Virtualize Your Workforce

Enterprise Mobility: The ability for an enterprise to communicate with suppliers, partners, employees, assets, products, and customers irrespective of location.
Forrester Research

The virtualized workforce (also referred to as teleworking or telecommuting) is a very hot topic but is sadly underused. Often, management is unaccustomed to managing remote employees, so there is a natural fear of reduced productivity. The movement into remote management can be disconcerting, but it has many significant rewards, both immediate and long-term. With the proper application of good management techniques, you will see an improvement in overall productivity, a decrease in attrition, a reduction in corporate expenses and a massive increase in skill set availability. Your company can demonstrate leadership by example, as well as benefiting employees, your local community, and even the environment.

With skyrocketing fuel prices, employees that telecommute feel an immediate increase in spendable income. With a virtualized workforce, your building utilities decrease and you will find that employees working from home effectively put in more hours and experience fewer sick days. Workforce virtualization also removes cars from the road, making your company greener. By following just a few simple steps, you can truly do your part to help with some of the most critical issues facing us today, including economy and ecology, while helping your business increase productivity and lower costs.


  1. Have confidence in your management staff. The number one reason companies do not virtualize their workforce is that the management is afraid they will not be able to effectively monitor and motivate remote workers; they lack faith in their own management abilities. Managing a remote workforce is not significantly different from managing local employees – most communication is done on the phone and by email, anyway. Your managers will adapt quickly.
  2. Have confidence in your workforce. The number two reason people do not virtualize their workforce is that the management is afraid people will not do their jobs; that they will "slack off" and still collect a paycheck. If you truly believe that about any of your employees, then maybe you should look for a different person to fill that slot. The fact is that most people are motivated by achievement ... isn't that why you hired them in the first place?
  3. Research the technology. Learn about how to make telecommuting an effective work environment. You'll find that it's not significantly different than what you already have. There are plenty of companies that offer teleworking technology options for the sole purpose of helping companies, like yours, become virtual. The more you learn, the less frightening it will be. And don't forget to include support. Access to top technical support, preferably available 24x7, is critical to ensure high employee productivity when working remotely.
  4. Analyze every job in the company. Take the approach that virtualization is a requirement: any position must have a strong justification to avoid it. There are some types of jobs that simply cannot be virtualized, of course, but look at each one that isn't an obvious "no" and start with the assumption that it can be effectively done from a remote location. Jobs where the individual spends the majority of their time communicating by telephone and working on the computer are good matches. Of course, there are exceptions (virtualizing a call center is a major endeavor) but analysts, project managers, systems administrators, and programmers are examples that can fit easily.
  5. Poll the employees. Who already has the ability to work from home? Most of your workforce probably can. There are some people who cannot and justifiable reasons would include distractions at home (e.g., young children), lack of access to high-speed Internet, no available space to create a home office, or some disabilities that require highly specialized accommodations.
  6. Project the savings. This is going to take some work – make no mistake about that. You may take into account such things as electrical savings for not having to run personal computers. If you are highly successful in this effort (virtualizing nearly the entire workforce), then HVAC savings could be substantial. Liability insurance may be decreased. Will you save on security? Don't forget the water bill. Remember that employees that don't drive to work may have a huge immediate savings in transportation expense so you can consider this an employee benefit – a direct compensation increase - but offset by their additional costs of electric and HVAC now that they are in a home office. Talk to your HR department about the potential savings in cost-of-living increases.
  7. Document performance requirements. This is critical. To effectively manage a remote workforce you have to have the expectations of the job clearly defined. Not just when people are to be "at work" but an actual performance outline. Migrating to remote management is like moving into management for the first time. The use of a task tracking system helps teleworkers manage their assignments easily. It also gives managers a more objective evaluation of performance with reports about completed tasks.
  8. Retrofit the employees' home offices. It might be necessary (or desirable) for some (or all) employees to make use of their existing work computer at home. If their home computers are outdated or do not have required software (including security software) it may be more cost effective to check out the office computer to their home. Make sure telecommunications are in order, too; it's not unfair to have them pay for an extra phone line out of their own pocket because of their reduced commuting costs. They will already have increased HVAC and electric costs running a home office they may not have had previously due to setback thermostats and keeping lights off during commuting hours. You may want to have someone look over their home technology from both a safety and an efficiency viewpoint. Some companies do an OSHA review of the home office.
  9. Identify the positions and people that will migrate. Make a list, but don't post the entire list all at once. Post only the first few people that will migrate. Make it a curiosity and make it desirable. Only post the people that will migrate within the next week. This will attract attention and make being on the list feel like winning the lottery. That is the effect you want.
  10. Migrate in phases. Don't expect to drop everyone into a remote environment at once; a gradual change will show you how to tweak the process. On the other hand, don't do this on a one-by-one basis either. Select a group of people to start: either a small department or a person or two from several different departments. After your first migration, let a couple of weeks go by before the next phase, but don't take too much time; that can cause the process to become suspended. Proceed steadily but not aggressively.
  11. Manage, manage, manage. This is the most critical post-migration activity! While the skill sets to manage remotely are the same as other good management skill sets, you will need to be dedicated to making the new environment a success. Make sure they feel a strong management presence and feel completely comfortable that this is just like working at the office. At least initially, you'll need to dramatically increase your contact with the teleworkers, so they don't feel abandoned. If they begin to feel like they have no guidance, they'll become afraid for their jobs. Make sure they know, every day, their job requirements. Hold telephone one-on-one meetings weekly with each employee (30 minutes is a good block of time for that).
  12. Continue to evaluate. Don't stop with your first evaluation. You might find that you missed some jobs that can be virtualized. Conversely, you might find that you made an incorrect assessment and some of the jobs are actually most efficiently done on site. Don't jump too quickly to reverse your decisions, but if you find that something needs to be rolled back, don't be afraid to make that change.


