Why working with virtual staff might be easier than you think

Richard Walton
Have a virtual party? Why not (Source: Getty)

It’s been coming on for quite some time, but in the last five years particularly, there has been rapid growth in virtual working. For employers however, there is still some reluctance to embrace the concept, despite the fact that virtual workers are often far more cost-effective and can lead to an increase in productivity.

So what’s the secret to working with a virtual staff? I put it down to three things; trust, communication and vision.

Whether sat at the next desk, or on the other side of the world, no one will perform to their best advantage if they feel that they are distrusted. Equally, if managers are spending their whole time double-checking other people’s work, their own productivity will falter. Resist the temptation to micromanage the every process, hire the best person you can for each role, allow them to bring their expertise to the table and give them the freedom to accomplish their goals whether they’re your marketing director or your virtual personal assistant.

A little bit of trust eases everyone’s load, and helps to enhance efficiency, but that’s not the whole story.

Trust without guidance is a redundant concept. Workers need to know what they are working towards; without a goal and a structure to work within they could put in all the hours under the sun, and yet miss the point entirely. Whether you’re employing a virtual worker for a single project or an on-going relationship, it’s important to take the time to provide a vision – think of it as filling in the backstory, painting the bigger picture so each worker is clear about their personal role and the difference their job will make.

In order to provide a vision, you need to be able to communicate clearly. Targets need to be set, structure agreed, constructive feedback given, and praise issued whenever relevant. If you’re building a long-term relationship with a virtual worker, it helps to get to know them too, so call for a chat from time to time, invite them to office events – even if they can’t attend, the invitation will be appreciated – and use technology to touch base; don’t just email, but video conference; putting a voice and face to a name can very much enhance a working relationship.

It takes a little time to get used to working with a virtual team, but it brings obvious benefits. When opening the door to alternative working, employers throw every vacancy out into the big wide world, meaning that their catchment area becomes global, talent takes precedence over location, and the business reaps the rewards of employing the best of the best.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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