With almost daily improvements in cloud computing and ease of global communication, distance has rapidly ceased to be a factor in business processes worldwide. Hence, the phenomenon of virtual workers or remote staffing has also increased exponentially. Case in point, the Indian metropolises of Bangalore and Delhi are home to offices of more than half of the Fortune 500 companies which work closely with their counterparts in US, UK and Europe, interacting on a daily basis. A city like Cebu in the Philippines isn’t also far behind, with a large chunk of the work getting channeled to these offshore offices of large corporations. The small and medium business owners in the US, UK, continental Europe and Australia aren’t also not far behind, with a plethora of services ranging from software development to legal documentation getting outsourced to either vendors or individuals in India, Philippines, Nigeria etc. The appeal of hiring dedicated remote staff is obviously the money, or rather the savings. However, access to talent is also a major motivator behind this phenomenon since talent comes not just at a premium in the developed economies, but is also becoming extremely rare.
The trick to a successful remote team
That said, the outsourced employee has remained a puzzle that many have failed to crack. While in theory, dedicated remote staff over in-house staff sounds like a great idea, but nobody quite seems to know what to do after they hire remote staff. What would you do if you were to hire locally? Would you have been this confused? I am guessing not. Any employee will require three basic things from you-
- Supervision and
I have often come across virtual teams who are not in sync with the client, and hence struggle to deliver on time or deliver at all. Now one reason for this might very well be that the virtual team lacks competence. However, most of the times, it is a lack of proper communication and engagement from the side of the client which creates issues. Most virtual teams or professionals are hired through reputed agencies or vendors who either employ the resources directly or vet them thoroughly during the selection process. Landing up with a bad egg on that front, while not unheard of, is rare and improbable. There are just too many checks and balances, and for the vendor, too much at stake to be not doubly careful. Hence, it boils down to you.
Who are virtual workers? I had met the Vice president of a Boston area IT firm once. He had been successfully outsourcing his software development requirements to India for a while and he told me something very interesting. While things were going pretty smoothly for him when we met, he had a harrowing experience when he first outsourced. According to him, his biggest mistake was to treat his offshore resources as distant third parties and not as part of his team. There was no communication after the briefing and zero involvement during; due to which the project went sideways, very quickly.
Today, he is extremely involved with his remote team, and stays on top of the proceedings at all times through Skype, teleconferences and screen sharing. This has prevented the project from ever going too far off track and build a bond between him and his remote employees. He told me that if you look at it, there really wasn’t any difference between remote and in-house employees. It’s just that, his remote team was thousands of miles away, somewhere in India. If one can be involved with his/her in-house team, why can’t he/she be the same with the remote employee? Why would you treat you remote employee any different than your in-house employee?
The process of supervision is automatically taken care off once you increase your involvement in your remote staff. By constantly monitoring the work of your remote team, you not only keep a track of the progress, you also ensure direct supervision. In my experience, while most vendors have supervisory protocols in place internally, client supervision of the resources is the most effective. It can be directly correlated with the way your in-house staff performs under proper supervision.
Although your remote staff might be under the payrolls of the vendor through whom you have hired, they still report to you and adhere to your organizational hierarchy. Hence, just like your in-house staff, it is only natural that they will look towards you for leadership and guidance in all matters. Every project is unique and while your virtual staff might be hard boiled industry professionals, they will still need you to be firmly at the helm during a crisis. Let’s remember, while your staff is the one implementing an idea, the source of the idea is you; and only you have an exact idea how your product should be like. You must not shy away from speaking to your remote team directly and regularly, imparting knowledge and even training them as and when necessary. Strong leadership from you will blur the line between your in-house employees and your remote staff by making them feel included and part of the team. A part of good leadership is also to recognize good work, and your remote employees are no different. Don’t shy away from praise or constructive criticism. This builds connections and loyalty within your remote staff and encourages productivity. Physical, cultural and often linguistic differences will cease to matter.
What the future holds
The world is becoming a ball of wool knit tighter every day. Greying developed economies, proliferation of education and the knowledge of the English language and the growing costs of doing business traditionally will keep pushing businesses to spread themselves across professionals all over the globe. A truly globalized world isn’t achieved until five people sitting in five different parts of the globe can collaborate on an idea together, all at the same time and in equal measure. The phenomenon of remote staffing is just a step towards creating that world.