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Telecommuting and Managing a Virtual Staff

Aug 17, 2007
Advances in technology and cultural responses to it mean that more people want to work from home and more companies want to outsource.

Here are just a few examples of opportunities for companies in taking advantage of virtual workers: reduced overhead costs, higher quality workers not available locally, often higher productivity per hour.

Opportunities for the telecommuter: comfortable work setting, more flexible schedule, less watercooler distractions, and no travel time or stress.

"If you're a virtual team leader, a telecommuter, or anyone who works with someone from a distance, you need special tools to be successful. You can either stumble along and hope for the best, or you can take steps to insure success, says Debra Dinnocenzo, virtual workplace expert, author, speaker and educator.

What are the challenges when working from a distance, and how can you be successful?

Dinnocenzo takes the mystery out of the managing a highly productive virtual workplace by providing three important keys for success:

Trust: Establishing trust provides a special set of challenges for people working from a distance. When people are dispersed, we often don't have the opportunity to get to know each other the way we do in the traditional workplace. We need to make a special effort to schedule time to develop three important qualities: Reliability, Integrity and Familiarity. With these qualities in place, worker and employer can build trust. If possible, schedule face-to-face time to get to know each other at the beginning of a project.

Communication: When communication breaks down, trust erodes and productivity suffers. Despite the plethora of cutting-edge communication tools at our disposal, the lack of visual cues from our co-workers presents special challenges in the virtual workplace. You have to be more assertive about reaching out. Dont rely solely on email. Pick up the phone and send thank you notes. Insure good communication by checking in, asking questions and soliciting input from your team members.

Performance: The bottom-line is: at the end of the day, we need to deliver results. Be proactive about managing productivity by defining expectations and establishing check-in milestones at the very start of the project. The skills for managing performance in the virtual workplace are the same as the ones you would use in a traditional office. They just need to be applied differently.

There are unique challenges for the telecommuter who works from home. While everyone agrees that telecommuting offers more freedom and flexibility, it also presents a special challenge by blurring the line between our work and our personal lives.

Dinnocenzo recommends being vigilant about setting boundaries. Are you going to answer a work-related phone call at eight o'clock at night? It might be appropriate to be on-call in certain situations, but it can seriously erode your private life if you're not careful. Establish expectations and boundaries at the beginning of a project or work-relationship to avoid conflict.

When aked what they truly want in their lives, most people say they wish they had an extra hour in their day.

While that's not possible on earth, it is possible to reclaim many hours. Decide what is truly important in your life and eliminate time-wasting, yet addictive things that aren't important.
About the Author
Dr. Proactive, Randy Gilbert, enjoys producing the "Inside Business Success" radio talk show, hosted by Jan Schleicher. Enjoy her interview with Debra Dinnocenzo for free by going to:
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