Change management key to virtual working

VIRTUAL WORKING has become the reality of business today. However, many organisations will fail to adopt management practices and processes to yield maximum results from a virtual workforce strategy

VIRTUAL WORKING has become the reality of business today. However, many organisations fail to adopt management practices and processes to yield maximum results from a virtual workforce strategy.

While the need for business growth and tapping into talent across geographic boundaries was easily recognised and understood by business, Gartner Executive Programs (EXP) said the challenge for managers is in effectively managing and leading individuals into cohesive, high-performing teams in a virtual workplace setting.

“Virtual or remote offices change the ways in which people communicate and work with each other, transfer information, establish authority and rules, and perform and measure performance,” said Lily Mok, research director for Gartner EXP’s human capital management content development group.

“Although emerging collaboration, networking and remote access technologies provide the necessary infrastructure to support the implementation of virtual workplaces, changes in organisational culture and behaviours will be the key to drive success.”

Mok said an effective virtual workforce strategy should include five key tactics. The first step was to conduct a due diligence analysis to determine whether the virtual workforce program is a right fit for what needs to be accomplished from the company and employees’ perspective.

Following this, companies should carefully identify jobs and individuals suitable for the new work environment, reshape management practices for managing remote employees, and establish communication protocols to ensure ongoing individual and team interactions and enable a greater degree of team work and collaboration.

One of the biggest concerns of remote employees in this step is being isolated from the centre of action, loss of social networking, visibility, and opportunities for growth within the organisation, Mok said.

The final step was to assess the effectiveness of the program for improvement. This could be done by managers carefully selecting a blend of short-term and long-term quantitative and qualitative measures.

“Virtual work brings challenges to many traditional management practices primarily because of physical separation of locations of the manager from his or her subordinates,” Mok said.

“Practices such as ‘management by walking around’ can no longer be applied to managing a virtual workforce. Because virtual workers are out-of-sight of their managers, they tend to become out-of-mind over time, which in turn negatively impacts their morale, productivity and performance level.”

At the same time, she said frustrations and concerns expressed by managers of remote workers are often associated with the shift in management powers of authority, affiliation and accountability.

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