Best ways of managing virtual teams
Though the pandemic did not create the concept of virtual employees, it certainly went a long way in establishing it as a viable method of working.
The concept of virtual employees has been in existence for a long time. It could even be viewed as an extension of the principles on which outsourcing is based. While an outsourcing arrangement is usually made with another company, virtual work is the term used when individuals, who are not co-located, do work for a company.
It has been on the ‘to-do’ list of companies for a long time, as a strategy to increase productivity and efficiency, while reducing costs. However, for many good reasons, it never became a central part of the strategy of any company.
So, what changed?
With the onset of the pandemic, the option of the traditional method of work, where people gathered at a workplace to carry out their assigned roles, was taken away. Shelter-in-place and lockdown mandates were enforced all across the world. Of course, there were some exceptions like emergency services and industries whose operations were considered critical and where physical presence was a requirement, such as in cases where machinery and equipment had to be operated or where food had to be grown and harvested.
In such a situation, how does one operate?
Businesses are past masters at finding solutions to the most pressing problems. In a situation that was beyond what any living person had experienced, they made virtual work a reality and, after some initial hiccups, managed to continue their operations. They were, perhaps, helped by the advances that communications and digital technologies have made in the last two or three decades, providing an ability to virtually connect from anywhere to anywhere on the world wide web. But, nevertheless, virtual work finally got widespread acceptance from big business, which it had lacked all the years past.
Today virtual workers can operate from virtually any corner of the globe, the primary requirement being on the internet telecommuting superhighway. Though the initial strategy was to leverage virtual workers for non-core activities, many companies, having attained a reasonable level of comfort with the model, are now going deeper into their core activities to identify the ones that can be done by this group of employees.
oWorkers has been a leader in ushering into the era of virtual work. Almost overnight, it equipped its staff members to operate from home, or wherever they were confined, enabling their clients around the world to operate as well as permitting their customers to be able to reach them, that was a great morale booster for both companies and customers, at a time of great stress.
Managing virtual teams
The final objective of working with virtual teams being to create value for the business, they need to be implemented and handled in a way that facilitates this value creation. Though the management could differ from industry to industry, one company to another, and even the work that is being done virtually, there are some best practices that have been found to be beneficial by many organizations.
Technology holds the key
In a way, this is stating the obvious. It is because of technology that virtual work has been made possible and is being accepted around the world.
However, technology implemented incorrectly has the potential to do even more damage that its capacity to do good for the users. Hence, care is needed while leveraging technology and related tools. There is a wide variety of applications promising to make virtual work effective. Business leaders will know from experience that there is neither a perfect technology nor a tool. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Hence, an evaluation is needed to ensure the technology is suitable.
oWorkers operates at the cutting edge of technology. Its super secure facilities & protocols, which are ISO certified (27001:2013 & 9001:2015), provide comfort to clients regarding the security of data. Its sweeping connections with technology companies give it access to the most recent technologies that can even be used for client projects. What is more, oWorkers is also GDPR compliant.
Keep communication channels open
Physical proximity at the workplace creates clarity in communication that often goes missing in virtual work. When people are together, communication happens not merely through spoken words and phrases, but also through body language and other signals that get transmitted.
Though it cannot be replicated in a virtual environment, though video technologies have managed to bridge the gap in some measure, the organization has to keep finding ways of ensuring that there is clarity in official communication and that it does not become a game of Chinese whispers.
There may now be a need to set up standards for activities that earlier did not need them, and the mere availability in each other’s presence was enough to drive them.
Communication channels may also need to be created and categorized based on need, in order that one common channel does not get overloaded where it becomes impossible to find what you are looking for.
oWorkers has consistently followed a policy of working with a multicultural, multinational team in each of its global delivery centers. The consistent adherence to this policy has paid rich dividends, one of them being the ability to provide services in over 20 languages. This ability helps them keep communication channels always open for employees, in not one but 20 languages.
Make efforts at engagement
One of the major challenges with remote work is, well, remoteness.
