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Study: Yup, managers do need web work boot camp

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Telecommuting has been a buzzword in the business world for years, but despite the media and the federal government loudly singing the praises of remote work, uptake of the practice has stalled.  Why? At WebWorkerDaily we’ve suggested before that the problem may be resistant middle managers and proposed sending them off to web work boot camp. Now there’s new evidence that we may have been on to something.

A study entitled Virtual Work Environments in the Post-Recession Era from Brandman University and Forrester Consulting doesn’t paint a rosy picture of managers’ preparedness for supporting virtual work, at least at the large Fortune 500 companies the survey looked at.

While the survey did find that managers at these companies expect the use of virtual teams and remote working to grow (56 percent said that the practice would steadily or greatly increase at their company), skepticism among managers and ignorance of collaboration tools remain high. For example:

  • Less than 20 percent of respondents considered social media a viable business tool for connecting with global markets.
  • More than 65 percent reported that employees never use wikis, Twitter or Facebook.
  • 55 percent said their employers never used blogs or LinkedIn.

The study summarizes the findings by saying: “The prevailing attitude of hiring managers surveyed could be described as viewing virtual teams as a ‘necessary evil,’ a method of doing business that their company must adopt to survive and thrive in today’s changing global economy.”

Charles Bullock, vice chancellor of academic affairs at Brandman, said in an interview that the results were somewhat surprising and suggested that, “it may just be that industry is lagging the technology at this point and they’re relying on some of the older tools such as email and video conferencing.”

“It’s just the way managers were trained traditionally,” he added. “You’ve got to be able to see them. Trust is an issue and I think that will change over time.” Off to boot camp with the laggards then.

And what should they learn there? Susan Gerke, a professor at Brandman who often speaks with reluctant managers, notes, “They’re used to being able to see what people are doing, so one of the key worries they bring up is: ‘How do I know what they’re doing? How do I know they’re working on the right things?’”

To allay these fears, Gerke tries to make sure managers “realize you can’t see what everybody’s doing all the time no matter where they are, and if you do a really good job of setting expectations about what you need and setting up regular times to check in, there are vehicles for staying current.”

The bottom line when it comes to leading remote teams, according to Gerke, “is you have to be proactive and deliberate about things that, maybe, you didn’t used to think about. We’d run into people in the hall and give them positive feedback casually. Now you’ve got to think that through and figure out how you’re going to build that into your regular schedule or you miss giving people feedback; you miss giving people visibility; you miss clarifying expectations; you miss relationship building and then it all falls apart.”

Have the old-fashioned views of middle managers held back remote working anywhere you’ve worked?

Image courtesy Flickr user familymwr

2 Responses to “Study: Yup, managers do need web work boot camp”

  1. Managing people remotely is definitely a different game. I taught teenagers remotely for a year (I think it’s the same as managing people), and actually the easiest part is knowing if they’re doing their work or not, because you receive the work on the assigned due date or you don’t. The hardest part was clearly communicating what they needed to do and how to do it. I found it very easy to assume students were being lazy when oftentimes there were legitimate reasons for their not getting work done. For example, a link might be broken, or it takes them 15 minutes to find the link that you thought was so obvious. They had a fire drill and lost 20 minutes of class, or they never received the multimedia CD that was required for the course. Furthermore teenagers don’t like to ask adults for help, and when you’re remote, you can’t see what they’re getting stuck on. It’s not like you lose control when you’re remote, because you still have the same level of responsibility, it’s more like you have to control in a different way–through supporting, advising, and creating a clear work frame. Here’s an article on remote manager characteristics

  2. JoeUBlow

    I would really like to see a second article that intelligently ties the use of social media leaders like Facebook or Twitter with resourcing a remote workforce. Do the authors really think that a resource should be allowed to use an open tool like FB/Twitter or other to collaboratively work with peers at a company?