Making The Most Of Virtual Working
Rapid progress in technology and communications are changing the business landscape and leading the way for new work arrangements.

Whether due to travel restrictions, company mergers, or a need to optimize costs, an increasing number of employees are doing an increasing amount of work virtually. Working virtually means working together while physically in different locations using a combination of technologies like cell phones, virtual private networks, broadband, email, and collaboration software.

As organizations are doing more of their work and collaboration virtually they need a different set of skills and techniques to enhance the productivity of the enterprise with optimizing costs and time. By allowing staff to make the most of time spent out of the office with remote access to email and business networks, companies are finding that productivity and operational efficiency can be dramatically increased.

Network technology has changed how information is stored, shared, and processed as more information is being accessed and integrated by a variety of users from multiple departments. This network has removed the traditional organizational and physical boundaries of how work was done. Today the network is used to organize, expand and integrate work groups across the company.

While network technology changed how work is done, communication and collaboration technology changes where work is done. Cell phones, pagers, instant messaging, and collaborative software are revolutionizing workplace models and norms with instant, distant, communication and productivity.

The advances in both network technology and communications, combined with the need to optimize operating costs, have brought about a new way of working that has less emphasis on how work gets done and more emphasis on more real-time exchange between staff to provide information and take actions. With this new work environment comes the need for effective and collaborative management across departments, locations, and geographies.

So How Do Organizations Make This New Way Of Work Successful?
For companies like Pitney Bowes, Pfizer and Cigna who have long-standing flextime and telecommuting programs there’s a common process of first developing a policy infrastructure (with input from IT, HR, Legal, etc.) for the candidate selection, communications arrangements, security of information protocols, performance evaluations, - and then periodically monitoring the outcomes and implementing any changes or corrections.

And managers within those types of companies, who themselves may telecommute, have been part of a cultural change of behavior and management styles that has been further adapted to there being little difference in managing direct reports and those telecommuting.

Most Of The Core Skills Are Still The Same
Roles vary widely, but many of the core skills are common to most managers: organizing workloads, supervision, motivating, team-building, ensuring quality, troubleshooting, listening, disciplining and initiating improvements. The differences lie in the processes of interaction with staff and with their work.

Three important principles apply:

1) The structure of how work gets done may change but the work remains the same.

2) To promote collegial working - communication is key.

3) Employees must know what’s expected to perform their jobs successfully and supervision should focus on productivity rather than process.

The most common characteristics associated with determining performance:

“These are elements that are used to evaluate all our employees’ work whether they telecommute or not,” said Jim Miller, Extended Workplace Solutions general manager at Qwest.

“We manage by results and communicate often. Through our performance management system, which looks at results, we track teleworkers progress on projects. We focus on both the what (quantitative results) and the how (qualitative personal effectiveness),” says Joe Roitz, AT&T’s manager of Communications and Information Technology. “Data indicate that teleworking enhances productivity, both because teleworkers report being more productive per unit time, and because the teleworker has available the previously non-productive commute time.”

The modern workplace is no longer “business as usual”. Employees and supervisors need to conduct business virtually anywhere, and at any time. Companies are realizing that this requires investment in a secure mobility infrastructure, which will enable them to reduce costs, increase productivity, enhance business processes and relationships and become more operationally efficient.