7 Tips for Adapting Your Management Team to a Virtual Workforce
Especially when it comes to call centers, virtual workforce management is a must in today’s business environment. Here are 7 tips to get your team on board.
When it comes to managing a modern contact center geared to maximize customer satisfaction, the on-demand workforce—made up of independent contractors who work virtually—is a more efficient business model compared to brick-and-mortar call centers.
And for many good reasons: Such a workforce provides more flexibility than traditional labor, giving you the power to scale up or down as needed. This is particularly helpful in the event of seasonal fluctuations or storm-related difficulties, or to handle certain sales, promotions and product launches.
A remote workforce also can give you access to a much wider (and multigenerational) pool of talent. It saves valuable infrastructure and overhead dollars. Plus, working this way attracts people who are genuinely passionate about their jobs because it’s what they choose to do, rather than just a means to a paycheck. In short, it can make for a happier—and thus friendlier and more efficient—team of contact center agents.
And yet, it isn’t always easy to get an off-site team up and running and operating smoothly. One persistent challenge comes from an often-unexpected place, as when the management of the on-demand workforce rests on the shoulders of leaders who may be unfamiliar, hesitant or even actively resistant to the concept of leading a virtual team.
With a little preparation and training and the right attitude, successful on-demand workforce management can be within the grasp of even the most traditional leaders. With that in mind, here are seven tips for adapting your team to the realities and rewards of successful virtual workforce management.
7 Tips for Adapting Management to an On-demand Workforce
1. Nurture Positive Communication. For managers put off by the challenge of managing off-site workers, continuous communications can be the deciding factor in giving them the control to which they’re accustomed. This, in turn, leads to the realization that managing a virtual workforce can be just as rewarding and engaging as the more traditional model.
Thanks to the same breakthroughs in modern technology that enable the virtual workforce in the first place, dozens of communications-and-collaboration tools give managers instant access to their remote teams Virtual chat tech, such as Skype and Google Hangouts, and videoconferencing tools, WebEx or GoToMeeting, are efficient, inexpensive and sometimes even free. (Though, it’s probably worthwhile to invest in a tool that works well for your team).
2. Eliminate Negative Communication. It’s just as important to avoid negative communications as it is to nurture the positive exchanges. Traditional-minded managers can too often fall into miscommunication mistakes of which they may not even be aware. “The tone and body language you get during in-person conversations are absent from chat messages, texts and email, so it’s easier to take things the wrong way or out of context,” as Jennifer Post writes at Business News Daily.
“In a typical office setting, you can walk next door to your co-workers office for clarification on an email,” explains Michael Tasner at Monster.com. “This is not easy with a virtual employee. Instead, call a brief meeting via webcam and get any clarification that is needed. Webcams allow you to see expressions and overall tones that might have been lost in translation.”
Webcams allow you to see expressions and overall tones that might have been lost in translation.
3. Build Trust. Just as with traditional workforce management, building trust is key—but the path to getting there may be a bit different. These differences must be considered and kept front of mind. Managers must remember that, for a remote workforce, achieving the desired results are more important than where workers are located.
“Don’t assume your staff is taking a day at the beach if they don’t answer the phone or don’t instantly reply to an email,” writes Tara Weiss for Forbes. “Just like in an office, if an employee isn’t at his or her desk when you pop by, it doesn’t mean the person is goofing around. Remember, they are entitled to lunch breaks, trips to the restroom and a lap or two around the block to stretch their legs.”
This element can be daunting for managers who may inherently put less trust in workers they can’t constantly see and monitor. And yet, for this same reason, it’s essential to give them a greater share of trust. After all, remote workers are (ideally) as carefully vetted as traditional employees, so trust really shouldn’t be an issue. And showing it to them goes a long way toward ensuring their motivation and productivity, even in the absence of continuous, face-to-face monitoring.
4. Focus on Results. Building trust becomes much easier when managers focus not on what workers are doing on a minute-to-minute basis, but on the results they achieve. And this can be accomplished by setting clear goals and parameters to the tasks with which they hold responsibility — something that should be implemented regardless of workforce’s location.
“The goal of any team is the work product, not the time spent at the desk working on a project,” as Donna Dennis, Deborah Meola and MJ Hall write in a TD Magazine exploration of virtual workforce management. “This means leaders who are more adept at keeping teams focused on the business goals generally demonstrate a higher level of success. It also means clear metrics, roles and responsibilities, and feedback are critical to producing high-quality deliverables.”
“The goal of any team is the work product, not the time spent at the desk working on a project.” Click To Tweet
5. Clearly Define Goals. As with trust, the element of results can be linked directly to the strength of an organization’s core culture, which includes values such as accountability and clearly defined managerial responsibilities—preferably published and made well known to all leaders.
“One of the many practices supporting this approach is providing training and support for all leaders,” the TD Magazine authors add. “Ask leaders at all levels: What structures do you need to ensure successful engagement of your team? What resources are available to help your team bridge a gap or eliminate a barrier to getting the desired results?”
“Some firms allow more flexibility than others, but your company’s policy needs to be clearly stated so that employees can be held accountable,” adds Tasner. “If your handbook does not include information related to working remotely, it should be updated to include this information. Most of the policies in the handbook should be all inclusive for both virtual workers and in-house staff.”
6. Utilize Web-Based Project Management. To accomplish these clearly defined goals—and the tracking thereof—it’s often helpful to implement web-based project management tools, Basecamp and Slack, and file-sharing applications, such as Google Docs and Dropbox if your organization hasn’t already done so.
These tools are also enormously helpful for non-virtual workforce management. They not only provide a dedicated online location for managers to discuss projects with team members (and workers to instantly interact with one another), they also offer dedicated channels for each project and department. They can additionally serve as time-tracking tools and repositories for critical files, offering a central location to simplify project management.
7. Present It as a New Challenge.Finally, for leaders who still don’t grasp the possibilities and potential rewards of virtual workforce management, it may be helpful to appeal to their sense of expertise, framing the entire enterprise as a unique challenge. Call it “leading from a distance,” and treat it as a new skill that needs to be mastered in order for managers to advance to their next goals.
“While at first glance it may seem that all the same leadership skills are needed, it may be that leaders in a virtual environment need just a little more of everything: more knowledge of technology, more knowledge on how to work with team dynamics, stronger communication skills, and of course, a little more patience,” as the TD Magazine authors put it.
If you’re still struggling with virtual workforce management, it may be time to consider business process outsourcing, and letting the experts embrace the challenge on your behalf. To learn more about how we can provide a virtual, North America-based call center workforce that’s equipped to handle your unique operational needs, please contact us here.
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