I can goof off at work!

The wonders of technology:  It has brought us the ability to do our jobs from home just as effectively as before the digital age when the option never existed…or has it?
Last week, I met with an old colleague who I used to work with at a web development company.  While my profession has changed somewhat, his has, for the most part, stayed the same.  He was telling me about his current job, and how it had been going. 
He works on a team with other web developers on large projects.  Most of the team works out the same office, but a few of them, including their manager, work virtually.
“Sometimes, it feels like I’m self-employed.  I hear from my manager mostly from emails, and it’s usually in regards to the team’s current project.  I only hear from them directly if I specifically ask for help or if there’s a problem with my work.  If I messed up on a project, even if it was a minor detail that anyone could have missed, I get a phone call with them barking in my ear.  Other than that, they don’t really check in with me on their own to see how I’m doing. 
Some of the other guys on my team slack off if they aren’t assigned specific project work, even though there’s always something to do outside of projects.  If I wanted to, I could goof off at work all day and my manager wouldn’t even know.”
Some people might think that this is a dream manager.  You know, someone that is as hands-off as possible, that pretty much lets you work the way you want to work.  However, a lot of individuals want, and even need, more structure and connectedness than my colleague received.
As virtual leaders, how can we make sure we’re engaging our direct reports who we may never see face-to-face?
Ask yourself the following:

  • Are you having regular 1 on 1’s with your team members?  In other words, are you giving them the time they need to address issues about their performance and struggles?
  • How much do you know about what’s going on in each team member’s personal life?  There could be personal issues your team members are dealing with that could be affecting their performance.
  • Do you know what their career paths are?  If you don’t know where your direct reports are trying to go, don’t expect them to be working for you for long.
  • How connected are your team members to one another, especially if they work virtually?  Do they have a team culture set up in order to avoid barriers and perform at higher levels?
  • Are you taking advantage of technology?  If available, video chat services such as Skype Google/Yahoo/MSN video chat, etc… are free ways to give more of a personal touch to your interactions.

While working from home allows me to work in my PJ’s all day (a dream come true, I might add), it gives me another set of challenges to deal with in managing a team that might not be as hard as if I could manage them from the office.
Do you work virtually, whether that be as a leader or a direct report?  What do you do to stay connected with your team members?  Leave your comments!

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