Virtual Employment for Attraction and Retention

You belong somewhere you feel free

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.

If you’re curious to know more how virtual employment and virtual internal mobility works, ask me! I’ll be happy to tell you about my ongoing career story. Connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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What Questions Should You Ask When Considering Virtual Employment?

 

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We hear a lot about the challenges organizations face when they consider virtual employees or telecommuting options. These challenges are even more predominate when discussing flexible work options or results only work environment (ROWE). How can they evaluate an employee’s performance? How can managers ensure that they’re working full-time? Will there be backlash from employees who work in a traditional capacity? After working as a virtual employee for almost a year and a half, I can honestly say that it works… sometimes.

There are a lot of factors that affect the success of these flexible options. Before a company or an employee decides that this is right for them, consider the following:

  • Employee personality: As an employee, it’s important to really understand yourself as an individual and as a professional. For me, virtual work was ideal because I knew that I have a type A personality and my morale is higher when I don’t feel the watchful eyes of a micromanager. Additionally, I can produce better results more frequently in my private (and quiet) office than I would at a distracting workplace. Although this has worked for me, many people informed me that they would probably go crazy without social interaction. Others have admitted that the leniency of being home could distract them for work. It would be best to think about these things if considering this as an option.

 

  • Employee functions: As a company, you need to determine if full-time telecommuting or ROWE work for this particular job. Does an employee need to be available at certain times to interact with other members of the company or clients? Can the employee handle tasks remotely or are there some things that require the employee to be on-site? Does their status/level cooperate with the type of employees in it, such as, are they responsible and can self-manage?

 

  • Restructuring of management functions: This might be one of the toughest areas to figure out but it’s definitely not impossible. In my current experience with virtual employment, I have the privilege of working for a company that seems to have this sorted out. Even if it isn’t perfect, they take the measures needed to ensure ongoing improvements. Somehow their ability to increase support through communication and measure productivity without micromanaging has actually helped me feel a stronger connection with my leadership team and direct managers. Despite the fact that I’m not physically working in front of them every day, they have taken the time to recognize my achievements as well as areas I’ve struggled in. Does it take extra time out of their week to pay attention to their individual employees? Sure, but it’s the best experience I’ve had with a manager thus far.

 

  • Benefits: For companies, there can be plenty of benefits as far as cost savings go due to reduction of overhead. When it comes to hiring, it allows employers to find diverse talent and top candidates because they aren’t limited to one specific area. As an employee, it can be really beneficial for your everyday life. I’ve been told that mothers enjoy the ability to be available to their children when they are home or sick. Military spouses like the mobility aspect when their significant others move around.  I personally like it because I don’t feel restricted to a particular area. If I wanted to move to another state or travel, I could do it tomorrow. I also love the fact that I don’t have to waste time commuting or spending money on clothes or gas. Instead, I actually have more time to actually do the things that matter, like work.

 

  • Challenges: Of course, there are always challenges. How can managers keep morale high if on-site employees feel like virtual workers have it easier? Can managers ensure the virtual workers have the same exposure to internal mobility? How do managers know that their virtual workers are being productive? These are just a few things that companies face when developing and implementing flexible work options.

I’m an advocate for virtual work, telecommuting and flexible options. I don’t think employees should be limited or confined and that some of these options can actually help employees performed better and allow companies to retain talent. Of course, I’m aware that this doesn’t always work and that a great deal of thought and strategy has to go into the development and management of it. However, for me personally, I would love to stay in a virtual position for as long as I can.

Want to know what others think about this? Check out the discussion on #TChat tonight at 7pm ET. Take a look at a preview here.

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Will Results Only Work Environment Work for You?

Earlier this week, I was talking to WilsonHCG about their virtual positions for recruiters and sourcers. I was very interested in hearing how they made these types of positions work for them because I have never worked “virtually” before but I was always curious about it. They seemed to have these roles down pat, from the technology they use all the way to the performance tracking tools they have in place to keep everyone on track. Many people and companies have debated that these types of employees would never be as efficient as those who come into the office. However, this company and many others have progressively proved that statement wrong.

With the thoughts of virtual positions floating around in my head, I began to let my mind wander to other alternative workplace environments that I’ve learned of. I recalled learning about results only work environment (a.k.a. ROWE) a few months back and decided to look further into this workplace option. After taking some time to research it, I decided that I really enjoyed the concept and wondered if this option could work for certain companies and/or employees if they gave it a shot.

