his own hiring, VanDerSchouw says he “looks for people who are engaged in driving their own communication.” They should be using online social-networking tools, he says. And he’d like to see them taking their interaction to the next level with activities such as blogging and forming online social groups. The most effective employees are those who find ways to break down the geographic isolation and bring co-workers together in person, not just online.

Keep traditions that motivate employees

Social and competitive activities designed to boost morale at a conventional workplace work for a dispersed team, as well. You just can’t plan them solely around the water cooler.
 
For instance, “Employee of the Month” and other recognition awards may be even more important for dispersed workforces, as people off-site may wonder if anyone’s noticing their contributions.

“Just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not important,” says Perkett. Her firm names an “MVP Employee” monthly. She says the honor includes an article in the firm’s online newsletter and a small gift—such as a Starbucks® card for a dedicated coffee drinker—that shows “the company knows you as a person.” 

All of these techniques together can help ensure a virtual workplace that truly works—for all.

Employees need to come armed with strong virtual networking skills. They require more thought and initiative by the employees.

Resource

Managing Off-Site Staff for Small Business (2nd edition) by Lin (Linda) Grensing-Pophal. Self-Counsel Press, 2010.

By Tom Gray
Source: Linda Phophal, Principal, Strategic Communications LLC, Chippewa Falls, WI; Martin VanDerSchouw, President and CEO, Looking Glass Development LLC, Denver, CO

Summary

  • Technology makes it easier for off-site employees to work together. But it can lead to isolation as well.
  • Communicate face-to-face as much as possible.
  • Not everyone is suited for working from home.

Today, work is often not a “place” in the physical sense at all. It can be a group of employees and managers working at home or in satellite offices thousands of miles apart. Or it can include a mix of telecommuters and on-site workers. What’s more, people are often in transit while connecting with colleagues. Whatever the setting, the need to foster teamwork and create a sense of community is as crucial as ever.

The good news is that virtual options are better than ever. Messaging, conferencing, and file-sharing tools give everyone the power to meet, share notes, brainstorm, and plan in real time.

There are times, though, when technology can be as much a curse as a blessing. It can isolate people as easily as it brings them together. “We have a strong belief that technology will not be a substitute for good management and good communication,” says project management consultant Martin VanDerSchouw. “All technology does is enable you to get it wrong faster.” Once the communication network is in place, managers and employees need to remember that it is no substitute for personal contact. It takes effort from all to use technology in the right ways.

The good news is that there are ways you can ensure good communication while building a better virtual workplace.

Keep the personal touch

Email is a great way to send information. Yet alone it can’t build relationships and cohesive teams. In fact, VanDerSchouw says leaders should be using three different channels of communication beyond email. A phone call is more personal and often just as easy. And while video meetings may take more planning, they allow people to see as well as hear one another.

Whatever channels you have access to, choose those with the most personal contact. Linda Pophal, author of Managing Off-Site Staff for Small Business, says dispersed workers and managers “still need some face-to-face interaction.” Co-workers need to get together now and then, if only for a holiday party.

Make sure people are working off-site for the right reasons

If you’re a manager looking for employees to fill at-home or other remote jobs, you may get plenty of volunteers. But find out what’s motivating them first. People who want to work at home in order to be with their small children are a bad bet, says Pophal. “One of the biggest misconceptions for employees and probably managers is this idea that ‘I’ll be saving money on day care.’” Working at home requires the same discipline and time management as working in the office. Adding in child care duties can derail both.

Choose self-starting socializers

Employees need to come armed with strong virtual networking skills. People who prefer to be alone and make little effort to connect socially are less likely to succeed. Those who truly want interaction with others—and know how to achieve it—make much better candidates.

In his own hiring, VanDerSchouw says he “looks for people who are engaged in driving their own communication.” They should be using online social-networking tools, he says. And he’d like to see them taking their interaction to the next level with activities such as blogging and forming online social groups. The most effective employees are those who find ways to break down the geographic isolation and bring co-workers together in person, not just online.

Keep traditions that motivate employees

Social and competitive activities designed to boost morale at a conventional workplace work for a dispersed team, as well. You just can’t plan them solely around the water cooler.
 
For instance, “Employee of the Month” and other recognition awards may be even more important for dispersed workforces, as people off-site may wonder if anyone’s noticing their contributions.

