As the education gap widens and it becomes more and more difficult to fill vacant positions, adding in an assortment of virtual workers is going to be a necessity. The benefits are many, allowing businesses to take an a la carte attitude toward skills and build the exact employee they need, using as many different providers as necessary. Plus, by integrating several part time employees, small to medium sized businesses avoid much of the controversial legislation coming into effect (Obamacare). Of course, virtual teams present their own sets of challenges from a scheduling and project management standpoint. As a result, this strategy is only beneficial when an organization has learned how to manage virtual teams correctly.
One of the most common issues facing businesses that utilize virtual workers is the different time zones. Working with a provider on the east coast, when your business is based on the west coast can be challenging enough, but what about when your provider is based in Australia or India? The more hours between you and them, the more difficult it is to reliably touch base, when you need to. This is usually the most common pitfall for smaller organizations when they are learning how to manage a virtual team.
Another major issue tends to be prioritization. Of course, you want your project handled first, and it can be tempting to think that any time you contact one of your virtual workers, they should be available. Unfortunately, that is often not the case. A part time telecommuter may have several different clients and juggle several projects, all in an attempt to create a full time job out of different piecemeal employment. This can leave your project languishing at the bottom of the pile, unless it is the most lucrative.
Telecommuting Employees versus Contractors
Before you can address these different issues, you need to make a clear distinction between employees and contractors. An employee owes you a certain amount of time, which is scheduled in advance. A contractor may owe you time or simply a completed work product. This distinction can be important when looking at staff management from an employee scheduling standpoint. Having a handle on the employee schedule is a crucial part of learning how to manage virtual teams.
Overcoming the Hurdles
Communication is the key for all management, and it is more important then ever when dealing with virtual teams. A shared calendar can be one of the most effective tools for getting everyone on the same page. When all your telecommuters need to do to see their schedule is load their calendar, it makes communicating schedule changes faster and easier. Plus, when you need to make a sudden change due to illness or accident, you have all of your contacts in one place.
For contractors, project management software, online scheduling tools, and pre-negotiated milestones are your best friend. Shared software allows every team member to see changes as they happen, in real time. This helps everyone stay on task and within the timeline. Ask for frequent updates, and be sure to touch base on a daily basis. It is when communication breaks down that projects fall apart.