ROWE was created by Best Buy’s former HR managers, Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson (now of CultureRx). The idea of this concept was to allow managers to focus more on results rather than the hours the employees are checking in. After all, the company’s success is dependent on the results. After tweaking it a few times, these HR managers found that productivity levels had risen. The freedom that this provided seemed to tap into employees’ natural intrinsic quality which empowered them to be more accountable and productive.

Here are some reasons why employees love ROWE:

  • Freedom to work when and where they want.
  • They spend less time unnecessarily sitting at an office to meet the required 40 hours.
  • They can work at a faster pace.
  • They have unlimited vacation and PTO.
  • They can make themselves available to participate in hobbies and events that take place during typical business hours.
  • They can spend more time with friends, family, and children.
  • They have more flexible time to go to doctors’ appointments and so on.
  • They can work during hours that they’re feeling productive rather than forcing themselves to have motivation during hours they aren’t.
  • A bad night of sleep doesn’t need to affect the quality of their work- they can work later in the day after they’re feeling rested.
  • It gives work meaning because the time they spend is specifically to get tasks done and achieve results.
  • Better work-life balance.
  • Decreased expenses: no need for gas to get to work or to pay for daycare or babysitters.

It seems like the list is endless, but those are just to name a few. Even though I’ve never dealt with this kind of work environment, I do believe in its benefits because I chose this option for school. During the course of obtaining my BSBA, I decided to choose the online and/or alternative classes that my school had to offer. It made more sense to me because sitting in classes after sitting at work all day didn’t seem appealing. Additionally, I was planning on moving out of NJ so I did not want to potentially lose credits and time by transferring schools. After completing my first “alternative” class, I realized that I loved it and couldn’t fathom going back to traditional classes again.

Alternative classes allowed me to have the flexibility to be more productive with my school work. Instead of wasting time and holding me back to a specific scheduled class, I was able to move at my own pace. At the start of each semester, I was able to see what the modules were, what the assignments were, and when they were due. This allowed me to schedule my life better and took away some of the stress I had when working full-time and going to school. I could work school around my life, as long as I got the assignments in on time.

Perhaps it’s because I have a type A personality, but this option worked well for me. I learned to do my assignments at least a week in advance to take off some of the pressure I used to feel when I was given assignments at the last minute. There was even one semester where I finished all my assignments within the first couple weeks just so I could give myself a mental break. Life tends to throw curve balls at you and things can unexpectedly come up, therefore, it was nice to at least have some control over this major responsibility. I loved the benefits and freedom that came with this option and felt that I was more productive and happier. I’m sure these feelings are similar to what the ROWE employees are feeling, as well. It gives them a more time to actually live life.

Will ROWE work for every company, every job function, and every employee?  Unfortunately, no. But this option can still work for a good amount of them. If you decide to test out this alternative work environment, be sure to help train employees going through the transition on time management and reaching results. I believe that even employees that aren’t the most self-driven will eventually learn to be more productive on their own once they see the benefits and rewards of getting their job done more efficiently.

Links about ROWE:

CultureRx.

The End of 9 to 5.

Fistful of Talent- 80hrs Per Week VS. ROWE.

CBS: What is Results Only Work Environment?

WilsonHCG.

What Gen Y Wants from an Employer

Today’s topic will be about Gen Y and the workplace. I felt that this subject was important to bring up mainly because Gen Y will dominate majority of the workforce by 2025. With that being said, employers need to focus in on the characteristics of Gen Y and develop a plan to attract and retain talent. I also particularly like this topic because I am a Gen Yer and majority of my peers are Gen Yers in the workforce. Needless to say, I am surrounded by discussions regarding this generation and what they want from an employer. Here are some facts, in no particular order:

Gen Y values company culture: I’m sure if you’ve read any of my previous blog postings you can see how much I stress the importance of company culture. I’ve been placed in all kinds of work environments over the last few years, so I’ve had the pleasure of seeing good, bad, or non-existent cultures. My work ethic was affected by these environments. If I loved a company and was proud to work there, it would be evident. My performance would definitely show it and I would not hesitate to broadcast everywhere that my employer was better than your employer (:-P).

I didn’t really realize the importance of company culture until I worked at CreateSpace (an Amazon.com company). They seemed to really know how to celebrate individualism, embrace diversity, and encourage people to be openly innovative. The managers I had were great in the sense that they knew that everyone was different and, therefore, had to be managed differently in order to get the best results. I distinctly remember my Team Lead asking me, “How do you like to receive feedback?” I think my mouth hung open as I processed the fact that my supervisor actually cared enough to find the best way to manage me effectively. The leaders there also celebrated people for a job well done and knew how to make the workers feel like their contributions mattered.