When employees are at a common workplace, social and informal interactions invariably happen. There is a greater interest in each other’s lives thanks to shared lunches and water-cooler conversations. There are opportunities to even let off steam with peers before it becomes toxic and hurts the organization.
Virtual work takes away many of these opportunities. Employees operate in isolation. Not only does it prevent from bonding being created in teams, which is helpful when employees need to back each other at work or step in for someone else, it can also create psychological issues for employees. Man is said to be a social animal, thriving on interactions with other humans. If that opportunity is taken away, he/she can be reduced to a struggling, misinformed, vacuous wreck.
Leadership teams of companies need to be aware and make efforts to consciously drive engagement. They need to also recognize that as human beings and individuals if they are operating virtually, the same issues could impact them as well. Hence, there is an enhanced need to be honest with themselves regarding the stresses created by remote work.
As and when opportunities present themselves for physical interaction, or for virtual informal ones, they should be grabbed with both hands.
People are a key part of a BPO operation. oWorkers engages not only its employees but also the communities the employees come from. This is why they are looked upon as preferred employers and always have a queue of people waiting to be hired. This recognition also gives oWorkers the flexibility to hire at short notice, to provide for unexpected volume peaks for clients. They can hire an additional hundred people within 48 hours, without breaking much of a sweat.
Flexibility and awareness
Not all colleagues in an organization have the same background or personal situation. When they interact at the workplace, they could, in some ways, leave their personal lives outside the door and focus on their work.
However, with work going into their personal spaces, there is a need to recognize differences. Some people may not have separate spaces at home which can be turned into offices. Some may need to occasionally attend to important personal matters since they are at home and need to chip in.
Mandates may become less effective in this environment. Instead, greater effort should be made at driving to a consensus. After all, with no line of sight, if people don’t agree with a mandate, they are unlikely to stick to it when they are not being watched. Consensus works better in all situations but, in virtual work, its relevance goes up manifold.
BPO providers have few peers when it comes to operating flexibility. oWorkers is a great example of this aspect of their DNA. All delivery sites of oWorkers are equipped to operate on a continuous schedule, for clients who require such support. This DNA of flexibility extends to the interaction with employees as well.
Set expectations clearly
Most large professional organizations rely on the definition and measurement of goals or objectives or KRAs to ensure that people are working towards the company’s goals and not against them.
Most large organizations also try to define the role and responsibility of each individual in the organization. This is designed to ensure that they have all the skills needed to achieve the company’s goals and that people are not stepping on each other’s toes.
It is known and recognized that the more specific these, roles and goals, can be made, the better the outcomes. With virtual workers, the importance of making them specific cannot be stressed enough. Every action needs to be thought through. “Can I take a break now?” might be an easy decision at the workplace but when working virtually, one may need to be aware of the impression it could create.
The same goes for time commitment and hours to be delivered. The flexibility that might exist at the workplace is not available in the virtual world, since it can only be tracked by tools that are always black and white. They cannot replicate the winks and the nods of real people.
It would, perhaps, help to replicate the schedule of the physical workplace as the anchor, around which concessions are made. This will ensure people are available within a similar window of time to work with each other, even if it is virtually.
oWorkers believes in transparency. With employees as well as clients. It is well known for offering a choice of pricing models to clients when an engagement is being negotiated. Clients can choose from an output or input-based model for their pricing. This unique strategy is appreciated by most clients. They also often talk about savings that could reach 80% of their pre-outsourcing costs.
The role played by outsourcing companies
oWorkers has successfully managed virtual teams, even before virtual teams became commonplace. With its extensive operations that combine offshore and onshore, co-location, multi-site, and other strategies for delivering great quality, oWorkers has been the go-to partner for clients looking for data-based BPO services. They have emerged as one of the top three providers in the world.
They are well-recognized in local communities and can access deep talent pools without compromising on quality. Clients can continue to focus on their core business while leaving this aspect to oWorkers.
Companies like oWorkers also play a role in promoting equality in the world by taking work to underserved communities and regions.