Meeting the Challenges of the Virtual Workforce
With advancing technology and a global economy, more organizations are incorporating a virtual workforce into the traditional office setting. Working virtually can provide employees with added flexibility and a better work-life balance, while enabling employers to expand their prospective labor pool and hire for good fit, as opposed to physical location. But there can be drawbacks as well. For example, communication is more challenging, and trust can be difficult to achieve when workers are scattered across the country and even around the world.
According to Dr. Lori LaCivita, an industrial and organizational (I-O) psychologist and Walden University's program director for the MS and PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology programs, it is imperative that employers and employees be aware of the challenges and benefits of a virtual workforce in order to develop cohesive and productive teams.
Tips for Employers and Managers:
- Initially, there can be a lack of trust between in-house and virtual employees. The more interaction they have, the stronger they can build their relationships and trust. It's important to provide opportunities for employees to get to know each other personally and share ideas, which will help improve team productivity.
- Managers should identify gaps in workers' technical knowledge and provide training to address them, since not everyone will have the initial expertise or knowledge needed when they enter a virtual workforce.
- Make sure all written communication is concise, and do not overly rely on e-mail, which does not allow for tone - an important element of communication - to be expressed. Incorporate audio and video conferencing, instant messaging, and the use of white boards to allow all employees to connect with each other in real time.
- Understand that virtual workers do not necessarily work the same hours as in-office employees, and that they tend to be more project-oriented than time-oriented.
Tips for Employees:
- Be the captain of your own ship. Be able to work independently, prioritize effectively, and collaborate with your in-office counterparts.
- Have a good understanding of the available technology, and have a backup plan should that technology ever fail.
- Be accessible. Nothing will create mistrust more than if coworkers or managers are unable to reach you during designated work hours.
- Create a portfolio of successes, which will demonstrate to your supervisor the work you are capable of doing while working remotely. This will be useful for both internal reviews and future job hunting.
- Create a rich social life outside of your job. Without the daily in-person interaction with coworkers, working virtually can be isolating, and it's imperative that you maintain a good work-life balance.
Virtual workforces are here to stay, and I-O psychologists are leading these changes in the workforce by helping to develop performance management systems, information-access capabilities, and training systems to help remote workers develop essential skills. With the help of I-O psychologists, organizations are creating diverse, talented, and cohesive workforces with employees across the globe.