working on sofa

Thanks to the rapid progression of digital technology, the way that Britain works is changing. Of course, the majority of companies still have the majority of their staff on site, but with a growing number of freelancers, contractors, telecommuters and virtual workers on their books, business managers are facing a new challenge: how to engage a workforce that isn’t really there.

The business manager is, by nature, a suspicious beast. They prowl their natural habitat – the office or the sales floor – alert to misdemeanours, and time not productively spent. It is their job to oversee, and ensure that work is done; targets are hit; money is well earned; time is used efficiently, so when they can’t see their workers, it’s natural for them to think the worst. In reality, many of those who work at a remove turn out to be the most industrious and reliable.

However, it can still be a difficult relationship to manage. We have picked up a number of pointers that can help both workers and managers to get the best from the virtual working relationship.

Three Key Rules for Managing Remote Workers

  • Communicate – It sounds obvious, but out of sight can often mean out of mind in business. To keep your stress levels down and your productivity levels up, communication is key. How you manage this communication is down to you but we find that a varied approach works – technology has opened up a huge number of avenues, so why not embrace them? Email is great for getting down details, ensuring all the information for a brief is passed on, but there’s nothing like a conversation for building a relationship, and trust. If you can, meet up in person from time to time; if distance proves a problem, there’s always video conferencing. Skype or FaceTime helps with team-building, and while structured calls are perhaps the most efficient way of working, sometimes having an open ‘brainstorming’ group discussion, free from a set agenda, can be far more rewarding creatively.
  • Provide a vision – When you’re working in an office as part of a team, the company target is usually clearly apparent; there’s no need to spell it out. For the remote worker, this might not be so obvious, so at the beginning of each project take time to explain what your vision is. If your freelancers, contractors, telecommuters and virtual staff know what you’re aiming for from the off, it will dramatically reduce lost time – they will know what questions to ask, and potential ambiguities are resolved before they’re even formed.
  • Set goals & mark milestones – No matter what work you’re doing, or where you’re doing it, you need to know that you’re 1) achieving something, and 2) appreciated, in order to continue delivering your best. In an office environment positive reinforcement is a simple matter, often delivered without thought. The remote worker, however, rarely sees the results of their efforts, so having clearly laid out goals to work to can bring a constant sense of achievement, while an acknowledgement of milestones – even if it’s just a simple ‘well done’ or ‘thank you’ email – can lift the mood, underpin an activist work ethic and encourage future productivity and continued engagement.
‘Work’ used to be as much of a destination as it was an occupation, but now a vast number of jobs can be carried out almost anywhere. This means that successful businesses need to embrace a new way of managing, as well as a new way of working. Trusting a virtual workforce plays a significant role here, but the best way to garner trust – on both sides – is to build a successful working relationship and reap the positive results.

By Richard Walton, founder and CEO of AVirtual.co.uk