Employers have legitimate concerns that ‘work from home’ for some may mean laying back on the sofa, latte in hand, racking up kills on Call of Duty while intermittently peaking down at their Android for a manager’s e-mail. Nonetheless, many knowledge workers today dread being tethered to an office where distractions and coffee breath await every turn, and inspiration necessary to do generative knowledge work is often lacking. There are three things that can make virtual work arrangements more practical and palatable for knowledge workers and employers, and help ensure virtual work is aligned to both core business and employee needs:
1. Focused Deliverables
Employers of virtual workers need to do their diligence to ensure outcomes, deliverables and deadlines are clear. This allows them to trust time management to the virtual worker, who if adept, will optimize their time beyond what any micromanager could ever do. On the flip side, knowledge workers must develop the capacity to ask precise, clarifying question to drive clarity around outcomes. The old “I’ll just wait until they tell me what to do” approach is a sure-fire way make virtual work combust. It’s important for both worker and employer to anticipate the need for additional direction and be flexibly responsive to inevitable changes in projects.
2. Start Earlier Than Normal
For virtual workers and employers, an earlier start in the day can set the tone for focus and priority on key business objectives. The early infusion of ideas, discourse and energy into the business have more time to morph into new solutions and perspectives as the day matures. According to Akil Washington, Solution Engineer for Savvis, “Early starts can demonstrate a commitment to the work and help solidify team chemistry, especially when forming a new team or managing people not used to working with each other.” Of course, there are vampires and chronic late risers who prefer to dream of sunrises than actually watch them. For these people, early starts may require adjustment period to shift overall sleep hygiene and nighttime patterns.
3. Remote Team Building
A common, unfortunate and yet totally avoidable side-effect of virtual work can be lack of team building. This ultimately leads to decreased sociability and solidarity amongst teammates, often resulting in a highly fragmented work culture. At its simplest, prevention begins with flexible communication tools and by scheduling routine and ad-hoc opportunities for virtual workers to connect with each other outside of core business focused on bottom line. On the continuum of business relevance, strategies may range from cross-teaming members for small back burner projects that don’t directly drive revenue (more relevant), to hosting a company fantasy sports and/or virtual poker game (less relevant, but perhaps more fun). Which strategy or balance of strategies to employ depends on existing culture and shared interests of workers. The key here is to keep teammates engaged and reinforce their commitment to 1) the common goals of the business and 2) supporting each other to be successful in their respective work.
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