Virtual working and virtual teams are becoming increasingly popular and common-place. Extended flexible working rights, improved technology and social change have enabled employees to carry out their roles from home while still remaining linked to colleagues and office systems.  

Home working can be hugely beneficial to growing SMEs as it delays, or even removes, the need for larger premises. It can also be viewed as a real perk depending on circumstance and as such serves to engender loyalty and commitment from those that value the flexibility it delivers. But before you send all your staff home with their laptops, take the time to ensure that this way of working is going to deliver value not only for your people but for your business too. 

It’s not for everyone 

Not everyone is suited to working on their own without day-to-day management, and it is vital that employers consider this when recruiting. Here are a few pointers when considering individuals for virtual working: 

  • Unsurprisingly, self-motivation is the most important of all the skills required. The ability to switch from home to work mode, and organise and complete tasks without constant direction and feedback, is vital for anyone to work from home successfully.
  • Resourcefulness is really important as there is no one on hand to talk through every problem or issue as it occurs. Ensure you have confidence in their ability to problem-solve and make good decisions.
  • Working from home suits more introverted personality types who don’t need the companionship, discussion and energy that an office environment provides. Take the time to explore whether potential candidates are introverts or extroverts and which working environment they are best suited to and create that environment to allow them to thrive. You may end up with a hybrid model where you have some flexible office space to facilitate collaboration and team work when required as well as virtual working capability
  • You may think that good communication skills are important in an office environment but they are even more important when working as a virtual team. They will need to use their judgement on when to communicate and when to just get on with it. There is a balance strike. Virtual workers can have a tendency to just knuckle down and become very self-reliant and self-sufficient. Whilst these are positive traits, they can also at times lose sight of the value collaboration and consultation with team members can add. Watch out for virtual workers hiding behind the email rather than building productive working relationships with colleagues through verbal communication. Whilst being able to articulate non-verbally is critical, you will often get a better and quicker result if you just pick up the phone. 

It’s up to you to make it work 

Having got the right people working virtually it can be very easy to think of them as separate from any office-based staff, but this is where it can all go wrong. 

  • Location is irrelevant, your team are your team. And as a manager, it’s your job to ensure that’s how it works in reality. Just because you are not physically together doesn’t exclude you from exerting normal management disciplines and holding the team to account when it comes to delivery.
  • Get the right tech in place. Whether it’s the ability to video conference, print remotely or collaboratively review and edit documents, working from home should be as easy as working in the office.
  • Whatever the culture of your business, make sure it extends beyond the office to all employees. Ensure all staff know each other and new employees are introduced wherever they are based.
  • And make the effort to get together proactively on a reasonably regular basis. Don’t let splendid isolation set in.  
Anna Cornwallis
04th January 2023

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