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November 2011
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TD Magazine

Implementing a Virtual Workforce

Benefits and risks considered, many workplaces are ripe for a greater virtual presence.

To identify the challenges, trends, and opportunities provided by virtual teams, Chronos Consulting recently surveyed organizations from a variety of industries in North America, including financial services, oil and gas, telecom, cable, call center operations, and consulting and transportation.

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According to The State of Virtual Team Utilization in the 21st Century, virtual teams and workforces consist of employees from different functions of an organization, and can be distributed across disparate locations and between companies. They may include remote workers, mobile employees, independent workers, or outsourced services—or anyone who does not work solely in one place.

The survey results identified distinct benefits to organizations that use virtual teams: reduced labor costs, access to a wider talent pool, improved employee productivity, improved employee morale, lower rates of employee turnover, better collaboration between software and tools, and the ability to hire more flexible employees.

Of the 52 organizations that participated in the survey, 57 percent report that they plan to use more virtual teams in the future, with 72 percent citing cost reduction as the primary reason for implementing virtual teams. One company saw a cost savings of 21 percent in just one year through the implementation of a virtual workforce model.

With an increasing number of organizations turning to a virtual workforce as a cost-cutting measure, success may depend on the organizations preparation. The report suggests: Transitioning to a virtual team model is best done in a scalable manner. A pilot (proof of concept project) should be planned and implemented successfully. The lessons learned from this experience can then be applied in an incremental transitioning.

The survey identified three main problems when using virtual teams: additional training and guidance needed; communication barriers (especially cross-cultural communication); and time zone and distance issues. Implementing and managing a virtual workforce can be a difficult task that, if an organization is not equipped to execute, can potentially drain its resources.

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Because every organization has unique challenges and needs, there is no one model for virtual teaming that works across the board. However, the report suggests that an organization interested in implementing a virtual workforce would benefit from a customized assessment used to identify the specific benefits to the business.

 

MG
About the Author

Marissa Garff is a former project manager for ATD’s production department.

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