Working virtually is something that we are all getting used to. Whilst opportunities to work remotely are continuing to increase, we still have a little way to go in terms of ensuring that we can form digital relationships with our workers that emulate the approach we would take if someone were sitting in the same office as us. It is just a little easy to see our virtual workforce as pixels on a screen and not the human they really are.
As you can probably tell by my tagline, “Humanistic Leadership in a Digital World”, I consider my strongest trait as a leader is my humanism towards my teams. It is in this aspect that I often find myself scratching my head when I hear story after story where empathy, consideration and recognition go by the wayside within a virtual engagement. It’s almost like we have forgotten that we are dealing with a human being working for us.
Running a virtual staffing agency has allowed me to see poor behavior first hand.
But I must admit we have been lucky compared to some of the horror stories out there.
We have had the occasional client who has pushed the boundaries. There was one who bullied a Project Manager to the point of hospitalisation (when we heard this, obviously the client was a client no more). There was another that refused unpaid leave for their Virtual Assistant who wanted to accompany their Father to hospital for a legitimately serious operation (w
hen we heard this, obviously this client was a client no more as well). But probably the worst story I have heard was passed to me by one of my former staff members. A friend of theirs had been engaged online for their first virtual assignment. The role involved relatively simple administrative tasks but the volume of work was large. The Virtual Assistant, a single parent and a little desperate, agreed to the following terms:
- 3 months work, 40 hours per week at $1 per hour. This was a trial period.
- At the completion of the 3 months work, the position would become full time ongoing at a rate of $6-$7 per hour dependent on performance.
Now I can already hear you shuffling around in your seat a bit. These conditions sound horrible. But I can tell you this, the lure of the full time job at the hourly rate promised led the Virtual Assistant to work their backside off to deliver. Not only did they do the 40 hours per week, they stretched to make sure that they completed everything and land that full time job. The monthly pay was always delayed by the client who was always busy, evaluating their performance or allocating more work. But the lure of the full time job in addition to the hours invested made it very hard for the Virtual Assistant to terminate the engagement. So they kept at it. At the end of the three months and after all work was completed and handed over, the client became unresponsive. Yep, you guessed it. They disappeared. There was no thank you for the hard work. There was no discussion on the full time role promised. There was not even payment for the three months of work performed. And this scenario is not uncommon.
As a client, if you choose to overlook the human elements of the relationship you have with your Virtual Assistant, you are performing a disservice to them and to yourself.
Like an employee that works side by side with you, a Virtual Assistant has human needs that a good leader or manager will support. To perform at a high level, a Virtual Assistant needs support, guidance, consideration and understanding. If your only tool to improve productivity is to grind blood from a stone, true productivity is not what you will receive. If your only motivator is the stick, then your Virtual Assistant will search for carrots somewhere else.
An absolute key to virtual engagements working is the ability to create a relationship that builds mutual commitment.
And like an employee who works in the same office as you, taking a genuine interest in what they need will serve you well. Find out what their goals are. What they got up to on the weekend. What they enjoy doing. Show a genuine interest and that care will translate into commitment. If they need time off, don’t create an environment where they are scared to tell you. Give them time where required. If their performance dips, do your best to find out why and help where you can.
It’s easy to forget that the person on the other end of the line is a human. But remembering that fact will make managing your virtual engagements so much easier and beneficial.