The evolving workplace: Managing employees in a virtual environment (Part 1)

The work environment is rapidly changing, incorporating new and innovative models. For the entrepreneur these new models can present both challenges and benefits. One recent development, facilitated by technology, is a growing trend toward employees to telecommuting from a home office.  In this blog post we have collected useful advice for managing employees online and some great tools to ensure your virtual office runs smoothly.

Telecommuting todayEating breakfast at laptop

Research on telecommuting is still being conducted. The data that has been collected tells conflicting stories. A study recently released by the University of Austin Texas  found that currently the majority of telecommuting happening today in the United States is additional to the regular 40 hours a week. Canadian research in this area is currently being conducted as explained in a Toronto Star article.

Other data sources such as this Wrike survey discussed on Mashable, reveal that  not only is telecommuting is on the rise.  Employees repeatedly report that they are looking for flexible work opportunities and would give up other perks such as vacation time or free meals for telecommuting options (Work BC Employers Toolkit, Mashable)

Benefits for entrepreneurs

For the emerging entrepreneur, with the right kind of business, creating a remote team can be an economical strategy. It allows you to avoid paying additional overhead, and you are not restricted to hiring individuals in your geographic region, allowing you to recruit more broadly. As employees are increasingly attracted to the flexibility offered by telecommuting, this model can also be a recruitment incentive. Check out this infographic for broader benefits to telecommuting!

Management challenges

Naturally there are also challenges involved in managing employees from a distance. To begin with communication must be especially clear to ensure that you do not end up wasting time with constant emails, or worse, getting poor results because your expectations were not clear.  According to Nathaniel Borenstein, experienced remote worker, trust is the essential component of a remote work relationship, which means during your hiring process you will have to be very careful to ensure that you trust your new employee. One strategy to increase trust is to simply hire someone experienced with a remote work model.

Tools for the virtual workspace

Luckily there is an ever-increasing number of tools being developed to help employers and employees effectively manage and collaborate in virtual spaces. Here are a few for you to try out.

Asana – This is a free project management tool that allows you to share and track tasks with your teams online. Free for groups of less than 30 people.

Basecamp – Starting at &20.00 a month, Basecamp is also a project management tool. Features include a shared calendar, the ability to track discussions and keep project files (text and media) in one place online.

AnyMeeting (formerly Freebinar) - This is  free tool for creating web conferences, screen sharing and event management with social media integration.

PB Works | A collaborative platform to share information and work online.

Google Drive | Share, edit and discuss documents, spreadsheets, presentation slides and more using Google’s platform. Attractive features of Google Drive are the ability to have multiple editors simultaneously, chat and the fact that you can easily view previous version of a document for up to thirty days.

Dropbox | Allows you to save documents and media online for easy access and sharing. Note: documents are not editable in Dropbox.

Camtasia Studio | Free user friendly screencasting and webinar creation.

Jing | Record screencasts to share with your team or your customers.

Find more cool tools on the Key Resources section of our website and got to Tools for Doing Business.

References:
Borenstein, N. (2012, November 30). Maximizing value and minimizing risk with remote workers. Xconomy.
Javed, N. (2012, December 5). People working from home, on job longer, study finds. Toronto Star.
Province of British Columbia.(2009). Healthy work environments. The Work BC Employers Tool Kit: A Resource for British Columbia Businesses
Sin, J. & Glass, J. (2012, December 3).  Telecommuting increases work hours and blurs boundary between work and home, new study shows. The University of Texas at Austin.
White, C. (2012, March 11). Survey: Telecommuting becoming more prevalent. Mashable.
 

IMAGE SOURCE: A man working at home while eating breakfast created by EU Social on April 9, 2009. Photo made available under an Attribution- Noncommercial -ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license. Last viewed on December 10, 2012.  

Last Updated: November 14, 2014

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