Technology and the rising number of millennials entering the workforce are two factors making it easier and more acceptable for organizations to offer part-time or full-time telecommuting options to their employees. In fact, according to a recent Cisco survey, 70 percent of college students and young professionals believe that it is no longer necessary to head into a traditional office to work anymore.
While the times are indeed changing and most workplaces barely resemble the “Mad Men” office of yesteryear, companies, regardless of size still need to take certain steps to ensure their virtual office workers are productive and connected to their manager and co-workers in a collaborative manner.
Know thyself. Know thy employee.
Although we’re all super connected via tablets and smartphones, we’re not all equipped to work remotely. Moreover, many employees who might work well in a remote environment simply may crave the day-to-day interaction of working in a “traditional” office environment. With this as a backdrop, it is critical for employers to find out if their future remote worker will thrive from the virtual office.
I offered a job to a perfectly qualified candidate who turned it down because she was self-aware enough to know she wanted and needed the structure that an office provided. Until that point, it hadn’t occurred to me that a good, qualified candidate doesn’t always translate into a successful and happy remote employee. Culture is critical and the extent to which employees will work remotely is a big part of your company’s culture. Ensure that the fit is right by asking specific questions about their working style and desires.
Tried and true technology
Workplace communication is essential whether employees are working in their offices or from their homes. However, when technology hinders this communication in a remote environment, it heightens employee frustration and lessens productivity.
To that end, you’ll have to do your due diligence in researching the technologies that work best for you and your employees. Unified communications systems are gaining in popularity and making it easier for employees to work remotely. For us, a VoIP solution provides us with the telecommunications services we need to communicate as easily as if we were in the same office.
We also use Google Apps for Business. This has enabled us to run the virtual office as efficiently as possible. Even better, the applications are compatible with Microsoft Office — making it easier for employees who prefer to use Outlook instead.
Make connections count
There’s the flip side to relying on technology to connect with employees and that is true face-to-face communication. While it may sound counterintuitive to promote face-to-face communication as we are all moving away from it, there are situations where in-person interaction is better than instant messages, video chat and email. These technologies cannot replace in-person team-building exercises, team community service days or infrequent lunches or dinner and drinks.
While running a virtual office may make it more difficult to schedule and coordinate these in-person team meetings, it doesn’t make them less important. Look to schedule these meetings on a quarterly basis, if not more often. Schedule them well in advance to make it easier on employee travel schedules and pack in as many relevant activities (such as training sessions or team lunches) around these in-person meetings to maximize schedules and travel budgets.
Shane Pike is president and CEO of EngineerJobs.com, one of the most visited engineering job sites in the world. Before that, he built NursingJobs.org into one of the Web's leading job sites for nurses in just two and a half years before selling it to Internet Brands in 2008. He is a graduate of The University of Alabama. He can be reached at email@example.com.