How to Virtualize Your Workforce

How to Virtualize Your Workforce

Enterprise Mobility: The ability for an enterprise to communicate with suppliers, partners, employees, assets, products, and customers irrespective of location.


Forrester Research

The virtualized workforce (also referred to as teleworking or telecommuting) is a very hot topic but is sadly underused. Often, management is unaccustomed to managing remote employees, so there is a natural fear of reduced productivity. The movement into remote management can be disconcerting, but it has many significant rewards, both immediate and long-term. With the proper application of good management techniques, you will see an improvement in overall productivity, a decrease in attrition, a reduction in corporate expenses and a massive increase in skill set availability. Your company can demonstrate leadership by example, as well as benefiting employees, your local community, and even the environment.

With skyrocketing fuel prices, employees that telecommute feel an immediate increase in spendable income. With a virtualized workforce, your building utilities decrease and you will find that employees working from home effectively put in more hours and experience fewer sick days. Workforce virtualization also removes cars from the road, making your company greener. By following just a few simple steps, you can truly do your part to help with some of the most critical issues facing us today, including economy and ecology, while helping your business increase productivity and lower costs.




1. Have confidence in your management staff. The number one reason companies do not virtualize their workforce is that the management is afraid they will not be able to effectively monitor and motivate remote workers; they lack faith in their own management abilities. Managing a remote workforce is not significantly different from managing local employees – most communication is done on the phone and by email, anyway. Your managers will adapt quickly.


2. Have confidence in your workforce. The number two reason people do not virtualize their workforce is that the management is afraid people will not do their jobs; that they will “slack off” and still collect a paycheck. If you truly believe that about any of your employees, then maybe you should look for a different person to fill that slot. The fact is that most people are motivated by achievement … isn’t that why you hired them in the first place?


3. Research the technology. Learn about how to make telecommuting an effective work environment. You’ll find that it’s not significantly different than what you already have. There are plenty of companies that offer teleworking technology options for the sole purpose of helping companies, like yours, become virtual. The more you learn, the less frightening it will be. And don’t forget to include support. Access to top technical support, preferably available 24×7, is critical to ensure high employee productivity when working remotely.


4. Analyze every job in the company. Take the approach that virtualization is a requirement: any position must have a strong justification to avoid it. There are some types of jobs that simply cannot be virtualized, of course, but look at each one that isn’t an obvious “no” and start with the assumption that it can be effectively done from a remote location. Jobs where the individual spends the majority of their time communicating by telephone and working on the computer are good matches. Of course, there are exceptions (virtualizing a call center is a major endeavor) but analysts, project managers, systems administrators, and programmers are examples that can fit easily.


5. Poll the employees. Who already has the ability to work from home? Most of your workforce probably can. There are some people who cannot and justifiable reasons would include distractions at home (e.g., young children), lack of access to high-speed Internet, no available space to create a home office, or some disabilities that require highly specialized accommodations.


6. Project the savings. This is going to take some work – make no mistake about that. You may take into account such things as electrical savings for not having to run personal computers. If you are highly successful in this effort (virtualizing nearly the entire workforce), then HVAC savings could be substantial. Liability insurance may be decreased. Will you save on security? Don’t forget the water bill. Remember that employees that don’t drive to work may have a huge immediate savings in transportation expense so you can consider this an employee benefit – a direct compensation increase – but offset by their additional costs of electric and HVAC now that they are in a home office. Talk to your HR department about the potential savings in cost-of-living increases.


7. Document performance requirements. This is critical. To effectively manage a remote workforce you have to have the expectations of the job clearly defined. Not just when people are to be “at work” but an actual performance outline. Migrating to remote management is like moving into management for the first time. The use of a task tracking system helps teleworkers manage their assignments easily. It also gives managers a more objective evaluation of performance with reports about completed tasks.


8. Retrofit the employees’ home offices. It might be necessary (or desirable) for some (or all) employees to make use of their existing work computer at home. If their home computers are outdated or do not have required software (including security software) it may be more cost effective to check out the office computer to their home. Make sure telecommunications are in order, too; it’s not unfair to have them pay for an extra phone line out of their own pocket because of their reduced commuting costs. They will already have increased HVAC and electric costs running a home office they may not have had previously due to setback thermostats and keeping lights off during commuting hours. You may want to have someone look over their home technology from both a safety and an efficiency viewpoint. Some companies do an OSHA review of the home office.


9. Identify the positions and people that will migrate. Make a list, but don’t post the entire list all at once. Post only the first few people that will migrate. Make it a curiosity and make it desirable. Only post the people that will migrate within the next week. This will attract attention and make being on the list feel like winning the lottery. That is the effect you want.


10. Migrate in phases. Don’t expect to drop everyone into a remote environment at once; a gradual change will show you how to tweak the process. On the other hand, don’t do this on a one-by-one basis either. Select a group of people to start: either a small department or a person or two from several different departments. After your first migration, let a couple of weeks go by before the next phase, but don’t take too much time; that can cause the process to become suspended. Proceed steadily but not aggressively.


11. Manage, manage, manage. This is the most critical post-migration activity! While the skill sets to manage remotely are the same as other good management skill sets, you will need to be dedicated to making the new environment a success. Make sure they feel a strong management presence and feel completely comfortable that this is just like working at the office. At least initially, you’ll need to dramatically increase your contact with the teleworkers, so they don’t feel abandoned. If they begin to feel like they have no guidance, they’ll become afraid for their jobs. Make sure they know, every day, their job requirements. Hold telephone one-on-one meetings weekly with each employee (30 minutes is a good block of time for that).


12. Continue to evaluate. Don’t stop with your first evaluation. You might find that you missed some jobs that can be virtualized. Conversely, you might find that you made an incorrect assessment and some of the jobs are actually most efficiently done on site. Don’t jump too quickly to reverse your decisions, but if you find that something needs to be rolled back, don’t be afraid to make that change.

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