We have all heard the expression, “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” but I’m sure many of us wonder what that means in terms of working from home. In today’s modern work environment, the term teleworker and telework agreement allows employees the benefit of doing the work they were hired for from home.  So, while it appears that the virtual employee is transforming the workplace, in today’s modern society more than half of U.S. companies use virtual teams.  However, for many organizations, the prospect of working with telework employees has become a source of frustration and angst for many reasons which include: communication, company trust, and professional cultural issues. In certain organizations, virtual employees may become complacent and not as appreciative of the opportunities that employers offer them to work and enjoy this work lifestyle. So, we ask, what are the successful leadership strategies that make telework great for the employee and the employer?

The Three C’s: Communication, Company Trust, and Culture, in the Virtual Environment

The virtual employee and team is an interdependent group of individuals who predominantly use technology to communicate, collaborate, share information, and coordinate their efforts to accomplish a common work-related objective.  While many employees enjoy this workstyle, it is important to resolve the three most critical elements of virtual environment: company trust, communication and what I like to call professional cultural challenges.  We know that teams cannot function without trust, so encouraging the best practices for building trust is a key part of this equation.  While there are many strategies, the establishment of swift trust is one that I believe is the beginning of the trust foundation.  In using this concept, you give people the benefit of the doubt immediately, and just like elementary school, share with your employees that they start out with a score of 100.

Say What?

To overcome communication challenges, it is important to understand and acknowledge that they do exist. Since 75% of communication is non-verbal, ensuring that communication in the virtual environment is working effectively is extremely important.  Therefore, modeling the organization’s values and communication ground rules in all communication is key.  Choose a method of communication that best fits the mutual needs of members and the situation, and help all members apply available communication technology with confidence.  These are just a few of the strategies that work well, but an investment in others is sure to make your professional relationship flourish.

I Am Who I Say I Am

The professional cultural challenge is the one that is most intriguing to me. Having spent a portion of my life in England, the prospect of being an American and living in this great country has always give me a sense of joy.  However, cultural challenges in America do exist, go figure!  A few of the cultural challenges with virtual and telework employees are their inability to understand others, building trust again, and giving feedback with correct interpretations of the meaning.

Some great recommendations include building profiles of your employees with their assistance so that you can recall their backgrounds, idiosyncrasies, work habits, and strengths.  This approach can help clarify and enhance your understanding of work habits, and break the cultural barriers. Other suggestions include the agreement of team customs which will enhance the way in which you interact and work with your employees.

Mentor Me

The greatest part of my virtual experience is working for a manager that is forward thinking, and not passive aggressive.  When asked, “How were you able to build professional trust with me so quickly?” he responded, “Your work product swiftly showed me who you are.”  I think it’s important to understand that, no matter how high we get in an organization, our ability to be open minded and receive advice or mentorship from others is ultimately an assessment of our own personal strength.  Leaders can receive mentoring suggestions that help them work better with their virtual teams that include creating virtual leadership toolboxes, and using strategies to make the teleworker successful. They can also continue to encourage productive team work by establishing specific outcomes of performance with these teams.  I have the privilege of working for an award-winning firm. At Coley & Associates, the term award winning signifies that we will continue to grow and be recognized for our training, communication and design because we listen, communicate, trust our clients, and engage in the best of our cultural habits to receive your business.  Take a moment to check-in on our services and give us an opportunity to mentor you.

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As Mentoring Project Manager for Coley & Associates, Dr. Janet E. Williams provides Government clients and commercial companies insight on how to leverage resources and maximize services for improvements to company operations. She specializes in mentoring, progressive management process improvements, accountability and control, revenue enhancements, and other organizational change methods. For almost 20 years, Dr. Williams worked in government and headed an Emerging Leaders Program for mentoring youth. Janet holds a bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Hampton University an MBA from Troy State University, and her doctorate in Public Policy and Leadership from Walden University.