During the HCI event last month, several employers expressed the changes they’re seeing in employment trends. More employees and candidates are aggressive when attempting to progress in their career path and many are willing to make risky moves to get there. Additionally, it was noted that more people are becoming mobile in order to reach their career objectives. Because of this, employers are seeing an influx in voluntary turnover and shorter employment tenure. So, why aren’t employers considering telecommuting or virtual work to help retain their employees?
Over the last two years, I’ve been a full-time virtual employee. I typically receive the same responses whenever mentioning this to new acquaintances, ranging from curiosity, skepticism, envy or disapproving. Many people ask me if I feel isolated or if the lack of face-to-face time has prevented me from moving up within the company. Surprisingly, I’ve progressed faster in my career, learned more and had stronger development opportunities in a virtual setting than I ever had in the office.
Virtual work requires a person to hone in on specific skills or build new ones. It’s all about adaptability and identifying resources to use to your advantage. You learn to be independent due to the lack of “crutches” (aka constant coworker/superior feedback) or validation. This forces you to rely on your own decisions. Also, accountability is a must. The lack of micromanagement allows you to focus on producing results and perfecting processes. Of course, this only can happen if an employer has the infrastructure, processes and leadership to allow employees to succeed. Additionally, communication and collaboration tools are necessary to understand employees’ skillsets and help develop them for career succession.
Over the last week, I spent some time researching if more employers have embraced virtual employment options. Much to my dismay, the majority of the positions I’ve come across dealt with customer service (contact center, reservations, etc.), sales, consultants for software development and recruiting. Many of the positions were contract or freelance opportunities. I was surprised that more employers aren’t opening up to additional full-time positions that can be virtual, nor creating opportunities for internal mobility to higher-level positions. I’ve been someone who’s experienced both… and I continue to be successful this way. Sky’s the limit for my career potential as long as my employer has opportunities to support it.
Virtual employment can help retain employees for a couple of reasons:
- It allows them to have better personal opportunities: We all hear about work-life balance or work-life blending. The point is, people have other needs outside of the workplace. For example, my fiancé recently got a fantastic job promotion that would require us to relocate 1,000 miles away. There were no second thoughts about accepting it. All I did was take a couple of PTO days to move and I was set. I didn’t have to worry about quitting my job or dealing with a lapse in compensation when I was struggling to find work. The process was very seamless.
- It allows employers to find and develop talent: there are plenty of people within the country that may possess some amazing skills but might not be located near a major branch or headquarters. Organizations can utilize this talent by offering them employment without requiring them to relocate. This can be the same deal if an employee is ready to be promoted but can’t relocate. Rather than giving them the less-than-ideal options of staying underemployed, relocating or forcing them to consider another employer in order to move up in their career, a virtual option can help retain an employee while giving them internal mobility.
- It focuses on what matters: Results. Much like the purpose of ROWE (results only work environment), virtual work can be supportive of a results-focused situation. Micromanagement is disengaging and sometimes people don’t perform their best work during normal business hours. Being strapped to a desk can lower productivity. And maybe some people thrive when they’re blasting music, while others might prefer a quiet workspace with no distractions. Virtual work makes it easier for people to find their happy place without having to deal with formal requests or pushback from their peers.
Virtual employment can be a fantastic opportunity for both employer and employee, as long as it’s done right. Consulting an Organizational Development Specialist and researching technology to ensure a virtual environment can function the same as a traditional environment will be necessary.