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#WFH: Are You Getting the Support You Need?

Companies, organizations and institutions vary greatly in their commitment to support a virtual workforce. Some are great at developing and measuring learning that specifically targets virtual workers. Many are not. Some excel at identifying the challenges and strategies associated with performance development for virtual workers. Many are not. People who work virtually often feel unsupported, unrecognized and invisible. This is one of the biggest challenges currently facing employers. This chapter is specifically for those that struggle with this challenge. Supporting a virtual workplace goes beyond issuing a formal telecommuting or virtual work policy. Technology connects an inter-dependent group of individuals; however, it is collaboration, communication and sharing that allows them to accomplish common objectives. The virtu-al workforce needs to be supported with effective technology but also needs support in other areas.

Virtual workers meet objectives through collaboration, communication and sharing. Opportunities exist in each of these areas for organizations to support virtual workers. As organizations morph and grow, virtual teams become more and more important. Virtual teams are a common practice in many industries like technology, pharmaceuticals, healthcare and insurance. Organizations are waking up to employee demands and the realization that lower turnover, decreased travel and less mandatory relocation can have benefits for everyone. The business objectives are not so very different in this environment. Often, the business objectives parallel those in the F2F environment. They are, however, equally as important. Virtual workers need a clear idea of what the business objectives are and how their performance criteria align with meeting those objectives.

Augmenting autonomy in the virtual workplace has its challenges. Management is not sure how to define what basic supervision is needed or how to replace spontaneous “watercooler” conversations. The “out of sight, out of mind” saying is just the tip of the iceberg. Virtual training struggles with technology, support, strategy and culture. Additionally, the current workplace is comprised of projects and assignments that are more complex and require a greater amount of knowledge. Adding to this saga is the reality that traditional approaches to managing people usually don’t work in this virtual environment. So what is management to do?

A good first step is to recognize that this work-place requires continuous training and support to be able to achieve collaboration, communication and sharing. It is important to clearly define roles and responsibilities. We want to define how informal and formal communication will take place. Constantly updating our leadership skills including technology raining, coaching skills, relationship and communication skills and emotional intelligence are especial-ly important in the virtual workplace. The need to have virtual leaders who are trained and supported is evident. It increases effectiveness and efficiency. This is an environment where trust is everything. Mistrust, misinterpretation, and uneven knowledge distribution make it difficult to collaborate, reach consensus and make critical decisions. It also makes it harder to carry out plans. By aligning connections and focusing on supporting independent thinkers, doers and contributors, it is possible to create an environment in which collaboration, communication and sharing exist.

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