Also, as I mentioned yesterday, Benefitfocus seems to hone in on the fact that culture is valued by this generation. They were passionate enough about it that they actually published a book on the subject. I’ll be receiving that soon, so there look out for future posts regarding it!

Gen Y strives to grow professionally and wants feedback: This generation relies heavy on feedback and mentoring. It’s not because they’re needy and require praise all of the time, but simply because they want to know what they do well and what they can improve on. They want to work hard, grow, and move forward in the working world. They’ll value an employer that gives them suggestions and opportunities to do so. Some of the better employers recognize this and make an effort to give regular feedback, discuss career paths, and present opportunities for employees to gain experience. For example, Apple and Google have classes so employees can continually learn and increase their knowledge. It was nice to see an employer invest so much in their employees’ educations.

Also, feedback is important for reasons other than helping employees grow. I distinctly remember a friend telling me that her company is big on the “no news is good news” philosophy. I was actually appalled by that. How could a company only give negative feedback? Needless to say, the employees of that company were extremely uneasy because they never knew if they were doing things right. Anxiety caused productivity to waver, employees to be less invested/committed in the company, and turn-over. Those who left the company told me that they’d rather be with a company that didn’t keep them in the dark than stick with a company that may unexpectedly fire them for mysterious reasons.

Feedback can help an employee see a future with the company. If no one shows them that a future is there, they’ll move on to greener pastures.

Gen Y wants workplace options: We are a technically savvy bunch which means we hope our employer can find other workplace options for us than just the typical 9-to-5-sit-at-a-desk-workplace. Although having a routine is nice, it can sometimes kill creativity, innovation, and feel like a cage. Technology and portable devices make it easy for employees to be mobile and stay connected. We hope that employers realize this so it allows more freedom: flexible work schedules; work-from-home; flexible workspaces around the workplace; and results-only-work-environments are some options that come to mind.

Although some employers are reluctant to do this for fear that employees will take advantage of these alternative work options, I think they will be pleasantly surprised to find out that Gen Y wants more responsibility. They want to be accountable for their work/contributions to the company. Additionally, they want recognition for their work. So instead of making your company feel like “Big Brother is watching”, consider other ways to measure productivity besides a punch clock. Perhaps adopt a work option that focuses more on end results.

Gen Y wants an employer that has integrity and makes a social impact: We just want you to be like our favorite superheroes. You know; the ones that do things for the greater good. Nothing is more of a turn-off than seeing a company go all “Machiavellian” and only do things that help their personal gain. If your company does good for others, your employees will feel good about working for you. I mean, who wouldn’t be proud to work for a company that somehow makes the world a better place?

Your company will seem trustworthy, which is a big thing that attracts talent. For example, candidates decided to take job offers with Salesforce.com because the company was involved in donating to a foundation and encouraged employees to volunteer and participate in community service. Who would have thought that you can attract candidates because of your social impact strategy?

It’s time to start training your leadership to change some of their practices. There are companies out there that will help you re-structure and develop your leadership efforts to help cater to the changes in the workforce. I’ve actually had the pleasure of networking with Martina Mangelsdorf via LinkedIn over the last few months. Over a course of a few e-mails and Skype conversations, I was able to learn that her company did just that. I was delighted to see that there are people out there that really understood what Gen Y needs out of an employer. So, employers, it is in your best interest to get prepared because Gen Y is coming for you!

Links to read (I apologize that my hyperlinking function isn’t working!):

Martina Mangelsdorf LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/martina-mangelsdorf/1/611/740

Leadership training for Gen Y: http://www.gaia-insights.com/

What Gen Y Wants- Time: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1640395,00.html?goback=%2Egmp_4358820

Harnessing the Power of the Loyalty Generation: http://socialmediatoday.com/davidjohnson4/563490/gen-y-harnessing-power-loyalty-generation?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Social+Media+Today+%28all+posts%29&goback=%2Egmp_4358820%2Egde_4358820_member_127717648

Benefitfocus: Winning with Culture book: http://www.benefitfocus.com/culture/

Google Classes: http://www.businessinsider.com/google-11-amazing-classes-that-google-employees-can-take-2012-3?op=1

Apple University: http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/11/10/06/apple_university_revealed_as_plan_to_teach_executives_to_think_like_steve_jobs.html

Companies mentioned:
http://www.createspace.com
http://www.amazon.com
http://www.apple.com
http://www.benefitfocus.com
http://www.google.com
http://www.salesforce.com