“Just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not important,” says Perkett. Her firm names an “MVP Employee” monthly. She says the honor includes an article in the firm’s online newsletter and a small gift—such as a Starbucks® card for a dedicated coffee drinker—that shows “the company knows you as a person.” 

All of these techniques together can help ensure a virtual workplace that truly works—for all.

Employees need to come armed with strong virtual networking skills. They require more thought and initiative by the employees.

Resource

Managing Off-Site Staff for Small Business (2nd edition) by Lin (Linda) Grensing-Pophal. Self-Counsel Press, 2010.

By Tom Gray
Source: Linda Phophal, Principal, Strategic Communications LLC, Chippewa Falls, WI; Martin VanDerSchouw, President and CEO, Looking Glass Development LLC, Denver, CO

Summary

  • Technology makes it easier for off-site employees to work together. But it can lead to isolation as well.
  • Communicate face-to-face as much as possible.
  • Not everyone is suited for working from home.

Today, work is often not a “place” in the physical sense at all. It can be a group of employees and managers working at home or in satellite offices thousands of miles apart. Or it can include a mix of telecommuters and on-site workers. What’s more, people are often in transit while connecting with colleagues. Whatever the setting, the need to foster teamwork and create a sense of community is as crucial as ever.

The good news is that virtual options are better than ever. Messaging, conferencing, and file-sharing tools give everyone the power to meet, share notes, brainstorm, and plan in real time.

There are times, though, when technology can be as much a curse as a blessing. It can isolate people as easily as it brings them together. “We have a strong belief that technology will not be a substitute for good management and good communication,” says project management consultant Martin VanDerSchouw. “All technology does is enable you to get it wrong faster.” Once the communication network is in place, managers and employees need to remember that it is no substitute for personal contact. It takes effort from all to use technology in the right ways.

The good news is that there are ways you can ensure good communication while building a better virtual workplace.

Keep the personal touch

Email is a great way to send information. Yet alone it can’t build relationships and cohesive teams. In fact, VanDerSchouw says leaders should be using three different channels of communication beyond email. A phone call is more personal and often just as easy. And while video meetings may take more planning, they allow people to see as well as hear one another.

Whatever channels you have access to, choose those with the most personal contact. Linda Pophal, author of Managing Off-Site Staff for Small Business, says dispersed workers and managers “still need some face-to-face interaction.” Co-workers need to get together now and then, if only for a holiday party.

Make sure people are working off-site for the right reasons

If you’re a manager looking for employees to fill at-home or other remote jobs, you may get plenty of volunteers. But find out what’s motivating them first. People who want to work at home in order to be with their small children are a bad bet, says Pophal. “One of the biggest misconceptions for employees and probably managers is this idea that ‘I’ll be saving money on day care.’” Working at home requires the same discipline and time management as working in the office. Adding in child care duties can derail both.

Choose self-starting socializers

Employees need to come armed with strong virtual networking skills. People who prefer to be alone and make little effort to connect socially are less likely to succeed. Those who truly want interaction with others—and know how to achieve it—make much better candidates.

In his own hiring, VanDerSchouw says he “looks for people who are engaged in driving their own communication.” They should be using online social-networking tools, he says. And he’d like to see them taking their interaction to the next level with activities such as blogging and forming online social groups. The most effective employees are those who find ways to break down the geographic isolation and bring co-workers together in person, not just online.

Keep traditions that motivate employees

Social and competitive activities designed to boost morale at a conventional workplace work for a dispersed team, as well. You just can’t plan them solely around the water cooler.
 
For instance, “Employee of the Month” and other recognition awards may be even more important for dispersed workforces, as people off-site may wonder if anyone’s noticing their contributions.

“Just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not important,” says Perkett. Her firm names an “MVP Employee” monthly. She says the honor includes an article in the firm’s online newsletter and a small gift—such as a Starbucks® card for a dedicated coffee drinker—that shows “the company knows you as a person.” 

All of these techniques together can help ensure a virtual workplace that truly works—for all.

Employees need to come armed with strong virtual networking skills. They require more thought and initiative by the employees.

Resource

Managing Off-Site Staff for Small Business (2nd edition) by Lin (Linda) Grensing-Pophal. Self-Counsel Press, 2010.

By Tom Gray
Source: Linda Phophal, Principal, Strategic Communications LLC, Chippewa Falls, WI; Martin VanDerSchouw, President and CEO, Looking Glass Development LLC, Denver, CO

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