  • Have group get-togethers. You've talked about this in the past; getting everybody together off-site for a group meeting or for team building or for training. Now you have to do it. At least once a month, make sure your employees all gather in one place for a meet-greet-eat function. It strengthens the feeling of corporate unity.
  • Before you start, you might consider having some small focus groups for feedback to get a feel for how the employees feel about the possibility of virtualizing. Get feedback – they are also likely to come up with some good ideas about how to make the process more efficient and effective. You did hire smart people, right?
  • Consider audio/visual options (webcams) for the home office. A/V feeds from the home computers will reduce reliance on the telephone – you can just click on the individual and start talking, as if they were in the office with you. Also, while seeing someone's face isn't required, it does add a significant personal impact. It also has the benefit of assuring that people get up and get dressed for work. On the other hand, if you want them to have the option of working in PJ's, you might go with an audio only feed.
  • Provide guidance on setting up an efficient work environment at home. Some areas to discuss are:

    • Creating a separate work area away from common family areas, television, and other distractions
    • Having a separate phone line for business calls
    • Setting family rules concerning interruptions during work hours
  • Keep up with technology. Remote working and remote document management is growing by leaps and bounds. Google and Microsoft are in heated competition for this market segment. As new tools become available, test them for your environment. As this becomes more common, the market will drive invention.
  • Get Green Certified. If you are sufficiently virtualized, you are significantly more environmentally friendly and you may get some recognition. This is excellent publicity.
  • It is possible to begin by assigning some days of the week to telework and some to office work. There may also be occasions when it's absolutely necessary for teleworkers to be in the office. The goal is full Enterprise Mobility, but that objective must not overshadow corporate productivity. Even a percentage of telework will result in savings to the company and to the employees.


  • Monitor performance. There will be a percentage of people that simply cannot adapt to working from home. They're still good employees but they need closer supervision (this may include some managers). If you can't keep them motivated in a remote environment, move them back. Do it quickly.
  • Make the idea exciting. The last thing you want is for people to view this as a corporate cut-back, or for them to believe this is happening because the company is in trouble. Talk about going green. Talk about economic stimulation. Talk about the family benefits. Market and promote the idea from within well before you start.
  • Inform your customers. You need to market and promote the idea to your customers the same way you did to your employees. The exact same reasoning applies; you need for your customers to understand you are doing this to further improve your company. Develop a list of customer benefits. You must continue to improve your customers' experience.
  • Develop new business continuity plans. A plan for disaster is still needed but it is vastly different now. Rethink your strategies. This is another savings area. Before you virtualized, you had to have contingency options available in case your building became unavailable. That is, to a large extent, no longer a primary issue. You still need contingencies for things like power outages, but they are less likely to impact your entire workforce because of the geographical diversity.

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