01 March 2011

Virtual Workforce to Double in 2011 – How to Manage the Inevitable

3 out of 4 companies currently employ virtual workers in some form and the numbers of virtual workers employed in these companies is predicted to double in 2011 alone (Right Management Study 2010).

Beyond understanding what is driving this trend however, HR and management personnel are faced with a new challenge – how to prepare for and manage their inevitable virtual workforce.

A move to flexibility

The days of everyone working 9-5 are changing rapidly. Younger generations entering the workforce, and the surge in women who now assume high-powered positions, has meant that the average worker wants more flexibility.

“Generation X & Y are more output orientated – they’re all about being productive - merely being at the office is just not good enough for them” says Zelda Pieters, Director of HR Inspiration. “Women still have the family responsibilities they had before, so a flexible working arrangement will assist them in balancing these conflicting responsibilities.  

The technological explosion

20 years ago we could never have predicted that technology would be so successful and cost-effective.

“Technology has changed the way we live and work” says Zelda “Companies that would never have considered a larger geographical spread before – can now do so with the help of cost-effective and accessible technologies, such as virtualized desktops, intranets, video conferencing and so forth that connect workers seamlessly from around the globe”.

Recognising a potential Virtual Worker

They’re the person who is always on time, sports a tidy desk, is super organized and often the centre of the office party. They enjoy spending time on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter and have no problem communicating with colleagues and management over a variety of technology platforms. They work well in a team, but are perfectly happy to champion projects all on their own.

“Most importantly, this needs to be a person you can trust” says Zelda “you will not be able to monitor your virtual workers every move, so you need to be confident that they will get the job done on their own and not compromise sensitive information”

Positions ideal for virtual work include anything administrative, sales, customers service and computer based in nature.

Preparing for the virtual work plunge

As with anything, planning is key and this cannot be truer than of the virtual work relationship.

“Virtual work roles need to form part of an overall company strategy” says Zelda, “this will help HR in identifying which positions would be most suitable” she says.

Detailed performance targets will need to be identified as the virtual worker will not have the office environment to rely on which often motivates activity.

Companies who require assistance in developing and implementing a Virtual Workforce strategy are invited to contact Zelda Pieters, Director and registered Industrial Psychologist of HR Inspiration for further guidance or a one-on-one consultation. Please contact her telephonically on +27 21 930 9022 or via email at zelda@hrinspiration.co.za. Visit our website to view our complete range of services. www.hrinspiration.co.za