Career Skills Development - Redefining the Remote Workplace
By Cindy Powell, MCPMP, CSM, President of Bespoke Management and Technology Services

When referring to employees who do not work in a traditional office environment we typically use terms like “telecommuter” or “remote employee”.  When this sort of non-traditional workplace is expanded to include other employees, customers, business partners and vendors, we call the combined workforce a “virtual team”.   These terms represent a very literal interpretation of how this environment operates.  

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Merriam Webster defines a telecommuter as one who “works at home by use of an electronic linkup with a central office”, while the term “remote” has a definition of “far away from other people, houses, cities, etc.”  When we look to describe the workplace of a “virtual” team we find that our people are “existing or occurring on computers or on the internet” and are “very close to being something without actually being it”.  With these definitions, it is no surprise that many organizations and managers have a negative reaction to the ever increasing necessity of working in a “virtual” world!

Although the definitions described in Webster’s are accurate, they do not do justice to the opportunities a non-traditional, remote/virtual workforce provides the modern insurance company.   The ability to easily engage “face to face” without sitting in the same room, instant, yet minimally disruptive conversation’s made possible by individual and team open chats, and the numerous unifying collaboration spaces enabled by cloud applications, means that remote employees and virtual teams can actually enhance productivity and customer service.   

This environment is not only highly productive, but also enables companies to attract talent without geographic limitations.  Attractive work/life balance opportunities, made possible by offering a virtual workspace, brings new incentives to potential millennial-aged recruits as well as baby boomers looking to stretch their carriers a little further.

Many managers who have resisted expanding their teams to include remote workers are finding that they are forced to operate in this environment anyway, especially when the job calls for third party or specialized expertise.   Establishing and investing in the design of workable processes, guidelines, procedures and tool kits to enable virtual teamwork will not only help meet the challenges of a changing workforce, it can make engagements with remote vendors much more productive and successful.   

The Career Skills Development Committee will be offering a session “Redefining the Remote Workplace” at the 2016 IASA Annual Conference.  We plan to demonstrate and discuss new and proven ways to manage and implement a remote workplace for maximum productivity and benefit.   Let’s come together in June to re-define what it means be have (or be) a telecommuter, remote worker and virtual team member!