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#WFH: Are You Showing Up for Work?

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”
–Helen Keller

Supporting the virtual workforce in the 21st century will require organizational effort. The challenge to business is very real. How do we support virtual workers and hold them accountable when we can’t observe their behaviors? Ineffective management will leave you totally at a loss. How do you manage people you cannot see? Management used to be able to tell you were a hard worker because you were in the cubicle every night until 8:30 p.m. Now, no one knows.

The meanings of the words “management” and “leadership” have been debated for a number of years, but in most companies not much has really changed. Skilled leaders with vision still make all the difference. Business is not going back to the cubicle. It is ineffective, inefficient and costs this planet enormously to have everyone commuting long distances to work. We pay in smog, gasoline, lost time, carbon emissions, pollution, wars and global warming. The costs of the age of the automobile are real. The time has come to pay the piper.

“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo! and that starts with physically being together” (King, 2013). A memo from Yahoo management put virtual workers on notice, but even Yahoo can make mistakes. It is very possible to work side by side virtually. The remote worker can be more collaborative and more productive but the leadership needs to know how to make that possible. When this announcement came out, there was an immediate backlash of folk who said this was Yahoo’s way of cutting an overly bloated staff and trimming down the bottom line. If it were true, that would be sad. Businesses can learn to support a workforce in the 21st century.

The real issue is: why aren’t companies helping people work together virtually? Why don’t companies know what performance is expected and acceptable from virtual employees? Physical presence is only a minor part of this problem. Certainly, in the age of social networking and global interactions, the issue is not the ability to connect. Virtual workers have very few support services, but their needs as human beings are as important as ever. The answer to change in human performance lies in addressing and supporting change in human behaviors.
In the virtual world, workers still need to show up and be held accountable. It is management’s job to set those expectations. Leaders need the authority to take action. If employees are productive, reward them. If they are not, take the action necessary: implement improvement plans, have the hard conversations and, if necessary, release them. Bringing virtual employees back to the office doesn’t get rid of poor leadership practices. Both management and the employees need to understand that working in the virtual environment is still working. In order to do a job well, you have to give it your attention. You cannot be changing laundry, babysitting, caregiving or engaged in a multitude of other distractions and be productive. You have to show up on time and on task.

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