4 Tips for Successfully Managing a Virtual Workforce Remote employees can be more productive and cost-effective than traditional office workers.

By Jay Friedman

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Jay Friedman, COO of the Goodway Group, manages a 300-person entirely virtual workforce.

The average office worker commute time for professionals in the U.S. is just over 25 minutes, or nearly an hour a day. Add to that the time spent getting ready at home, plus more time "settling in" at the office before work even begins. What a waste! This is a lot of excess time that could be spent doing productive and cost-effective tasks. In addition to time, there are more hidden costs involved like the upkeep of commuting (car maintenance) and keeping a professional wardrobe (dry cleaning).

Many companies and organizations have begun tallying a figure on the toll taken for commuting to traditional office environments -- and its effect on productivity benchmarks. In the past decade alone, there has been a 103 percent spike in virtual workforces, and 44 percent of U.S. companies report that they are looking to increase their remote staff. Remote workforces are becoming a trend, as employers are beginning to see the positive impact virtual employees can have on a company and its bottom line.

Related: Getting the Most From Your Remote Workforce

While the outcomes sound desirable, the execution of the process is where questions arise. Many CEOs and company leaders want to know how to assemble and manage a virtual workforce. Here are four key points that address how to strike a delicate virtual workforce balance:

1. Workplace culture.

Culture may be the single most important key to achieving business success. The difference is insignificant when establishing a remote workforce, but there are two specific keys to building the right remote culture.

First, the CEO needs to work remotely themselves from time-to-time. They must also encourage others to do so and appear to reward the behavior. If the CEO is always present at his or her desk, the staff will likely follow suit. Leadership behavior begins at the top and filters down.

Second, certain notations of achievement in an organization can no longer be related to the workplace. If promotions or rewards in traditional office settings mean such things as better parking spaces or bigger offices, remote workers are going to feel left out in the cold. Remote workforces are difficult to reward with perks, but this is outweighed by the benefit of a flatter, more democratized organization. A remote-based company needs to have perks and rewards that are equally desirable and beneficial to all employees, whether remote and physical.

Related: How to Build a Culture Across Your Virtual Workforce

2. Enforcing rules.

Establishing basic work presence rules is obviously much easier in a physical workplace. But it's equally important, if not more so, with a virtual workforce. For instance, working remotely is not the same as having a flex-time schedule, nor is it a substitute for childcare. Working without interruption or distraction is vitally important for virtual employees and ensures productivity. In addition, working remotely can't be seen as an exception or a unique case for special employees.

3. Selecting the right tools.

Providing employees with the right tools for success is of the utmost importance, especially when a company has remote workers. There are many software suites that allow virtual workforces to maintain, and even exceed, typical productivity benchmarks. Popular examples include Yammer, Skype for Business and Atlassian's Confluence.

A great human resources information system (HRIS) and shared drives become invaluable with remote employees. Finding software suite products that allow simultaneous, multi-user editing and collaboration is critical when choosing remote workforce tools.

Related: Lessons From Companies Thriving With 100 Percent Remote Teams

4. Optimizing the virtual process.

Here's a try-it-before-you-buy-it scenario. A good test to determine if a remote workforce is right for a particular business is to have a handful of employees work virtually for a week. Evaluate their output to find gaps in the process that only showed up when employees were out of the office. Testing, fixing and repeating this test is a sure-fire way to improve those processes and close business productivity gaps, even if an organization never adopts a full virtual workforce mindset.

Other considerations.

Instead of competing for ideal-priced office locations (and space) in major cities, many companies are finding a new and inventive way of lowering overhead costs. Another added plus is the success in building a best-in-class recruitment operation for hiring top-line employees from across the country with virtual companies. Remote-based companies are finding talent far superior to what is available in a crowded and competitive hyper-local field.

The benefit of remote workforce setups are becoming a common theme, but bear in mind that the protocols involved must first be a good fit for the particular organization.

Jay Friedman

COO of Goodway Group

Jay Friedman is the COO of Goodway Group, a managed-services programmatic partner to local, regional and Fortune 500 brand agencies headquartered in Jenkintown, Pa. He is also the author of 30 Days to Digital Media Expertise and 30 Days to Digital, available through Amazon and Scribd. Currently residing in Plano, Texas, Friedman is a dynamic and engaging professional speaker.

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