More than ever, work is viewed as something people do, rather than a place they necessarily go. As the former COO of a public relations and marketing company that transitioned from more than 20 years as brick and mortar to an entirely virtual operation, I learned many vital lessons through the proverbial school of hard knocks—lessons I hope to spare other leaders.
While flexwork has become more commonplace in a myriad of industries, the training of managers and employees for success remains rare. According to WorldatWork’s October 2013 Survey on Workplace Flexibility:
- 88 percent of organizations do not train employees to be successful with flexible work arrangements.
- 83 percent of organizations do not provide training to managers of employees using flexibility programs.
Why do we direct people to work virtually without sufficient training to ensure success? Mostly, the answer lies in the fact that no widely accepted model for such training exists. To help fill the void, I created “The 15 C’s for Success for the Flexible Workplace” to help navigate the complex waters of remote people management. But there’s no silver bullet—managing people is challenging, whether it’s in person or across the ocean. However, communication professionals are uniquely positioned to do it better than most because at least three of the 15 C’s fall squarely in their wheelhouse: communication, clarity and collaboration.
Some key takeaways related to these three Cs that are essential to success in the virtual workplace include:
- Strategic communication to align both external and internal branding and messaging: Google, Apple, Zappos and Patagonia are all great examples of exceptional companies whose brands and cultures are co-created. Bill Taylor, co-founder of Fast Company magazine, noted, “The new ‘power couple’ inside the best companies is an iron-clad partnership between marketing leadership and human resources leadership.”
- Transparent, precise and ongoing communication: Information about the program, eligibility requirements and expectations must cascade from leadership throughout the organization. Old-school standard operating procedures training is key in order to avoid inconsistencies, confusion and ultimately, widespread dissatisfaction.
- Clarity around duties, deadlines, consequences of underperformance and progress-reporting mechanisms: Why do I characterize this as an area related to training? Because it’s a competency that is frequently lacking in managers and individual contributors alike. We are all in such a hurry to get to our destination that we rarely slow down to learn about landmarks to look out for along the way. It’s impossible to be accountable or to hold others accountable if the targets aren’t clearly defined at the outset.
- Practical, hands-on training on the cadre of tools selected to foster collaboration, encourage knowledge sharing, and enhance productivity: People are too busy and overwhelmed for the “Field of Dreams” approach, i.e., if you build it, they will NOT necessarily come. We’ve seen too many companies squander their investment in potentially game-changing apps, like Yammer, Lync, Asana or Basecamp, because they launched without proper training, support and context.
- Training for managers on how to coach employees to greater performance: I’m talking about the kind of coaching that involves regularly engaging in collaborative, solutions-oriented dialogue with people, instead of simply directing them on what to do at every turn. Nothing engages and motivates employees—in the flesh or virtual ones—more than empowering them to find their own solutions and rise to bigger challenges.
A multitude of business benefits will accrue to marcomm departments and agencies that are able to leverage their core competencies to properly train managers and employees to succeed in a partially or entirely virtual environment. For example, they will see meaningful improvements in productivity, engagement, ability to attract top talent, profitability and business scalability as well as welcomed reductions in turnover, absenteeism, carbon footprint, baby boomer brain drain, healthcare costs, and travel expense.