Virtual workers struggle with invisibility. They are concerned that what they do is not seen or recognized by the organization’s leadership. Does management know how hard I’m working? How do I know what is really going on because no one tells me anything? They often feel like they are out of sight, out of mind and out of touch. Virtual workers also struggle with finding their “off” button. A common complaint is “I feel like I am always on. I am always working.” They lack boundaries, both personal and professional, and often feel like they are being exploited. But more importantly they don’t feel like they are part of the club. Organizations are currently not very likely to support virtual workers in a way that strengthens them as individuals or as productive performers within the organization.
Value is created in the virtual workplace by offering both flexibility and strong support. Employees need to be given the freedom and the power to run their own show, to create the balance between their work commitments and their personal lives. Management needs to communicate clearly the business objectives that must be met and provide the road map to get there. Expectations need to be more clearly defined, check-ins more frequent, and collaboration more regular. This lowers risk of stress on the individual. It allows fear to dissolve and creativity and innovation to flourish.
True value is developed through encouraging and supporting innovation and creativity. Creativity and innovation are only fostered when the mission is transparent and the communication and expectations are clear. Creativity has a much better chance of thriving in a diverse and global environment. The organization wants to support this talent by developing the skills that give virtual workers the resources to explore a global range of challenges and perspectives.
Working virtually means both the worker and the organization need to develop a different set of core skills. Working in the virtual environment means greater freedom, and with greater freedom comes more responsibility. The ability to act with autonomy and self-manage is only one part of the skill set. Workers also need to be able to set and enact priorities, be authentically productive, make responsible choices and align connections (Baggio, 2014). Virtual workers need the confidence and self-reliance to overcome obstacles, the self-discipline and personal project management skills to get work done on time and contribute their expertise. But the organization needs to get involved in this process also.
Organizations need to encourage this type of behavior, to allow the employee to take ownership of their work, their schedule and their performance. They need to empower the employee and encourage them to succeed. They need to support engagement and productivity through clearly communicated expectations, well defined performance goals and mutually agreed upon objectives. And then, most importantly, they need to let the employee go. The biggest challenge to success in the virtual environment is leadership. Leading virtually means leading differently. Leaders in the virtual workplace should listen between the lines and communicate clearly and intuitively. They need to have and to communicate clear expectations for performance, accountability and measurement.
Goals, deadlines and accountabilities create the roadmap for success. These need to be defined, communicated and reinforced. Leadership will also want to be transparent. Deceitful practices and hidden agendas do not do well in the virtual environment. This is an environment where trust is paramount and lack of trust can sabotage even the best of intentions. Trust is difficult to gain and easy to lose. No virtual workplace can succeed without trust in strong leaders.
Leaders in the virtual workplace need enhanced capabilities to manage independent and autonomous individuals. The old methods do not work. They need advanced communication skills, intuitive listening skills, trust building, and inspirational skills, and above all strong project management and accountability. They need to be able to deal with ambiguity and change and to reach and connect in a way that supports both the virtual worker and the business’s objectives. The virtual leader needs to be focused on and deliver results. Value in the virtual workplace is all about delivering the goods. This ability comes by aligning connections. It is the job of virtual leadership to set up enough touchpoints and the right touchpoints to get this done.