A recent study conducted by The Oxford Group has found that over 50 per cent of people who spend most of their time working virtually believe that their morale is higher if they work in a traditional office environment.
This was coupled with a similar percentage of people suggesting they would be more productive and efficient when surrounded by colleagues in a traditional working environment. Although there are many benefits to working virtually, from a reduction in office costs to increased employee satisfaction due to the flexibility, it comes with significant risks of decreased productivity, efficiency and motivation. For this reason, employers need to take clear steps to ensure this doesn’t happen, which I have highlighted below:
Show your appreciation
When employees work virtually, managers have a lot less direct contact with them and so it can often be hard to find the time to show genuine appreciation for their work. This is repeatedly seen as the managers ‘forgetting’ about their employees, leaving them feeling neglected and unappreciated, which in turn lowers morale and efficiency.
Showing appreciation can be as simple as sending an email thanking them for the report they sent over, or quickly expressing how pleased you are with their work on the next conference call. It doesn’t need to be a big change; just small, simple changes will make a significant difference to a person’s morale.
Have regular, open conversations
There is a perception that relationships between managers and virtual employees end up being transactional, and that distance makes it almost impossible to have open and honest conversations on sensitive issues , but this certainly shouldn’t be the case. It is important for managers to have regular conversations on issues such as expectations and career aspirations, as well as challenging any unhelpful behaviours. This ensures both sides are working from the same page to create results that focus on the company’s objectives and align with the employee’s personal goals.
Make time for general conversations
Linking closely to the previous point is the need for general ‘chit-chat’ between virtual employees and their managers. When you only converse with another member of staff over conference call or email, it is extremely easy to lose the small talk and everyday conversations that take place when you meet someone at the coffee machine in the office. Managers should build in time at the beginning of calls for general social conversations so that people feel comfortable sharing what is going on for them outside of work. These very small changes can quickly help someone who works virtually to feel included and valued.
About the author
Nigel Purse, Director at The Oxford Group
Nigel founded The Oxford Group in 1987 following a career in HR and business management with the Mars Corporation and Burmah Oil (now part of BP). Nigel is passionate about developing leadership capability in leaders of all ages, and writes and speaks regularly on this subject for audiences worldwide. He is the author of ‘5 Conversations’ and leads the associated training programmes which transform trust, performance and engagement at work. Nigel’s areas of expertise include talent identification and development, leadership development and behavioral interviewing.