Work is no longer defined by where you go — it is what you do. Research conducted by Gartner shows that remote and long-distance work will continue to increase in volume and intensity, with people spending more than 80 percent of their time working collaboratively at a distance by the end of 2015. In the U.S. Forrester predicts that U.S. telecommuting ranks will swell to 63 million by 2016.
There are a number of challenges, however, that come with working virtually. Often employees are not clear about what technology is available to them and how to use it properly. Also, team members can feel disconnected from the organization and there is an increased likelihood of miscommunication.
The first step to successful virtual or remote working is to make sure that employees understand what technological tools are available to them and what the purpose of each tool is. Many organizations make the mistake of thinking that employees will intuitively understand what each tool is to be used for and how to use it. The reality is that in many organizations employees use limited functionality of the technology they have available because of inadequate user training, and can’t clearly explain the purpose of each tool. This creates inefficiencies and communication problems.
Remote working can also result in employees feeling isolated or disconnected from the organization. Proper use of technology can help to address this challenge, but strong leadership is also required. Managers need to make sure that each team member has a clear understanding of team goals and how they personally contribute to results. Progress toward group goals needs to be communicated regularly and opportunities created to celebrate team success.
Finally, employees need to develop different communication skills to maximize their effectiveness in a virtual environment. More communication takes place through leaner communication mediums — and often the face-to-face factor is missing. This can lead to misunderstandings. Employees need to focus more on para-verbal skills and the words they use to get their messages across clearly.
Although an employee’s tasks don’t change significantly when they start working virtually, how they work changes significantly. Organizations need to support remote workers with both technology and communication training to ensure that they can maximize employee engagement and business results.